Local News

Delegate faces domestic violence allegation

‍‍2015-02-27 17:27:23 - כח כסלו תשעה hnorris

Baltimore County Del. Hasan “Jay” Jalisi (D-District 10) is scheduled to appear in Baltimore County District Court on Monday for a hearing on a protective order related to an alleged domestic violence incident. The first-term delegate sits on the Judiciary Committee, Civil Law and Procedure Subcommittee and the Juvenile Law Subcommitte. Court staff said Jalisi had not yet been served as of Friday morning, but a defense lawyer was listed in electronic records by late Friday afternoon. Staffers said he was not in his Annapolis office on Friday. More information to come.

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Blooming with Innovation

‍‍2015-02-27 10:30:06 - כח כסלו תשעה ebrown

The mid-winter board meeting of the American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev convened in Baltimore this month to discuss the research of BGU’s staff and even explore a deep, albeit mysterious, Baltimore connection as part of the organization’s “Blooming with Innovation” program.

Dr. Tuvia Friling, a senior researcher at BGU’s Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism, believes that the relatively unknown Dr. Joseph Schwartz, a rabbi, native Baltimorean and president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) from 1939 to 1950, “was a real hero.”

Schwartz, during his tenure at the helm of the JDC, orchestrated and was “in charge of the main clandestine methods to rescue Jews from Europe,” said Friling. But details of the often covert work are fuzzy and currently under scrutiny by Friling in preparation for his book about Schwartz’s life, to be published next year.

“I don’t know why [in Israel] we don’t have one square or one place with the name of Joseph Schwartz,” lamented Friling, putting Schwartz and his accomplishments on par with other celebrated names associated with Israel’s founding and survival such as Weizmann, Herzl, Begin and Jabotinski, all of whom have many places named for them in Israel.

Dr. Tuvia Friling is researching the life of Baltimorean Dr. Joseph Schwartz, who according to Friling, is a forgotten hero in the history of rescuing European Jews. Friling will publish a book about Schwartz’s life next year. (Melissa Gerr)

Dr. Tuvia Friling is researching the life of Baltimorean Dr. Joseph Schwartz, who according to Friling, is a forgotten hero in the history of rescuing European Jews. Friling will publish a book about Schwartz’s life next year. (Melissa Gerr)

Schwartz, from his offices in Lisbon, Portugal, “understood what the logistical meaning of rescue” meant and strung together many links —both financial and operational — across the U.S. and Europe and beyond, creating chains of support in order to carry out his missions, said Friling.

This included everything from dealing with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to working with the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organization of then-Mandatory Palestine, as well as collaborations with other Jewish agencies.

“Even some parts of the JDC didn’t know” all of the details of Schwartz’s rescue efforts, said Friling.

Schwartz was involved in coordinating delivery of food and medicine, providing fake identity documents, relocating people to more Jewish-friendly cities and the gradual but massive mobilization of Jews to Europe’s shores, enabling transportation to happen as swiftly as possible.

His mission was to “either help Jews survive in Europe or take them out,” said Friling, adding Schwartz’s job was made more challenging because it was during a time when the U.S. and much of the rest of the world was closed for mass migration. Consequently, many were sent to Istanbul, Lisbon, Stockholm, Geneva and Palestine for safety.

“How did he get lost in history?” asked Friling. “He is a forgotten hero of saving European Jews.”

Jonathan Kolker, a past president of JDC and his wife, Judy, of Pikesville attended the lectures specifically to learn more about Schwartz.

“I hope that the book will bring knowledge of [Schwartz’s] life to the Baltimore community,” said Jonathan. “He is one of the most important figures to come out of Baltimore in the 20th century.”

Providing a more forward-looking lecture, professor Alon Friedman of BGU’s Department of Physiology and Neurobiology described his interdisciplinary team’s research “working together to solve one problem” in their quest to develop brain damage treatments.

He explained that every capillary, including those in the brain, contains a barrier that allows or prevents passage of different chemicals or proteins that are carried by the blood into different areas of the body.

“Over 30 percent of the population suffers some type of brain disorder,” such as from stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, said Friedman.

He showed a graph that illustrated the spike of brain disease occurrence since 1800 to 2012 and pointed out that there will be a 248 percent increase expected in dementia disease of the brain between 2013 and 2050 in the U.S. population.

“Longer life expectancy has a price,” he said. “There is a whole list of diseases that are associated with age.”

His team is working to discover methods for early diagnosis or treatment.

Attendees of “Blooming with Innovation” were invited to choose two of the three presentations.

Lew Winarsky, a dedicated supporter of AABGU who has been involved with the university for about year and a half, follows the sciences as a lay person and was particularly impressed by the lecture offered by Professor Gabby Sarusi.

Sarusi, a member of BGU’s Homeland Security Institute, the Ilse Katz Institute for Nanoscale Science and Technology and the university’s Electro-Optics Engineering Unit, believes everyone, not just specially outfitted military personnel, should have the capability to see well in darkness.

A world-renowned expert in thermal imaging night-vision systems, Sarusi is leading his team of researchers in developing the simple application of a thin coating to everyday glasses that will transform infrared light into visible light, thus converting them into night-vision glasses.

“For me, to hear someone who is a point person for these [research] activities,” said Winarsky, “is like listening to someone who has a crystal ball to the future of what things will look like.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Dr. Tuvia Friling is researching the life of Baltimorean Dr. Joseph Schwartz, who according to Friling, is a forgotten hero in the history of rescuing European Jews. Friling will publish a book about Schwartz’s life next year. (Melissa Gerr)
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Jewish Doctor Bids for Vitale’s Seat

‍‍2015-02-27 10:15:27 - כח כסלו תשעה ebrown

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Dr. Ron Elfenbein (provided)

Emergency room physician Ron Elfenbein is bidding for the hotly contested state delegate seat in Anne Arundel County’s 33rd District, which was left vacant when former Republican Del. Cathy Vitale was sworn in as a county circuit court judge appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan.

Vitale resigned on Monday, Feb. 23 upon assuming the bench. According to reports, Hogan is asking the Republican State Central Committee of Anne Arundel County to submit multiple names rather than one, as outlined in the state constitution,but the committee’s chairman said Hogan has yet to make the request. The governor would confirm the appointed delegate.

Elfenbein is one of 16 individuals who filed an application to be considered for the delegate seat. The county’s Republican central committee will hold a public hearing for interviews and balloting on Tuesday, March 3 and will resume voting the following day if a candidate isn’t selected. The top candidate must receive seven of the committee’s 13 votes to be nominated for the seat.

Elfenbein, an Arnold resident, ran for the House of Delegates in 2006 but lost to Democrats Michael Busch and Virginia Clagett and Republican Ron George. He then ran unopposed in the Republican primary during a run for the state Senate in 2010 and lost to Democrat John Astle by a little more than 1,000 votes, or 2.3 percent of the vote.

“As a Republican, I think having a Republican governor in office, we can really start to help redden the state a bit, certainly from a tax and spending and job perspective,” Elfenbein said on his decision to apply for the seat.

He would become the legislature’s only Republican physician, something he sees as a crucial voice in health care debates.

The Republican Central Committee took written public comments via mail and email through Friday, Feb. 27. One such letter was written by Rabbi Moshe Weisblum of Kneseth Israel Congregation, Elfenbein’s synagogue.

“His honesty and integrity — a keystone for any public servant — has been evident since I first met him 12 years ago, as is his genuine care of others,” Weisblum wrote. “He is an active member on Kneseth Israel’s board of directors and has been vital to the synagogue’s fundraising efforts as well.”

Elfenbein’s background includes volunteer firefighting and medical work, time as a Baltimore Ravens doctor and a teaching position at the U.S. Secret Service Academy in Beltsville, Md. He also finished in the top 5 percent of more than 8,000 applicants for NASA’s astronaut program and worked on developing better ways to administer medical care in space through a $700,000 NASA grant.

In addition to the economy, were he appointed to the delegate seat, Elfenbein would like to work on environmental issues, such as re-evaluating programs that aim to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and look at cost-effective programs, as well as education. He thinks state funds should be available for parents to send their children to the schools of their choosing; public, private or charter.

“I think it’s a travesty that you have kids born in a bad neighborhood and go to a bad school, and it’s just a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said.

Others on the list for consideration include Louisa Baucom, who was an aide to former Del. Don Dwyer; political consultant Jim Burton; cupcake shop owner Angelette Cintron-Aviles; and Jamie Falcon, Jeff Ferguson, Jeff Gauges and Nora Keenan, all of whom ran in the Republican primary for the same seat in the 2014 election and several others.

Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee Chairman Nathan Volke said each candidate has received some support via letters.

“I probably am getting close 20 to 25 emails a day from people supporting candidates, and that’s probably on the conservative side,” he said. “Those are going to the full committee.”

Volke said each of the committee’s 13 members are trying to speak with every applicant, either in person or over the phone. It may take multiple rounds of voting to get one candidate with seven votes, he said. (The committee has not received a request for multiple candidates from Hogan.)

The public hearing is on Tuesday, March 3, at 6 p.m. in Room 145 of the Maryland House Office Building, 6 Bladen St., Annapolis. If the hearing, interviews and voting are not completed on March 3, they will resume on March 4.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

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Lifelong Learning in Harford County

‍‍2015-02-26 14:26:42 - כח כסלו תשעה ebrown

Over the course of four years, 27 adults in Harford County are aiming to complete 100 hours of Jewish learning.

Through the expansion of the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning, now housed at the Macks Center for Jewish Education, an agency of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, in Park Heights, members of Temple Adas Shalom, The Harford Jewish Center are joining more than 50 international Jewish communities for intensive text-based study.

Brett Temple of Abingdon sought out the class for two reasons. First, he is a trustee of adult education for Adas Shalom, and second, he desired to gain more in-depth knowledge about the faith he chose 17 years ago.

“At our temple there is a desire to understand why we do what we do,” he said of the Reform congregation. “We say this prayer every week, but where does it come from? Or, we say this prayer every day; why?”

A traditional Melton model takes place over two years, but through examining the schedules of the participants, organizers decided that a four-year model was a better fit for the Harford County community. The adult learners began meeting in October and will complete 13 two-hour sessions by May. The Adas Shalom class size is larger than a typical Melton class, but the participants were adamant about not dividing into smaller sections. They want to complete each step together.

Adas Shalom members didn’t have to look far to find a Melton instructor. Their very own Rabbi Gila Ruskin has been teaching Melton courses since the first year it was offered at Chizuk Amuno Congregation in Pikesville and estimates that she has taught every course offering, including graduate classes.

From 6:45 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. on the days the class meets, they study Rhythms of Jewish Living with Ron Mitnick, who comes from an Orthodox background. Following a short break, the class meets with Ruskin for another hour to study Purposes of Jewish Living.

Each lesson has a theme, Ruskin explained, from biblical to rabbinical, responsa literature to modern literature. The texts are pluralistic, and the instructors purposefully selected from different backgrounds and, when possible, different genders to give participants an all-encompassing view of Judaism.

“It’s a bit like drinking from a fire hose trying to filter down 5,000 years of tradition,” said Temple.

Karen Wolkow of Joppa agreed. She is a lifelong member of Adas Shalom, having just switched from her parents’ membership to her own, and loves to learn.

“If I could make a living by going to school that would be my career of choice,” she said. The course put her in a setting where she could listen to those more knowledgeable and offer her thoughts to those less so, a process she describes as fascinating.

One session that sticks out in her mind was a discussion focusing on Jewish symbols.

“We discussed why the mezuzah is mounted at an angle, and if it really should be. We discussed why the tallit has four corners and the importance of the blue threads. We discussed the menorah, with its various branches all coming together at the base, representing various branches of knowledge coming together to support us,” she said. “I never put much thought into some of the finer intricacies of these items.”

An anonymous donor offset the cost of the course, said Ruskin, so some participants were able to apply for scholarships, though everyone paid a minimum $100 fee to help cover the cost of the course materials and instructor salary.

Adas Shalom in Havre de Grace was the lone outpost of Jewish life in Harford County for a number of years. Temple refers to his home congregation as “Reform-Conserva-dox” because of the diverse mix of religious observance.

“We’re very welcoming. We have to be very welcoming,” said Temple. “We meet the needs of whoever comes to [our door].”

Harford Chabad in Bel Air opened a few years ago.

The course and discussion among members has sparked new ideas for adult learning in the community. Temple is working on a class tentatively titled, “I’d be honored, I just don’t know how” to teach bimah etiquette, such as when to open the ark and how to raise the Torah scroll.

Melton education director Rabbi David Bienenstock is not surprised by the participants’ reactions.

“A typical response is, ‘I want to show my children that Jewish learning doesn’t end’ or ‘I enjoy learning’ or ‘In the past I’ve only observed the High Holidays and I want to know more,’” said Bienenstock.

Throughout the course, Bienenstock observes the classes and gathers feedback from students. The universal response has been positive, he said, with students citing ample interaction and the instructors’ knowledge as reasons to continue on toward the 100-hour goal.

“[This class is important] because they want to be literate Jews. They want to feel that they’re on equal footing with Jews in Baltimore, Philadelphia or anywhere else,” said Ruskin. “In Harford County, you have to make the effort to have Jewish involvement, and I appreciate that people make the effort. It’s a wonderful community.”

mapter@midatlanticmedia.com

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Shomrim’s Watchful Eye

‍‍2015-02-26 14:25:51 - כח כסלו תשעה ebrown

For many in Baltimore’s Jewish community, a call to Shomrim precedes even a call to police when someone spots suspicious activity.

The community watch group — one of at least three dedicated to protecting the bulk of the Jewish community in Northwest Baltimore — is growing.

“The organization is growing both in profile and community outreach,” said Nate Willner, a lawyer and Shomrim member.

022715_shomrim1Easily identified by their jackets and response cars, nearly every Orthodox community in the country, and more around the world, has a Shomrim affiliate, and some cities, such as London and New York, even have two or three.

Baltimore’s Shomrim — literally “watchers” in Hebrew — was founded in 2005 after a spike in burglaries in the Pikesville/Park Heights area put neighborhood residents on edge. Despite a highly publicized incident in 2010 in which a Shomrim member and his brother were charged, and later cleared, of assaulting and kidnapping a black teen who was walking through the neighborhood, the group has managed to recover and even thrive over the past four years, members say.

“It’s sort of a citizen’s patrol group on steroids,” said Willner.

With some 150 to 200 calls per month, Willner said, the need in the community is huge. Today’s calls involve mostly stolen bikes and car break-ins, but Jonathan Sarna, the Joseph H. and Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and chief historian at the National Museum of American Jewish History, said groups such as Shomrim have deep roots in the Jewish community, both in the United States and abroad.

Today’s Jewish community watch groups were preceded by the Jewish Defense League, said Sarna. The JDL was founded in New York City in 1968 in the midst of the city’s racially charged tension over the teachers’ union strikes, when many alleged the local police were not adequately protecting the Jewish community. As time went on, the organization switched its focus to the Soviet Union and influencing Soviet groups in America to pressure their government back home to begin allowing Jewish immigration to Israel.

After a series of attacks, the Jewish community distanced itself from the group, and the JDL has since been placed on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of extremist organizations.

But other groups have taken the torch of protecting the Jewish community.

“I think that you would find that they were influenced, really, by some of the efforts in the Holocaust,” said Sarna. “Jews were very proud when Warsaw Ghetto Jews defended themselves and armed themselves — Mordechai Anilevitch and others — to fight the Nazis.”

While private organizations designed to patrol communities have long been branded by some as vigilantes, the United States has a long history of pride in self-defense. And recent anti-Semitic events in other parts of the world have helped to solidify the community’s support for such groups. Though the problems facing the American Jewish community are far less pressing than those being felt by Jews in Europe, he said, community watch organizations still serve a vital role in American Jewish society.

“The events in Europe, they legitimate the formation of these new groups now,” said Sarna.

And protecting the community against any potential terror plots is indeed a major focus of Shomrim and other community patrols.

“That’s an area that, unfortunately, we have to look at,” said Willner.

In addition to responding to missing persons calls, break-ins and reports of stolen bicycles, Shomrim also spends a great deal of time and energy emphasizing to residents the importance of being on the lookout for “things that look out of place,” Willner said. Members, he said, are looking “through a different kind of lens these days.”

Community members are instructed today to be mindful of anyone hanging around synagogues and Jewish communal buildings, possibly watching the comings and goings or taking photos or videos. Shomrim relies on the ability of neighbors to know when something or someone looks out of place on their block and recently asked local synagogues to recruit drivers for the organization.

But distinguishing what and who looks out of place is cause for concern among some in Baltimore. Shomrim in the past has been criticized for posting notices on Facebook that some have felt were racially tinged.

As groups like Shomrim or any other neighborhood patrol grow, the need for proper training of volunteers increases as well. Rev. Heber Brown III, a local pastor and community organizer, who was critical of Shomrim after the 2010 incident, said he is hopeful that the city’s neighborhood patrol groups have learned that the actions of even one volunteer can tarnish the reputation of any organization.

“With those groups that have greater connections with city leaders and police department heads, I think it’s incumbent of those kinds of organizations to kind of go above and beyond the basic requirement,” he said. “I think that Shomrim is one of the more sophisticated groups.”

Lt. Jim Perez is a veteran police officer in Fairfield, Conn., where he also teaches community groups how to organize neighborhood patrols and effectively protect their own communities. Through the National Crime Prevention Council, he trains neighborhood groups around the country how to operate both safely and effectively to protect their neighborhoods.

The relationship between community groups and local police is vital to the effectiveness of both groups, he said.

The Dushinsky Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky, addresses Shomrim members in December 2014. (Photo David Stuck)

The Dushinsky Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky, addresses Shomrim members in December 2014. (Photo provided)

For example, one of the first things Perez said he teaches community members is how to “speak the language” of police and emergency responders. Being articulate and specific can have a direct effect on the length of time is takes for an officer to arrive at a call. Additionally, it establishes the neighborhood watch group’s credibility with the department. This is a lesson Willner said Shomrim members are taught early on.

The best advice for groups looking to protect their own community, Perez said, is to be suspicious of everyone and everything.

He hears often from people who tell him that they don’t want to “bother” the police with something that could end up a nonissue. But the key to successful police-community relations, he insists, is a public that doesn’t hesitate to call the police with its concerns.

“You’re paying taxes.” he said. “That’s our job: to respond to you.”

Perez is fond of using the example of the Times Square bomb plot that was foiled in 2013 after a couple of street vendors noticed a suspicious car idling in the tourist center of New York as a depiction of the important role any one person’s instincts can play.

“‘Not normal.’ That’s a great phrase,” he said. “Everyone needs to know what’s not normal and then report not normal.”

For Shomrim, operating in the largely Orthodox neighborhoods of Northwest Baltimore, Willner believes members are uniquely qualified to identify “not normal.”

It is not uncommon for Shomrim to get calls on Friday evening about observant Jews who may be stuck in traffic and, in an effort to avoid driving on Shabbat, leave their car on the side of a road and begin walking to their destination.

While that same call to the police department might be met first with a series of questions about why the driver chose to leave his or her car, Shomrim’s process is expedited by the fact that members already understand the aspects of Orthodox life that make the community unique. The learning curve is eliminated, said Willner.

However, he stressed, the existence of the watch does not eliminate the need for police in the area.

“We’re happy to see police cars,” he said.

And the city’s police department insists it is happy to work with any citizen or group of citizens that wants to take a more active role in protecting his or her neighborhood.

“We are strong believers in the concept of community policing and making sure that we have healthy, safe neighborhoods,” said Eric Kowalczyk, a media relations officer for the Baltimore Police Department. “We’re not going to be in a position to restrict a neighborhood group or a neighborhood association.”

Security is a concern in every neighborhood, he said, and the police department is encouraged by groups that want to work with them. “I think that the real tribute here is the fact that people care enough about their neighborhood and city that they’re willing to sacrifice their own time to come together to be
active partners with the police department, and that’s a really truly wonderful thing.”

hnorris@midatlanticmedia.com

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