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Freundel Planned to Take More Female Towson Students on Tour

2014-10-23 17:52:21 mshapiro
Rabbi Barry Freundel (Courtesy Towson University)

Rabbi Barry Freundel (Courtesy Towson University)

A Towson University senior who is taking a class Rabbi Barry Freundel taught prior to his arrest said she and “a couple of other girls” were invited to tour his synagogue.

“I had never planned on doing the mikvah, but going to the synagogue sounded like a cool experience,” Karen Berry, who is a student in the “Judeo-Christian Perspectives in Medical Ethics” class, said Thursday afternoon outside the classroom.

Freundel was arrested on Oct. 14 for allegedly setting up a hidden camera disguised as a clock radio in the National Capital Mikvah, a Jewish ritual bath next door to his Washington, D.C., synagogue, Kesher Israel Congregation, in Georgetown. He is charged with six counts of voyeurism, to which he has pleaded not guilty. He is suspended without pay from his synagogue and suspended from all faculty responsibilities at Towson.

On Wednesday, the university began its own investigation into whether or not Freundel violated Title IX guidelines that pertain to sexual misconduct, university spokesman Ray Feldmann said. His office in the university’s liberal arts building was searched by police the previous day.

“There are parts of the Title IX law that pertain to sexual misconduct and behavior that creates what’s called an ‘impermissible hostile environment,’” explained Feldmann. A violation would mean Freundel’s actions interfered with a student’s ability to continue his or her education at Towson. “We’re certainly not accusing Dr. Freundel of having done these things, but we’re looking at whether or not he did.”

Feldmann said university officials felt they had enough reason to investigate Freundel based on information from students, which the university has been collecting since the arrest.

He said the university probably won’t make a decision on Freundel’s long-term status at Towson until both the Title IX investigation and the criminal investigation have concluded.

Berry said Freundel, who first started teaching at Towson in 2009 as a tenured professor, seemed knowledgeable.

“He was very prominent in the Jewish community so I figured he would be a good professor,” she said.

At least a half-dozen other students used the National Capital Mikvah during class trips, according to an unnamed woman who helped Freundel with the mikvah from late 2013 through May, The Washington Post reported. She wasn’t sure if students were recorded, but is afraid they might have been, she told the newspaper.

Another woman told The Post that she noticed a clock in the bath area as far back as 2012. According to reports, there was also a fan in the mikvah, and a manual for a fan with a hidden camera was found at Freundel’s home.

Nicole Coniglio, a senior mass communication major, told student newspaper The Towerlight that she toured the synagogue for a religious studies class she was taking with Freundel. While on the tour, she and other students were asked to shower in the mikveh, and while she declined, two of her Jewish classmates accepted.

Towerlight editor-in-chief Jonathan Munshaw, who is in the same class as Berry, said students came to class the day their professor was arrested and waited about 20 minutes before leaving.

“The arrest occurred in D.C., so even as a reporter, I was, frankly, behind the story,” Munshaw said. He wrote a piece later that afternoon, but since removed himself from reporting on further developments. He said the next class was “emotionally draining.”

That class resumed on Tuesday with Rabbi Avram Reisner of Chevrei Tzedek teaching.

“At the end, he just said, ‘This is obviously a very unfortunate situation. I’m very disappointed,’ and just opened the floor to everyone who wanted to share their thoughts,” Munshaw said of the new professor on Wednesday.

Reisner said that first day of teaching Freundel’s classes was somewhat difficult, but his job was to get things back on track academically.

“When I walked in, there was a little bit of discomfort among the students,” he acknowledged a day later. “Today, I’m teaching a normal class.”

Feldmann said that in addition to gathering information, the university is offering resources to those with questions or having difficulty processing what happened.

“A lot of students are very upset, feel like he was a good professor,” Feldmann said, “somebody they admired and looked up to.”

The university is also encouraging students who may have information that could aid in the police’s criminal investigation to report it to university police, who may then refer them to Washington, D.C., police.

“Anything Dr. Freundel is accused of doing in D.C., we don’t believe he did anything like that at Towson University,” Feldmann said.

While there have been no complaints against Freundel in the past — the university even looked at past student evaluations — and learning opportunities outside of class are encouraged, Feldmann said taking students to the mikvah was “where it would have crossed the line.”

“We encourage our faculty to create off-campus learning activities for our students,” he said. “The mikvah portion of a class trip is something we would not have condoned or sanctioned had we known about it.”


Rabbi Barry Freundel (Courtesy Towson University)
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Testing Your Knowledge

2014-10-23 12:19:45 amotkina
NewsUp founders Andrew Schuster (left) and Coleman Anderson. Photo by Marc Shapiro

NewsUp founders Andrew Schuster (left) and Coleman Anderson. Photo by Marc Shapiro

At a time when statistics say young people are less aware of current events than perhaps ever before, the founders of Baltimore-based NewsUp think they have the solution.

Years ago, brothers Andrew and Jason Schuster, along with their friend Coleman Anderson, wanted to start a news outlet that millennials could relate to. Last month, they launched NewsUp, a website devoted entirely to relaying the news through interactive quizzes. From quizzes about local craft beers to Maryland’sgubernatorial race to Orioles statistics, the site offers people a way to test what they know about the biggest news both locally and internationally and read up on what they don’t have a clue about.

“In our generation, with the birth of mobile devices and social media — as these devices have gotten smaller and information has just exponentially increased in availability — content has gotten smaller and smaller,” said Andrew Schuster. “Long form just isn’t an ideal type of content for the medium. Anything that’s just quick and easy and digestible is proven to be the most effective way to deliver information on these devices.”

The five-person NewsUp staff works to provide content that both informs and engages their audience. Most of this audience, they’ve found, consists of 25- to 30-year-olds who are, for the most part, up to date on current events, but they have heard from some teachers who have incorporated it into their lessons and even some mothers who use it as a way to pass the time at sporting events.

“Our mission is making news fun,” said Schuster. And if the audience becomes more interested in the topic and chooses to learn more about it, all the better.

When users take one of NewsUp’s quizzes — most are a standard 10 questions — they are given scores upon completion and a breakdown of which questions they got right and wrong, along with a brief explanation about each topic and a link to a more in-depth story on the subject.

In the second month since its official launch, a major focus has been to emphasize local content. While they have seen users from all over the world, their primary market is the Baltimore area. All three founders are from the region, and, in the years of development, they have found Baltimore to be the ideal place to launch a startup company.

As part of Baltimore-based incubator Accelerate Baltimore, they have been supported by executives from other Baltimore businesses, such as Under Armor and Millennial Media.

“Being a business in Baltimore, which is where I’m from, has been amazing just because we’re working with entrepreneurs who are local, who are trying to make Baltimore a more attractive place for business, and we’re really kind of right in the middle of this entrepreneurial, startup ecosystem evolution here in Baltimore,” said Schuster. “The community here has been a tremendous resource. I think Baltimore’s probably one of the best places in the world to have a startup right now.”

It helps, he added, to have a company built around fun. Between board meetings and paperwork, Schuster said he likes to make some of the quizzes himself. And the competitive nature of their company runs all the way up the ranks of their staff.

“We’re thinking about making a leader board for our staff,” said Schuster.

“Everybody wants to have the quiz that gets the most hits.”





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A Real Dog Fight

2014-10-23 12:13:48 amotkina
The ACLU of Maryland claims volunteers and advocates such as Reform BCAS (pictured) are being hushed in free speech. Photo by David Stuck

The ACLU of Maryland claims volunteers and advocates such as Reform BCAS (pictured) are being hushed in free speech.
Photo by David Stuck

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland claims Baltimore County Animal Services (BCAS) has policies and practices that aim to undermine the shelter’s public accountability.

In a statement, the ACLU raised concerns about the shelter, which is in Baldwin in northern Baltimore County, preventing volunteers and members of the public from documenting and speaking out about its conditions and practices.

A group called Reform Baltimore County Animal Services has been staging protests and calling for increased community outreach and transparency to reduce the county-run shelter’s kill rate and increase adoptions as well as improve facility conditions and veterinary care and increase its volunteer force.

The ACLU statement cites concerns by “numerous advocates, including Reform BCAS” reporting that volunteers and advocates are being hushed in their free speech through retaliation or threats of retaliation and have been banned from taking certain kinds of photos.

“Our rights under the First Amendment are the foundation of Americans’ ability to hold government agencies accountable,” Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland, said in a statement. “That is why it raises red flags for the Baltimore County Animal Shelter to selectively impose restrictions upon photography and speech freedoms at the facility, seemingly in an effort to stifle criticism.”

County officials have dismissed Reform BCAS’s complaints before, calling them “unfounded” and saying they work to adopt animals out as quickly as possible.

ACLU cited several incidents, including the removal of a volunteer who was photographing animals, a Facebook post to the Reform BCAS page from Don Mohler, chief of staff to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, that said citizens can’t take photos of animals at the shelter and volunteers who told the ACLU that they were afraid to speak out. The statement also said two ACLU volunteers who posed as a couple looking to adopt a pet and brought with them large cameras said they were able to take photos, but a shelter official said it would not have been allowed for “inappropriate” purposes such as “if you were from Channel 2.”

Baltimore County officials said they do not have a policy against photographing animals at the shelter.

“It’s never been about photography — it’s about people coming into the facility and disrupting the work of staff trying to do their jobs,” county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said via email. “When volunteers are working at the shelter, they have specific tasks that don’t include photography, so they have been asked not to take pictures during their shifts. They are welcome to come back at other times as members of the public and take pictures.”

Kobler also mentioned that shutter clicks and flash photography can frighten nervous animals. The county plans to open a new, $6 million shelter in August 2015 that will have more kennel space, a meet-and-greet for adoptions, a surgical center, two dog parks (one for the shelter and one for the public) and a cat socialization room. The shelter also hired two full-time veterinarians and introduced public spay and neuter services earlier this year.

The county maintains that the accusations from Reform BCAS and the ACLU are groundless.“This is a story manufactured by a handful of advocates who have disrupted shelter employees from their work taking care of animals,” Kobler said. “The story is generated by a group of people who want the county to release feral cats into neighborhoods.”


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PJ Your Way Launches in Baltimore

2014-10-23 12:02:28 amotkina
PJ Your Way is expanding its program to include children from the ages of 9 to 11

PJ Your Way is expanding its program to include children from the ages of 9 to 11

Pizza, bowling and books. Sounds like the perfect recipe.PJ Library, a national program that provides free books with Jewish content to families, is launching its PJ Your Way Program in Baltimore. With more than 200 programs across the country, PJ Library handpicked Baltimore as one of nine pilot cities to begin its new initiative for older children.

While their initial program is for families with children ranging from 6 months to 6 1/2 years old, PJ Your Way is widening the age range for 9 to 11 years old. This Sunday, Oct. 26, the project will host a bowling and pizza party at the Pikesville AMF Bowling Lanes from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. to celebrate.

“We are opening this event up to 7 and 8 year olds as well,” said Lara Nicolson, the local PJ Library coordinator. “The idea is to create your own account, choose four books every month and read the books of your choice. For our younger children, we select the books. We want to give the older kids more freedom.”

With students charged $5 for admission, parents come free. The event also offers camp discounts,
including a $500 raffle for new campers to attend any partner camp of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore for free. Erica Pearl, author of “When Life Gives You OJ” and “Aces Wild” will also be there. “We are so excited to have Erica Pearl join us,” said Nicolson. “How often can you come face-to-face with an author?”

As an organization, the PJ Library in Baltimore has already made strides, noted one client, non-Jewish mother of two Jorie Rozencwaig. She heard about the program through the Mother’s Circle at the Jewish Community Center in Owings Mills.

“Through the Mother’s Circle, I discovered the PJ Library, and I figured why not?” said Rozencwaig, who is raising her kids Jewish. “My kids really look forward to receiving the books, and many of the books have expanded my knowledge of Jewish culture. We have been really happy with the program so far.”

For more information, visit cjebaltimore.org/pjbowls .

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Kirchner Honored by National Fallen Firefighters

2014-10-23 11:55:49 amotkina

Although his untimely death was nearly a year-and-a-half ago, time has not forgotten Gene Meir Kirchner, a member of the Reisterstown Volunteer Fire Company who died at age 25 on May 2, 2013, eight days after he was critically injured while attempting to rescue someone from a house fire.

On Sunday, Oct. 12, Kirchner was honored at the 33rd Annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service in Emmitsburg, Md. He and Perryville firefighter Capt. David Barr Jr. were two of 98 firefighters who died in 2013 and nine who died in previous years who were honored at the service, which was held at the National Fire Academy. It drew more than 5,000 people, including members of Congress and other dignitaries, and included participation by members of the fire service, honor guard units and pipe and drum units from all over the country.

The names of those honored were added to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial on the academy grounds. Kirchner joined the Reisterstown company at age 14 as a junior firefighter. His twin brother, Will, and his sister, Shelly Brezicki, also volunteer there.

“It came very naturally to him,” Brezicki said of her brother’s fire service. “I think he wanted to have a purpose. He found that every day he wanted to do something that bettered someone else.”Kirchner, who graduated from Owings Mills High School, spent most of his time at the fire station, with his family or at his job as a dispatch controller with Butler Medical transport. He was posthumously honored by the Reisterstown Fire Company with a Medal of Honor and also at Fallen Heroes Day at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in May, exactly one year after his death.

While Brezicki said her brother was not one to seek recognition, she hopes people find inspiration in his sacrifice. “Our biggest hope is that people remember that Gene ran into a burning building to save a stranger, and there is nothing more heroic than that,” she said. “He ran into a building fully knowing the risk that was involved to save someone he didn’t know.”

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