Local News

Small Shul, Big Vision

‍‍2015-01-23 09:10:18 - כח כסלו תשעה lbridwell

Rabbi Noah Leavitt joined congregation Netivot Shalom in June 2014.  He appreciates the congregation’s desire to intellectually explore Judaism  and that they are “not afraid to wrestle with hard questions.” (Melissa Gerr)

Rabbi Noah Leavitt joined congregation Netivot Shalom in June 2014. He appreciates the congregation’s desire to intellectually explore Judaism and that they are “not afraid to wrestle with hard questions.” (Melissa Gerr)

In December 2004, the desires of a small group of people in Baltimore to create a Modern Orthodox congregation at which they all shared a voice in shaping its vision came to fruition. Then, in June 2014, recognizing the need for a spiritual leader that shared its democratic ideals, Netivot Shalom and Rabbi Noah Leavitt found each other.

“Most important for us was a rabbi who shared our perspective in terms of participation,” said Joel Bader, 48, chair of the search committee and a founding member with wife Jennifer. “Someone dedicated to serving our entire community, not having an agenda … but really being willing to work with us and grow with us.”

Bader, who hosted services in his living room the first nine months before the congregation purchased its current space on Labyrinth Road in Pikesville, also cited allowing women and young children to participate and a willingness to discuss any issues that arise as a group as important hallmarks of the Netivot Shalom ethos.

Susan Coleman, 63, said she and her husband, Jeffrey, belonged to a large synagogue for a while but found themselves wanting something smaller, more intimate and less formal. She added, “We had become more observant … so we were looking for something that would be a more Orthodox chevrah than we had had before.”

A completely volunteer organization, besides Leavitt, its congregants offer many different skills, said Coleman. Some regularly read Torah, some lead services, and others are on the house committee to make sure things run smoothly behind the scenes.

“Everyone appreciates everyone’s efforts,” said Coleman, who is currently the board treasurer of the approximately 50-member congregation. Netivot Shalom is small enough to feel “like extended family.”

Dan Arking, also a founding member with wife Ronda, said, “It was getting to the point where the younger members had more questions, they were setting up first homes, there were life events, they were feeling the need for a rabbi.”

Arking said the founding members jumped on board with the idea, recognizing there was a limit to what a nonpaid group could provide for the congregation.

“Having a representative for the synagogue is hopeful,” said Arking, who is also pleased that his three young sons are able to participate in services in a meaningful way. “Meeting the needs of counseling and other questions. If you want the synagogue to grow it’s helpful to have a person thinking about the shul full time — the programming, children’s groups. That was a big motivation for us.”

Leavitt, 28, said, “It’s been a change” to come to Baltimore as a native New Yorker. “But a positive change. The community’s been warm. … I’m not sure I’m going to become a Ravens fan anytime soon, which is a bit of tension with my congregation, but other than that … .” He ended with a laugh.

Judy Floam, also a founding member and current board secretary, appreciates that the congregation is “women friendly,” she said. “We have our mechitzah, which is kosher but not any higher than it needs to be.” Citing more examples, she added, “During Simchat Torah, women get to dance on their side of the mechitzah. Before we had a rabbi, and even now, some of the d’var Torahs are given by members, and that can be men and women equally.”

Floam also appreciates the congregation’s dedication to social justice. They’ve maintained a vegetable garden on the grounds for four years, and part of the harvest goes to the weekly Kiddush and the rest is donated to Ahavas Yisroel for Shabbat packages delivered to those in need.

In a leader, Floam wants “someone to give us intellectual exploration of issues in Judaism” and someone who is “welcoming and who would participate in outreach to the community.”

“In the long term I hope to help the community grow,” said Leavitt, “and show what a warm modern Orthodox community can look like,” in addition to providing pastoral leadership and religious guidance.

He also appreciates that the congregation is “not afraid to wrestle with hard questions.”

“I think he’s doing a great job of connecting with the congregants. … He’s really growing into the position,” said Arking. “He’s young and Baltimore can be a challenging place, but he’s hit the ground running. He’s having more of a presence outside the synagogue and appealing to a wider group to come and see what we have to offer.”

“It is a very committed Orthodox shul,” said Leavitt, “but they’re also looking for innovative ways to enhance our learning and our spiritual lives.”

An upcoming series he initiated explores the intersection between Judaism and modern life with films from the award-winning Ma’aleh film school in Israel and a scholar-in-residence series that begins with Rabbi Dov Linzer of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, he pointed out. “All of these things are innovative and new things to really enhance our religious life.”

Upcoming events at Netivot Shalom

Motzei Shabbat film series
“A Shabbos Mother”
Saturday, Jan. 31, 7:30 p.m.

“A Pure Prayer”
Saturday, Feb. 21, 7:30 p.m.

Rabbi Dov Linzer of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah
Saturday, Feb. 7, 11:30 a.m.

For more information, visit: netivotshalom.net/upcoming-events/


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Inauguration Celebration

‍‍2015-01-22 20:14:44 - כח כסלו תשעה mshapiro

Larry Hogan inaugurationThe hundreds of Marylanders who braved cold temperatures and heavy snow on Wednesday to witness the swearing-in of the second Republican governor in more than four decades were treated to a snapshot of the new governor’s plan for the next four years.

“Today is the beginning of a new spirit of bipartisan cooperation in Annapolis,” declared Gov. Larry Hogan from the steps of the statehouse after being sworn in as Maryland’s 62nd governor. The ceremony was attended by Hogan’s father, former congressman Lawrence Hogan; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who campaigned heavily for Hogan ahead of the November election; outgoing Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley; former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich; Attorney General Brian Frosh and delegates and state senators from both parties, along with numerous family members, friends and citizens.

Hogan told attendees that he and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford’s administration will focus on four key objectives in his tenure. First, he will set a standard of fiscal responsibility in all aspects of governing. Second, he said, he will utilize the resources available in the state Maryland, such as the Chesapeake Bay and the wealth of top-notch colleges and universities, to spur economic growth in the state. Third, he promised to work to ensure that the state government is maximally responsive to and representative of the citizens of Maryland. And fourth, he said, he will restore fairness and balance for taxpayers.

“This is our chance to build a state that works for the people, and not the other way around” he told an energetic crowd as the snow began to collect.

Hogan’s speech centered on creating an environment of bipartisanship in Annapolis, where he will have to work with the heavily Democratic state legislature. He assured the crowd that the next four years would be marked by unprecedented cooperation rather than gridlock and stalemate. With his first budget due Friday, Marylanders will soon find out what kind of atmosphere the next four years will carry.

“In the end,” he said, “it isn’t about politics, it’s about citizenship.”

Inauguration day began at 8 a.m. for the new Hogan administration with an interfaith service held at St. Mary’s Church in Annapolis and ended with a gala at the Baltimore Convention Center. At the gala, a visibly tired Rutherford and Hogan addressed the crowd of party-goers, thanking them for their support.

When Hogan launched his campaign almost a year ago, said Alfred Redmer Jr., Hogan’s new insurance commissioner who emceed the team’s election night party and introduced the governor and lieutenant governor at the gala, the pundits said “Larry who?” By the springtime, he said to a cheering crowd, “you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing his bus.”

For Marylanders Dave and Mary Manley, who enjoyed the food and cocktails at the packed gala, the party was a long time coming.

“We’ve only ever been on the other side of [elections],” said Dave Manley. He and his wife were not living in Maryland during Ehrlich’s time in office and jumped at the opportunity to attend Hogan’s Inauguration gala to celebrate the rare Republican victory. The pair was looking forward to the lower taxes and more business-friendly climate the Hogan campaign championed during the election.

“It’s always good to get some change in [the governor’s seat],” said Dave.

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City Council Conflict

‍‍2015-01-22 11:15:08 - כח כסלו תשעה lbridwell

012315_spectorcover1When Northwest Baltimore Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector was removed from all but one of her committee assignments last month, the official message from the City Council was that Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young wanted to get some fresh blood into the city’s 12 committees. Last week, that message changed.

“What Rikki did, she crossed a line of decorum with the Council,” Young, a Democrat, said in a Jan. 15 phone interview. “Rikki has been disrespectful to me as Council president.”

In early December, Spector, a Democrat who represents Upper Park Heights, parts of Fallstaff, Mount Washington and other neighborhoods in the far Northwest 5th District, was removed from two of her three committee positions. The loss of her seats on the Urban Affairs and Aging committee and Land Use and Transportation committee left her with only the Executive Appointments committee, a relatively thankless position compared with the other legislative bodies, responsible solely for vetting candidates the mayor recommends for heads of city departments. Every other Council member is assigned to at least three committees. Most sit on four or five.

“Rikki has not been supportive of me, I’m telling you, and I can’t have people in my leadership, on my important committees in the City of Baltimore, who are not supportive of anything that I’ve done,” said Young, who accused Spector of not supporting him until the last minute when he ran for president of the Council in 2010.

Young added that he would not be reinstating her onto any of the committees for the remainder of the current Council term, which expires in 2016.

“As long as I am president Rikki will never get those committees back. No way,” he said. “You can’t disrespect me. … No, because if she was in Annapolis and she’d done what she’d done, she would have been stripped of everything and put in the corner.”


Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector (left) and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake found themselves on the same side of bills outfitting police with body cameras and banning the sale of plastic bags. (Photos provided)

Spector, the longest-serving councilmember and only Jewish representative, gained notoriety late last year when she was the only member to vote against body cameras for all members of Baltimore’s police force and a ban on plastic bags at city stores. The bills were both fiercely advocated for by Young and eventually vetoed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

In his interview with the Jewish Times, Young accused Spector of having a history of not supporting him and being a mouthpiece for the Rawlings-Blake administration. The mayor’s office had no comment.

“Anything that the administration is against, whether it’s right or wrong, Rikki is with the administration,” said Young. “And it’s just total disrespect.”

To those in the Jewish community who may be worried about adequate representation on the Council, Young said he represents the Northwest community just as much as Spector does.

Since his election, Young has worked closely with Baltimore’s Jewish community, hosting black-Jewish dialogues and, most recently, representing the City Council in a meeting with local rabbis and police representatives about security in light of the Paris attacks, a meeting held in Northwest Baltimore to which Spector was not extended an invitation.

For Sandy Johnson, president of the Fallstaff Improvement Association, that is little consolation.

“I think it’s very, very, very unfortunate,” said Johnson, who said that Spector has worked hard on behalf of the association in the past. She is concerned by the effect the move will have on respresentation for the area.

“I don’t think it will go over well in this community,” she said.

Del. Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-District 41), whose district covers Spector’s, echoed Johnson’s dissatisfaction.

“It’s wrong,” said Rosenberg. “Every member of a legislative body has the right and should be serving on committees.”

He added that elected officials are not bound to vote with their presiding officer and should not be punished for having their own opinion.

Rumors have swirled since as early as 2010 that Spector does not live in her district. A number of political blogs have traced her real residence to an Inner Harbor condominium more than five miles outside the boundaries of her district.

In his interview with the JT, Young referenced doubt about Spector’s residency.

Spector dismissed the notion, offered by Young staffers, that the Council president was simply working to get new councilmembers committee experience.

“Well everybody knows the best way to give experience to someone who doesn’t have it is have them sit along with someone who does have the experience,” she said. “I can understand giving everybody experience, but don’t take the experienced people away from benefiting the ones who don’t have the experience.”

Stripping officials of duties and committee assignments is not rare, but it’s usually reserved for elected officials who have run into legal troubles involving impropriety. Last year, Anne Arundel County Del. Don Dwyer (R-District 31) was stripped of his committee assignments in the state General Assembly after two DUI convictions in as many years. (Dwyer lost in the June 2014 Republican primary election.)

In 2011, a state representative in Oregon was stripped of several of his committee assignments after accusations were made public that he groped a state employee. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford earned international notoriety last year when he was stripped of his duties as mayor after video surfaced of him smoking what was believed to be crack cocaine.

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young (right), with the City Council’s Jewish liaison, Betsy Gardner, Rabbis Chesky Tenenbaum and Shmuel Kaplan pose alongside the City Hall menorah.  (Provided)

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young (right), with the City Council’s Jewish liaison, Betsy Gardner, Rabbis Chesky Tenenbaum and Shmuel Kaplan pose alongside the City Hall menorah. (Provided)

John Bullock, a professor of political science and metropolitan studies at Towson University, said the practice of removing City Council members from committee assignments is fully with-in the power of the Council president, but it’s relatively rare to see a president do so.

“It happens not very often. There are a couple cases: one, if there’s an election. For example, if there’s a new crop of councilmembers who come in and there’s a reshuffling of the deck. That can happen,” he explained. “In other instances, it may be when someone has either been accused of or convicted of some sort of violation.”

With the most recent Council election having been held in 2011 and Spector the subject of no current crime investigation, Bullock said Young is flexing the muscle of his office.

“It does speak to the power of the Council president,” said Bullock. “I think people understand that it’s the prerogative of the Council president to do so, but at the same time that doesn’t prevent community groups or anyone else who’s represented by that particular Council person to have something to say about that.”

Spector said it’s not the first time that Young has threatened her with removal from committees. Past disagreements over legislation, she said, have resulted in him warning her he possessed the power to strip her of assignments.

Though she is no longer required to attend a vast majority of the meetings attended by other councilmembers, Spector plans to be as involved as ever in the meetings that are open to the public, taking advantage of the open meetings to voice her opinion on topics that she said affect her community.

On Tuesday, Spector sat in on the Judiciary and Legislative Investigations committee’s hearing on a proposed amendment to the city charter that would make it easier for the council to override a mayoral veto. Despite warnings from committee chair James Kraft that the hearing was solely for the purpose of discussing the veto amendment, Spector used the opportunity to draw some attention to her own proposal to restructure aspects of city government.

Early last week, she proposed that instead of the 14 single-representative districts the Council now comprises, a charter amendment should delineate four districts with three representatives each. The four-district structure, she argued, would ensure that the people of any one district have representation at all times; if one councilmember is stripped of their assignments or falls ill, she contended, there would still be two members representing the district in their full capacity.

The Council has not yet decided whether to take the proposal to a vote.

“It’s about time she start introducing bills,” said Young of Spector’s proposal. “It’s about time she start working, because she hasn’t been.”

Any change to the city charter must be approved by voters in a referendum. “You earn respect and you work for it,” Spector said in response to Young’s accusations about her lack of esteem for him.

If she disagrees with the behavior of a member of the Council, she contended, she will not respect that member.

“I don’t work for anybody but the people who elect me,” she said. “I get myself elected.”


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Obama Talks Paid Sick Leave

‍‍2015-01-22 11:14:08 - כח כסלו תשעה lbridwell

President Barack Obama poses for a selfie with the staff at Charmington’s in Baltimore City. The cafe and coffee shop's managing partner spoke with the president about paid sick leave and family leave. (Provided)

President Barack Obama poses for a selfie with the staff at Charmington’s in Baltimore City. The cafe and coffee shop’s managing partner spoke with the president about paid sick leave and family leave. (Provided)

Amanda Rothschild found out she’d be hosting the president at her coffee shop and café on Thursday, Jan. 15, about 90 minutes before his arrival. While there was a rush of emotions when White House staff told her President Barack Obama would be coming to Charmington’s in Baltimore City, where she is managing partner, Rothschild was mostly prepared.

Knowing the president was in town to speak at the Senate Democratic Issues Conference and that she was set to meet with senior White House staff, finding out it would be the president himself wasn’t a shocker.

“I kind of screamed and said to the coordinator, ‘Can I just go ask them to clean the store?’ That was my very first reaction,” she said.

Obama met with Rothschild, school nurse Mary Stein, businesswoman Vika Jordan and U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski at the Remington business to discuss paid sick leave and family leave.

“Now, one of our biggest problems that we have is that there are 43 million Americans who don’t get paid sick leave, which when you think about it, is a pretty astonishing statistic,” Obama told the group, according to a transcript of his remarks provided by the White House press office.

Charmington’s was the backdrop for the meeting, not only because of Rothschild’s advocacy on minimum wage and sick leave, but because the business is an example of what the president hopes to see across the country.

“We started paying sick leave from the time we opened,” said Rothschild. “We were paying above minimum wage from the time we opened and we have incrementally increased our wages over time, added health insurance after we had opened and stabilized our business.”

For about two years now, Rothschild has been attending Senate hearings and other discussions at the federal level on issues of minimum wage and paid sick and family leave. She’s most recently been working with the Working Matters coalition, which advocates for paid sick leave in Maryland.

On the day of his Baltimore meeting, the president unveiled a new policy allowing federal workers up to six weeks of sick leave, and is pressing Congress to make sick leave mandatory in the United States. He told the women at Charmington’s he would advocate for a seven-day sick leave policy and urge employers to start adopting policies. He also told them the White House plans to help cities and states study the feasibility of paid family leave.

“That kind of flexibility ultimately is going to make our economy stronger and is just one piece of what needs to be a really aggressive push to ensure that if you work hard in this country then you can make it,” Obama said.

Rothschild said the president was casual, friendly and interested in hearing the women’s stories. She told him about Charmington’s policies and how sick leave benefits its employees. He asked her what the government could do to help small businesses make sick leave a priority, to which she suggested flexible policies that can be adapted to different industries’ and companies’ needs.

She also countered the argument that paid sick leave policies would strain small businesses, saying that view looks at employees as raw costs when they should be seen as assets.

“Because of the way we run our business, we have such low turnover that we really get investment out of our employees,” she said, something the president noted in his talk.

Obama headed from Charmington’s to downtown Baltimore, where he met with Senate Democrats. While it was a closed-door session, reports said
the president vowed to fight Republican efforts to roll back some of his efforts and to veto further Iran sanctions, something with which several high-powered Democrats disagree.

Maryland Sens. Mikulski and Ben Cardin said the conference’s focus was strategy in two areas: how legislators can help job and income growth and what they’re going to do now that they are not in the majority.

“We’re not going to be the party of ‘no,’” Mikulski, a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, said via email. “We’re going to work with Republicans where we can. But where we can’t, we’re going to fight for our families, for our country and for national security.”

Cardin agreed.

“I’ve reached out to my Republican colleagues. We’ll find, I hope, opportunities where we can advance issues,” he said. “We’ll start with the budget issues, issues on transportation, maybe energy even.”

In addition to strategy, Cardin, who sits on the environment and public works and foreign relations committees, said the Senators role play to anticipate how they think some debates will go. The conference also gives the legislators a chance for casual interaction, and spouses attend as well.

As for the location, both Maryland senators said Baltimore was deliberately chosen.

“This is a city with a lot of immigrant neighborhoods,” said Cardin, who talked about his grandparents immigrating to America.

Added Mikulski, “We thought we should hold it in a place that reflects our party’s strong commitment to cities. We felt it should be where there’s a Democratic stronghold and where the chief executive is a Democrat. Baltimore is all of those and is a city with a lot to offer.”


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Icy Crash Takes Life of ‘Facebuker Rebbe’

‍‍2015-01-22 10:24:52 - כח כסלו תשעה lbridwell

Rabbi Dovid Winiarz  (Provided)

Rabbi Dovid Winiarz

An icy crash in Harford County early Sunday morning took the life of a well-known Orthodox rabbi and sent four others to the hospital.

Rabbi Dovid Winiarz, 49, of Staten Island, N.Y., was on his way to the 26th Association for Jewish Outreach Professionals Convention at the Hunt Valley Inn when icy road conditions caused the Honda CR-V in which he was a passenger to crash into another vehicle shortly after 8 a.m., according to Maryland State Police.

The collision occurred on Route 23 when the driver of the CR-V lost control of the vehicle and struck a Honda Pilot in the opposing lane near High Point Road. Winiarz was seated in the rear of the CR-V. The drivers of both vehicles and two passengers were treated for minor injuries.

Rabbi Ariel Sadwin, director of Agudath Israel of Maryland, coordinated with the medical examiner’s office in downtown Baltimore to oversee and secure the release of the body. Sol Levinson & Bros. provided transportation to Pikesville, where the chevra kadisha from New York waited to take Winiarz’s body back home.

Known as the “Facebuker Rebbe,” Winiarz utilized social media, particularly through frequent Facebook posts, to reach his followers. As of Monday afternoon, Winiarz’s Facebook page registered 12,885 “likes.” His final post on Jan. 17 was a video featuring his son studying at Avos U’Bonim Yeshiva Madreigas HaAdam, captioned: “Before I leave on my road trip I came to learn Torah with my son and his friend.”

Winiarz was the founder and director of Survival Through Education, Inc., a nonprofit Jewish outreach organization. He served as the rabbi at the Multi-Faith Center at the College of Staten Island, Willowbrook, and ran a food pantry through Bikur Cholim of Staten Island.

“He was a deeply heartfelt Jew who lived his Jewishness every moment of his every day, involved in bringing Jews closer to Judaism, in providing for the needs of the poor, in countless acts of chessed, or kindness, to others,” Rabbi Avi Shafran, a close friend of the Winiarz family, told the JT by email.

The funeral for Winiarz took place Monday morning at the Young Israel of Staten Island. He leaves behind a wife, 10 children and several grandchildren.

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