Tag Archives: Jewish Baltimore


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 — mshapiro@jewishtimes.com


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 thewellofbeing.co.

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


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 — mgerr@jewishtimes.com


Tree Of Life

Ever since the Pew Research Center survey on U.S. Jews was published, there have been countless dialogues and debates about how to stop what some have gone as far as to consider a crisis of the Jewish people.

Headlines such as “Diving Into ‘The Melting Pot’ for Answers on Pew Survey,” “Jewish Identity Crisis Revealed in New Pew Survey” and “The Pew Survey of Jewish Americans: Panic or Perspective” have made some organizations start to rethink the way they do business.

Statistically, Baltimore is behind some of the challenging trends in terms of Jewish identity and affiliation of young Jews and intermarriage — but not that far behind.

One organization thinks it might have an answer, and it comes in the form of warmth, connectivity and content. It comes in the form of Etz Chaim: The Center For Jewish Living And Learning.

Etz Chaim (Tree of Life in English) has been around since it was launched as an experiment in 1976 in the kitchen of a Ner Israel Rabbinical College couple, Rabbi and Mrs. Chaim Gibber, with the support of a neighbor couple, Rabbi and Mrs. Reuven Drucker. Their goal at the time was to attract, inspire and educate young Baltimore Jews who either were not affiliated with a synagogue or did not utilize the synagogue as a personal resource. On a shoestring budget, their first Jewish studies class attracted 20 people.

By the early 1980s, however, that 20 had doubled and then tripled, and no longer could the program be housed in the Gibbers’ home, and no longer could it be run on the $15,000 budget that had been raised. The office was moved to a 300-square-foot space in the Imperial Condominium complex, and with the hire of Rabbi Shlomo Porter it started a 30-year journey to the full-fledged program it is today, now located at 3702 Fords Lane.

With its roots firmly established, in the last year, Etz Chaim has focused inward, and now it is further blossoming.

Rabbi Shlomo Porter says in the post-Hippie era, there was a spiritual resurgence. (photos by David Stuck)

Rabbi Shlomo Porter says in the post-Hippie era, there was a spiritual resurgence.
(photos by David Stuck)

In 2012, Etz Chaim and Rabbi Porter realized the organization was at risk of losing its flair.

Rabbi Porter describes the 1970s and 1980s as an era of spiritual resurgence. “Thirty years ago, there were Jews searching for Judaism. People were throwing the ball, and we said we would be the catchers,” he said. “We saw we had to develop a more proactive model, a non-threatening model for today.”

To be clear, said Rabbi Porter, the organization is not out to encourage its consumers to be Orthodox (though it will help them with this journey if that is the path they choose). Rather, he said, Etz Chaim aims to give its constituents a better Jewish identity so that they can pass that on to their children, find someone Jewish to marry or find a Jewish group of friends.

“We began looking at what people were looking for and not what we want to sell, what we want to promote,” said Rabbi Porter.

The organization worked with outside consultants, which defined for Etz Chaim a need to offer more family programming, to raise more money and to foster more youthful involvement. The end result was the merger of the Wow! Program, which targets young post-college adults for Jewish learning and programming, and Etz Chaim.

Rabbi Nitzan Bergman has brought communication, coordination and capitalizaton to Etz Chaim.

Rabbi Nitzan Bergman has brought communication, coordination and capitalizaton to Etz Chaim.

The hire of Rabbi Nitzan Bergman as the new executive director shifted Rabbi Porter to a role as dean and president. In that capacity, he spends most of his time mentoring his now much-younger staff and counseling individuals and families who have grown in their religious observance but are struggling with one aspect or another. Rabbi Bergman has brought new and stronger communication, capitalization and coordination to Etz Chaim’s many programs.

And while some organizations are vying for members or re-envisioning their missions and visions, Etz Chaim has done this and is daily reaching people where they are and in a way that allows it to continue to grow — and help the next generation of Jews grow, too.

Low Barrier, High Content
If anything came out of the dialogues about the Pew Survey at the recent General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, it was that while we need low-barrier ways to invite in young adults and young families, we need to give them something when they walk in the door.

Said David Denker, senior associate for communications and government relations in the Israel Office of The Jewish Federations of North America at the GA: “The biggest turnoff is [an] event where there is not enough Jewish content. There is a tendency to dumb things down, and I think we need to raise the bar in all of our events. … I think we should demand … that we are learning all the time, learning and strengthening our interaction with tradition and with each other.”

He was speaking on a panel about young adult engagement.

At Etz Chaim, instead of latkes and vodka, said Rabbi Porter, it is whiskey and wisdom.

“There is always wisdom,” said Rabbi Porter. “Every program has it.”

Rivka Malka Perlman says she does not need to sell Torah; Torah sells itself.

Rivka Malka Perlman says she does not need to sell Torah; Torah sells itself.

Take the Wow! Program, which is now run by Rivka Malka Perlman. She said the program got its name because “that is what people say when they walk in the door. … It is awesome to see all these young Jews engaged and interested.”

Perlman’s role is everything from recruiting and event planning to marketing, and “my most important role is caring. Caring means that every person that trusts me enough to walk in the door needs to know that this place is where they matter, where their questions matter and where who they are as a person matters.”

Perlman shakes her head at the notion that there should be a stigma to kiruv.

“You are assuming kiruv means you are selling something. I have a product and I say come and buy it. Kiruv just means draw close. I help people draw closer to themselves, find answers. I draw the Jewish people closer together,” she said.

Perlman described the wisdom she imparts as “relevant.” She said her classes are drawing more than 50 people per week because she thinks that while her warm welcome might draw them in, the Torah sells itself.

“There is, in the deepest place, rootlessness, a loneliness in the young adult community,” said Perlman. “We want freedom, but the minute we have freedom, we book ourselves up at the gym, we get a job. … Being single [means] you want to be doing things, so how do you fill your time?”

Wow! once a week, she said, is “very affirming to them. … You are doing something that matters, you feel good.”

Rabbi Yisroel Porter has a similar experience to Perlman in working with families with young children, mostly young mothers. He said, “People have a desire to connect Jewishly and an even stronger desire to connect Jewishly for their children.”

The website of Rabbi Yisroel Porter’s division, Jewish Family Institute, states, “At the JFI, we work hard to create connection, relationships, understanding and growth — within and for the entire Jewish family. Our goal is to provide meaningful opportunities for growth in Judaism through learning, fun and connectivity.”

While the younger Rabbi Porter and his wife, Chaya, offer few courses, what they do is offer informal programming and connection geared toward increasing the spirituality of young mothers. He said the mother sets the tone in the home, and if she opens up to Judaism the whole house changes.

One of their signature offerings is the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Program, a low-cost trip to Israel that ignites young mothers on a Jewish journey and also gives them the tools to create more Jewishly connected homes.

Baltimore attorney Tara Posner Cornberg helped bring JWRP to Baltimore through Etz Chaim four years ago when she was involved with Wow!. She said Etz Chaim knows “the importance of exposing young and lesser-affiliated women to Jewish traditions and values, and that is one of the missions of JWRP. It is giving them a pathway to explore their Judaism no matter where they fall on the spectrum.”

The other item that the younger Rabbi Porter focuses on is social media. Young parents are busy, he said, but he utilizes his Facebook page (facebook.com/raisingkidstolove. beingjewish), which has nearly 900 followers, to post articles and other inspirational content. He said he hears feedback that people are looking, and the digital engagement rate is high.

“No one is knocking down our door,” said Rabbi Yisroel Porter. “But every time I post something it is a Kiddush Hashem [sanctifies God’s name]. Even if people don’t come to the programs, they are getting a positive message about Judaism and taking their Jewish identity and making it more meaningful.”

Rabbi Yisroel Porter said he is careful that when he or his wife does run programs that they are intentional and planned with maximum chance for impact. For him, similar to Perlman and to what Rabbi Shlomo Porter said, content is king.

“Every time we put on a program, we make it high quality. They are walking away with substance. A person’s neshama [soul] knows when it has found the truth,” said Rabbi Yisroel Porter.

“We are not going to have impassioned Jewish people who are proud of their heritage unless they know what it is,” said Rabbi Bergman. “There are passionate [non-Orthodox] Jews who are living Judaism as much as I do, but they don’t have the words to tell their children why. … They have to know what we stand for and what it means to be Jewish. … They have to make the necessary sacrifices for their belief. That is the only way we will pass [Judaism] on to the next generation with any success.”