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Hoffman Heads South Influential figure of The Associated taking his talents to Palm Beach

Michael Hoffman (Photo Provided)

Michael Hoffman (Photo Provided)

After 14 years, The Associated will be losing a key member of its core. Chief Development Officer Michael Hoffman will leave June 30 to become president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County (Fla.) later this year.

Hoffman, 44, has served in a number of roles with The Associated since 2001 and spent five years with United Jewish Communities prior to that. He said serving in these roles has helped him strengthen his Jewish identity.

“I consider myself a product of the Jewish federation movement,” having worked at the national umbrella organization for five years. “Professionally, it’s been an incredible opportunity to see the impact that we can have locally, nationally and internationally.”

Hoffman grew up on Long Island and developed his connection to Judaism early on by attending Camp Eisner. After earning a degree in political science from the University of Cincinnati in 1993, he spent a year in Israel as part of the Oztma volunteer program. It was during this time that he had one of his most powerful experiences.

Hoffman and several others greeted a planeload of Russian Jews who had fled anti-Semitism in their home country. He handed an 8-year-old boy an Israeli flag and said “Shalom,” to which the boy responded with “Shalom” and a smile.

“That was what I called my defining moment,” he said.

Hoffman returned to Israel in September 2014 when he and several others from The Associated visited Ashkelon after the city had been devastated by rockets that were fired from Gaza in the preceding months.

“Baltimore is home to some of the strongest Jewish lay leaders in the country,” said Hoffman, and “[The Associated] is the best federation in the country. If I could take 10 percent of what I learned at The Associated and bring it to Florida, that would be a success.”

Hoffman is grateful for all of the opportunities he’s had with the organization and to have had worked with leaders such as President Marc Terrill, who “has been a tremendous teacher and leader and father figure to me.”

When he recruited Hoffman 14 years ago, Terrill recalled that he could tell it was a good fit because Hoffman had a certain knowledge and skillset that was essential to a community organization.

“I wanted The Associated — and personally I wanted — to play a role in Michael’s maturation,” he said.

Terrill said Hoffman played an instrumental role in conducting The Associated’s community study in 2010, something he called a “watershed moment.”

Hoffman has brought a good deal of candor and humility to The Associated family while he has been in Baltimore, he added, and hopes he has the same amount of success in Florida.

“It’s been incredibly gratifying to watch Michael grow personally and professionally,” Terrill said.

Linda Hurwitz, chair of planning and allocations at The Associated, said Hoffman was known for making notes on index cards during meetings and furthering his goals, regardless of who called the meeting.

“Even if it’s your meeting, he has an agenda, and he has something he wants to accomplish,” she said.

Hurwitz added that Hoffman’s no-nonsense attitude contributed to his efficiency.

“When you have a conversation, when you need someone to get something done — when you share it with Michael, it’s done,” she said.

Ray Golden, board chair of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, said their search committee put out inquiries to federations throughout the country and came up with several names. Hoffman’s name was at the top of the list.

“Number one was he came from a great federation, and number two is he had good experience in all aspects of the federation,” he said. “It was good for him because it gave him a chance to employ his talents in the issues he’s had experience with.”

Golden said he feels confident Hoffman can lead the Palm Beach federation through a period of transition in the aftermath of the departure of their previous CEO who retired after 25 years. He also said the federation’s annual campaign has been in decline and he hopes Hoffman’s personality can turn things around.

“These kinds of changes create turmoil in the community,” Golden said. “Hopefully, being as youthful as he is and as energetic as he is will bring stability.”

Golden said has confidence in Hoffman because he “has been around the block” and already has major connections within the Jewish community. He hopes the new CEO’s arrival has an impact on the younger population too.

“These millennials are at a point in time where they’re going to be the future of our community,” said Golden.

Hoffman is married and has two children, 9 and 12, who he says are excited about the move because it means escaping the snow during winter and living close to their grandparents.

Said Hoffman, “To live down the street from both grandparents, we just couldn’t pass that up.”

Senate Candidates Square Off Van Hollen’s history contrasts with Edwards’ grassroots ideology

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (left) and Terry O’Neill, NOW president, listen as Rep. Donna Edwards makes a point.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (left) and Terry O’Neill, NOW president,
listen as Rep. Donna Edwards makes a point. (Provided)

Rep. Donna Edwards was the first to take a direct swipe at her main Democratic rival for the open seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Barbara Mikulski.

Speaking Sunday at a candidates forum in Rockville hosted by the Maryland chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Prince George’s County Democrat and District 4 congressional representative sought to distance herself from Rep. Chris Van Hollen.

“I’m actually proud that I started out in 2006 not in the Congress, but allied with organizations all across the country who were fighting to shore up the backbones of members of Congress to protect Social Security from cuts, and I think sometimes as members, we actually overstate our importance and understate the importance of all the grassroots advocates around the country who did that,” Edwards said in a thinly veiled jab at Van Hollen, who remarked several times throughout the event that he “got it done.”

Within two sentences, Edwards launched into the first direct comment against Van Hollen — who represents District 8 — saying, “I think here is where there is and has been, frankly, a fundamental difference between myself and Chris Van Hollen. … Mr. Van Hollen was ‘willing to consider’ — those were his own words — cuts to Social Security and Medicare.”

Given the format of the forum, moderated by NOW President Terry O’Neill, Van Hollen was not given an immediate opportunity to rebut as it was Edwards turn to respond first to an audience question regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Again, Edwards went on the offensive.

“I have been a very strong proponent of trade deals that are fair trade deals. Unfortunately, there again you can look at the differences in our record,” said Edwards. She asserted that she is leading the fight against fast-track trade authority and to TPP, calling it a “bad deal for American workers.”

Van Hollen in his rebuttal revealed what political watchers already know: Ideologically, there is not much difference between the two candidates.

The Montgomery County Democrat is against TPP and fast-track. As to Edwards’ criticisms, he said that he evaluates each trade deal on its own merits. He supports expansion of Social Security, pushing back against Edwards’ assertions that she made that day and in less direct terms in her candidacy announcement video.

“I actually led the effort to convince the president not to put the chained [Consumer Price Index] proposal in his second budget,” which limits the inflationary growth of Social Security benefits, said Van Hollen. “At the same time, frankly, I persuaded him not to put a cut in federal employee benefits in his budget. That is on the record.”

His remarks were interrupted with applause. Rockville is part of Van Hollen’s stomping grounds, and his supporters let attendees know it, lining the drive up to the building’s parking lot with Van Hollen campaign signs, passing out stickers and offering a volunteer sign-up sheet.

Their closing statements highlighted their differing campaign strategies. Van Hollen comes across as a wonk, pointing to his history in the state legislature and Congress, name dropping colleagues and supporters along the way. Edwards presents herself as the grassroots outsider, whose voice as a single working mother and woman of color deserves a seat at the table.

Wake-Up Call For Russia’s Jews, Nemtsov murder is reminder of their vulnerability

Thousands of demonstrators in Moscow protest the murder of Boris Nemtsov. (Alexander Aksakov/Getty Images)

Thousands of demonstrators in Moscow protest the murder of Boris Nemtsov.
(Alexander Aksakov/Getty Images)

During the past two years, Dima Zicer has skipped several political rallies opposing the chauvinistic policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A Jewish scholar of education from St. Petersburg, Zicer, 55, has limited hope for change in a country that is ranked 148th in the Press Freedom Index and where several of Putin’s critics have either died under mysterious circumstances or been jailed for what they and many Western observers say are trumped-up corruption charges.

On March 1, however, Zicer marched through St. Petersburg with 10,000 people, many of them Jewish, in protest of the murder in central Moscow of Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister. Nemtsov, an opposition leader, was gunned down Feb. 28 just hours after he urged fellow citizens to attend a rally against Russia’s involvement in the war in Ukraine.

No arrests have been made in the killing, which took place on the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion into Crimea. Russia has since annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

“This murder and the incitement that preceded it is so shocking that I could no longer remain an observer,” Zicer said.

Whether or not the Kremlin ordered the killing, as some have accused, Zicer holds the Russian president responsible because of the “the wild incitement he allowed on media in recent months against Nemtsov and other opposition figures.”

Kremlin spokesmen have denied any involvement in the slaying.

To many Russian Jews, the murder of Nemtsov — a physicist turned liberal politician, born to a Jewish mother but baptized in the Orthodox Church — is a troubling reminder of vulnerability as members of a relatively affluent minority with a history of being scapegoated, strong ties to the West and a deep attachment to cosmopolitan values and human rights.

The murder hit Russia’s sizable Jewish intelligentsia particularly hard because “nearly all the leaders of the liberal opposition are either fully Jewish or have Jewish background,” said Michael Edelstein, a lecturer at Moscow State University and a writer for the Jewish monthly magazine L’chaim. “His murder is the low point in a process that started about two years ago which has left the Jewish intelligentsia and its milieu feeling more uneasy than ever before in post-communist Russia.”

To be sure, Nemtsov’s murder shocked countless Russians the world over, prompting vigils and marches in his memory. The main march in Moscow drew 60,000 people, but smaller events were held across the federation for Nemtsov, who at one time was second in command to Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, but ultimately was eclipsed by Putin before becoming one of his harshest critics.

In an interview conducted with Newsweek hours before his death, Nemtsov said that because of Putin’s policy, Russia’s economy is collapsing.

Russia’s support for separatists in Ukraine was “wading into a costly, fratricidal war in Ukraine and into pointless confrontation with the West,” Nemtsov told the magazine.

“We all feel the effects of this insane policy,” Nemtsov said, adding that Putin’s use of media reminded him of the Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels.

Putin responded to such criticisms by referring to opponents of Russia’s actions in Ukraine — and especially the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula — as a fifth column. And though Putin did not name Nemtsov, the president was widely thought to be referring to him, the liberal camp’s most senior politician. Russian media considered to have close Kremlin ties published Nemtsov’s name on lists of suspected traitors that started circulating shortly after those included on the lists expressed their opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014.

In a 2010 televised interview, Putin said that Nemtsov and other opposition figures stole billions from Russians and would “sell off the whole of Russia” if given the chance.

“Nemtsov was on every list of traitors published on the Internet and aired on state TV,” the Russian-Jewish journalist Leonid Bershidsky wrote on Bloomberg View after the murder.

Bershidsky added, “It did not help that he was Jewish. There was a strong undercurrent of anti-Semitism in the smear campaign.”

However, some Russians doubt that Putin would go to the trouble of ordering the assassination of a high-profile figure who ultimately may be more trouble dead than alive. Nemtsov, after all, had failed to gain widespread popularity outside the urban elite and thus never constituted any real political threat to Putin.

Edelstein noted that “there may have been anti-Semitic incitement online and in far-right circles,” but “Nemtsov wasn’t perceived as a Jew and wasn’t attacked as such.”

The evidence in Nemtsov’s killing, Edelstein believes, “points to ultranationalists, perhaps militiamen who fought in Ukraine, perhaps only their sympathizers.”

Nemstov himself was open about being born to a Jewish mother and said he rarely felt any discrimination.

“People tend to judge whether you are a thief or honest, competent or not,” he said during an interview in 2001 when he was asked about his Jewishness.

Raised by a single mother, Dina Eydman, a physician, in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi and later in her native Nizhni Novgorod, 250 miles east of Moscow, Nemtsov received his doctorate in theoretical physics at 26.

“I never made it a secret that my mother is Jewish because I love my mother. I’m much indebted to my mother,” he was quoted as saying in a 1999 report about anti-Semitism in Russia.

“She has also drawn me into politics, though now she is not happy about this.”

In a telegram he sent Nemtsov’s 87-year-old mother, Putin wrote, “Everything will be done so that the organizers and executors of this vile and cynical murder are punished.”

Tanya Lvova, a Jewish mother from St. Petersburg and coordinator of the city’s Limmud conference on Jewish learning, said Nemtsov’s murder “does not make life more uncomfortable here because it is already as uncomfortable as can be.”

But Lvova said the killing does present her with a new concern.

“More than being afraid of living in a country where someone can be killed on the street for criticizing the government,” she said, “I am afraid of living in a country where this is considered a normal occurrence that doesn’t even create a very strong response.”

Parakeet Wins Purim Pet Contest

Ike the Parakeet

Ike the Parakeet

Out of 18 submissions, Ike the Parakeet won the Jewish Times Purim Pet Contest.

The parakeet, owned by Janet Ziffer of Columbia, was pictured on top of a mini-football with the Green Bay Packers logo, in a mini Green Bay Packers sweatshirt and sporting a cheese head hat.

“I wouldn’t have thought in Maryland a bird in a Packers outfit would win,” Ziffer said. “I’m just floored.”

Ike won with 11 votes. Shlomo the Kosher Hotdog came in second with 8 votes and Peepers, a dog dressed in a hamentashen costume, came in third with 5 votes.

Ziffer, who is from Wisconsin and is a Packers stakeholder, got the idea to dress the bird up when her niece, a cantor at Washington Hebrew Congregation, started talking about Purim costumes for her three daughters.

“I had the little shirt thing from a little stuffed bear. The only thing I had to make was the cheese hat,” Ziffer said. “He actually had to wear the jersey because it had a little hood and it kept the cheese head in place.”

The cheese head was made of Styrofoam and yellow index cards. She said Ike was cooperative.

“There probably aren’t a lot of people who dress up their birds,” Ziffer said. “He really is a special bird.”

Ike can say more than 100 phrases, and his voice can be heard on Ziffer’s answering machine.

“My favorite thing for him to say is ‘I love you mommy,’ but he can also say ‘World Champion Green Bay Packers,’” she said.

Visit to view all the pet contest entries.

‘No One Stuck Up for Us’

LONDON — Nat and her husband have always talked about moving to Israel, but the time never seemed right. The London residents had good jobs, were surrounded by friends and family, and their three kids were happy in school. Then this past summer, during the conflict between Israel and Gaza, they decided it was definitely time to go.

“We saw such hatred on social media toward Jews and Zionists in particular that it made us realize we are all alone,” said Nat, who asked that her last name not be used as she had not yet informed her work of her plans. “No one stuck up for us. It was shocking to see such an underlying hatred from both non-Jewish friends and the wider British community.”

Nat’s move comes as the figures for anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom have reached a new high. In 2014, there were 1,168 anti-Semitic incidents recorded across the country, according to the Community Security Trust, or CST, a charity that monitors anti-Semitism and provides security for the Jewish community in Britain. It is the highest annual total the organization has ever recorded and more than double the 535 incidents recorded in 2013. The previous highest annual total was in 2009, with 931 anti-Semitic incidents recorded by CST.

The conflict in Israel and Gaza was the main factor for the increase, according to the CST. However, it had already recorded a 38 percent increase in incidents in the first six months of 2014 compared with the same period in 2013.

“The Jewish community should not be defined by anti-Semitism, but last year’s large increase in recorded incidents shows just how easily anti-Semitic attitudes can erupt into race-hate abuse, threats and attacks,” said David Delew, chief executive of the CST. “Thankfully, most of the incidents were not violent, but they were still shocking and upsetting for those who suffered them and for the wider Jewish community.”

Although it is difficult to compare incident figures from country to country, the numbers from the U.K. stand out sharply in comparison with the numbers from the United States, where there is a significantly larger Jewish population. Over the past decade, there has been a decline in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the States, with the total number falling by 19 percent in 2013 to 751 across the country, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which has yet to release its statistics for 2014. Despite the drop, around 60 percent of the victims of anti-religious hate crime incidents were Jewish, according to the FBI.

In the United Kingdom, there were 81 violent assaults recorded in 2014, an increase of 17 percent from a year earlier and the highest number since 2011, according to the CST. In the one example of “extreme violence,” the victim was called a “Jewish c—-” and then hit with a glass and a baseball bat. Other incidents included people shouting anti-Semitic slogans and throwing food, eggs and even a stone in one case.

There were also 81 incidents of damage and desecration of Jewish property; 884 incidents of abusive behavior; 92 direct threats; 30 cases of mass-mailed anti-Semitic leaflets or emails; and 233 incidents that involved the use of social media to threaten or abuse, including an image that circulated on Twitter showing a dining table with nooses hanging over every chair and a caption reading, “Preparing for dinner with some Jews!”

To put the CST figures into perspective, the ADL gives the U.K. a score of 8 percent on its worldwide anti-Semitism index, one of the lowest in the world.

Long-established British Jewish organizations have an ongoing dialogue with the government on the topic of anti-Semitism as well as other issues that affect the nation’s Jews. However, during the conflict in Gaza over the summer, many Jews felt that these groups took too long to address threats to the community. In response, the grassroots organization Campaign Against Anti-semitism was formed. In the months since, it has met with government representatives and has often been featured in the media.

“Despite the numbers, Britain is a good place for the Jews, especially when compared to France,” said Jonathan Sacerdoti, director of communications for the CAA. “But that doesn’t mean we ought not to discuss this. We have many of the same ingredients that France had and that could get us to a similar position. What we are trying to do is raise awareness in the Jewish community, the government and the media so we can start to deal with these issues now.”

Alongside the increase in incidents against British Jews, there has been relatively small increase in the number of families leaving the U.K., according to the Jewish Agency for Israel, which helps Jews from around the world immigrate to Israel. In 2014, 617 people left the U.K. for Israel, compared with 523 the year before, an 18 percent increase. The numbers are a drop in the ocean compared with France, where 7,086 left for Israel in 2014, compared with 3,293 a year earlier.

“The numbers from France have been gradually increasing every year for the past three or four years,” said Avi Mayer, a spokesman for the Jewish Agency. “We just haven’t seen the same trends in the U.K.”

Still, there are  many such as Nat who feel that thanks to the attitudes toward Jews, their future is in Israel and not in the country they’ve called home for so long.

“This move is all for my children,” she said. “I am uprooting my family and giving up on our British lifestyle and heritage because I only see the situation here deteriorating. The government here is amazing, but no one can control the radicalization of people. I just cannot see how it is going to get better.”

A native of Pikesville, Rachel Stafler is a freelance writer living in London.


110714_mishmash-bookBy Melanie Crowder
Philomel, 400 pages

With an eye-catching title audacious in its simplicity, this beautifully written book succeeds in an equally audacious mission by pulling the reader into the world of Clara Lemlich. With each chapter of verse perfectly pieced together, the reader can truly feel the emotions Clara, a Russian Jewish immigrant who moves to New York at the turn of the 20th century, goes through.

Each poem offers cliff-hanging suspense, and the words stop occasionally to branch out and stamp an impression of early 20th-century struggles — such as the battle for women’s rights and the conflict between tradition and society expectations. Each phrase captures one’s heart, as Clara journeys to America and earns a living.

The stanzas are full of courage, hope and fear, and I would recommend this book to young readers who have a thirst for history but can’t understand the words in their textbooks. Stocked with words so easy to understand and containing an informative index at the end, the book offers excellent reading material. Its humorous comments and heart-breaking quotes are sure to make this work of art loved by everyone.

Tech Firms Increasingly Toe Europe’s Line on Hate Speech



A little over a year after a French court forced Twitter to remove some anti-Semitic content, experts say the ruling has had a ripple effect, leading other Internet companies to act more aggressively against hate speech in an effort to avoid lawsuits.

The 2013 ruling by the Paris Court of Appeals settled a lawsuit brought the year before by the Union of Jewish Students of France over the hashtag #UnBonJuif, which means “a good Jew” and which was used to index thousands of anti-Semitic comments that violated France’s law against hate speech.

Since then, YouTube has permanently banned videos posted by Dieudonne (pictured above), a French comedian with 10 convictions for inciting racial hatred against Jews. And in February, Facebook removed the page of French Holocaust denier Alain Soral for “repeatedly posting things that don’t comply with the Facebook terms,” according to the company. Soral’s page had drawn many complaints in previous years but was only taken down this year.

“Big companies don’t want to be sued,” said Konstantinos Komaitis, a former academic and current policy adviser at the Internet Society, an international organization that encourages governments to ensure access and sustainable use of the Internet. “So after the ruling in France, we are seeing an inclination by Internet service providers like Google, YouTube, Facebook to try and adjust their terms of service — their own internal jurisprudence — to make sure they comply with national laws.”

Experts for Hire

U.S. Mideast peace negotiator Martin Indyk has been hit by critics for accepting money from a supporter of terrorism. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

U.S. Mideast peace negotiator Martin Indyk has been hit by critics for accepting money from a supporter of terrorism. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Many think tanks, those collections of scholars who issue reams of reports and whose members help shape public opinion and government policy, take pride in being independent research organizations whose academics and former officials do rigorous, unbiased work.

But thanks to revelations that some of the most widely known of such groups, including the Brookings Institution, are benefiting from foreign dollars even as they educate policymakers in Washington, their rise-above-the-fray reputation is now in question.

Think tanks are a quintessential American institution. When a committee on Capitol Hill holds a hearing, think tank scholars often provide expert testimony. These scholars occupy a territory between policymakers and academics and often move freely between those professions.

“It’s a long tradition in America to put our trust in outside experts,” said Jim McGann, founder and director of the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program at the University of Pennsylvania. “So the most important policy issues facing the country were entrusted not to civil servants, not to government officials, but to think tanks.

“If you look, for example, at the 9/11 commission, virtually everyone had an affiliation with a think tank.”

A recent New York Times article pointed out the potential for foreign-influence buying at policy shops such as the Brookings Institution and the Center for Global Development. The Times charged that think tanks are taking tens of millions of dollars from foreign donors while advocating their positions with the U.S. government.

Those donors range from Norway to Japan to Canada. But in what was a bombshell for many Israel supporters, the Times revealed that former U.S. Mideast peace negotiator Martin Indyk accepted $14.8 million from Qatar for the Brookings Institution, where he now is director of its Foreign Policy Program. Other Qatari money funds Hamas, against which Israel fought a war this summer and which the United States has designated a terrorist organization.

Critics hit Indyk both for his revolving-door role in both Brookings and the U.S. peace team and for accepting money from a supporter of terrorism.

As the storm over the Times article peaked last week, the House of Representatives began to consider a proposed rule that would require think tank scholars who testify on Capitol Hill to disclose any support they receive from foreign governments. The proposal received bipartisan support.

What happens at Brookings, which has a center in Doha, Qatar, sets an example for other think tanks. Brookings — its motto is “Quality. Independence. Impact” — was named the most influential think tank in the world by the “Global Go To Think Tank Index,” an annual survey compiled by McGann of the organization’s global influence.

According to the Times, “12 percent of the annual budget at the Brookings Institution and as much as 20 percent of the funding at the Atlantic Council come from foreign governments.”

Many other think tanks receive corporate funding. One is the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which lists as donors Coca-Cola, Monsanto, Nestle and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others. Peterson was rated two stars (out of five) for transparency by Transparify, an international initiative advocating greater think tank transparency.

The Peterson Institute is to economic and trade expertise what Brookings is to foreign policy.

Writing in Inside Philanthropy, editor David Callahan asked, “Just how much intellectual integrity can the institute have, considering its dependence on donors with a strong financial stake in the issues that it works on?”

Callahan went on to describe the chilling effect corporate donors might have on the institute’s work.

McGann isn’t worried. He said that most of the older, more established think tanks have conflict of interest, peer review and donor guideline procedures already in place.

Nevertheless, he said that there have been incidents where individual think tank scholars were caught doubling as lobbyists, but it is rare.

The solution to conflict of interest is transparency, according to Hans Gutbrod, executive director of Transparify.

“Transparency communicates confidence in the integrity of your research,” he said. “If you know that your research can withstand critical scrutiny, there is no reason to hide that your donors may have particular preferences. So it is a key component.”

There are a number of other best practices, according to Gutbrod. They include “informing donors and clients early on what they will publish, independent of what the result is.”

“Some institutions have a strong code of conduct, which can become a point of reference for researchers who insist on their independence,” he said. “As the majority of think tanks are 501(c)3 organizations, practically all of them have a written conflict-of-interest policy. They are being asked to affirm this in their annual IRS 990 tax declaration form … and are asked whether they monitor and enforce that policy ‘regularly and consistently.’”

Mark Rom, director of the master’s in American government program at Georgetown University, said that he has confidence in the independence of think tank researchers.

Yet he admits that unlike in previous decades where think tanks like Brookings usually had a “pot” of funding that would finance all its research equally, he sees a greater push for scholars to fund their own projects.

“More scholars and think tanks have to raise their own funding, and when you’re raising your own funding, there is a least a possibility that you will research things in ways that would please those who fund it,” Rom said.

He also pointed to the proliferation of think tanks that have open political agendas, though not necessarily because of who funds their work.

What doesn’t seem to be changing is government reliance on think tanks and what McGann called the “revolving door” between think tanks and government service.

In the Indyk case, it can raise questions of propriety. In other situations, it helps government run more effectively.

“During the transition [between the Bush and Obama administrations] and the economic crisis, Obama was able to rely on the staff of think tanks, many of whom came into his administration before he took office,” McGann said. Because of that, Obama “was able to hit the ground running and respond to the crisis in a way that would not be possible elsewhere and is unusual in terms of the seamless transition from one administration to the other.” contributed to this article.

Count Your Blessings

Saying a blessing before inhaling snuff, sometimes stored in ornate boxes or tins, can assist in reaching the required 100 blessings a day when meals are not taken. (Wikipedia Loves Art participant "Opal_Art_Seekers_4" via Wikimedia Commons)

Saying a blessing before inhaling snuff, sometimes stored in ornate boxes or tins, can assist in reaching the required 100 blessings a day when meals are not taken.
(Wikipedia Loves Art participant “Opal_Art_Seekers_4” via Wikimedia Commons)

Based on a verse in the Book of Deuteronomy, the Talmud declares that a Jew should recite 100 blessings a day to adhere to God’s ways and to serve Him.

Fortunately, reciting the blessings for prayer and meals, each three times a day, easily achieves the required number. But it becomes a challenge if meals are not part of the daily regimen, as on Yom Kippur.

During the Yom Kippur fast, when all food and drink is forbidden for slightly more than 24 hours, some turn to making a blessing before smelling a fragrant spice, fruit or herbs to make it to 100.

Others, like Avie Yudin, might even inhale a pinch of powdered —and sometimes flavored — tobacco known as snuff.

“Another reason why we do it,” said Yudin, 57, and a member of Congregation Ohr Simcha, “is there are certain points during the day where you get tired and lethargic. That’s the last thing I want to [feel] on Yom Kippur. … This helps me wake up a bit. Believe me, I’d like to be able to smell coffee [instead] and feel this way.”

Yudin said the smell of snuff also invokes memories of his grandfather.

“Apparently he used to do that on Shabbos, yom tov or every day, so he had the little box where he would keep it,” said Yudin, who still has the snuffbox.

When Yudin was a boy, his father would offer smelling salts around the synagogue, but he didn’t care for it much.

“But as I got older, someone passed around snuff, and I loved it,” he said, “because it reminded me of my grandfather and it woke me up.”

A few years ago Yudin’s good friend, Dr. Sol Langermann, returned from Israel with a gift of snuff  “because he knew I liked it on Yom Kippur, and now that’s what I take out every year and use.”

Yudin’s snuff has a powdery texture, mixed with a menthol scent.

It’s called shmek tabak in Yiddish, he said, a reference to the “pinch of tobacco” traditionally taken between one’s thumb and index finger.

“You put [the pinch] up by your nostril, and breathe in,” he said. “I probably do it three or four or five times.”

Yudin shares the snuff with fellow congregants, he added, and “most people refuse it, because they don’t know what the hell it is, and some people smile when I pass it around probably thinking, ‘Oh, the old guys used to take it.’

Binyamin Ziman, a maintenance technician at Ner Israel Rabbinical College, prefers to inhale aromas of spices and other pleasant smelling things. He’s practiced this for years and it’s especially important for him on Yom Kippur because when a “person is fasting, you can’t eat but you can smell and you can make a brachah while taking in the smell. That in itself, it’s a merit to make extra brachahs on a day like that.”

Ziman, a member of Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion Congregation, leaves the spice bottle at his synagogue for use during the holy days and says smelling the fragrances helps him.

“It’s not like taking a bite out of a candy bar, but it gives you a sense of refreshment,” he explained, likening the practice to using mouthwash instead of a toothbrush; like a quick fix.

Abba David Poliakoff, 62, also a member of BJSZ, says he appreciates the lift and added focus that snuff can provide. He remembers older European Jews at his synagogue that came with a snuffbox.

“And every once in a while, someone comes to shul with snuff. … If somebody there has it I love to try it. I love to try anything,” said Poliakoff. “It’s the novelty of doing it. … It kind of blows your mind literally.”

Taking a pinch of snuff effectively relieves sinus congestion, but it’s typically accompanied with quite a few sneezes too, he added.

“I find that on Yom Kippur there is just so much to look at and understand that I also find myself short on time of doing what I have to do,” said Poliakoff, who is partner and chairman of securities law practice group Gordon Feinblatt LLC. “My key to everything is to be as involved and focused as much as possible, and when one does that, there’s very little time to think about food.” A pinch of snuff seems to help.

Yudin said there are other methods people use to stay awake, remain focused and avoid headaches, like caffeine suppositories. But Yudin sticks to snuff for its effectiveness and nostalgia.

There is one drawback, he said. “It’s pretty disgusting when you blow your nose.”

Putting the Puzzle Together

For locals hoping to dig into their family’s roots, the Jewish Genealogical Society of Maryland can help. The group teaches classes, holds talks with experts and tries to arm people with the tools they need to do effective research.

Dick Goldman, president of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland, has been researching his family since age 11. (Photos by David Stuck)

Dick Goldman, president of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland, has been researching his family since age 11. (Photos by David Stuck)

“Now, because of the internet, there is significantly more material available from your home,” Dick Goldman, the group’s president, said. “Hundreds of thousands of records are being put online every day.”

Goldman has been researching his own family for 60 years, starting when he was 11 years old. By age 12, he had 60 people on his family tree. He already had about 2,200 people on his tree prior to the advent of the internet. His family tree numbered 9,625 at the time of our first interview, and he had files for about 150 people to add. He’s made it back to great-great-great-grandparents who were born in the 1700s. People doing their own research contact him several times a year after finding that their family trees are part of his.

Duke Zimmerman, a founding member and a vice president of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland, hopes to pass his findings on to the next generation.

“I just wanted to know more about my family and I thought that my five grandchildren deserve to know where they came from,” he said.

Through working with a cousin in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Zimmerman’s tree now numbers 2,861, with the oldest name dating back to 1775.

“Doing research, you hit brick walls when you think that you can’t go any further,” he said. “And one of us will get through that wall and encourage the other.”

Through research, he’s reconnected with relatives, even taking a vacation in Mexico with cousins he hadn’t seen in years. As a photographer, he’s also taken great pride in restoring old photographs of the family, which he’s shares with the family.

Like Zimmerman, Laura Diamond connected with relatives through her research, finding a fourth cousin who lives in Baltimore. She has 4,000 people on her family tree, which dates back to the 1700s, although she has anecdotal evidence that goes back further.

“It surprised me how much they moved around Europe,” she said. “[There were] migrations taking people hundreds of miles. I’m trying to understand why and how.”

She’s currently researching archives in Ukraine to go further back on her tree.

“I don’t see it ending, just getting harder the further back you get,” she said.

Duke Zimmerman’s family  tree numbers 2,861, with the oldest name dating back to 1775.

Duke Zimmerman’s family tree numbers 2,861, with the oldest name dating back to 1775.

Susan Steeble detailed her genealogical search and what it means to her in an article for the Jewish Genealogy Society of Maryland’s newsletter. In it, she explains how she searched through census records, ship manifests, naturalization records, Social Security death indexes, marriage, birth and death announcements and cemetery records. Through letters, she found an ancestor by the name of Rebbe Raphael of Beshad (Ukraine), who lived from about 1751 to 1827. She learned about his teacher and their connection to Chasidism, which led her to learn more about her ancestors in Ukraine.

Like the other, Steeble has reconnected with relatives near and far, who have shared their memories and information.

“I feel that my life is changing and I am coming home to Judaism as I gain a deeper understanding of my spiritual roots,” she wrote. “But this is a process, and I am still near the starting point.”

The Jewish Genealogy Society will meet on Sunday, Aug. 24, at 1:30 p.m. at the Pikesville  Library, 1301 Reisterstown Road. Contact the organization at or