Tag Archives: Baltimore

Parents who send their children to private schools attended a meeting Tuesday night to discuss funding options. (Photo by Heather Norris)

Officials, Community Members Talk Nonpublic School Money

State officials from across the Baltimore area didn’t hold back when they met with constituents Wednesday night at Talmudical Academy to discuss funding for parochial schools.

Parents who send their children to private schools attended a meeting Tuesday night to discuss funding options. (Photo by Heather Norris)

Parents who send their children to private schools attended a meeting Tuesday night to discuss funding options. (Photo by Heather Norris)

“This is probably not happening this year,” said State Sen. Bobby Zirkin (D-11), noting, along with Del. Adrienne Jones (D-10), that the combination of budget constrictions and a big election year doesn’t lend itself to controversial legislation like the Maryland Education Credit, the topic at the forefront of the discussion.

The credit, which is being promoted by a number of different private school organizations and parents of those who attend the schools, would provide businesses with a 60 percent tax credit for donations made to organizations that provide financial assistance to nonpublic schools. At this point, it is not a bill and is only being discussed in “open house” meetings hosted by nonpublic schools in regions throughout the state.

Zirkin also told meeting attendees that they should factor in the possibility that this money they want from the state — $15 million to fund the credit — would more than likely come with strings attached.

“With money comes restrictions, too,” he said. “You can’t separate the one from the other.”

State Sen. Delores Kelley said she understands the parents’ perspective, having sent her children to Pilgrim Christian Day School.

“I’m sure that many of you struggle to support the choices that you make,” she said.

However, she added, those parents who send their children to nonpublic schools have a choice.

“My concern is that we are just so far from where we should be as far as public education is concerned,” Kelley said, noting that the state’s official and legal obligation is to provide for public schools first, a concept Zirkin seconded.

Of the seven state officials who attended (Zirkin, Kelley, Jones, Del. Dan Morhaim (D- 11), Del. Jon Cardin (D-11), Del. Dana Stein (D-11), Del. Sandy Rosenberg (D-41)), only two — Cardin and Rosenberg — expressed support for the idea, though others said they looked forward to hearing more details.

When it comes to helping students in the nonpublic school system, Rosenberg said, “We can do better.”

 

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‘Dirty, Smelly Jew’

Dr. Bert Miller says he faced anti-Semitism in his Baltimore County school.

Dr. Bert Miller says he faced anti-Semitism in his Baltimore County school.
(David Stuck)

Dr. Bert Miller taught math in Baltimore County for almost 40 years. He holds master’s, associate’s and doctorate degrees in mathematics education, has earned two National Science Foundation fellowships, has published software for math teachers, and he even discovered a new theorem in 2009. In his second year of teaching in the county in 1974, the office of the state superintendent personally contacted him to apply for Maryland Teacher of the Year.

Yet, in June 2010, Miller retired under protest as he was facing termination for incompetence. The termination followed two years of unsatisfactory teacher evaluations, during which he was denied contractually mandated appeals. He believes, and a colleague’s deposition showed, that anti-Semitism among members of his appraisal team played a major role.

“It was a conspiracy, there’s no question,” Miller, a 66-year-old Orthodox Jew, said. His suit against the Baltimore County Board of Education is set for a five-day civil jury trial in May in the Circuit Court.

Miller started teaching at New Town High School in Owings Mills in 2005 after more than three decades of a successful teaching career. It wasn’t long before he started to clash with his superiors.

The most substantial evidence of anti-Semitism came to light later, when a colleague of Miller’s was deposed by the Baltimore County Board of Education. She claimed that his immediate supervisor, who was a member of his appraisal team, regularly referred to Miller as a “dirty, smelly Jew,” bribed volleyball players with starting positions to get their parents to complain about Miller to the principal and placed a lemon with pins in it on Miller’s keyboard, a witchcraft ritual that brings bad luck.

“This is Maryland, one of the bluest states in the nation in one of the bluest counties in the state,” said Kevin Joyce, Miller’s attorney. “From Dr. Miller’s perspective, it’s appalling and I’m inclined to agree with him. ‘Dirty, smelly Jew’ — there’s no other way to interpret that.”

The Jewish Times confirmed the colleague’s testimony in regards to the ‘dirty, smelly Jew’ comment and the lemon incident via court documents.

Miller ran afoul of administration early in his time at New Town High, he said. The first thing he picked up was in 2007, when he needed two days off during state exams to observe Shavuot. He claims that a member of his appraisal team, who has a master’s degree in theology, said there’s no such holiday. Miller was criticized for being behind the pace of the curriculum in a trigonometry class when he was absent for five of the previous 23 days observing Rosh Hashanah, two days of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. The school was closed for Yom Kippur and the first day of Rosh Hashanah.

“If there is a fact to be understood in a way most harmful to me, that’s the way the appraisal team would choose to understand the fact,” Miller said. “‘Students have low grades? Well, it’s obvious you’re a bad teacher. What other explanation could there be?’”

Baltimore County Public Schools, the law firm representing Baltimore County and the Teachers Association of Baltimore County declined to comment on the case. Baltimore County school spokesman Mychael Dickerson said the school system’s insurance policy is paying for representation from Towson firm Pessin Katz Law.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the global Jewish human rights organization Simon Wiesenthal Center, said it’s an unfortunate reality that anti-Semitism is alive and well.

“It’s our obligation when we confront or see that something that smells like it represents hatred and bigotry — that’s a wake-up call that we should do something about it,” he said. “You can’t prevent them because evil exists and anti-Semitism exists, but you have to fight against it and make a big stink about it,” he said.

A new Anti-Defamation League survey shows that 12 percent of Americans hold anti-Semitic views, a 3 percent decline from the ADL’s 2011 poll. Fourteen percent said Jews have too much power in the U.S. and 26 percent blame Jews for the death of Jesus.

While Miller feels there were some more blatant instances of prejudice, he also noticed some unorthodox evaluation practices. Once, he was observed on the fourth day of school, when he claims he was still learning all the students’ names. Another member of the appraisal team once observed him for only 20 minutes. Another observation, which ended with 10 out of 10 students getting 100 percent on a quiz, was rated unsatisfactory.

In the second semester of the 2008 to 2009 school year, he was only given one observation when he was supposed to have two due to his previous unsatisfactory ratings. Even though the semester started Jan. 24, his Jan. 10 observation was counted, he said.

“This is well beyond intellectual dishonesty,” Miller said. “When you put all that together, with ‘dirty, smelly Jew’ and the Wiccan intimidation with pins in the lemon and the administration knowing about it and not doing anything and criticizing me for being behind the curriculum pace when I was absent five days in the previous 23, I think I’m beginning to see a pattern in the data.”

Miller was also made into a trouble maker when he pointed out academic inconsistencies as exemplified by a college algebra class that did not have proper preparation for the course and teachers getting less preparation time than contracts mandate. While the complaint about teacher prep time was made anonymously, the administration wanted to know and found out who made the complaint, Miller said.

A friend of his who taught at a neighboring high school told Miller that the math department chair at that school said that New Town High was trying to get rid of Miller. The comment was made a day after there was a county meeting of administrative personnel, Miller said.

When a teacher is given an unsatisfactory evaluation, there is a three-level appeal process. The first appeal is with the assistant superintendent, the second with the superintendent’s designee and the third with an arbitrator paid by the Board of Education. Miller never received his third-level appeals for his four unsatisfactory evaluations, one for each semester. His breach of contract suit is over the denial of third-level appeals.

After two years of unsatisfactory evaluations, Miller retired in protest in June 2010 prior to a termination date of June 30, in order to maintain retirement benefits he had earned.

“We’re confident that if an appeal does take place, [anti-Semitism] will be part of an appeal, and I’m confident we’ll win,” Joyce said. He expects the case to last until 2015 or longer with the appeals the Board of Education is expected to file after court judgments.

“You could see this thing stretched out for another four years,” he said.

A story Miller likes to tell about his teaching record is that of a female African-American student who won a trip to Atlanta to present a prize-winning essay at a national conference. The topic? How Miller, her demanding math teacher, helped her turn her life around by expressing his admiration for her work and behavior and saying he respected her for acting like a lady.

“Dr. Miller has no idea those are words I will take to my grave,” the student wrote. “They are words that get me through some of my darkest moments.”

While the suit is seeking monetary damages, settlement offers of $2,000 and $10,000 were declined. Joyce thinks Miller’s main concern is having his name cleared, the ability to work again and someone taking the responsibility for the events that led to his early retirement.

“They effectively ended my career,” Miller said.

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter — mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

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Smart Meter Debate Rages On

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A BGE smart meter can read one’s electricity usage in real time. (Marc Shapiro)

As the Maryland Public Service Commission debates whether or not utility companies can charge customers to opt out of smart meters, Baltimore residents are working to spread awareness about a technology they feel isn’t so smart.

“While it is beneficial for BGE’s bottom line, it is not for us or our families,” said Pikesville-area resident Frank Storch via email. “We pay the price by exposing ourselves to a serious health risk and by compromising our safety and privacy.”

BGE started installing the new electric meters in spring 2012. The meters, which transmit information via a wireless network, send electric usage data to the company every hour without having to send a person monthly to read the meter. The company says this more complete picture of electricity usage, which is available to customers, can be tracked online and can help BGE recommend ways to reduce energy use.

While BGE, which has 1.2 million customers throughout Maryland, and Pepco, which has customers in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, maintain the technology is efficient and safe, some consumers are weary of the meters.

Those opposed to the smart meters say they emit dangerously high doses of radiation, the smart grid the data travels on is susceptible to hacking, the meters overheat and catch fire, the amount of data pouring in gives BGE that ability to track appliances and how many people are home in a house, and there are no substantial studies saying the devices are safe.

“My real concern is whether or not these things are safe in your house,” said area resident Allan Sherr.

A group called Maryland Smart Meter Awareness is working to spread awareness about issues with smart meters.

“The biggest challenge we have is educating the public,” said Jonathan Libber, the group’s president. “The utilities are counting on the fact that most people have no idea this is coming. This is a game changer.”

The Maryland Public Service Commission has not decided if it will permit BGE to charge customers to opt out of smart meter installation. Customers currently can defer smart meter installation for no charge. BGE and Pepco representatives say they support charging customers who opt out because of the extra costs involved in maintaining BGE’s old meter system.

Those opposed to the smart meters are not alone. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine recommends that people with neurodegenerative diseases, neurological conditions, fetal abnormalities and pregnancies, genetic defects, cancer, liver and genitourinary disease not have smart meters because of the radiation they emit. The organization also sent a letter to the Public Utilities Commission of the State of California opposing the installation in homes and schools.

“Chronic exposure to wireless radio frequency is a preventable environmental hazard that is sufficiently well documented to warrant immediate preventative public health action,” the letter said.

The World Health Organization in May 2011 classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields associated with wireless communication devices as possibly carcinogenic to humans.

“There’s a lot of evidence pointing to the fact that there’s very good reason to be concerned,” said Pikesville resident Ruth Eisenberg, treasurer of Maryland Smart Meter Awareness.

Approximately 3 percent of BGE customers in the smart meter deployment area have deferred smart meter installation, according to spokeswoman Rhea Marshall. Approximately 600,000 smart meters have been installed in Anne Arundel County, southwest Baltimore County and Calvert, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. BGE is currently actively installing meters in Pikesville, Randallstown, Arbutus, Essex and Dundalk, she said.

BGE claims the smart meter radiation is weak. Standing 3.28 feet away from a microwave exposes a person to 100 times more the amount of radiation; using a wireless router, laptop or sitting in a cybercafé exposes a person to 150 times more radiation; and holding a cell phone exposes a person to 50,000 times more radiation, according to BGE figures.

“What we tried to explain to people is that these smart meters operate at lower radio frequency than many common household devices — garage door openers, baby monitors,” Marshall said.

The utility company has not experienced any fires from its devices, and Pepco spokesman Marcus Beal claims fires in other areas have been caused by faulty installations.

In response to claims about BGE knowing what appliances are being used and who is home in a house, Marshall says the smart meters are simply reporting the same data the company has now but with more frequency and in a more efficient way.

“No, we don’t know if someone is using their microwave or how many televisions people have or anything like that,” she said.

While there is no opt-out option in Washington, D.C., Beal said about 2,100 of 553,000 customers in Maryland opted out of smart meter installation.

“The vast majority of our customers were eager to have the meters installed,” he said.

He thinks many were excited about them because in restoration efforts the smart meters can report in real time where power outages are rather than have crews drive to places to find out. Pepco’s meters also have a temperature gauge and send a warning to Pepco if they are overheating. He thinks all the attention the meters have been getting is “odd.”

“There’s really no valid reason why you should not have the meter,” he said.

Del. Glen Glass, who represents parts of Harford and Cecil counties, plans to rally for a bill in the upcoming Maryland General Assembly that he pushed for last session that would allow customers to opt out of smart meter installation free of charge and require utility companies to remove smart meters and reinstall the old ones for customers who don’t want smart meters, also free of charge.

“You shouldn’t have to pay for something you don’t want, and there are a lot of reasons not to want one,” he said. “We want freedom, and this is not freedom to have this dangerous meter shoved down the throats of the citizens of Maryland.”

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter
mshapiro@jewishtimes.com

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Notes From The Spirit

From left, Ayelet HaShachar is  composed of Lisa Aronson Friedman, Stephanie Rabinowitz and Shalomis (Shelly) Koffler Weinreb.

From left, Ayelet HaShachar is
composed of Lisa Aronson Friedman, Stephanie Rabinowitz and Shalomis (Shelly) Koffler Weinreb.

They’ve been compared to musical acts such as the Indigo Girls and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but local trio Ayelet HaShachar brings a unique blend of musicality, spirituality and religious devotion that sets them apart.

Ensemble members Shalomis (Shelly) Koffler Weinreb (guitarist, percussionist, vocalist and composer), Lisa Aronson Friedman (pianist, composer and vocalist) and Stephanie Rabinowitz (vocalist) have been singing together for the past 12 years. The group recently released its second CD, “Matai,” which translates to “When.” They will celebrate the new album with a concert for women only on Nov. 17.

Ayelet HaShachar started when Rabinowitz, who was trained in musical theater, met Friedman, a classically trained pianist.

“I was looking for more creative expression,” said Rabinowitz. “Lisa and I connected immediately, and we were looking for a third woman. One night, Shalomis came to a women’s music event at my house with guitar in hand. I called Lisa and said, ‘I found her!’” The three women have been making music together ever since.

The group released its first album, “Ohr Chadash,” in 2005 and have performed locally and in multiple venues in Israel. Both “Ohr Chadash” and “Matai” were produced by Jeff Order of nationally known Order Productions. Ayelet HaShachar is a nonprofit entity, and all funds from ticket and CD sales go toward band expenses and to fund free concerts for senior centers and elsewhere.

“We all come from different musical backgrounds,” said Friedman, a fact that Weinreb, whose roots are in blues, folk and pop music, believes is a strength of their collaboration.

“My influences are singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Carole King, even Motown,” said Weinreb.

Since the women of Ayelet HaShachar came to Orthodox Judaism as adults, they were exposed to a range of cultural and musical influences prior to composing and singing exclusively Jewish and religious music. As part of their transitions to Orthodoxy, Weinreb, Friedman and Rabinowitz came to accept and even appreciate the fact that they only perform for other women.

“In Jewish law, there is something called kol isha. It is part of the laws of modesty. Women don’t perform in front of men,” said Friedman. “There are different interpretations of this. We’ve decided that we won’t perform in front of men, but if men want to listen to our CDs and their rabbis approve, we aren’t going to pass judgment.”

Rabinowitz said she is perfectly happy to work within religious boundaries when it comes to performing.

“The voice is really the soul, and there are clear and beautiful boundaries,” she said.

“We have to ask ourselves why we are singing. Is it about ego or is it about spirituality?” noted Friedman. “The attitude today can be self-centered. One thing that happens when you become Orthodox is you realize the world isn’t about you. There’s a higher purpose. There is work to do.”

Weinreb admitted that when she first became religious she thought observing kol isha might be a conflict for her. She discovered it was not.

“There’s a spiritual kind of sisterhood that you feel when you’re performing for a women’s audience — they really get it,” said Weinreb.

“You go from performing to get something to performing to give something,” said Rabinowitz.

Ayelet HaShachar performs only original music, and their intimate knowledge of one another as people and musicians means that Friedman and Weinreb write music with individual ensemble members in mind.

“Each new song feels like a new child,” said Rabinowitz.

After more than a decade working together, group members feel their sound has matured and tightened. Although “Matai,” like “Ohr Chadash,” deals with spiritual and religious themes, Friedman said the group feels more like an ensemble.

“There are fewer solo pieces on the new CD,” she noted.

“I think our music has become more complicated because our lives are more complicated,” said Rabinowitz. “We have shared each other’s experiences. There’s a depth to it that wasn’t there in the first album. … There is a pleading [quality in the music] like the album’s title, ‘Matai,’ (‘When’). When are you [God] going to bring us home?”

“Harmonies are really the hallmark of our sound,” said Weinreb. “When we sing the same note together we sound like one voice, but it’s not the voice of anyone of us. We are friends on and off the stage. We call each other sisters, and that shows up in the music. People have remarked on how well we get along onstage, and it makes the audience feel good.”

The three believe their music is accessible to less religious women as well as women of other religious traditions, and they hope to draw music lovers from outside the Orthodox community to their upcoming concert.

“Sometimes the fact that men can’t come is a barrier,” said Weinreb. “But think of it as a ladies night out.”

The Ayelet HaShachar CD release concert (for women only) will take place on Sunday, Nov. 17 at 8 p.m. at 3209 Fallstaff Road. For additional information, email Basia Adler at info@ayeletmusic.org or call 410-358-9492. Tickets are $15 for general admission and $8 for students. Concert sponsorships are also available. CDs by Ayelet HaShachar will be available at the concert and are on sale at ayeletmusic.org and Pern’s Bookstore and Shabsi’s Judaica Center.

Preview Ayelet Hashachar’s album, Matai here

Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter — sellin@jewishtimes.com

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Ah, Music

David Broza will bring his charismatic and energetic music to Jewish Baltimore later this month.

David Broza will bring his charismatic and energetic music to Jewish Baltimore later this month.

David Broza is an Israeli music superstar. And with more than 25 albums, many of which have become multiplatinum, he’s also someone who gets attention worldwide.

His style has been described as charismatic and energetic, a fusion of the three countries in which he was raised: Israel, Spain and England.

In the past, Broza, 58, would tour the country singing his songs for the masses. His sound engineer was a local man, Peter Winer, who tragically passed away in a motorcycle accident in June 2012. He was 54. On Nov. 21, Broza will return to Baltimore for a concert in Winer’s honor.

The Baltimore Jewish Times caught up with Broza to ask him about his music and his friend.

JT: How are the parts of the world in which you were raised reflected in your music?
Broza:
With Spain, I spent my teenage years there. But it was only after that it had an effect on me. My connection to Spain came in the aftermath, when I returned to Israel. Then I realized how much Spain was a part of me and how I had been influenced there. I furthered that connection in 2000 when I went again to live in Spain and write music. I had three albums released in Spain.

You always put on an energetic show. But your life off stage is pretty robust, too. Talk about your passion for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
It is not a passion, but I am living in the reality of what I come from, and I have been dealing with a possible solution [to the conflict] coming on a people-to-people level, not political. People-to-people needs to be introduced at a very young age through education, and we can condition ourselves to tolerance and coexistence. This is just part of my life.

Have you done work with Palestinian artists?
I have … collaborated with Palestinian musicians, and I work in East Jerusalem a lot. I am about to release an album I recorded in East Jerusalem. This is not a show, it is part of my way of life. … I have been working with Palestinian-run studios in East Jerusalem — on an engineering level and playing together.

Talk about how music can be a catalyst for peace.
Art and music penetrate deep into the subconscious, into the heart and soul of people; it is not about intellectualizing. If you like it and you strike a tone, then people connect. … They could decide to put earmuffs on and block the sound, but if they don’t, then they get affected. It is a nice role to try to build trust, to try to break down the walls through music, which inadvertently can
help in conditioning people toward resolving the conflict. After that, the politicians have to come in and finish up the hard work. But music can penetrate the heart and mind.

The lyrics for your songs are often poems — your own and others. Talk about the importance of the rhythm versus the words. How do they interplay?
Lyrics and music are one; when I write lyrics, I try to dress them with a melody. One feeds off the other.

Talk about your connection to Peter Winer.
I met Pete when I came to the U.S. in the 1980s. He was introduced to me by a friend who used to work with me in Israel, and we struck a professional relationship. He toured with me as sound engineer. … We crisscrossed this country together for about 13 years. He got to know me very personally, and I knew him intimately. In the last years, we were each in our own worlds, and we lost touch a bit, though we tried to keep in touch. His life ended tragically in an accident. I feel honored to be able to bring [this concert] in his memory.

Is there anything special/unique that people should expect?
I like the city of Baltimore, I have always liked it and have written a few songs around that. Since Pete came from Baltimore, it was a reference point for 13 years; we started in Baltimore, or he came from Baltimore to pick me up. I have not been back in a long time, and I am looking forward to coming and playing this concert.

David Broza
In Memory of Peter Winer
Thursday, Nov. 21 at 7:30 p.m.
$28 in advance; $32 at the door (subject to availability)
Visit gordoncenter.com

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief — mjaffe@jewishtimes.com