Chester Silverman

Chester Silverman devotes time and energy to improving the lives of war veterans. (Melissa Gerr)

Chester Silverman devotes time and energy to improving the lives of war veterans.
(Melissa Gerr)

It would be difficult to find a person who has done more for war veterans and Jewish war veterans in Baltimore than Chester Silverman. So much of his life has been devoted to serving the community with which, even at 94 (this month), he is still a very active part.

Though his walls are decorated with dozens of plaques and commendations that document his leadership and accomplishments, he shrugs it off and says he’s just doing what needs to be done, and he loves it. His family and friends say Silverman is unstoppable.

When the JT met with Silverman, he had just returned from visiting his son Alan in New York. On that trip, Silverman and his girlfriend — yes, girlfriend — Florence attended a nightclub performance, saw an opera and a made a backstage visit to the director (his son’s friend) after seeing a Broadway show. Tuesday is bridge with friends or poker with fellow war vets. Thursday is dancing with his girlfriend at the Pikesville Senior Center. Friday is usually a dinner out somewhere and every Saturday he attends shul at Winand’s Road Synagogue Center in Randallstown. Sunday is typically brunch and football. He talks with his children Alan, Bruce and Shelley every day. Thankfully, he has Mondays off, so he can use that day for last-minute activities, such as meeting with reporters.

Silverman’s family came to Baltimore from Philadelphia when he was seven. They lived in East Baltimore on Montford Avenue near Patterson Park where he, his brother and four sisters would play with the neighborhood kids.

“I can remember a corned beef sandwich for a dime,” said Silverman. “Get it on the heel and it was 15 cents, but the heel was like a sub. And a hot dog and coke for a nickel,” he reminisced. “I sold newspapers, I sold magazines, I sold Liberty magazine, and I used to hop the street cars and sell them.”

Silverman’s feisty, independent, entrepreneur spirit continued into his adult years. He worked for 35 years as a collector salesman, a long-extinct profession that existed decades before credit cards or the Internet. He would sell furniture, clothing, appliances — whatever someone needed — door to door, have it delivered and customers had the option to pay it off weekly or monthly. He would collect due fees in person.

He loved his loyal customers and they loved him back.

Silverman began his army service in 1943, during World War II, three months after he married his wife, Gloria. He was stationed in England, France, Belgium and Germany, where much of the work he performed was organizational and administrative. He was promoted to staff sergeant before returning home in 1946.

Though Silverman chose not to become a career soldier at the time, his military duty was just the beginning of his long involvement with, and devotion to, his fellow servicemen.

Silverman has served as commander for the Paul D. Savanuck Jewish War Veterans Post #888, commander of the Roger C. Synder Jewish War Veterans Post #117, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and department commander for Jewish War Veterans. He was appointed to the state of Maryland’s Veterans Affairs Committee, which ensures veterans receive all of the information, assistance and benefits they have earned. Silverman is also responsible for establishing five veteran cemeteries throughout the state of Maryland in Allegany, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Dorchester and Prince George’s counties. He still meets regularly with the members of the Paul D. Savanuck Jewish War Veterans Post #888 at Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion synagogue.

The work Silverman is most proud of, and is still very much engaged in, is his involvement in establishing the Maryland Center for Veterans Education & Training. The center is home to 200 formerly homeless war veterans. In 1997, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recognized it as the “National Model” for seamless services to homeless veterans. Silverman still attends the board meetings and is on the executive committee.

“We discuss the various issues that are going on right now,” said Silverman. “I’m not included in a lot of these things anymore because who the hell wants an old cocker, an old guy like me involved anymore? I still go in there and I still have my say, I’m not bashful,” he said.

There is nothing bashful about Silverman, whose personality is big and welcoming. For years before, and now during his retirement, his tirelessly volunteered his time and offered his compassion by visiting fellow veterans in hospitals, advocating for their rights and services and entertaining them with parties and treats — often out of his own pocket.

When asked what keeps him going strong, Silverman said: “Florence gives me 10 vitamin pills to take every day. She said that’s what’s kept me going all these years. But I say it’s God’s will. You’re given so many years to live and that’s the way it is. And if I go tomorrow I ain’t got no complaints. God’s been good to me, he gave me my strength. Geshriben Torah. It’s written in the book. So that’s the way it goes, whatever it is, it is.”

In his home, Silverman proudly pointed to a plaque he received from the Maryland Center for Veterans Education & Training that reads, “Presented to Chester Silverman for your vision and dreams for helping veterans.”

Silverman’s dream continues — with gusto.

Lights. Chanukah. Action.

Over the last week, the skies of Jewish Baltimore have been aglow — not just from the chanukiot, but with fireworks and laser lights.

Attendees at Beth Tfiloh’s Chanukah Fireworks Under the Stars on Nov. 27 enjoyed the color and excitement of the evening, despite some rain and the frigid temperature. Included in the evening were the candle lighting of a 12-foot menorah, a latke bar, warm sufganiyot and live music.

Community members were asked to donate new, unwrapped toys, which were distributed to sick children at the Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital at Sinai, the Hackerman-Patz House at Sinai Hospital and to Jewish Community Services’ Toy Closet. With all of the donations, area children will be happy this year!

Then, on Dec. 3, Chizuk Amuno Congregation presented Laser Lights II to celebrate the sixth night of the Jewish holiday. Throughout the darkened sanctuary space, the laser lights of Chanukah bounced off the ceiling and pierced the air.

There was plenty of festive singing and Chanukah treats, too.

Created with flickr slideshow.
Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief —

The Associated Raises More Than $1.2 Million On #GivingTuesday

Baltimore residents stepped up this #GivingTuesday and showed their support of the Jewish community. At the conclusion of this national day of giving, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore raised $1.264 million dollars, surpassing last year’s #GivingTuesday total of $1 million, the most raised by any nonprofit in the nation.

The money raised will go toward The Associated’s Annual Campaign, which strengthens Jewish life in Baltimore, Israel and around the world.

“We are so pleased with how the entire Baltimore community has responded to Giving Tuesday,” said Marc B. Terrill, president of The Associated. “The past two years have been a testament to the kindness and generosity that Baltimoreans continue to exhibit. We are excited by the conversations we had with our donors and constituents about the importance of both giving back and making a positive difference in the community where we live.”

The money was raised through an old-fashioned “phone-a-thon,” where hundreds of volunteers committed part of their day to call on donors.

As part of the #GivingTuesday initiative, The Associated joined ‘Bmore Gives More’, a city-wide effort to make Baltimore the most generous city in the nation. Spearheaded by GiveCorps, which provides fundraising software and expertise to nonprofits, the stakeholders, which also included Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, raised more than $5 million. The effort was recognized by Henry Timms, founder of #GivingTuesday.

Now in its second year, #GivingTuesday was established by New York’s 92nd Street Y and the United Nations Foundation as a way to create a national day of giving on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. The goal is to make this effort part of the national consciousness, following the retail “holidays” of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Amit Pays Tribute To Longtime Volunteers

Amit honored several of the organization’s longtime volunteers at a gala at Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion on Sunday, Nov. 17. Shown here, from left: Sonia Greenspon, Selma Mosgin, Russell  Hendel, Isabel Levinson and Fern Friedel. (David Stuck)

Amit honored several of the organization’s longtime volunteers at a gala at Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion on Sunday, Nov. 17. Shown here, from left: Sonia Greenspon, Selma Mosgin, RussellHendel, Isabel Levinson and Fern Friedel. (David Stuck)

Selma Mosgin has one distinct memory that exemplifies why she has volunteered with Amit for more than 50 years.

On a trip to Israel in 1993, she visited several of the organization’s facilities, including a family residence where 11 troubled boys lived with a young couple. She remembers a peaceful scene with dinner preparations under way.

“The husband was talking to us and his little boy was standing there with his arms around his father’s side, and he was telling us about this particular group of boys that were so disturbed that they could not be in an apartment with the other children,” she said. “What they do with them is they save their lives. They give them special attention.”

Since 1925, Amit has been helping needy children in Israel with education, housing and other necessities. The organization operates 110 schools, youth villages and family residences along with many programs; it will help 26,000 children this year.

“We enable Israel’s youth to realize their potential,” said Robbie Pearlstein, Amit’s mid-Atlantic regional director.

On Sunday, Nov. 17, the organization honored several of its volunteers, some posthumously, at a gala at Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion.

“We’ve had so many wonderful ladies who volunteered, and I felt like it was time to pay tribute, even to the ones who have gone,” said Sonia Greenspon, who organized the gala. She has been volunteering with the group for decades and was also honored.

Many volunteers, including Greenspon, got involved with Amit, which has had many names over the years, through other family members.

“[My mother] sat on the phone for hours every time there was a function, trying to get people to come and contribute,” Greenspon said. “My picture of her is sitting on the telephone.”

Greenspon, who has two grandchildren who attend Amit schools, has a similar story to Mosgin’s about a serene scene she once saw when there was a measles epidemic. Children who normally would have been in school were home in bed, but rather than complain, they seemed happy and content.

“They really give each child what they need — individual attention,” she said. “Seventy percent of the kids Amit helps live below the poverty line, and the organization’s alumni number more than 100,000.

Mosgin said the Israeli government turns failing schools over to Amit, and the organization brings in its own principals, teachers and curriculum. She said Amit’s schools produce top students.

“We get them prepared to go to college,” she said. “We just do miracles.”

Mosgin, 85, got involved in her 30s. Her grandmothers, mother, aunts and cousins were all involved. She’s served as president, and now co-president, since the early 1990s.

“So many of us are there because our parents or grandparents were there, and so it [was] passed on l’dor v’dor,” she said. “It’s a great honor, and I’m proud to have any part in what Amit does.”

Pearlstein said Amit volunteers, who span the age spectrum, truly feel connected to the organization’s work.

“They feel that they’re their kids, they feel ownership toward them,” she said. “It’s all about the kids and their love for Israel.”

She hopes that the gala served as a call to action.

“What hopefully will come out of this event [is that] the children of these women, who have worked their entire lives for the organization, will step up to the plate,” Pearlstein said.

Created with flickr slideshow.

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter —

Israel. Bring It.

Penina Romanek says volunteering in Beit Shemesh is teaching her the importance of the State of Israel. (Maayan Jaffe)

Penina Romanek says volunteering in Beit Shemesh is teaching her the importance of the State of Israel. (Maayan Jaffe)

There are upward of 300 young men and women from the Greater Baltimore-Washington, D.C. corridor who are spending between five and 12 months this year in the State of Israel — volunteering, learning and living.

These people — young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 — are part of an international program called Masa Israel. Spearheaded in 2004 to increase the number of young Jews who come on long-term programs to Israel, Masa gives travelers the opportunity to touch and feel what life is like in Israel.

Take, for example, Devin Sutton, a 28-year-old graduate of University of Maryland, College Park. Sutton said she discovered Masa and its English Teaching Fellowship by chance. She was working as a kindergarten teacher in a Carroll County public school when she became frustrated by the administrative work. She switched to a job in customer service, only to become disillusioned by her choice; Sutton still wanted to teach. She also wanted to revisit Israel. She had only been to Israel once, on a Birthright trip.

“I had gone on Birthright through Oranim. I went back to the website and stumbled upon this program,” Sutton said. “I thought it would be one of the best ways to get back to teaching.”

With help from Masa grants — “I would not have been able to do it without help” — Sutton made the move. She said the year (she is living in Ramle and teaching underprivileged children in Lod) has achieved its goal.

“In Baltimore, I am not that connected. I did not go to Hebrew school, my family does not belong to a synagogue. Here, I have been able to find my Jewish identity and to teach. That is why I did this, I wanted a change, an opportunity to do something new and different … and to have the most impact,” said Sutton.

According to Mary Haar, director of Israel and Overseas for The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, 832 young adults have traveled from Baltimore on a Masa program since the city became involved in 2008. In 2013, approximately 160 people took part. The Associated, whose 2013 grant to Masa was $303,000, hopes to increase that number in 2014 by 60 people.

Explained Haar: “One component of the grant is to create and implement a strategic, multimedia marketing campaign to increase awareness of Masa.”

The campaign is scheduled to launch in January 2014.

In Washington, that awareness has already been building for the past several months. Bold ads for Masa can be seen on the Metro and in other key venues throughout the area. This campaign — and a full-time Masa Israel recruitment professional — is made possible by a generous, anonymous donor.

According to Avital Ingber, chief development officer for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, this donor “wanted to help more local community members learn about Masa Israel. The donor’s child had a difficult time finding information to research a potential Masa Israel experience, and [the donor] wanted to help make this process easier for others.”

Jenn Rheuban is part of the Federation’s Young Leadership team.

According to Ingber, approximately 150 young adults from the Greater Washington area participated in Masa programs in 2013. The community is expecting an increase with the launch of, a new portal that features local Masa alumni and statistics about the positive impact of Masa Israel. Since its recent launch, site traffic is nearly doubling monthly.

In addition to young people from the area who are traveling to Israel through Masa, many young adults from across the country are volunteering in the communities’ partner cities, Ashkelon (Baltimore) and Beit Shemesh (Washington).

Penina Romanek, from Chicago, landed in Israel in October 2013 and is volunteering in Beit Shemesh through the Ethiopian National Project (ENP). She helps mentor the youth and assists in a Beit Shemesh school. She said while she feels good about giving back to the community, she feels she is gaining from the experience, as well.

“I have learned so much from the kids,” said Romanek. “They are teaching me the importance of the State of Israel. I can’t wait to go home and tell people what I see here.”

Similarly, Abby Mandel, of South Carolina, is working with ENP in the afternoons; she studies Hebrew in the mornings. She said she had no idea about the Ethiopian community before coming to Israel. She finds her work “inspiring.”

Said Mandel: “This feels very real.”

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief

Friedman ‘Starts Up’ With MIDC

MIDC’s hiring of Ilan Friedman comes at a time of new growth  for the organization. (Provided)

MIDC’s hiring of Ilan Friedman comes at a time of new growth for the organization. (Provided)

The Maryland/Israel Development Center has made a new hire. But you won’t see him too often at the MIDC office in the Department of Business and Economic Development in Baltimore City. That’s because his office is in Netanya, Israel.

Ilan Friedman will now serve as the connector between Maryland and Israeli companies and the MIDC. His role replaces a years-long relationship between MIDC and Trendlines, which, according to executive director Barry Bogage, had become less effective because of Trendlines’ focus on seed-stage startups that were not ready to enter or collaborate with the American market. Friedman will focus on more mature high-tech companies with the capability to expand into the U.S. arena.

Friedman comes to the MIDC after more than a decade of working with a similar organization out of Atlanta and then with assisting Israeli companies through his firm, Ncompas International Market Development, in their marketing and sales initiatives to better prepare them for international growth. Born in New York but raised in Israel since the age of 2, Friedman has spent time in both countries and has a deep understanding of the two economies. Now that he signed an agreement with MIDC, which became official at the first of the month, he will focus solely on Maryland-Israel economic relations.

“The whole idea is to promote MIDC and Maryland, and I can’t be working with competing groups or states,” Friedman said.

Friedman’s hire comes at a time of new growth for MIDC. According to Bogage, Gov. Martin O’Malley increased the state allocation to MIDC for 2014 by 100 percent, doubling funds available for staff, marketing and projects that can bring jobs to both economies. In addition to hiring Friedman, Bogage added Jennifer Rubin Raskas in Montgomery County to better expand opportunities in that area of the state.

In the last two years, MIDC has scored some big wins, including convincing defense giant ELTA to open its American office in Howard County. Likewise, several Israeli companies are applying to enter (or have already entered) into area incubators, the first step in a Maryland presence. Those companies include Hybrid Security, Roboteam and Zuznow, among a handful of others.

“We already have a lot of new activity, and we expect to keep growing exceptionally,” said Bogage. “After years of doing this by myself, it is fantastic to have great staff.”

Friedman said he believes that Maryland and Israel have the potential for even more and improved synergy. While he is not setting a metric in terms of number of companies he would like to see collaborate, he said he is focused on getting Israeli companies investors, customers and partners in the state. He does not think that Maryland companies could necessarily benefit from having storefronts in Israel, but rather from learning about Israeli technologies and creating partnerships that would enable local companies to use the innovation in Israel to enhance their products and services.

The two primary areas of potential synergy are in the cyber security and the life-science arenas. He said both Maryland and Israel are leaders in these fields, and he expects they could better assist one another.

Concurrently, MIDC has a robust membership of close to 300 companies and/or individuals. Friedman will work with the rest of the MIDC team to figure out how the organization can better tap into its professional network to assist Israeli companies and to look at what more MIDC can offer the professionals in terms of access to Israeli innovations — first and for profit.

One other message that Friedman hopes to convey: “Israel is not in the same position as it was in the past. It is not a needy market. It used to need [economic] support, and it received that support. … Israel today has an extremely powerful economy and is a very influential country.”

He said that while there is much Americans can still do for Israel and things that Maryland can offer the Jewish state, he also hopes that he can use his role to improve the local market. He noted that Israel being the startup nation with the highest concentration of innovation in the world did not happen by accident but was the result of a process put in place by the Israeli government and the private sector.

“We can and should learn from the U.S.,” said Friedman. “But there is a lot the U.S. can learn from Israel.”

 See related article, “Showcase Of Innovation”>>

Maayan Jaffe is JT editor-in-chief


Protests At The Port

Delegate Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg is leading an effort to edit the Maryland Port Administration’s  guidelines for protests and rallies. (Kirsten Beckerman)

Delegate Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg is leading an effort to edit the Maryland Port Administration’s guidelines for protests and rallies. (Kirsten Beckerman)

As early as this winter, organizing demonstrations at Baltimore’s World Trade Center could get a lot easier.

Delegate Sandy Rosenberg (D-41) is leading an effort to edit the Maryland Port Administration’s guidelines for protests and rallies at the iconic Inner Harbor building that he said could be up for review by the end of the calendar year. The move is a result of complaints from the community about the difficulties demonstration organizers face under the administration’s current code.

“Government decisions are to be content-neutral,” said Rosenberg. “That’s why you have regulations.”

A few years ago, Jay Bernstein, host of Shalom USA and an active member of the Baltimore Zionist District, sought to organize a BZD protest at the World Trade Center against shipping companies that the group had learned were trading with Iran.

“After a lot of back and forth, we were not given permission to demonstrate in the plaza in front of the World Trade Center,” said Bernstein. Eventually, the group settled on a nearby location belonging to the National Aquarium.

About a year ago, Bernstein said he again faced challenges obtaining permission from the Maryland Port Administration to arrange a demonstration on World Trade Center property. This time, the protest was against John Mearsheimer, author of the book “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” who was scheduled to speak in the building. Again, Bernstein said, the process for obtaining permission was long and arduous and required assistance from Rosenberg and the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Bernstein and two others who wanted to hand out leaflets near the building.

The biggest modification, should the changes be adopted, is that there will now be set official requirements for organizing peaceful protests at the WorldTrade Center. In the past, there were no formal guidelines to help demonstration coordinators through the process. Instead, they relied on writing letters to officials at the Port and waiting for a reply telling them what the administration had decided.

With the adaptation of new, looser regulations about where and when people can protest in Baltimore, Bernstein said the atmosphere in Baltimore is gradually warming toward public demonstrations. However, in years past, he said, “the atmosphere was very unwelcoming.”

Often, organizers wouldn’t know who to contact in the first place to begin the process of obtaining permission.

In October, the city agreed to allow groups to demonstrate or pass out leaflets at any of the city’s parks and 10 other designated locations without obtaining a permit so long as the group did not exceed 30 people. That regulation was years in the making and resulted in a city payment of $98,000 to the ACLU to settle a federal lawsuit over the rights of protesters in the city. Rosenberg doesn’t expect this regulation to be nearly as difficult to sell.

“I would anticipate that this wouldn’t be very controversial,” said Rosenberg. “The ideas have to make their way in the marketplace of ideas.”

New Orleans Jazz Lives On

Ben Jaffe (right) and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band play at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on Nov. 29, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

Ben Jaffe (right) and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band play at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall on Nov. 29, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

Ben Jaffe practically learned how to crawl and walk at Preservation Hall.

The legendary New Orleans venue, located in the city’s French Quarter, was transformed into an integrated jazz club in 1961 by Jaffe’s parents, Allan and Sandra Jaffe. The couple was instrumental in putting the first form of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band on the road using musicians who frequented the venue.

“Some of my earliest memories were being on the road with the Preservation Hall Band,” Ben Jaffe, 42, said. He was raised blocks away from the venue and has very early childhood memories of being in Alaska, Hawaii and Japan with the band.

“You grow up and literally everybody you know and everything you do revolves around music,” he said.

Jaffe, now the band’s creative director and double-bass and sousaphone player, brings the Preservation Hall Band and its historic New Orleans jazz sounds to the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall for three shows, Nov. 29, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.

“The music we’re playing today is directly connected by blood and DNA to the original pioneers of jazz,” he said.

Baltimore attendees can expect a mix of New Orleans jazz staples but may also hear some songs they don’t recognize as standards. That’s because in July, the band, which has been in existence for 50 years, released its first album of completely original material.

“That’s It!” was co-produced by Jaffe and Jim James of My Morning Jacket. Jaffe said when he first met James in 2009, when the singer and guitarist contributed vocals to another Preservation Hall Jazz Band record, the two of them immediately had an unspoken connection.

“Jim, over time, became the fifth Beatle or whatever you call it,” Jaffe said. “He became a part of the band, and he took us out on the road with My Morning Jacket.”

One night backstage, the two were talking about James working on an album with the band, and he asked Jaffe if the band had any original compositions. When Jaffe shrugged his shoulders, James just said, “Hmm,” and walked away. The band would later accept that challenge.

“To him, as a writer of music, it’s so obvious, but as a member of a community that is based on repertoire songs that have been handed down to us, it’s not so obvious that we would even consider that,” Jaffe said. “I just felt like in that one moment, in that 10 seconds it took him to say that, it changed our lives.”

Jaffe described the writing process as daunting and intimidating but rewarding and exhilarating, and said with the help of James’ inspiration and production, the record captured the band’s essence. He saw the original music as part of the band’s responsibility.

Hurricane Katrina, which forced Preservation Hall to close for a few months for repairs in 2005, got Jaffe thinking about his band’s catalog and its responsibilities as a cultural institution.

“That’s part of our mission, not only to protect our traditions, but to honor them and to create new traditions,” he said.

Jaffe, who came on as creative director immediately after graduating from Oberlin College in 1993, takes that job and responsibility seriously and personally. As creative director, a separate position from band leader, it is Jaffe’s job to push the band’s creative boundaries and turn its musical wishes into realities.

To ensure the music would continue to resonate throughout the generations, he brought the band to new audiences, playing music festivals such as Bonnaroo and Coachella and collaborating with artists such as Tom Waits, Dr. John and the Del McCoury Band.

He also created the Preservation Hall Outreach Program, something his father, who passed away in 1987, wanted to do but never got around to. The program allows the band to directly pass its traditions on through a junior jazz band, bringing younger audiences to the hall, going into schools while on tour and giving lessons and master classes.

But jazz isn’t the only tradition Jaffe hopes to pass on to the next generation. He and his brother were both raised in synagogue, had bar mitzvahs and grew up celebrating the Jewish holidays.

“They have Jewish jazz services in New Orleans around Jazz Fest,” Jaffe said. “There are a lot of Jewish musicians in New Orleans, and [jazz] definitely finds its way into the community.”

He notes that Jews, in New Orleans and beyond, have always been involved with music as writers, performers, producers and venue operators among other capacities.

The Jewish sense of community extends beyond religious brethren, Jaffe said.

“We spent a lot of our time at churches playing for different functions,” he said. “I think in New Orleans, it was just a natural extension of [my parents’] Jewishness [by them] becoming involved in the African-American community.”

While Jaffe is not a strict religious Jew, he said he’s been thinking about religion a lot more now that he and wife Sarah have a 1 1/2-year-old daughter. The time he spent at synagogue, the Jewish Community Center and at Jewish summer camp during his childhood helped him become the person he is today.

“Those are experiences I want to be able to give my daughter,” he said. “I want to give her a sense of identity and purpose, and I think Judaism gave me that.”

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter —

Review: Well Done


All artwork from “The Well of Being”

It merits a place of honor in the waiting room of every therapist’s office, in yoga studios, at meditation centers and on bookshelves in homes everywhere. And in every place where those of us who are no longer children seek comfort, insight, faith and meaning.

Jean-Pierre Weill’s new illustrated book, “The Well of Being: A Children’s Book for Adults,” and the exhibition based on it, will be on display at the Gordon Center For Performing Arts from Dec. 3 to Dec. 15. It is for anyone who is human.

Like many works created by artists on their own psychic journeys, Weill’s book did not start out as “The Well of Being.”

“When I started, I thought I was illustrating [T.S. Eliot’s] ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,’” said Weill. But that endeavor quickly gave way to the project’s “true purpose,” an exploration into the personal and universal search for well-being.

Weill, 59, who was raised in New Rochelle, N.Y., moved to Baltimore with his wife of 30 years, sculptor Rachel Rotenberg, to raise their five (now grown) children in an affordable but strong Jewish community. Weill trademarked the vitreograph, a unique process of drawing and painting on multiple levels of glass in 1991.

112913-well-done2His work has been sold in galleries and museum outlets throughout the United States, Europe and Japan, and he has also designed original and limited-edition vitreographs for Disney Art Editions, Warner Bros. and Coca-Cola. While the artist is pleased by his vitreographs’ recognition and commercial success, he recently closed Jean Pierre Weill Studios (where that art was created) in order to pursue “The Well of Being” and related projects.

The 186-page coffee-table volume, designed like a child’s picture book with simple text and colorful watercolor illustrations, tells the story of a man who, Weill said, represents himself and “Everyman” who pursues peace and happiness.

The book traces Everyman’s journey from birth — “when we were infants in the garden, with no thought to be anything other than ourselves … when whatever we made is a masterpiece” — to the moment when we first experience self-doubt.

The book continues: “He discovered he could do something wrong. That he, or the world, could be wrong. And that he was alone. … From then on, he practiced ways to rearrange himself, to make himself acceptable, so that he could return home.”

Weill’s delicately beautiful, evocative and sometimes humorous illustrations and his poignant and deceptively simple prose will resonate deeply with those who have struggled with feelings of inadequacy, whose self-images are dependent on external events and positive regard from others, and who have tried to quiet the negative voices that replay obsessively in their mind.

Intended to be read multiple times, “The Well of Being” provides new insight and new levels of inspiration with each reading.

In a vast sea of self-help books, “The Well of Being” finds a fresh and profound way to discuss mindfulness and the art of being here now. Appropriately, Ram Dass, the legendary spiritual leader who wrote “Be Here Now” in 1971, is one of several highly regarded authors and thinkers (including Cynthia Ozick and Daniel Goleman) who gave “The Well of Being” rave reviews.

The exhibition will contain all of the text and images from the book as well as several paintings created separately from the book that Weill said fit seamlessly into the exhibition.

The book’s take-home message? “Our well-being is generated, not from the outside but from the inside,” said Weill.

“The Well of Being” will be on exhibition from Dec. 3 to Dec. 15 at the Gordon Center For Performing Arts (3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills). A book party and exhibition opening will be held on Dec. 3 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Learn more about Weill and “The Well of Being” at

Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter —

Music, Puppets Connect With Seniors

Yenta, Gita, Yunkle and Antiochus all walk into a senior assisted-living community. Does it sound like quite the story?

In this case, they were all puppets, but the human connection was very real for the residents of Emeritus Senior Living in Pikesville, thanks to the Beth Tfiloh Puppeteers.

The Beth Tfiloh Puppeteers perform their Chanukah show at Emeritus Senior Living, where Dena Schrier, life  enrichment director, says residents are treated to special events three times a week. (Photos by Melissa Gerr)

The Beth Tfiloh Puppeteers perform their Chanukah show at Emeritus Senior Living, where Dena Schrier, life enrichment director, says residents are treated to special events three times a week.
(Photos by Melissa Gerr)

Anita Knisbacher has combined her background in instructional technology, a Ph.D. in education and the emotional experience of her mother’s debilitating stroke to create a unique outreach event for seniors. It started in Florida, where Knisbacher was living at the time, and she witnessed how lonely the people in her mother’s nursing home seemed and how much they longed for company. She knew immediately that she wanted to do something for the senior community, but she wasn’t sure what.

A series of events occurred leading her to join the National Council for Jewish Women puppet group, in which she learned about creating short scenarios dealing with sensitive subjects that were presented in area Florida schools with great success.

Knisbacher’s friend, Sonia Maltinsky, soon became involved, and together they saw the value of how puppetry might be used in Baltimore, where they now live, particularly within the senior community.

Emeritus Senior Living resident Lucille Becker enjoys the Beth Tfiloh Puppeteers’ Chanukah show.

Emeritus Senior Living resident Lucille Becker enjoys the Beth Tfiloh Puppeteers’ Chanukah show.

The idea grew, and they made contact with Beth Tfiloh. Getting involved immediately at BT were Chesed committee member Roselyn Kalb, social action committee member Lindsay Gaister, Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg and executive director Eve Kresin Steinberg. The whole project gained momentum, and the Beth Tfiloh Puppeteers group was born.

Knisbacher and Maltinsky perform with other puppeteers including Eva Engles, Rosalie Klotzman, Jeff Knisbacher, Arnold Maltinsky and Judy Werner. Rita Waltz, Knisbacher’s sister, provides backstage support. They even have a groupie who has followed their performances to multiple locations, and Klotzman has started learning Yiddish because many residents they visit seem to respond well to that language.

All of the group’s members enjoy both the experience and the challenge of performing together as well as bringing something special into the lives of the seniors they visit.

“When I hear people in the audience laugh while we’re performing, it really makes it all worthwhile,” said Judy Werner, who plays puppet Shayna in the current production. “And when I go into the audience after the show and speak to people and see them smile, it just makes me feel like I’m doing the right thing. … I think I’m receiving more than I’m giving.”

The stage was donated by Knisbacher and Waltz in memory of their mother, Regina Marshall.

What’s next? The Beth Tfiloh Puppeteers are planning a Purim show.

Melissa Gerr is JT senior staff reporter and digital media editor —