‘Beyond Chicken Soup’ JMM’s newest exhibit touts Jews’ contribution to medicine, health

With a collection of Jewish medical writings going back to the sixth century, a view into the back of a real ambulance and a series of interactive screens aimed at furthering a conversation about health care, the Jewish Museum of Maryland’s newest exhibit provides a tour of the Jewish physician’s journey in the United States.

“Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America,” which opened earlier last month and runs until Jan. 16, 2017, walks the visitor through a half-dozen settings named for locations typically associated with the health care field.

‘Beyond Chicken Soup'

The first stop is the “university” that focuses heavily on Baltimore’s prominent Friedenwald family.

Dr. Harry Friedenwald, son of Baltimore doctor Aaron Friedenwald, collected a series of ancient manuscripts containing the earliest Jewish medical teachings and donated them to the National Library of Israel in 1948. He also translated them into modern English.

The room, set up to re-create Friedenwald’s study, contains the manuscripts as well as other mementos such an invitation to a lecture he gave in 1943 in Gilman Hall on the campus of Johns Hopkins University.

The exhibit is not to serve as a hall of fame, said Deborah Cardin, the museum’s director for programs and development. “But we do think being in Baltimore, there are a number of individuals who have contributed so much to medical advancement.”

The visitor then enters the “medical school” section that focuses on the struggles that Jewish students faced when applying for and entering medical school in the early part of the 20th century. This included quotas limiting the number of Jews admitted to doctoral programs across the country.

To combat the quota discrimination issue, Rabbi Morris Lazaron of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, and Baltimore Jewish Council president Leon Sachs contacted universities in Wisconsin, Arkansas and Chicago among other places asking for data on Jewish admissions.

“[Lazaron] sent letters to medical school deans asking for very specific information about how many Jewish students had applied, how many Jewish students were admitted and whether or not Jews were able to find internships in Christian hospitals,” Cardin said.

As can be seen in the letters that have been reproduced, most of the deans replied to Lazaron with the corresponding data backing up his assertion, although Cardin said he received a couple of angry responses suggesting Jewish students were “morally inferior” to Christians.

Cardin explained that education was a form of currency for Jewish immigrant families settling in the United States in the early 1900s, which partially accounts for the early influence of Jewish doctors in Baltimore.

“This was also a time when a medical education was part of the American dream, and that’s why you find this close association with Jews and medicine, and it becomes part of our aspiration to become fully accepted as American citizens,” she said.

The struggle among Jews to rise through the ranks in the medical community can also be seen in the “hospital” section that illustrates the push for a Jewish hospital during a time when hospitals of other faiths were unwelcoming toward Jews.

“In the mid-1800s prior to the establishment of Jewish hospitals, when Jewish patients went to Christian hospitals, they often found themselves at the mercy of a staff that was interested in converting them,” Cardin said. “And so there was a real desire to pull together and establish hospitals within the Jewish community and take care of itself.”

This led to the establishment of the Hebrew Hospital and Asylum in 1868, which later expanded to include non-Jewish patients and was renamed Sinai Hospital.

Among the highlights of this part of the exhibit is the back door of a real ambulance that the museum purchased on eBay and incorporated into the scenery.

“They took a slice off the back and sold the rest for scrap,” museum executive director Marvin Pinkert said.

The ambulance is just one of a variety of artifacts saturating the exhibit that illustrate the journey of the medical profession, including a violin that Dr. Morris Abramovitz played during college to earn money for tuition.

Abramovitz, famous for discovering a method of injecting multiple medications at one time into the body, emigrated from Lithuania in 1901 and opened a practice in East Baltimore serving the immigrant and sailor populations. The “doctor’s office” portion of the exhibit includes a replica of his workspace with a desk, chair, examining table and a scale that was donated by the Davidov family.

Howard Davidov, a retired Baltimore radiologist whose father Nathan was a general practitioner for 45 years, said when he heard the museum would be putting an exhibit together on Jews in medicine he felt his father “ought to be in it.”

“To me, medicine was his life,” said Davidov, one of several Jewish doctors in Baltimore who contributed either funds or artifacts to the exhibit. “He treated patients whether they could pay or not pay. If he made a diagnosis, that was the diagnosis, and this was before CT and ultrasound and all that sort of stuff.”

Nathan Davidov graduated from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1920 and later completed a residency at Johns Hopkins before opening an office on Eastern Avenue near the Patterson Theater. (His diploma can be seen in the exhibit hanging near Abramovitz’s office). Davidov said his father enjoyed medicine from an academic standpoint but was also devoted to his patients.

“He loved taking care of people, he loved helping people, and the intellectual puzzle of the diagnosis was something he really liked,” he said. “If he got a call in the middle of the night, he would drive to Highlandtown and see patients. They don’t make them like that anymore.”

In the “pharmacy” section, visitors can see and smell a number of remedies, such as cinnamon and mace, that were once used to treat patients. Much of this portion of the exhibit was made possible by pharmacists Neil and Dixie Leikach, who have owned Catonsville Pharmacy since 1999. Dixie Leikach contributed an oral history along with several artifacts from the Maryland Pharmacists Association for which she briefly served as interim executive director.

Among Dixie Leikach’s contributions is a photo of her husband at work in Catonsville Pharmacy. Neil’s father, Henry, was also a pharmacist and worked in the Klotzman Drugstore in downtown Baltimore, which, she said, is a point of pride for him.

Dixie Leikach said, “When somebody decides to do the same thing as their parents, it’s a proud moment.”

While most of “Beyond Chicken Soup” showcases how Jews have advanced within the medical fields through the last two centuries, it also deals with current ethical debates about health care within the public discourse. Visitors are invited to answer questions on interactive displays such as, “Should you be able to choose your doctor based on their religion?” and “Must a doctor speak your language?” The answer choice prompts a pie chart of the cumulative results from all the other visitors.

“One of the inspirations for the exhibit was that there are so many contemporary conversations around health care, so we came up with the solution of embedding content into the exhibit through these touchscreens,” Cardin said.

Aside from the displays, there are also several activities for children such as a dress-up section, where you can put on a white coat, and a matching activity called “It’s all Greek to me,” where visitors are asked to identify a Greek term with the corresponding disease in English.

In the final “fitness center” section, a large wheel called “What’s On Your Plate” is mounted on the wall, and spinning it allows visitors to see what foods people in the United States ate during each decade from the 1900s to the 1990s. The foods progress from creamed cabbage and mashed potatoes eventually to a fresh-looking piece of chicken with vegetables.

“In 1900, doctors advised to steer clear of spicy foods,” Cardin said. “The idea of eating a very bland meal was very popular.”

The amount of detailed information and activities was too much for Davidov to absorb in one visit, and he has since been back several times. He recommends taking your time while there.

“It’s just a very well done exhibit that everybody should go see,” he said.

The exhibit concludes with a slideshow of people of all ages and nationalities in the medical field at work, which Cardin said demonstrates the progress that has been made in health care.

“Is the Jewish doctor still a stereotype that’s really prevalent today? What we come up with is the changing face of medicine,” Cardin said. “And if you look at what the medical field looks like today, it’s a very different place than it was a century ago.”


‘Beyond Chicken Soup:
Jews and Medicine in America’

Through Jan. 16, 2017

Jewish Museum of Maryland
15 Lloyd St., Baltimore

For more information: 410-732-6400 or jewishmusuemmd.org


Community Protests Murderer’s Appeal

Poster for support eventApproximately 250 people from Baltimore’s Jewish community traveled by bus, car and subway train to protest the appeal trial of then 24-year-old Wayne Stephen Young, who was convicted of killing 11-year-old Esther Lebowitz in 1969.

A student of the Bais Yaakov School for Girls, she was last seen in Pikesville after being dropped off at the end of a school day at a local drugstore. Her body was found three days later in a ditch not far from her Mount Washington home.

The courtroom, almost stiflingly hot, was beyond capacity Thursday, with spectators filling the benches, aisles and perimeter. The lawyers in attendance were even permitted to fill the 13 juror chairs to make more room.  On the buses and in the courtroom, many people silently read from prayer books. Lebowitz’s immediate family, who moved to Israel shortly after the incident, was not in attendance.

Young, who has been denied parole 12 times, requested appeal of his conviction based on a recent ruling by Maryland’s appellate court. Known as the Unger ruling, it cites incorrect jury instructions administered in Maryland courtrooms that may have led to unfair trials. More than a dozen Maryland prisoners convicted before 1980, when the jury instructions were amended, have had their convictions retried and have been released. The state reviews these appeals on a case-by-case basis.

Now 68, gray and balding, Young was dressed in Department of Corrections issue blue shirt and pants and sat silently next to defense attorney Erica J. Suter. He seemed relaxed and appeared to be following the two lawyers’ testimony. Suter gave the opening statement requesting to reopen the conviction for a retrial based on the Unger ruling.

“It is not in the interest of justice to reopen this trial,” began assistant state prosecuting attorney Antonio Gioia, who spoke for more than 20 minutes. He read from transcripts detailing the heinous crime, including autopsy results of Lebowitz being beaten with a blunt instrument at least 17 times and sexual molestation.

Gioia also read a statement made by the officer who administered a polygraph test to Young, who had pled temporary insanity at the time of his original trial.

“I did this,” the officer testified that Young told him. “I killed that little girl.”

Frank Storch, 56, was 12 when Lebowitz was murdered. Storch, whose father was president of Bais Yaakov at the time, said of the murder that he “remembers it like it was yesterday.” He organized transportation to leave from the Seven Mile Market so that community members could show their support in the courtroom.

“In silence our community gathered,” Storch said after the hearing, “and spoke millions of words.”

Bus full of supporters wait to leave from Seven Mile MarketNeil Schachter has been president of the Northwest Citizen’s Patrol since 2000. He explained that when someone comes up for parole he is typically notified far in advance. Because Young’s appeal was not parole-based this time, Schachter heard about the hearing only days before from Abba Poliakoff, a cousin of the Lebowitz family. His organization got the word out via Facebook, websites and letters to community rabbis.

“[Poliakoff] got a phone call last week,” related Schachter. “He called me and said we need to do something. … We didn’t have much time to put this together to garner this support.”

Schachter was thankful and impressed with the number of people who came out.

“But I can tell you, if needed we could have gotten thousands of people,” he added. “We could have gotten even more than the OrthodoxJewish community.”

Rabbi Yaakov Menken was one of the throngs of people who took time off in the afternoon to attend.

“It’s important to stand as a community when something so horrible has happened that affects the entire community,” he said.

Debbie Lowenstein, from Pikesville, patiently waited in a long line outside the courthouse as each person was shuttled through security.

“I’m here because as soon as I heard that story [as a young girl] it affected me greatly … because it was so close to home,” she explained. “And any Jewish girl is like a sister – it’s like family and you think how could this happen and they cannot let this man go.”

supporters board buses courthouseBaltimore Circuit Judge Edward R.K. Hardagon did not make an immediate decision. He explained that he must review records and would issue a written statement at a later date, but acknowledged the enormous show of protest by the community when he spoke to the courtroom.

“It does not go unnoticed how many people are here,” he said. “Thank you for coming.”

Outside the courthouse after the hearing, Dr. Bert Miller of Park Heights, a retired teacher from Bais Yaakov, said Lebowitz would have eventually been in his 11th grade class if she hadn’t been killed. He added that it wasn’t just Lebowitz that was murdered that day, but her future children and even grandchildren.

“We have a saying,” he said, “one who takes one life, kills the whole world.”

24 Hours Under The Radar

[slideshow id=”24 Hours Under The Radar”]

On Nov. 21, 2013, the staff of the Baltimore Jewish Times sought out, photographed and engaged with Jewish Baltimore. Twenty-four hours. Three teams. One city. An impressive and diverse cross section of the area’s Jewish people.

What comprises Jewish Baltimore? A lot of very different people, places, traditions and organizations, to be sure.

“24 Hours Under the Radar” is a glimpse into the ordinary — and therefore, extraordinary — behind-the-scenes lives of Jewish Baltimoreans. These are people who infuse some of the Jewish into Jewish Baltimore because of what they do, how they act, what they believe and, in some cases, simply because they’re Jewish. And each adds to the unique flavor of the city.

The following profiles are just a glimpse into that deep well of Jewish identity, culture and pride found here in Baltimore.

There is much more to uncover.

Read the, “Reporter’s Blog” by Melissa Gerr. >>

Photographers: David Stuck, Melissa Gerr, Marc Shapiro
Writers: Simone Ellin, Melissa Gerr, Maayan Jaffe, Heather Norris, Marc Shapiro

Seasons Kosher Market Pursuing Baltimore Property

The Fields of Pikesville building won’t be getting a kosher market anytime soon, the realtor redeveloping the building said.

Seasons, a New York-based kosher market, is instead planning to open at 401 Reisterstown Road, which was once home to Danielle’s Bluecrest Caterers.

“We feel it’s a good growth neighborhood,” said Mayer Gold, Seasons’ owner. “It’s a nice, vibrant kosher community.”

He said his company, which has been looking for a Baltimore location for about a year and a half, is under contract to purchase the Reisterstown Road building.

Baltimore County held a public parking variance hearing on Wednesday, Dec. 11. The building’s parking lot is not properly zoned, Gold said. If all goes as planned, he hopes to open in Baltimore in one year.

Carl Verstandig, president and CEO of America’s Realty, LLC, said Seasons needed almost 5,000 more square feet than the Fields building could offer.

“Logistically, we couldn’t get the space to fit,” said Verstandig, whose company is redeveloping the Fields building.

Advanced Auto parts will be opening in its stead, Verstandig said.

Seasons, a gourmet kosher market, offers takeout food, deli meats, fish, produce, a butcher, a bakery and floral arrangements, according to its website. It has four locations in New York: Lawrence, Scarsdale, Queens and Manhattan. The company will also be opening a store in Lakewood, N.J., in about 18 months, Gold said.

He likened Seasons to a kosher Whole Foods, a family-friendly, clean and upscale store with fresh food, but not “upscale prices,” he said.

Although Verstandig couldn’t work things out with Seasons, he is optimistic about the future, having recently acquired the Wells Fargo building on the corner of Reisterstown and Old Court roads for $1.45 million.

At the Wells Fargo building, he hopes to have the 14,000 vacant square feet leased to a law firm and a real estate company within the next few weeks.

At the Fields building, he expects Advanced Auto Parts to open in March and self-defense and fitness studio Masada Tactical to open the month prior, in February.

When his company’s pending deals are wrapped up, it will own 227 centers in 31 states. With the recent Pikesville acquisition, his company now owns 10 buildings within three blocks of each other in Pikesville, he said.

“That’s gives us quite a bit of confidence in Pikesville,” Verstandig said.

Analysis: Race for Maryland Governor

Joe Cluster, the Maryland Republican Party’s executive director, says he is “cautiously optimistic.” (provided)

Joe Cluster, the Maryland Republican Party’s executive director, says he is “cautiously optimistic.” (provided)

Although it is still early, the race for governor of Maryland is already shaping up to be a competitive one.

With nine candidates saying they plan on running, the field ranges from seasoned politicians to experienced businessmen and even to a Baltimore-area teacher, all of whom want to succeed the still-popular Gov. Martin O’Malley.

So far, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Doug Gansler, Montgomery County Delegate Heather Mizeur and Baltimore resident Ralph Jaffe have thrown their hats in the ring for the Democratic nomination in the June 24 primary.

On the Republican side, the field consists of Harford County Executive David R. Craig, Anne Arundel Delegate Ron George, Charles County businessman Charles Lollar, former Baltimore City firefighter Brian Vaeth and Anne Arundel County resident Larry Hogan, who served as Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s appointment secretary.

Although only one Republican has managed to win a Maryland gubernatorial election during the past 48 years (Ehrlich, who defeated then-Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in 2002), the Maryland Republican Party feels good about 2014.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Joe Cluster, the party’s executive director, adding that he and his associates see a lot of similarities between 2014 and 2002, when underdog Ehrlich defeated Townsend, who had easily won the Democratic nomination on the back of her status within then-Gov. Parris Glendening’s administration.

Predicting that 2014 will be a good year for Republicans across the country, Cluster added that the Democratic candidates face a tough battle among each other in June, something that could leave the candidates with more than a few primary bruises.

However, in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans two to one, all indicators suggest the race will be decided by the Democratic primary.

In terms of name recognition, Democrats have a clear upper hand. October 2013 polls showed that Brown has the most name recognition — 62 percent — among the candidates. Gansler follows with 58 percent. Baltimore’s Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2), who recently said he is leaning toward not running, leads Republicans Craig, Lollar, George and fellow Democrat Mizeur in name recognition.

Although it is not impossible, “it’s hard to see Maryland as a state where a Republican is going to win a statewide election,” said Laslo Boyd, political columnist and managing partner at Mellenbrook Policy Advisors. “If a Republican candidate comes with the Tea Party baggage of being anti-marriage equality, anti-abortion [and] strongly against the gun regulations, that’s not going to play well in Maryland.”

On the other hand, many Marylanders have grown increasingly wary of the state’s high taxes. According to 2010 Census data, Baltimore ranks above the national average for cost of transportation, utilities, housing and food. In Washington, D.C., the situation is even worse with the overall cost of living 40 percent higher than the national average.

If the Republicans focus their efforts on fiscal issues and concede some of the social issues popular along the party line, Boyd said their chances of victory could be much higher.

“It’s going to take a candidate who can appeal to those issues that are frustrating to people — perhaps taxes, perhaps the cost of government — without falling prey to the divisive social issues that play well in other states,” said Boyd.

In the meantime, much of the attention has been focusing on Democrats Gansler and Brown.

For Gansler, who has served on the board of directors of the Jewish Community Center for Greater Washington and has been involved with the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, the biggest hurdle could be overcoming the mishandling of some of the stories that surfaced earlier this year involving a teen beach party and disgruntled state police aides. While the stories have died down, they easily could be rekindled by opponents.

For Brown, who has collected endorsements from U.S. Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.-5) and two former Maryland attorneys general, one of his proudest and most touted accomplishments could prove to be a pitfall. His website boasts that he “led the nation in implementing the Affordable Care Act,” but with many people still frustrated with the new policy, it remains to be seen whether this will work for or against his campaign.

“There has been some political discussion that if the health-care exchanges are not working well, that could hurt him,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, an advocacy organization that lobbies for government accountability.

The Brown-[Ken] Ulman ticket looks like the frontrunner right now, said Bevan-Dangel, but that can easily change. While candidates who serve in the Maryland General Assembly are not permitted to fund raise while they are in session, both Brown and running mate Ulman, county executive of Howard County, are free to keep adding to their treasure chest.

“Historically in Maryland, we’ve seen a pretty straight-line correlation between fundraising and success of the campaign,” said Bevan-Dangel. “It’s simply a mechanism of how much you can afford to get your name out.”

See related articles, “By The Numbers.

Heather Norris is a JT staff reporter

Warning Signs

Dr. Jonathan Lasson saved a student from suicide. Now, he is speaking out and raising awareness. (David Stuck)

Dr. Jonathan Lasson saved a student from suicide. Now, he is speaking out and raising awareness. (David Stuck)

It’s a day he may never forget. And while it is painful to remember as well as to talk about, Dr. Jonathan Lasson, 42, a certified school psychologist for the Maryland State Department of Education, believes it’s a day that warrants memory, and a memory that must be shared.

Oct. 4, 2012 began like any other day. Lasson was working in his office when he was called to a classroom to assess an elementary student who was expressing suicidal ideation.

“When I went upstairs, the student was being held back by a paraprofessional staff member. They wanted me to do an emergency petition for him to be taken to the hospital,” he said.

While Lasson was on the phone with a school police officer, the paraprofessional, believing the student to be sufficiently calm, loosened his restraint.

“He bolted toward the window. I was the closest to it, and when he was halfway out of the open window, I grabbed him and pulled him back in. He fell back onto my left hand,” Lasson recalled. Lasson suffered a torn thumb tendon and required surgery to correct the damage. Lasson’s left index finger was operated on unnecessarily. The unnecessary surgery has caused lasting injury.

The suicidal student was transported to the University of Maryland, where he was hospitalized. Lasson discovered that the suicide attempt had not been the student’s first.

He was out of school for three months handling his injuries. Shortly after he returned to work in January 2013, Lasson learned that a former student from a different school had succeeded in taking his own life.

“I had worked with him for about two years, and we had a nice rapport,” said Lasson. “So I attended the viewing. They had an open casket, and as soon as I walked in, I saw his face. I don’t think I would have gone if I had [known] there [was going to be] an open casket. It re-traumatized me. Just think, a youngster feeling so distraught that he wants to take his own life.”

While many mental health professionals focus on the biological origins of mental illness, Lasson said he believes that environmental stressors play a major role in making children emotionally disturbed.

“These kids are from impoverished neighborhoods, and a lot of them suffer from abuse and neglect. Once I led a support group for students after one of their classmates was murdered. When I asked the kids in the group about their experiences with violence, each of them told me they didn’t expect to live past the age of 24 or 25.”

Reluctantly, Lasson has come forward to share what he has learned in his 14 years as an inner city school psychologist.

“I’ve become more aware of the red flags, which a lot of people miss,” he said.

What are those signs?

>>When a child has been depressed for a long period of time and all of a sudden he or she is doing well, don’t be complacent. When they come to thank you for all your help, saying they no longer need treatment, this can mean they have come to peace with the decision to end their lives.

>>Students who have made previous suicide attempts may be at greater risk of succeeding. On the other hand, Lasson noted, this could also be a cry for help.

>>Sometimes kids express themselves through art or other creative pursuits. Look for warning signs in the ways they express themselves through art, play and writing.

>>Children who give away belongings that are meaningful to them. This could signal their belief that they won’t need those items once they are dead.

“It’s important for people to realize what mental health professionals are up against,” he said. “We get a lot of bad press, but how many suicides do mental health professionals prevent?”

For additional information about suicide prevention, visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at afsp.org.

Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter

The Watch Doctor


“We came to Baltimore in 1991—Jan. 21. I remember that date [when] I stepped on American soil,” said Simon Abramov, Ukrainian master watchmaker for 42 years.

Abramov brought his family from the small town of Skvyra outside of Kiev to escape the aftermath of Chernobyl (just 12 miles away) and make a better life for his wife Sofiya, son Alex, now 36, and daughter Marina, now 35. Abramov, in his deep, rich Ukrainian accent, explained there were other reasons too.

“Jewish people weren’t really welcome to live in the Soviet Union,” said Abramov. “There were a lot of anti-Semitic things. Yes, I was working. I was very successful watchmaker there. But life … you know, sometimes you have to leave something behind you and go and start a new life.”

There were limited Jewish entrance quotas for acceptance into universities and colleges at the time, explained Abramov. It was not uncommon for Ukrainians or Russians with the same or even lesser entrance exam scores to be accepted over a Jewish student. Though he was very good in academics (he completed high school at 16), that was one reason Abramov chose a trade profession.

121313_the-watch-maker2“I was always a very handy kid,” said Abramov, 59. “I liked to work with my hands, I damaged a lot of watches, I remember that — when I was a kid,” he said with a laugh. “My stepmother said to me, ‘Maybe you’re going to watchmaker’s school,’ and I tried it. I had really good teachers, and it turns out I love to do that, plus it makes me my living.”

When Abramov arrived in Baltimore with his family, it was challenging to find work. He didn’t know anyone other than a relative of his wife, and he was just learning English. Nobody knew of his talents and experience in watchmaking and repair. Then he met Joe Dabha.

 Ukrainian master watchmaker Simon Abramov says watches are like people. (Melissa Gerr)

Ukrainian master watchmaker Simon Abramov says watches are like people. (Melissa Gerr)

“When we came here, we lived in Milbrook,” said Abramov. “It was a lot of Russian people living there, and he (Joe Dhaba) was living on our street. We got to talking, and he said, ‘You know, I’m a watchmaker.’ It’s like God led us to meet. So he started to take me to his shop. Also at that time, I was accepted to CCBC [Community College of Baltimore County], and I was learning ESL (English as a second language) in classes at the Jewish Community Center. His shop was two blocks from there, so after school I went there and helped him fix watches. … I don’t know how it happened; it was a magical meeting.”

Abramov, alternating between a monocle jeweler’s scope and head-visor magnifiers, is surrounded by thousands of tiny parts and precision instruments at his small work bench, which is located in the rear of Mitchell’s Jewelers at 1500 Reisterstown Road in Pikesville. Fourteen drawers are filled with more tweezers, pliers, hundreds of tiny watch hands, watch faces, winding crowns and watch keys. A dozen watches are lined up on top awaiting his attention and care.

“Watchmaking consists of a lot of things; it’s not only when you work with your hands,” said Abramov. “Before you work you have to know physics, you have to know chemistry, science, electronics, you have to know how to work with the metals. It’s a lot of things you have to know before you get into the practice. If you don’t know in your head what you’re doing, your hands are not going to work properly.”

Several jewelers use Abramov for repairing and restoring watches, pocket watches and small clocks, he’s even repaired watches for Cal Ripken. He keeps his knowledge up to date by attending trade shows, reading industry literature and talking with watch manufacturers. Sometimes, he even makes suggestions for improvements. Watching him work, the miniscule pieces and tools move deftly in his hands as if natural extensions of his fingers.

“Watches are like people,” said Abramov. “You’re like a doctor, you have to fix them, you have to heal them, you know.”

Melissa Gerr is JT digital media editor/senior reporter

Latkes With A Side Of The Lord

Messianic Jews, also known as Hebrew Christians, hand out latkes and sufganiyot at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Messianic Jews, also known as Hebrew Christians, hand out latkes and sufganiyot at the University of Maryland, College Park.

University of Maryland, College Park students received unexpected Chanukah presents this year in the form of free latkes and sufganyot outside of the student union. But these treats came with a side order of Jesus.

The table, erected last week, was being run by Chosen People Ministries, a group of messianic Jews and gentiles that aim to spread the word of Jesus to the Jewish people.

“My Judaism, I don’t think is very different from most, except for the Jesus [part],” said Ryan Karp, the group’s director of campus ministries.

Karp was an unwelcome presence for many Jewish students, as well as Maryland Hillel, who were alerted the group was coming to campus by Jews for Judaism.

“My belief is that these anti-Jewish missionaries are preying on vulnerable Jews, Jews who are disconnected,” said Rabbi Ari Israel, director of Maryland Hillel.

Hillel got the word out to students by contacting leaders of student groups and is working with its network of interfaith clergy and university administrators to unite in opposition to the group.

Ruth Guggenheim, director of Jews for Judaism, said groups like Chosen People Ministries look for impressionable young people to whom they can promote their ideas, even though they know they’re being deceptive. She said Chosen People is gearing up for a much larger campaign.

“We call them spiritual predators,” Guggenheim said.

Israel said students were disturbed and upset by the group’s presence.

“They claim that they’re Jewish, but they don’t know what Judaism is, or their type of Judaism is not the type of Judaism we practice,” said junior Debi Goldschlag. “It’s kind of false advertising.”

Goldschlag, who grew up in Silver Spring and attended the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, thought she’d never see Messianic Jews on her college campus.

Talya Janus, a freshman, was also surprised to see the group, and worried that fellow students who are less secure in their spirituality may gravitate in its direction.

She and a friend ate the latkes and walked away, then bumped into Rabbi Israel, who was taking a photo of the setup.

Janus said, “Right after we ate the food, he said, ‘The problem isn’t that you just ate a non-kosher latke from a missionary. You’re not the ones I’m worried about, it’s those on the cusp of Judaism.’”

Karp defends his methods and his beliefs, and said he is promoting Jewish ideas, simply presenting information and asking questions.

Growing up in Washington, D.C., the son of a Jewish father and Christian mother, Karp celebrated major holidays on both sides in cultural, not religious, ways. His father started studying the Bible when Karp was 10 years old, soon adopting the belief that Jesus is his messiah. Karp followed suit when he was 11.

After falling into depression during college, Karp decided to start over by taking a trip, and traveled to Israel on a Taglit trip with students from Maryland and Virginia colleges. What happened on that trip is what inspired him to do what he does now.

Karp spoke briefly about Jesus, who he calls Yeshua, on Shabbat. Later in the trip, someone wound up screaming and cursing at him after asking why he thought Jesus was the messiah. After meeting with the trip leaders that night, he was sent home, brokenhearted for his people, he said.

“The most famous Jew who ever lived was somehow a very clear issue that somehow separated me from my people,” Karp said. “I also knew what he did in my life. … I wanted people to know about him. They could have the freedom I have, they could have the joy I have.”

He started working for Chosen People Ministries in New York, where he met his wife Jessica. They recently relocated to the D.C.-area to work on college campuses. He plans to be on the College Park campus multiple times a week, and hopes to work on other area college campuses as well.

“We’re presenting evidence that people can think about if they want,” Karp said. “I would never want to force anything. Everybody can make their own choices.”

There are 6,500 Jewish students at Maryland, according to Hillel’s website.

Israel pointed out an email he received that was from one campus chaplain to another that summed up the issue well. The chaplain writing said that their Jewish brethren were experiencing misrepresentation of their faith, and if efforts like this grow, it could lead to discrimination and intolerance.

In addition to working with other Jewish campus groups and interfaith clergy, Israel said it’s important to engage Jewish students proactively.

“My bottom line is we’ve got to keep our eye on the prize,” he said. “We, as the Jewish people, need to continue to give individuals reasons and relevancy — that Judaism speaks to us in the 21st century.”

Shalom, Not Lehitraot

110113_Jaffe-MaayanIt is never easy to say goodbye.

But that is what is happening.

I have the unpleasant task of telling you that I am leaving the JT, and I am taking a job in Kansas City. This is a difficult conversation for me to have with you, not because things have gone badly; just the opposite, things have gone so well. I love my job, the people I work with — and mostly all the exceptional individuals who I have met along the way, people who bring so much to the table. I’ll miss the people of Jewish Baltimore. I’ll miss the stories. That’s what makes this process of resigning so difficult.

For the entire nearly eight years that I have lived in Baltimore, I have worked in the Jewish community — at the JT as a staff reporter/business editor, at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore as marketing and communications manager and then back at the JT as managing editor and editor-in-chief. Everyone who lives Jewish Baltimore knows it is a small town with a lot of people — and a lot of ruach [spirit] and koach [strength].

In just the 18 months I have worked with the JT as editor, I have been a part of tremendous growth and development. We have recouped lost subscribers and experienced close to 10 percent growth in subscribers in 2013. I’ve been a part of our greatest successes, such as the six awards we won last year from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association (including a best of show, beating out the Washington Post, for our political coverage). I have had the privilege to write stories that have been picked up not only by wire services and shared nationally, but that have been referenced by acclaimed analysts and bloggers.

I have also been there through some not-so-great times — such as covering a derecho (while eight-and-a-half months pregnant with my own power out for a week) and reporting on a sexual predator who worked at two of our area day schools and a rapist who took advantage of a young woman in Northwest Baltimore.

But through the good and the challenges, we’ve stuck it out. You’ve written to me to tell me how happy you are with the direction of the paper. And when you’ve been upset, you haven’t been afraid to say something. The good communities are like families, and leaving my job is like leaving family.

I am leaving the JT because of an exceptional opportunity to continue my growth and development as a Jewish communal professional in Kansas City. I didn’t go looking for it; it found me (though I did go through the long application process), and it was a great fit. I thought a long time about how I would walk into the office, such a short time after believing I could make this commute between Baltimore and Kansas City work, and tell my co-workers that my four human children need me more than this newspaper (my fifth child), that I don’t want to miss their important moments, that I am tired from working 21-hour days when I come to Baltimore and, at this stage in my life, that I should be living and working by my family.

I thought of the people this would impact, the staff and the readers I feel like I am abandoning, the writing and marketing projects I am leaving behind … some incomplete. I lost a lot of sleep over it; I am still losing sleep over it.

I will always have incredible memories from this job. There was the time I called up the office of the president of Iran and started asking to speak to someone about the Jewish community there. And then I called Iranian universities and the local embassy. I am still convinced that when Kansas City Power & Light told my husband they would need to conduct a 72-hour security check on our family before turning on the gas and electricity in our new home that was just code for, “We’re not sure if we want you in Kansas. Your wife is a crazy journalist who wants to be buddy-buddy with the Ayatollah.”

There were the community leaders who stepped down, such as CHAI’s Ken Gelula and the Jewish Community Center’s Buddy Sapolsky. There were the leaders who celebrated their successful tenures, including The Associated’s Marc B. Terrill. There were the young people who became community leaders, such as Jakir Manela at the Pearlstone Center and David Golaner at Edward A. Myerberg Center.

Before Chanukah 2012, my staff and I went driving around in the cold on a wild goose chase for the best kosher latke. I think we all gained 10 pounds that night! There were nights we stayed until midnight, churning out political copy, analyzing the J Street conference or pulling together to think about The Jewish Federations of North America 2012 General Assembly, which happened in Baltimore.

We flipped our paper upside down last Purim — literally. And even I wrote funny copy (or at least my staff told me that it was funny).

And this past Rosh Hashanah our cover focused on Jewish unity. And for what may have been the first time (or certainly the first in a long time), a mainstream Orthodox, modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbi each tackled the same question of how we can better unite in an ever-individualized Jewish world — and published their answers in print.

I don’t think for one minute that anyone will begrudge me for leaving. In fact, I am quite sure they will be happy for me — that’s just another part of what makes this hurt.

I don’t have any grandiose ideas that I cannot be replaced or that the paper won’t go on or won’t continue to improve under someone else’s leadership. I also know that my reign here is just a blip in time of the paper’s more than 90 years.

But nonetheless, it has meant a lot to me. This role, our mission of building and strengthening community, penetrates my soul.

This is my final Opening Thoughts. But this is not lehitraot [just goodbye], it is shalom, the closing of one door, the opening of another. And it is a call to action to keep reading us, keep helping us to do our little part in providing Jewish Baltimore with a platform for dialogue and a place in which people of all diverse lifestyles can come together around a common Jewish core.

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief
Maayan’s new email is maayanj@jewishkc.org

Repair The World

On a frigid November morning, six people work together to plant an apple tree, four of them carefully rolling it and two others working with shovels to break its fall into the ground so that the root ball stays intact.

A year ago, the triangular lot bound by Brentwood Avenue and Merryman Lane in the Waverly area of Baltimore was trash-strewn, with bottles more than 100 years old buried under the concrete remains of a school that closed in the 1950s. By the day’s end, three apple trees were planted, in addition to grass, flowers and bushes that had been planted the previous week.

“When everything starts to grow in the spring, it’s going to look amazing,” said Emily Benoit, wearing work boots, gloves, a hoodie pulled over her head and a scarf covering her mouth and neck.

Repair the World fellow Avi Sunshine (kneeling) helps others from Baltimore Civic Works plant an apple tree at an urban lot in the  Waverly area of Baltimore. Two fellows are working with Civic Works to transform vacant urban lots into community green spaces. (David Stuck)

Repair the World fellow Avi Sunshine (kneeling) helps others from Baltimore Civic Works plant an apple tree at an urban lot in the Waverly area of Baltimore. Two fellows are working with Civic Works to transform vacant urban lots into community green spaces.
(David Stuck)

Although it was one of the coldest mornings of the year, the group of nine was all smiles. This lot, one of six current projects, was being beautified by Baltimore nonprofit Civic Works. While these projects are usually staffed by AmeriCorps volunteers, there were two new faces in the crowd, Benoit and Avi Sunshine, fellows from Repair the World.

The new organization, which aims to do exactly what its name implies, has nine young men and women, most of whom are recent college graduates, living in Baltimore working on various volunteer and service learning projects. The mission of the organization, in addition to providing “super volunteers” for various projects in the city, is to engage Jewish young adults in volunteerism through deep and meaningful experiences, and to make volunteering an indispensable part of their lives.

“The mission is to make service a defining element of Jewish life,” said David Eisner, president and CEO of Repair the World.

The organization spent close to five years researching best practices and immersive service learning, developing resources and partnering with other groups. This year, its inaugural year, Repair the World launched in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Detroit.

“They’re all eastern because we didn’t want geography to be part of our challenge in this first generation [of fellows], they’re all post-industrial, they all have histories of Jews living in the urban centers,” Eisner said.

While the fellows will be working on various Baltimore projects and recruiting other millenials to volunteer, Repair the World also aims to look at bigger picture issues, including how the city’s history shaped economic and educational inequality, the disconnect between city neighborhoods and how institutional and structural racism has played out.

“If we can spark people to think about some of the underlying reasons [behind various issues], maybe it gets them passionate about thinking about how development is happening in Baltimore City,” said Jodie Zisow, director of Baltimore’s Repair the World group.

Zisow, who grew up in Pikesville and went to Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, has always been involved in social justice work. She’s worked on AIDS advocacy, taught Spanish to Baltimore City students and recently worked for Planned Parenthood. She felt Repair the World was a perfect fit for her and that she has as much to learn as the fellows do.

“I hold onto some of the idealism that age [early 20s] is known for,” she said. “I think that is something our world needs more of.”

The fellowships are 10 months long and have participants logging at least 50 hours per week on various service projects, 20 hours of which is spent on a main project and 10 at another project. Some fellows have taken on side projects, working with other nonprofits that cater to their interests.

Repair the World takes care of the fellows’ housing and gives them $600 each month in stipends. Currently, the fellows share three apartments at The Atrium near Lexington Market as a community house in Highlandtown is renovated. They hope to move into the community house, which is two row homes with a wall in between them cut out, in the spring.

Community Partners
Repair the World has partnered with five local organizations. Fellows are working with Civic Works on its vacant lots program, which takes vacant urban lots and transforms them into green spaces, and later, on its Baltimore Energy Challenge, which helps Baltimore residents save money on their energy bill through energy saving tips and environmentally friendly appliances such as energy-efficient light bulbs and faucets and low-flow toilets.

Ed Miller, supervisor of the Civic Works’ community lot team, said having the fellows adds another layer to the group, which includes two young men who he said have “significant prison records.”

“My intent is for those [different] people to work together in a team,” he said. “It will probably have a lifelong impact on them.”

Two fellows will be working with CHAI (Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc.) on community organizing and projects to help seniors, the specifics of which are still being refined.

Two fellows are assigned to the Incentive Mentoring Project, which builds “families” of volunteers for struggling students at the Academy for College and Career Exploration and Dunbar High School. These families are assigned to students during their freshman year and stay with them for 10 years.

“They don’t just stay with them through high school, they stay with them through college, they help them find summer employment, so they really do so much to help these students succeed,” said fellow Amalia Mark.

Mark and fellow Jared Gorin are working with struggling families and working with the all-volunteer executive board on development, volunteer recruitment and other back-end needs.

Five fellows are working with the chief service officer in Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s office on the success mentoring program, which provides mentors for students at risk of being chronically absent from school. They greet the students in the morning, check in with them during the day and spend time one-one-one with the students. The fellows will also be working to recruit other success mentors.

The specialized attention seems to be working.

“Already, one of the students is like ‘When is the next time I’ll see you?’ just from sitting in classes with her,” said fellow Talia Shifron. “It seems like it’s getting them really excited to go to school.”

Two fellows will also be working with Banner Neighborhoods to add extra capacity to afterschool programs that range from arts programming to tutoring.

“What we’re really focusing on is excellent nonprofit organizations that have already figured out how to deliver excellent programs with deep impact,” Eisner said. “Now, we’re helping them build their capacity through the work of the fellows.”

And rather than coming to these nonprofits with their own ideas, the fellows are adding extra manpower to needs already identified by existing organizations.

“What we’re really trying to do is go into the community and say, ‘We’re here to help; what do you need?’” said fellow Alli Lesovoy. “‘What does Baltimore need and what can we do to be of service?’”