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Israel’s Economy Expected to Slow in 2017

Tel Aviv residents protest the high cost of living in 2011. (LEVINE/SIPA/Newscom)

Tel Aviv residents protest the high cost of living
in 2011. (LEVINE/SIPA/Newscom)

Israel’s economy hummed along in 2016 with an impressive estimated economic growth rate of 3.5 percent.

That’s the good news.

Unfortunately, “this year has been an outlier,” said Avi Weiss, executive director of the Jerusalem-based Taub Center for Social Policy, a nonpartisan, socioeconomic think tank.

Israel’s economy has been growing slowly in the 2010s, and the country’s endemic problems — notably high housing costs and high rates of poverty — will continue to plague it in 2017. But the good news for Israelis is that more American dollars might be on the way, despite the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against the Israeli economy.

Those are two of the predictions that economic experts make for 2017.

Poverty Will Remain Relatively High

One in every five Israelis lives below the poverty line, Weiss said.

Compare that to other similarly developed countries, in which one in every nine or 10 people live in poverty, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which measures the economic standings of different countries.

While the Israeli government has established a committee to address the country’s poverty, it is fighting an uphill battle, according to Weiss.

The Haredi Orthodox and Arab populations account for more than half of those living in poverty, he said. Both groups have large families with only one parent working.

“It’s unlikely Israel will attain its goal” of hitting the OECD average of one in roughly 10 people in 2017, Weiss said, because “poverty is measured per person. If you have a large family, you divide [the wages among the] kids.”

Israel Has an Edge over the BDS Movement

Despite activism by pro-BDS groups in the United States, the movement is of “very little” concern for Israel in 2017, said Dany Bahar, of the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

Bahar said Israel exports goods such as medical equipment, pharmaceuticals and electronics. These are goods that people need regardless of political arena.

He compared the modern BDS movement with the one waged against South Africa in the 1980s. He explained the difference is the goods South Africa exported — such as fruit — were easily substituted.

No More Accidental  Divesting

In 2010, Israel was promoted from an emerging to a developed market for global indexes, said Joe Levin, chief investment strategist of BlueStar Indexes, which builds and maintains indexes of Israel’s market.

Consequentially, Israel’s relative market weight — the amount and value of shares publicly traded — plummeted.

“Israel went from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond,” said Levin. He added the problem was exaggerated by the fact that a third of Israeli companies are not classified as Israeli in global indexes.

This caused some pro-Israel organizations to divest from Israel accidentally to mirror indexes.

Levin predicts that in 2017, investors, such as board members at Jewish federations, will become savvy to this and begin asking more questions about their portfolios, and how accurately their dollars reflect their stated mission.

Levin said: “How much Israel is in our portfolio? What exposure do we have in companies that are against [our] values? What message do our investments say about the values of our community?”

BlueStar has already addressed these questions with more than a dozen federations and is continuing to do so with others.

Despite Government  Efforts, Housing Costs Will Not Drop

The majority of the country’s land is owned by the Israel Land Authority, and in the past decade, the authority cut back the amount of land it releases for public use, Weiss said.

An increase in demand without an increase in supply is a recipe for high prices.

To address the problem, the government passed a law taxing individuals who own three or more apartments.

But Bahar predicts even if those who are taxed put their apartments on the market — which is not guaranteed — the country as a whole will only see a minimal return.

Why? Because of Israel’s eight million citizens, it is estimated only 50,000 will be taxed.

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com

5 Go-To Venues

A bar or bat mitzvah is a once-in-a-lifetime simchah that brings friends and family together for a joyous occasion to celebrate a Jewish child’s coming of age.

Choosing a venue might seem like a daunting task consisting only of liking a space or not, but in reality, it is a crucial decision that sets the tone for the entire event. Fortunately, there are a number of unique settings around the Greater Baltimore area from which  to choose when planning the  big day.

Here are five event locations that promise to provide an unforgettable experience.


 

M&T Bank Stadium

M&T Bank Stadium

M&T Bank Stadium

M&T Bank Stadium is best known as the home of the NFL’s Ravens, but when the ball is at rest and the uniforms are hung up, the stadium shines as a luxury space for b’nai mitzvahs. Aramark, the Ravens’ exclusive food and beverage partner, works in conjunction with the team to make the guest of honor feel like a Raven.

Typically, the stadium hosts 10 to 12 b’nai mitzvahs per year, holding anywhere from 50 to 500-plus people for each depending on a client’s budget, needs and desires. Among the services offered include football-themed activities, video montages on the two state-of-the-art 24-by-100-foot high-definition video boards in the end zone and guest appearances from players and mascots.

The team’s club-level-suite lounge — offering an overview of downtown Baltimore with 60-foot floor-to-ceiling windows — houses most of the receptions. But there are also opportunities to tour the stadium, go on the field and enjoy the view from the seats in the lower level.

“We really want to give kids and their families that Ravens feel to it,” said Sarah Aiello, event sales and marketing manager at Aramark. “We partner hand in hand with the Ravens so our guests really get what they want.”

For more information, visit bit.ly/2enSjT7.


 

Blue Hill Tavern

Blue Hill Tavern

Blue Hill Tavern

Although Blue Hill Tavern is relatively new, having opened in 2009, the Canton-based establishment has gained quite a reputation with its unique structure.

With a two-level design for indoor and outdoor dining, Blue Hill Tavern features a second-floor bar, a spacious veranda, an elegant private dining room and in-house catering. Party packages, which vary in price from $5,000 to $15,000 and can be adjusted based on a perspective client’s budget, are designed to seat more than 200 guests and 300 standing.

Blue Hill Tavern events and donations coordinator Jessica Cohen said most of the restaurant’s party-related business is by referral and that many newcomers become repeat customers  because of the emphasis placed on attention to detail.

“We’ve never had a party where the hosts leave and weren’t satisfied with the outcome,” Cohen said. “If anything, we find that we totally exceed their expectations. We strive to come up with a plan, then execute it and do whatever we can to see our clients are fully satisfied.”

For more information, visit bluehilltavern.com.


 

DoubleTree by Hilton in Pikesville

DoubleTree by Hilton in Pikesville

DoubleTree by Hilton in Pikesville

For families looking for a more traditional setting, the DoubleTree by Hilton Baltimore North/Pikesville offers a stylish private banquet room for both a service and party accommodating up to 375 people.

Four-hour venue rental packages come complete with complimentary dance floor and DJ booth, gift and cake tables, centerpieces and staging, specialty-colored linens and a wide array of menu items. The dinner buffet, designed for 50 or more guests, includes a litany of tasty salad, beef, chicken, fish and dessert choices.

“Each guest and each proposal statement is designed precisely with each individual guest requirements,” said sales manager Christina Landers. “The constant goal is to exceed expectations and to make the event a memorable one.”

For more information, visit bit.ly/2ey6i9p.


 

Dave & Busters

Dave & Busters

Dave & Buster’s

Dave & Buster’s at Arundel Mills Mall has a little something for everyone with two separate buffet packages for children, adults and families.

For children, there are two separate packages that range from $24.99 to $34.99 per child and consist of access to the restaurant’s 200-plus arcade games, 14 bowling lanes and 10 pool tables. There are also three adult-friendly packages available.

“Families can just come in, sit back and relax,” said Steven Rivera, special consultant at Dave & Buster’s at Arundel Mills. “Basically, there is something fun for everyone, from the adults to the children, and we like to consider ourselves a one-stop shop for everything in terms of the actual party.”

For more information, visit daveandbusters.com/hanover.


 

Reisterstown Sportsplex

Reisterstown Sportsplex

The Reisterstown Sportsplex

The Reisterstown Sportsplex, which opened in 2008, has become a hotbed for many kids involved with competitive sports, and it puts on several b’nai mitzvahs a year.

While there is a traditional party room that comes with a $50 rental fee, guests have full access to the complex’s turf fields and ice-skating rink. Amenities that come with the $16.50 per cost per child  include skate rental, pizza, hot dogs and soda. The Sportsplex can also accommodate those who wish to have a kosher event.

“[B’nai mitzvahs] have been a really big hit here,” said general manager Chuck Lawless. “There are a lot of different things we can do when it comes to the kids who want to dance, play sports or whatever with all of our offerings at the facility.”

For more information, visit rtownsports.com/parties.

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com

Chicken Soup Cook-Off Winners and Recipes

Best Chicken Soup in Maryland: Betsey Kahn’s “Good Old Fashioned Chicken Soup”

INGREDIENTS:

1  Roasting chicken
3 Carrots, sliced
4 Celery stalks, sliced
3 medium Onions, sliced
2 large Cloves of garlic
½ large Lemon, juice and rind
1 Tsp Pepper
1 Tbsp Salt
1 Tbsp SeasonAll
6 C Water
1 ½ C medium Barley
2 pkts Chicken HerbOx
2 32 oz Chicken broth
1 16 oz Frozen corn
1 16 oz Frozen peas

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Place the chicken, either whole or cut up, in a 4 qt. pot,
  2. Put celery, carrots, onions, and garlic in the pot.
  3. Add 6 cups of water, salt, pepper, lemon juice, lemon rind, and SeasonAll.  Cover the pot and bring the liquid to a boil, turn the heat down and cook for at least 2 hours.  The chicken will be “fall off the bone” at that time.
  4. With a slotted spoon, remove the chicken from the pot to a plate and remove the skin from all the parts.  BE CAREFULL TO REMOVE ALL BONES FROM THE BROTH.
  5. Add as much of the pulled chicken as you want in the broth.
  6. Add the barley to the broth and cook for another ½ hour.
  7. Add frozen corn and peas to the broth as well as the 2 packets of HerbOx and (2) 32 ounce boxes of chicken broth.
  8. Continue cooking for another ½ to ¾  of an hour.
  9. ENJOY EATING MY GOOD OLD FASHION CHICKEN SOUP!

 

The People’s Choice: Amy Fossett’s “Chicken Soup Maryland Style”

 

Best Traditional Chicken Soup: Mary Brady’s “Schmaltzy Soup”

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Take a chicken, young or “stewing” (e.g., OLD). This recipe does not discriminate.
  2. Discard the neck and Chop up the giblets.
  3. Cover the chicken in cold water in a BIG pot. Boil that devil for a few minutes and then simmer it for an hour, until the meat falls off the bones.
  4. For each chicken, shred a pound of carrots, celery and shallots.
  5. Saute the schredded vegs and giblets in schmaltz for Kosher version; butter for non-Kosher version.
  6. Add Minor chicken base to the stewing chicken (this is the top-knotch chicken stock; available at BJ’s; if you can’t get it use any chicken stock.) Add vegetable stock, as well – about a quart of stock for each bird.
  7. Pick out anything you don’t want to eat, e.g. bones and giant pieces of skin. Leave some skin in.
  8. Combine the sautéed vegs and the meat and simmer all for an hour.
  9. Cool in the fridge overnight and then take off most of the fat – leave about a third.
  10. Bring to a boil – add a pound of Maneschevitz curly egg noodles – cook until the noodles are al dente.
  11. Enjoy!

 

Best Alternative Chicken Soup: Adam Yosim’s his “Tom Kha Chai”

INGREDIENTS:

3 lb chicken wings
1 large onion, quartered
1-2 garlic cloves, smashed
3 quarts water

Soup

2-3 quarts chicken broth
1 T ginger, chopped
1 T garlic, chopped
1/4 cup red curry paste
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cups shiitake mushrooms, de-stemmed and sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
1 can of coconut milk
1 lb boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
2-3 T fish sauce
2-3 T cilantro
optional: scallions, lime wedges

For the broth:

  1. Place quartered onion, smashed garlic cloves, chicken wings, water, salt and pepper in a crockpot.
  2. Cook on high for 4-5 hours or low for 6-8.
  3. Remove solids and strain broth.

For the soup:

  1. Heat a stock pot to medium heat. Cook garlic, ginger and red curry paste for 5 minutes until fragrant.
  2. Add chicken and stir for 2 minutes.
  3. Add onions, mushrooms and red pepper. Cook for 2-3 more minutes.
  4. Add chicken broth, coconut milk and fish sauce. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Serve with fresh herbs, scallions and squeezed lime juice.

 

Best “Free From” Chicken Soup: David Guy-Decker’s “No Chicken Chicken Soup”

 

Director’s Choice: Lan Pham Wilson of Morestomach Blog‘s “Lemongrass Chicken Soup”

Serves 6-8

INGREDIENTS:

Homemade stock:
1-2 kosher chicken carcasses, depending on how big they are
3 large carrots, washed, tips trimmed and rough chopped
3 stalks of celery, washed and rough chopped
6 lemongrass stalks, trimmed and slightly bruised
2″ knob of ginger, slightly smashed
3-4 garlic gloves, whole but slightly smashed
handful of kefir lime leaves
1 small-medium onion, quartered
3-4 red thai chilis, whole and scored
palm-full of whole black peppercorns
water

Soup:
2-3 carrots, washed, peeled & diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 small onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
meat of kosher rotisserie chicken, shredded
1/2 cup rice
1/8-1/4 cup kosher fish sauce (i used Red Boat)
1 TBL oil, olive oil or grapeseed

Extra flavoring:
2-3 lemongrass stalks, slightly bruised
1″ knob of ginger, slightly smashed
1-2 garlic cloves, slightly smashed
1/2 small onion, cut in half
1-2 red thai chilis, whole and scored
splash of neutral oil, like grapeseed

Garnish:
limes
chopped cilantro
chopped red chili (very, very optional)

  1. In a crock pot, add all the stock ingredients in and add water till it covers everything. lid, turn on low and walk away. i’ve done it for as short of amount as 4 hours and for as long as over night (about 7-8 hours). strain and set aside.
  2. to make the extra flavoring, in a small frying pan gently warm a splash of oil and saute all the ingredients. be gentle, you’re just warming the ingredients through so they can release their aroma and flavor. keep on low, kinda sorta ignore and every so often move the ingredients around so they don’t feel neglected and burn.
  3. in a big pot, heat up the oil and saute the diced onion until softened, you’re not looking to caramelize it though so be careful. add in the minced garlic, carrots and celery and mix thoroughly. carefully pour in the stock. add in the extra flavoring & shredded chicken, and bring to a boil.
  4. lower heat.
  5. add in the 1/2 cup of rice, stir, lid and let simmer for 15 minutes, or until rice is cooked.
  6. season with fish sauce, to taste.
  7. at this point, you can fish out the random flavorings, or just avoid them when ladling the soup.
  8. serve with lime wedges and topped with chopped cilantro and chopped red chili.
  9. BAM!

 

Best Presentation: Beth Hogans’ “Homemade Wonton Chicken Soup”

 

“A Cluck Above” (Judge’s Special Award): Monica Shuman’s “Omi’s Great Chicken Soup”

Classroom Conundrum County schools wrestle with air conditioning, calendar

(©iStockphoto.com/subjob)

(©iStockphoto.com/subjob)

The new school year brings new teachers, old friends and for some kids and parents a countdown to the next summer break.

But for Baltimore County students and parents, a number of lingering issues resurfaced right at the  outset of the 2016-17 school year.

High-heat weekdays forced county schools without air conditioning to close twice in the first week of class, and the school calendar has been a hot topic as Republican Gov. Larry Hogan announced an executive order for Maryland schools to open after Labor Day beginning next year. Baltimore County Public Schools also discussed the subject of Muslim holidays, ultimately deciding to remain open on holy days Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr.

During two of the first five school days alone in Baltimore County, sweltering temperatures exceeding well over 90 degrees forced 37 of 173 schools to close.

The Baltimore County Board of Education, whose Towson offices are pictured, must adjust its calendar to comply with an executive order from Gov. Hogan.

The Baltimore County Board of Education, whose Towson offices are pictured, must adjust its calendar to comply with an executive order from Gov. Hogan.

“I am glad that they closed schools, because it is absolutely ridiculously hot,” said Lori Wheat, a local substitute teacher and the parent of an elementary schooler who attends one of the 37 schools. “I know what it’s like from working in the classrooms. Of course, it is not fair that they close these schools but leave the rest of the county open. But as a parent, I am happy that my child is home and safe.”

While he didn’t draw a connection between the two issues, Hogan issued an executive order to push back the start of the school year to after Labor Day starting in 2017, citing the best interests of the state.

“Starting Maryland public schools after Labor Day is not just a family issue — it’s an economic and public safety issue that draws clear, strong, bipartisan support among an overwhelming majority of Marylanders,” Hogan said. “Comptroller [Peter] Franchot and I believe, and the people of Maryland strongly agree, that this executive order puts the best interests of Marylanders first, especially the well-being of our students. This action is long overdue, and it is simply the right thing to do.”

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat, said he specifically took issue with how Hogan proceeded to institute the edict without seeking advice from any outside counsel.

I think a lot needs to be discussed about what they are planning. I have an issue with it, because they might take away from our breaks if we have too many snow days, too. Spring and winter breaks are the only time that teachers can take a vacation during the school year, and if that is going to be taken away as a result, that’s a big issue.” — A Baltimore County teacher who wished to remain anonymous

 

This is not the first time Kamenetz has squared off with state officials on school issues. In the fall of 2015, a contentious debate played out between Kamenetz and Franchot, with the comptroller pushing for window air conditioning units in county schools. The county executive refused, citing expense and electrical infrastructure concerns. Shortly after the debate played out, Kamenetz announced a plan to accelerate school renovations.schoolcover_2

“I think this is a worthy discussion, but it should involve our education experts and the General Assembly,” Kamenetz said in a statement. “There seems to be a troubling pattern where Gov. Hogan takes a ‘my-way-or-the-highway approach’ with a lot of issues.”

Mychael Dickerson, chief communications officers of Baltimore County Public Schools, said his district would comply with the executive order and adjust if  the Hogan administration calls for any additional changes.

Calendars are submitted for approval in late October or early November, but the need to resolve scheduling conflicts is paramount. Because the executive order signed by Hogan stipulates that public schools must start after Labor Day and complete 180 days by June 15, it leaves school systems with less control over their own schedules.

“The new mandated start and end dates require us to go back to our Stakeholder Calendar Committee and the [Baltimore County] Board of Education to consider all options to identify ways to meet the  required instructional time and days  for school systems,” Dickerson said in  an email.

schoolcover_3A teacher employed at a county school without air conditioning who wished to remain anonymous said that the calendar change brings up the issue of spring and winter breaks.

“I think a lot needs to be discussed about what they are planning,” the teacher said. “I have an issue with it, because they might take away from our breaks if we have too many snow days, too. Spring and winter breaks are the only time that teachers can take a vacation during the school year, and if that is going to be taken away as a result, that’s a big issue.”

Shortening the length of vacations is not the issue that may cause planning  issues. To accommodate the new schedule, the school system might have to eliminate time for some religious holidays, Dickerson said.

In recent years, parents of Muslim students have lobbied school board members for closures to allow their children to recognize major Islamic holidays without falling behind on their studies.

A move to close schools in Baltimore County for Muslim holidays was voted down in a 6-5 decision last month. This year, though, Eid-al-Adha falls on Sept. 12, a day students are scheduled to have off for a teachers’ training day.

Casey Parson, Pikesville High School Parent Teacher Student Association president, wonders how Baltimore County will draw the line with what religious faiths’ holidays get time off in the school calendar. She thinks that since Jews and Christians get off for their holiest days, giving that same consideration to Muslims would accommodate a majority of the school population.

“There’s ways to accommodate the school schedule to recognize that,” Parson said. “We’re a very tiny portion of the world, yet the school system recognizes the Jewish faith.”

Still, moving the calendar may save the school system from closing on those hot August days and may be what’s best for their children’s well-being in the long run.

Jeff Jerome, chair of the Pikesville Schools Coalition, remembers his son’s first day of school at Pikesville High School, when Jeff first realized a lack of air conditioning was a serious problem.

“I picked him up at the end of the day and one of his papers was all smeared and I asked him what happened,” Jerome said. “It was all sweat.” Jerome’s son is now a junior in college.

While Pikesville High just underwent a $45 million facelift — which included air conditioning — Jerome still feels for those without air conditioning.

“We’re asking kids to concentrate, we’re asking kids to pay attention six to eight hours a day in a non-air-conditioned school,” he said. “That’s almost impossible.”

Jerome thinks the group of parents that lobbied for Pikesville High’s renovations may have helped the county speed up school construction by providing actual measurements of temperatures, some of which were provided by Jerome’s son when he was a student.

“I think they started to seriously approach the problem. Up until then it was anecdotal,” he said. “After they had already committed to renovate Pikesville, that helped bring the whole issue for all the schools to the forefront.”

But for those schools that aren’t as fortunate, some teachers will just have to deal with the heat until the cooler months hit.

“I know a few teachers have even taken pictures of the thermometers in their classrooms as proof,” the anonymous teacher said. “I sweat nonstop. I’ve gone through three water bottles today and still have a headache from being dehydrated. The cafeteria is sweltering. We can get through it — it is just hot and packed.”

In May, Kamenetz and Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance pledged $83 million in the county schools budget to accelerate school construction and renovation projects. The additions are part of a 10-year, $1.3 billion program called “Schools for Our Future,” which also includes renovations and construction projects to relieve overcrowding.

“Even if the state allowed it, which it does not, it would be fiscally irresponsible for the county to spend millions of dollars to put portable units in those schools for such a short period of time,” Kamenetz said in a statement. “Taxpayers would be outraged at such a shortsighted expenditure. And let’s not forget, that the county puts up [$2] for every dollar that the state spends on school construction.”

The county, however, remains in a committed process to install cooling systems in all its schools.

While significant progress has been made, county and state officials have debated over funding, scheduling and whether to use portable air conditioners as a stopgap measure at the schools still awaiting relief.

District 2 Councilwoman Vicki Almond, a Reisterstown Democrat, is not in support of pushing back the start date to the school year because she said hot temperatures still persist well into September.

But Almond is satisfied with the fact that students will be able to learn in a more comfortable environment once air-conditioning units are put in at all the schools.

“I worry about the kids, because in this day in age, they are so used to living in air conditioning,” Almond said. “I think I’m looking at this from an older person’s point of you view, like, ‘Hey, I lived through it.’ I know that’s not the right way to look at it, so I am thrilled that [Kamenetz] has a plan. It’s not like we’re not doing anything about it, but I don’t see how we can go any faster.”

In Almond’s district alone — which covers parts Pikesville, Owings Mills, Reisterstown, Lutherville-Timonium and Ruxton — students at Bedford and Reisterstown elementary schools, parts of Franklin Middle School and parts of Franklin High School are all without air conditioning.

Under the plan, all but 13 schools are slated to have central air-conditioning systems by next fall. In addition, every school but three, Bedford, Colgate and Berkshire elementary schools, which are all being replaced, will have air conditioning by 2020.

“I understand how hot it is,” said Richard Train, the father of an 11th-grade student. “But the issue shouldn’t have gotten to this point. The heat index for outside does not reflect the heat and lack of airflow inside of these old schools.”

jsilberman@midatlanticmedia.com

dnozick@midatlanticmedia.com

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

Suddenly Dark, My World At Last Has a Chance for Light

Suddenly blinded at age 58, Robin Blum (left) will undergo experimental surgery in hopes to revive her eyesight. Her mother, Helene, provides encouragement.

Suddenly blinded at age 58, Robin Blum (left) will undergo experimental surgery in hopes to revive her eyesight. Her mother, Helene, provides encouragement.

In the dark, I stumbled to my car. Sitting in the driver’s seat, I stroked the  velvet steering-wheel cover.

“We had some good times, didn’t we, Crikey?” I say.

I felt like it was the end of my independence and tried not to imagine — six months into my blindness — the scenario the next day, when a stranger would hand me cash and drive Crikey away forever.

Instead, I get up on unsteady feet and start re-creating my life at age 58.

Within the span of six days in August 2014, an unknown trauma caused a lack of oxygen to my optic nerves, leaving me blind. The result, according to top neuro-ophthalmologists at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, is a rare, irreversible condition called  non-arteritic ischemic optic neuropathy, or NAION. There’s  a better chance of being struck by lightning three times.

In my right eye, I can see through a pinhole-sized area, with black-and-white vision and darkness encircling it like the screen of a broken ’60s TV. Everything is soft — I can tell it’s a tree but can’t see a single leaf.

Through my other eye, sight is only possible in the left-lower peripheral. A dark mass covers the pupil, but I can  distinguish colors. Between the two, my sight is 20/400 — legally blind, with 85 percent loss of clarity. You wouldn’t know by looking at me, my eyes are still green, from the outside in.

I wince at sunlight like a newborn vampire. With no depth perception, I grab at air instead of a glass and bruise myself on open cabinets. I’ve attached baby guards to furniture and wrapped Day-Glo tape around knives.

My family and friends question whether I will come home to Pikesville, where I graduated from Milford Mill High School in 1974, but I want  to stay in my own home  in Washington, D.C., as  independent as possible.

But one day walking to the store — thankfully I live in the safe Capitol Hill neighborhood with shops nearby — I slam into a metal pole. Blood pours from my nose (luckily, unbroken). I know it’s black and blue, but, disturbingly, I can’t see my face in the mirror.

As I lie in bed in a fetal  position recovering from the store outing, tears fall onto my cat’s soft fur, and the realization sinks in that I wouldn’t be able to attend High Holiday services at Moses Montefiore Congregation, the synagogue where my father, Monte Blum, was a founding member 50 years ago.

Later, I’m referred to  Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind, which sends a teacher for my first white-cane mobility training. As we walk, I feel stares — and can see people part like the Red Sea at my  approach. When did I become a freak?

Re-creating a life continues.

A friend buys markers and index cards; notes go up on the fridge like giant Post-its. She sits on the floor with garbage bags, surrounded by years of paperwork that she condenses into one box. (Don’t care what she throws out — can’t see it!)

With my iPhone, I learn to photograph cooking directions and menus. My magnifying eyeglasses enlarge type and I can read four letters at a time. I’m able to, sort of, watch movies on my iPad, and with TV shows I stand inches from the screen. Every morning, I call the Newsline to read/hear newspaper stories. After 25 years in the newspaper business, I dearly miss reading  it with my morning coffee. Audiobooks are my salvation. At my local pool I swim endless laps to calm the panic  attacks I now endure.

I’ve found kindness others will never see. Teenagers offer me their seat on the Metro. Strangers reach out protectively — they’re unconditionally kind. I feel their discomfort but know the satisfaction: Not long ago, I was one of them. Assisting a disabled person made me feel good too.

A Lighthouse class introduces me to low-vision appliances:  a liquid level detector and contrasting colored cutting boards. Instructors take me to a treacherous traffic intersection, and on my tail like border  collies, they teach me to cross safely with my newly enhanced hearing.

I miss eye contact. I miss beauty, I miss ugly, and I miss the differentiation between the two. It would be amazing to see the pink tutu on the little girl next door or a tuft of lavender.

Instead, two years later, I continue to re-create myself, now at age 60.

Maybe there’ll be a cure for NAION in my lifetime. What if there was one? What if you were me and there was an  operation that gives a fighting chance to see again? If you could leave this dark organization that you never joined, wouldn’t you take that small chance?

On May 17, my brother, Murray Blum, and I, fly to Florida where I will undergo a revolutionary stem-cell transplant, not FDA-approved and not covered by insurance.

Dr. Jeffrey Weiss and his team will remove healthy stem cells from my hip bone marrow and inject them into my optic nerves. The stem cells will, hopefully, regenerate new, live nerves.

On my Facebook page (Robin Blum), please open the link to read and watch an  exciting video, featuring a “formerly” blind woman from Baltimore who successfully underwent the surgery. I have also been writing a blog since this began that’s linked to Facebook and on Tumblr  titled ”legallyblindblonde.”

I’m keeping my expectations low but my hopes high. Resigning myself to the fact that I may never enjoy viewing the gentle brushstrokes of Degas’ ballet dancers again would be hard.

But as my mom, Helene Blum, said, “You’ve seen them — remember them.”

Robin Blum can be reached at Blum50@comcast.net.

Pew Finding on Expulsion of Israeli Arabs Prompts Sharp Reactions

Pew Research released a study of Israeli’s attitudes, which show that a majority of Israelis agreed that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” (MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

Pew Research released a study of Israeli’s attitudes, which show that a majority of Israelis agreed that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” (MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

TEL AVIV — In a survey that spanned politics, religion and interfaith relations, one statistic stood out: Nearly half of  Israel’s Jews support expelling the country’s Arabs.

The Pew Research Center’s study of Israelis’ attitudes,  released Tuesday, had asked respondents whether they agreed that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” Forty-eight percent of Israeli Jews agreed, while 46 percent did not. Among self-described right-wing Jews,  72 percent agreed, along with 71 percent of religious Zionists.

The figure was inconsistent with the findings of previous studies and provoked strong reactions in a country that sees its Arab minority as proof of its commitment to democratic values and respect for diversity. It has also shined a spotlight on what has been seen previously as a fringe proposal. No party in the Israeli Knesset  advocates mass population transfer, and it has never been seriously discussed as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The idea that the State of Israel could be a democracy only for its Jewish citizens is unconscionable and we must find a way to address this,”  ­Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said at a meeting with officials of the Washington-based Pew Center. “I believe also that our democratic values are born out of our Jewish faith, a love for the stranger and equality before the law.”

Rivlin called on the public to engage in “soul-searching and moral reflection.”

But Alan Cooperman, the Pew study’s lead author, said support for expulsion comports with other data points in the survey. Cooperman pointed to survey findings that nearly four out of five Israeli Jews say Israel should give preferential treatment to Jews, 60 percent of Israeli Jews believe God gave the land to them, and that majorities of religious Zionists and Haredi Orthodox also feel that Jewish law should be the law of the state.

“You see it really makes sense,” he said. “Support is strongest among [religious Zionists], very high among settlers.”

Analysts say Jewish animosity toward Israeli Arabs has been exacerbated by the recent wave of Palestinian terror  attacks and a government  response that some consider  inflammatory. Rawnak Natour, co-director of Sikkuy, a  nonprofit that works toward Arab-Jewish coexistence, pointed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech decrying “two nations within Israel”  following a January terror  attack in Tel Aviv.

“I think there’s a feeling of fear here that’s strengthened by the political echelon,”  Natour said. “There’s a lack of familiarity of the other side.”

Art Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, is “alarmed” at the research results and said that “there’s a serious question about the separation of church and state,” and it leaves him concerned for Israel’s security.

“As someone who has worked with the American Jewish community for over 30 years,” Abramson said, “we are very much a tie-in to Israel and related to Israel and associated to Israel on the basis of the kind of Israel that we grew up wanting to see. [That is an Israel that] respects Judaism and being Jewish on both a  religious and cultural basis. And we want to see an Israel that is tolerant of minorities and is democratic. To the extent this study says Israel is moving in a different direction, [and] the American Jewish community should be concerned.”

Abramson continued, “Israel’s best friend in the world is the United States. If Israel was to move to an apartheid state, discriminatory in nature, then my greatest concern is Israel’s security. … These Pew trends have me concerned that there is a growing debate in a right-wing direction, and that is  of ultimate concern to the  security of Israel.”

The Pew finding on expulsion is significantly higher than other recent polls that have sought to measure Israeli attitudes toward coexistence. The 2015 Israel Democracy Index, a survey published  annually by the Israel Democracy Institute, found 37.5 percent support for the government merely encouraging Arab  emigration.

A 2015 poll by Haifa University professor Sammy Smooha found that six in 10 Israeli Jews felt “it would be good for Arabs and Jews to  always live together in Israel.” That survey also found 32 percent of respondents in favor of encouraging Arabs to leave Israel in exchange for compensation.

Israeli pollsters have laid blame on the question itself, calling it vague and misleading. Is the question about  Israeli Arabs, West Bank Palestinians or both? When would this expulsion occur and under what conditions? Would the Arab refugees be compensated?

“It was asked in a very  unclear way,” said Tamar Hermann, academic director of IDI’s Guttman Center for Surveys. “If we didn’t get a majority on a more cautious and less aggressive version [of the question], what happened here? I would say take it with a grain of salt.”

The statistic is a sign not only of extremism, but also of polarization in Israeli society, said Steven M. Cohen, a sociology professor at New York’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion who consulted on the Pew study.  Regardless of the exact level of support, he called the figure a “warning sign” for Israeli and Jewish leaders.

“There’s a lot of support for this notion that God gave this land to me — not to them, to me,” Cohen said at a panel discussion of the survey Tuesday in Tel Aviv. “Is there a context in which it seems the authorities are trying to diminish the place of minorities in this country? Is that happening? If that’s happening, then this question becomes very critical.”

The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s co-chair of Israel and Overseas Initiatives, Yehuda Neuberger, said in a written statement, “Given Baltimore’s significant efforts to foster communal unity and cohesion, it is concerning to see increasing polarization in Israel. In the last couple of years, The Associated’s Israel and Overseas committee has funded programs that we hope will create a more harmonious and integrated society, and we hope to increase our efforts in that regard. While we are not in a position to change Israeli society, we can work to increase dialogue and understanding and to model communal  behavior that counters the current societal dynamic in  Israel.”

Pew Finding on Expulsion of Israeli Arabs Prompts Sharp Reactions

TEL AVIV — In a survey that spanned politics, religion and interfaith relations, one statistic stood out: Nearly half of Israel’s Jews support expelling the country’s Arabs.

The Pew Research Center’s study of Israelis’ attitudes, released Tuesday, had asked respondents whether they agreed that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” Forty-eight percent of Israeli Jews agreed, while 46 percent did not. Among self-described right-wing Jews, 72 percent agreed, along with 71 percent of religious Zionists.

The figure was inconsistent with the findings of previous studies and provoked strong reactions in a country that sees its Arab minority as proof of its commitment to democratic values and respect for diversity. It has also shined a spotlight on what has been seen previously as a fringe proposal. No party in the Israeli Knesset advocates mass population transfer, and it has never been seriously discussed as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The idea that the State of Israel could be a democracy only for its Jewish citizens is unconscionable and we must find a way to address this,” ­Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said at a meeting with officials of the Washington-based Pew Center. “I believe also that our democratic values are born out of our Jewish faith, a love for the stranger and equality before the law.”

Rivlin called on the public to engage in “soul-searching and moral reflection.”

But Alan Cooperman, the Pew study’s lead author, said support for expulsion comports with other data points in the survey. Cooperman pointed to survey findings that nearly four out of five Israeli Jews say Israel should give preferential treatment to Jews, 60 percent of Israeli Jews believe God gave the land to them, and that majorities of religious Zionists and Haredi Orthodox also feel that Jewish law should be the law of the state.

“You see it really makes sense,” he said. “Support is strongest among [religious Zionists], very high among settlers.”

Analysts say Jewish animosity toward Israeli Arabs has been exacerbated by the recent wave of Palestinian terror attacks and a government response that some consider inflammatory. Rawnak Natour, co-director of Sikkuy, a nonprofit that works toward Arab-Jewish coexistence, pointed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech decrying “two nations within Israel” following a January terror attack in Tel Aviv.

“I think there’s a feeling of fear here that’s strengthened by the political echelon,” Natour said. “There’s a lack of familiarity of the other side.”

Art Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, is “alarmed” at the research results and said that “there’s a serious question about the separation of church and state,” and it leaves him concerned for Israel’s security.

“As someone who has worked with the American Jewish community for over 30 years,” Abramson said, “we are very much a tie-in to Israel and related to Israel and associated to Israel on the basis of the kind of Israel that we grew up wanting to see. [That is an Israel that] respects Judaism and being Jewish on both a religious and cultural basis. And we want to see an Israel that is tolerant of minorities and is democratic. To the extent this study says Israel is moving in a different direction, [and] the American Jewish community should be concerned.”

Abramson continued, “Israel’s best friend in the world is the United States. If Israel was to move to an apartheid state, discriminatory in nature, then my greatest concern is Israel’s security. … These Pew trends have me concerned that there is a growing debate in a right-wing direction, and that is
of ultimate concern to the security of Israel.”

The Pew finding on expulsion is significantly higher than other recent polls that have sought to measure Israeli attitudes toward coexistence. The 2015 Israel Democracy Index, a survey published
annually by the Israel Democracy Institute, found 37.5 percent support for the government merely encouraging Arab emigration.

A 2015 poll by Haifa University professor Sammy Smooha found that six in 10 Israeli Jews felt “it would be good for Arabs and Jews to always live together in Israel.” That survey also found 32 percent of respondents in favor of encouraging Arabs to leave Israel in exchange for compensation.
Israeli pollsters have laid blame on the question itself, calling it vague and misleading. Is the question about Israeli Arabs, West Bank Palestinians or both? When would this expulsion occur and under what conditions? Would the Arab refugees be compensated?

“It was asked in a very unclear way,” said Tamar Hermann, academic director of IDI’s Guttman Center for Surveys. “If we didn’t get a majority on a more cautious and less aggressive version [of the question], what happened here? I would say take it with a grain of salt.”

The statistic is a sign not only of extremism, but also of polarization in Israeli society, said Steven M. Cohen, a sociology professor at New York’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion who consulted on the Pew study.

Regardless of the exact level of support, he called the figure a “warning sign” for Israeli and Jewish leaders.

“There’s a lot of support for this notion that God gave this land to me — not to them, to me,” Cohen said at a panel discussion of the survey Tuesday in Tel Aviv. “Is there a context in which it seems the authorities are trying to diminish the place of minorities in this country? Is that happening? If that’s happening, then this question becomes very critical.”

The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s co-chair of Israel and Overseas Initiatives, Yehuda Neuberger, said in a written statement, “Given Baltimore’s significant efforts to foster communal unity and cohesion, it is concerning to see increasing polarization in Israel. In the last couple of years, The Associated’s Israel and Overseas committee has funded programs that we hope will create a more harmonious and integrated society, and we hope to increase our efforts in that regard. While we are not in a position to change Israeli society, we can work to increase dialogue and understanding and to model communal behavior that counters the current societal dynamic in Israel.”

‘Lubavitchers Can Do Anything’ New book delves into past, present and future of Chabad

Rotator_ChabadIt’s been 12 years since Rabbi Eric Yoffie, then the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, pointed to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement as a source of inspiration for his own movement’s synagogues and congregants.

“It is hard for me to say this, but I will say it nonetheless,” he told attendees of the Reform biennial conference in 2003. “We must follow the example of Chabad.”

Since then, numerous studies have indicated the growth of Chabad in cities such as Miami, in Jewish day school education and in the online sphere.

Against such a backdrop comes a new book attempting to explain the reasons behind such growth — and what it portends for the future of the movement, Judaism in general and the American Jewish community. As its title suggests, Rabbi David Eliezrie’s “The Secret of Chabad: Inside the world’s most successful Jewish movement” seeks to answer those who want to know why a movement with roots in 18th-century Russia — “Lubavitch” refers to the town that for several generations served as the Chasidic group’s center of power, whereas “Chabad” is an acrostic of the three Hebrew terms, chochmah, binah and da’at occupying the foundation of its philosophical outlook — has become so commonplace in Jewish life that a long-running joke has Chabad being as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola.

To be sure, other books have also explored the Chabad phenomena: Sue Fishkoff’s “The Rebbe’s Army,” for instance, analyzed the intellectual, philosophical and psychological underpinnings of the uniquely Chabad institution of shlichut, in which husband-and-wife couples become emissaries, founding schools, synagogues and treatment centers around the globe. Several books released last year in proximity to the 20th anniversary of the passing of the seventh Lubavitch leader, Rebbe Menachem M. Schneerson, looked at the animating presence of the Rebbe and his teachings that provide the spiritual heft of the movement.

Eliezrie, however, focuses on the Lubavitchers themselves, from the rank and file to the emissaries like him — a veteran shliach (the preferred term for emissary), he is the director of North County Chabad in Yorba Linda, Calif., and president of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County and Long Beach and sits on the board of the Jewish Federation and Family Services of Orange County, and he serves as a liaison between Chabad-Lubavitch and the Jewish Federations of North America. His thesis is that the self-sacrifice of previous Lubavitch generations that saw the movement break through the oppressions of the Iron Curtain lives on in a spirit that puts a premium on individual action and responsibility.

“Lubavitchers can do anything,” he told me this summer soon after the book’s release by Toby Press. It was a statement that, while bombastic, represented his true belief. And it’s a belief I’d say is shared by most Lubavitchers. How else could a young North American couple today be asked to take up a post in the farthest corners of Russia, where they’d be expected to raise their children to the strictest of religious standards and to remain for decades?

(Full disclosure: On the book’s cover image, a group shot of the thousands of attendees of an annual International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries outside of the movement’s headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the late 2000s, I’m the 13th rabbi from the left on the seventh row down.)

Weaving his case through several episodes from the movement’s modern history, Eliezrie bases his assertions not only on his own expertise, but also on copious interviews, all documented in endnotes. A thorough index, however, is lacking.

Perhaps most revolutionary is his conclusion, which asserts a realigning of Jewish life in the United States. He predicts the overall decline of the current denominational system that places Jews in orderly categories of Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative and Orthodox and the supplanting of it by a new system oriented
between liberal Jews on the left and today’s Orthodox on the right, with the middle ground being occupied by Chabad and those drawn to its combination of unwavering tradition and welcoming spirit.

“In the center of the community,” he writes, “will be a new paradigm. Significant numbers of Jews, who are either observant or traditional, will elect to affiliate with Chabad.” He then points to his own experience in Orange County, Calif., where
a network of 15 Chabad centers draws three times the attendance during the High Holidays as the local Conservative synagogues.

“Bottom line, in the next generation, a significant percentage, if not the majority of Jews engaged in Jewish life, will either belong to Orthodox synagogues,” he surmises, “or be on a trajectory toward fuller observance through their involvement with Chabad.”

Whether you view such a statement with alarm or pleasure is beside the point; the fact that the movement keeps growing more than two decades since its leader’s passing is reason enough to see in it a model worthy of at least inspiration.

jrunyan@midatlanticmedia.com

A Test for the Big Tent

What is an individual’s responsibility for decorum inside an open tent of the Jewish community? And how should the community respond to peaceful demonstrations within its walls? These questions were put to the test recently at a public event in Pittsburgh, where Israeli Consul General Yaron Sideman spoke at the Jewish Community Center.

In advance of the event, members of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which opposes the policies of the Israeli government and supports an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, including through the international pressure of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, used social media to encourage protests of the event. Nonetheless, organizers allowed JVP to attend and participate.

At the beginning of the evening, audience members were warned not to disrupt the proceedings and were informed that police officers were on hand to maintain order. As the diplomat spoke, however, two JVP members stood at their seats and silently displayed letter-sized signs with words such as “Lies” and “Another Jew against the occupation” printed on them. And when the protesters ignored police requests to sit down, they were removed from the hall.

Successive pairs of JVP protesters similarly stood and displayed their small signs and were each quickly ejected. Sideman continued to speak over the orchestrated interruptions. No one was arrested. But as the demonstration continued, some in the audience became irritated and, according to news reports, “a few in the audience shouted at them and tried to grab their signs.”

If members of JVP wanted to criticize Israel’s policies and engage on the issues, they would have done better to raise their concerns during the question-and-answer session. Indeed, they were implored to do so but chose not to. On the other hand, if their objective was to make a scene, a vocal protest outside the JCC with big eye-catching signs would have been far more effective.

But this situation presents a more fundamental question: How open and patient does the community need to be? The sponsor of the event — the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh — thought they solved that problem by allowing JVP to attend and by asking audience members to write questions on index cards in advance. But did that create another problem, making it seem like the questioning process was too controlled?

We regularly confront the issue of whether our communal tent is sufficiently open to divergent views. That debate played out in full color when the Conference of Presidents voted in May 2014 to deny membership to J Street. And it is an issue regularly raised by JVP. But in Pittsburgh, JVP was welcomed into the tent.

JVP’s deliberate effort to disrupt the proceedings was a slap in the face to event organizers and can only make others more cautious about future efforts to open the communal tent.

Beyond a Backpack HoCo community helps students in need

Roy and Sue Appletree have coordinated the Prepare for Success program in Howard County for eight years. (Justin Katz)

Roy and Sue Appletree have coordinated the Prepare for Success program in Howard County for eight years. (Justin Katz)

When Roy and Sue Appletree began donating to Prepare for Success, a nonprofit program that collects school supplies for students undergoing financial hardship in Howard County, they didn’t anticipate they would eventually be asked to coordinate the program.

Howard County, with a median household income of $109,865, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, has been consistently ranked as Maryland’s wealthiest county and one of the country’s five most affluent behind Virginia’s Loudoun County, which tops the list with a median household income of $122,238.

Other contenders for the title of most affluent include Falls Church City ($120,000) and Fairfax County ($110,292), both in Virginia. For comparison, Baltimore County and Baltimore City’s averages were $66,486 and $41,385, respectively.

Despite the county’s wealth, there are a number of students whose families have been going through financial hardship during the past decade.

“[These students] are really invisible,” said Sue Appletree, who is a retired Montgomery County school teacher of 34 years. She explained that each of the collection boxes the organization sets up in places such as Temple Isaiah, of which the Appletrees are members, have a phone number displayed. “I spoke to a grandmother; her grandchildren needed school supplies, and the mother was working full time but couldn’t afford it.”

The impetus for the organization came 13 years ago when the help hotline of an Episcopal church noticed a significant increase in the calls requesting help to buy school supplies. Over time the church brought in other organizations around the community to help by collecting supplies, making donations or volunteering to prepare backpacks of supplies. In 2010, Prepare for Success partnered with the Howard County Public school system and Community Action Council.

Eight years ago, Roy and Sue were asked to take the helm at Prepare for Success.

The Appletrees emphasized the goals of the program are to alleviate financial hardship for parents and to help students feel more confident when the first day of school comes around.

“It can be very difficult when the kid next to them has new clothes, new supplies, and paying for things like soccer league registration wasn’t an issue,” said Roy Appletree, who was a nonprofit manager before he retired.

The program has struck a chord with different organizations and corporations around the community, from Girl Scout troops and home security companies to realtors and health care agencies. The memories of purchasing school supplies are present in the minds of many.

“When I talk to an organization, I’ll say, ‘Can you remember what it was like when you did your shopping or took your children and they wanted a certain color of backpack,’” said Sue Appletree. “Everybody is sitting there nodding because they all remember opening up that new notebook.”

Once the backpacks are prepared, they are sent off to individual schools where there are lists of students in financial need.

As a part of the National School Lunch and Breakfast program, Howard County participates in the Free and Reduced Meal program, which allows students whose families meet federal guidelines based on income, to receive free or discounted meals during the school year.

According to the Maryland State Department of Education, 8,315 students were enrolled to receive free meals in 2013, roughly 15 percent of the county’s student population. MSDE reports that 40 percent of Baltimore County students and nearly 80 percent of Baltimore City students were enrolled for free meals that same year.

Beyond monetary contributions, residents of the county have also given their time. Ellen Rappoport has been involved with schools, secular and religious, at multiple levels. From serving as the principal at Franklin Elementary school in Baltimore County and the director of Bet Yeladim preschool in Howard County, she understands the need for programs such as Prepare for Success.

“I’ve seen the collection boxes throughout Howard County and I thought, ‘That is something I’d like to do,’” said Rappoport.

The volunteering aspect of the program presents an opportunity for residents not only to do a good deed, but also to bond with one another. Rappoport has brought her two granddaughters, whose mother is a teacher in the Howard County school system, to volunteer and she said, “They were so excited to be able to do it.”

“Having been a parent and now a grandparent, a teacher and an administrator and I know that there are kids who would otherwise have to come to school without supplies they need,” said Rappoport. “And how embarrassing it is for those kids and how hard it is for them; I was so touched by the meaningfulness of this program and the outreach to the community.”

For more information, to volunteer or donate, visit http://www.prepare forsuccess.org/index.html

jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com