Smart Meter Debate Rages On

111513_Smart-Meter--Debate-Rages-On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not Home For Chanukah

Lone soldier Alex Simone celebrates at last year’s FIDF Gala. (Justin Tsucalas)

Lone soldier Alex Simone celebrates at last year’s FIDF Gala.
(Justin Tsucalas)

For Julie August, coping with her son Josh’s decision to move halfway around the world and join the Israeli Defense Forces last year was not easy.

“It would be hard enough to have him serving while I was there,” said August, who lived in Israel for a time before moving to the Baltimore area. “But to have him so far away makes it more difficult.”

According to Friends of the IDF, there are approximately 2,800 immigrant lone soldiers in the Israeli military. These are soldiers without any close family residing in Israel who chose to move there to join the IDF. For these soldiers, money and time constraints make it extremely difficult to travel home to celebrate holidays such as Chanukah and Thanksgiving with their friends or family.

Luckily for the August family, Josh was able to come home for Rosh Hashanah in September. Normally, she said, his absence at Chanukah would not be a major concern, but with this year’s Chanukah-Thanksgiving overlap, his absence will be more poignant.

“For Chanukah it doesn’t really bother me so much, but just seeing the family together, even on a Friday night — because we all get together for Friday night dinner — it’s a little bit difficult,” she said. “It’s not easy.”

When he joined the IDF, Josh also joined Garin Tzabar, an organization that provides support for lone soldiers. The knowledge that her son has a support system and even an adoptive family in Israel, August said, has made the past few months easier, in addition to August’s ability to visit Israel every couple months and stay with family members still living there.

“I bring things for him that remind him of home,” said August, adding that Old Bay, loose tea and coffee are some of his biggest requests.

The Simone family has found a way to fix the hole that the absence of their son, Alex, a lone soldier in the IDF since 2011, has left at the holiday table; they’re taking Thanksgiving to him. Or, at least, they’re trying to.

“We don’t know that we’ll be able to see Alex,” said his father, Vito, who is traveling to Israel at the end of this month to celebrate the holidays with Alex’s adopted kibbutz family. “We’re hoping that we can. We don’t know that he’ll be able to get time away.”

For the Simone family, having a support system of other local families going through the same thing has been crucial.

“We’ve gotten to know other parents of soldiers my son knows. We’ve gotten to know parents of soldiers my son doesn’t know, and we’ve introduced him to the soldiers,” said Simone. “There is an evolution that occurs, and camaraderie between parents.”

In just two generations, the Chattler family has gone from protesting the Vietnam War to serving in two different militaries. Their youngest son, Jordan, is in the Marine Reserves and their middle child, Daniel, is an IDF soldier.

“I’m really proud of them,” said father Zac Chattler. “But there’s always that element of worry.”

With Daniel in the Israeli Air Force, the Chattlers don’t always know where he is or what he is doing, so most of their contact depends on him calling them once a week. There is no guarantee that they will be able to speak with him on Thanksgiving or during Chanukah.

“There’s one less person at the table,” said Zac Chattler.

Even the high taxes placed on goods shipped from the U.S. to Israel are an obstacle for the Chattlers.

“To send Chanukah gifts or something — you really can’t,” said Chattler. “Just to send some homemade cookies or something — just if he needs a new pair of socks or underwear — you can’t send that either.”

Adam Edelman, who went through the trial of having a child in the IDF when his son, Aharon, joined two years ago, said the service was a learning experience for the whole family.

“When I ask him what he learned from the army, he says ‘patience,’” said Edelman. “And what did we, as parents, learn? Parents of a lone soldier have to learn to recognize that you’re not in control of your child anymore. You have to put a little bit more faith in God.”

Heather Norris is a JT staff reporter — hnorris@jewishtimes.com

Chanukah: Gifted

Traditional though it might be, this year’s Chanukah gift guide is all about, well … Chanukah. We’ve found some of the prettiest, most whimsical Chanukah menorahs, dreidels and Judaica from a variety of Jewish retail establishments about town. Yup! There’s no reason at all to set foot inside a mall. What a relief!

Whether you’re seeking something useful such as a Chanukah menorah or coffee mug, something decorative such as a ceramic dreidel or porcelain figurine or even a keepsake Jewish-themed necklace or earrings for someone you love, count on these local stores to help you with your search. To see more gift ideas, visit the stores or their websites:

Jewish Museum of Maryland Gift Shop, 15 Lloyd St. (jewishmuseummd.org or 410-732-6400)
2910 on the Square, 2910 O’Donnell St. (2910onthesquare.com or 410-675-8505)
Peace Love Shop ZYZYX!, 2570 Quarry Lake Drive (zyzyx.net or 410-486-9785)

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

Netanyahu At The GA: ‘Security’

Security. This was the only message that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu delivered to a crowd of more than 2,000 people on Sunday, Nov. 10 at the opening plenary of the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke to a crowd of over 2,000 people at this year's JFNA GA. The keyword: security.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke to a crowd of over 2,000 people at this year’s JFNA GA. The keyword: security.

“The most important thing is to assure the security and the future of the Jewish state, the one and only Jewish state of Israel,” said Netanyahu as he launched into a more than 30-minute speech.

The PM started with Iran. He told the audience of Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders that an Iran without nuclear weapons is essential not only for Israel, but for the entire world – the U.S., Europe, the Arabs, the Chinese and the Russians.

“But for us,” said Netanyahu, “it is a matter of our existence.”

Netanyahu lashed out at the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely United States, Russia, China, United Kingdom, and France, plus Germany) for agreeing to lighten sanctions on Iran when it came to the table pleading, ready to negotiate because the sanctions are having impact. He said the P5+1 placed demands on Iran to cease and desist the building of capabilities to produce atomic bombs that have brought Iran to its knees, why now would we want to come to a deal without Iran dismantling anything.

“Why Iran has come for a deal is obvious. It is because the sanctions are biting, are crippling that regime. They came to the table because they have to,” he said, expressing exasperation that the group would agree to lghten sanctions when “not one centrifuge is dismantled – not one.”

He said Iran can in a matter of a few weeks take the capabilities it has and produce a nuclear weapon.

“Iran does not roll back its nuclear making capacity at all, but P5+1 are rolling back sanctions? That is a bad deal, it is a dangerous deal. … That affects our survival,” said Netanyahu. “I will not be silenced – never. … When the Jewish people were silenced on matters relating to our survival you know what happened.”

Then he told the audience that Iran was not only targeting his country, but most certainly the U.S., too.

“Who is Iran targeting when it builds the ICBMs (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles)? They already have rockets and missiles to reach us. They need those [ICBMs] to reach North America. And they can be nuclear tipped. That is the plan –  coming to a theater near you. Do you want that? Well, do something about it,” he charged.

He said Israel is in charge of defending itself and that is what it will do.

And not only when it comes to Iran.

The PM next turned to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and said, again, that first and foremost was the safety, security and longevity of the Jewish state.

“We need to end this conflict once and for all and to end it there is a simple principle. That principle is two nation states, two states for two peoples. Not one state for one people, for the Palestinians. And then another state for two peoples. No, two states for two peoples,” said the PM.

He told the crowd that if the Palestinians expect Israel to recognize a Palestinian state, they must recognize a Jewish state for the Jewish people. He said, “That is what peace is about.”

Netanyahu walked attendees through Israel’s painful and bloody past, through the 1921 attack on the Jewish immigration office in Jaffa, through the horrible beheading of babies in 1929 with the Hebron massacre and on through the systematic attacks by the Arabs on the Jewish community between 1936 and 1939. During World War II, he reminded, it was Haj Amin al-Husseini who partnered with Adolf Hitler and called for a final solution. He then said that in 1947 the Jews accepted a two-state solution while the Arabs refused and when the Jews established their state, they were attacked on all fronts, attacks which lasted until the 1967 war.

“For 46 years there were systemic attacks on the very nature of the Jewish state. Not on settlements,” he said. “There were not any settlement. …. Not about a Palestinian state, they rejected it. … It was about the Jewish state. They have to recognize the Jewish state. … What is their struggle for? Palestine. What is Palestine? It is Kiryat Shemona to Eilat, it is from the river to the sea.”

And so, bringing the talk back to the issue of security, Netanyahu then said that even if the Palestinians agreed to recognize Israel, “there is no durable peace that is not based on security. … A peace agreement that is not based on absolutely robust security for Israel by Israel will not stand test of time. We need a peace based on security. That is the other fundamental piece. We need security to defend the peace — and security to defend Israel in case peace unravels. And in our region, peace has a tendency to unravel.”

Next, and also connected to Israel’s peace and security, Netanyahu spoke about shalom bayit between Israel and Diaspora Jews. He claimed it his responsibility as PM of Israel to keep the peace of the Jewish people. And he said it was he who asked Natan Sharansky to head a Kotel task force and that he is confident we are on the cusp of making a final solution come to fruition.

He cited an announcement made earlier this week at the Jewish Agency for Israel conference about new plans (see “Exclusive Briefing: JAFI’s Misha Galperin On New Program To Ignite Stronger Diaspora-Israeli Connection>>“) to further connect young Diaspora Jews with Israel and noted that he has agreed to invest Israeli money in the endeavor.

“We are committed to it,” said Netanyahu. “We know the challenge of Jewish unity. There are the forces of assimilation and intermarriage [in the States]. … We have sponsored this initiative to work together, to think through [these things] together, and to put forward programs to solidify … a Jewish identity that is so central to our future.”

Netanyahu continued: “When I think of challenges we have overcome over the last 4,000 years – challenges to our physical survival, challenges to our spiritual survival and cohesion — I know we have that inner strength to guarantee the Jewish future. … To defend and secure the Jewish people and the one and only Jewish state.”

 View Earlier Posts:
Exclusive Briefing: JAFI’s Misha Galperin On New Program To Ignite Stronger Diaspora-Israeli Connection>>
GA 2013: Opening Plenary at 7:15 P.M.>>

Read what’s happening with the group traveling from Washington, D.C.>>

Exclusive Briefing: JAFI’s Misha Galperin On New Program To Ignite Stronger Diaspora-Israeli Connection

With change there is always opportunity, said Debs Weinberg of Baltimore at a morning session run by the Jewish Agency for Israel. And Weinberg’s message was one that will become increasingly more relevant as JAFI, working with the government of Israel and nonprofits from across the world, works to better engage young (between the ages of 13 and 35) Jews with Israel and to enhance their Jewish identities.

Misha Galperin discussed a new project that will focus on Jewish identity and connection to Israel.

Misha Galperin discussed a new project that will focus on Jewish identity and connection to Israel.

Dr. Misha Galperin, president and CEO of Jewish Agency International Development, told a group of about 15 people in an exclusive briefing on Sunday morning that over the course of the JAFI conference, which is currently taking place in Israel, a group of more than 100 thought leaders met to more formalize plans for a collaborative initiative that will bring Diaspora Jews to Israel and invest in Israel education on campuses outside of the Jewish state.

Galperin explained that this program was nearly a decade in the making, as it was current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who signed the legislation in the ‘90s that launched invested by the government of Israel in Birthright.

“This was the first time in history that Israeli tax payers’ money was put into a pot that funded free trips for American kids, which many thought here [in Israel] was a criminal thing to do; it was supposed to the other way around,” said Galperin.

Since then, a number of other development occurred, like the formation of MASA Israel, which was co-founded and is jointly managed by the government and the Jewish Agency.

“At this point, about $120 million a year are allocated by the government of Israel for various prorams that have to with the Jewish Diaspora and Jewish communities [outside of Israel,” said Galperin.

When Natan Sharansky left his seat in the Knesset to become head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, he started exploring what might be next – after or in conjunction with Birthright and MASA.

About one year ago, the PM empowered a team to explore that question in conjunction with leaders in the Diaspora. A late April 2013 meeting help by the PM with Minister of Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett solidified that there would need to be something done.

“The prime minister said this is important for the Jewish people – that it is in the strategic interest of the Jewish people,” noted Galperin.

Several meetings, focus groups and a white paper later, led to the Nov. 6 to 7 meetings of world thought leaders in Jerusalem’s Binyanei Ha’Uma and the revelation that the government will invest likely double what it is investing now to ramp up programming for young Diaspora Jews. That money – though an exact amount could not be named – would be expected to be matched by overseas nonprofit organizations/philanthropists and by participants’ fees.

“I was personally very anxious about what would happen and how this would work,” said Galperin. “This is a very different planning model. For the government of Israel, it is revolutionary. The government has never done this before – engaged in a collaborative planning process with Diaspora and on-governmental organizations.”

What can Galperin say on the record now?

“This effort is moving ahead,” he said, noting that between now and April when the government would have to present a resolution and ensure funding for the initiative is allocated in the fiscal budget, “exactly what we are doing, in what sequence, how it is going to be evaluated and all that, has to be worked out.”

The outcome could have a fundamental impact on the destiny of the Jewish people – not so much in terms of the types of programming but in terms of how the programming is being worked out — this new method of Jewish collaboration.

Galperin said there will likely be a series of pilot projects in the first year, but details could not be available at this time. What he could say was that while initial talks were focused on growing Diaspora Jews’ connection with Israel, and while that is still a part of it, “now we are talking about Jewish identity.”

View previous GA 2012 posts:
GA 2013: Opening Plenary at 7:15 P.M.>>
‘We Want To Hear From You’>>

Read what’s happening with the group traveling from Washington, D.C.>>

‘We Want To Hear From You’

GA co-chair Susie Gelman says the general assembly will reinvigorate federation leadership. (Jewish Federations of North America)

GA co-chair Susie Gelman says the general assembly will reinvigorate federation leadership. (Jewish Federations of North America)

Ten years ago, when Michael and Susie Gelman chaired the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North American in Israel, the focus was on security and solidarity. Susie Gelman remembers that it was during the second Intifada, a time of terror attacks, and many American Jews were staying away from Israel. The GA brought them back.

“We had an amazing turnout. Thousands of people came,” she said. “The highlight was a nighttime walk from Binyanei HaUma through Machane Yehuda to Kikar Tzion in downtown Jerusalem. We were all carrying signs and singing songs as we marched. The shopkeepers were applauding, handing out candy and hugging us. They were so grateful to see the shuk full of life once more. It was an unforgettable moment for all who experienced it. “

Fast forward to 2013, and the Gelmans are once again the chairs of the GA — in Israel. However, the conference, which takes place in the Jewish state every five years, will look different than it did in 2003. Scheduled to take place between Nov. 10 and Nov. 12, in a year when Israel is immersed in quiet peace talks with the Palestinians, the GA will focus on dialogue and debate, on sessions surrounding the challenges and successes of a more mature Israel.

“The agenda was developed in the context of Israel no longer being a developing country,” said Michael Gelman, “but a mature democracy and with all of the challenges and successes that entails.”

There will be a session examining the aftermath of the 2011 Israeli social justice protests, a series of ongoing demonstrations in Israel involving hundreds of thousands of protesters from a variety of socioeconomic and religious backgrounds opposing the continuing rise in the cost of living (particularly housing) and the deterioration of public services such as health and education. Another one, moderated by Susie Gelman, will focus on civil marriage in Israel, which does not currently exist. Due to the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate’s authority over all matters of personal status, including marriage and divorce, 20 percent of Israelis opt to get married overseas. Other talks will feature Israeli politics, philanthropy, spirituality, women’s issues and economic issues.

But the list of dozens of plenaries and sessions, skewed heavily to a dialogue about the Jewish state, begs the question: This is the JFNA GA, so why are we talking more about Israel than our own domestic affairs?

JFNA chair of the board Michael D. Siegal said he, the GA chairs and the robust committee that has been planning this program for upward of one year, felt it was important to seize the opportunity to access Israeli thought leaders and share in a debate about the future of Diaspora-Israel relations, about what tikkun olam means in Israel and in America.

“We want to hear from you [the Israelis] about your issues and problems and understand how we can best help and how you can lead us. We can use your wonderful narrative to strengthen our community at home,” explained Siegal.

A recent Pew Survey will factor into the conversation, of course, with talks on Jewish innovation, relevancy and renewal. In a first-ever format for the GA, there will be Fed Talks, a play on the popular Ted Talks, as well as a Pitch Your Idea session, where select individuals will have two minutes to share the essence of their programming ideas; it’s almost like speed dating for Jewish communal professionals.

“With these different modalities, we are trying to give the GA a freshness that perhaps it has not had previously,” said Susie Gelman.

Michael Siegal, chair of the board of the Jewish Federations of North America, says this year’s GA will focus on Diaspora-Israeli relations. (Jewish Federations of North America)

Michael Siegal, chair of the board of the Jewish Federations of North America, says this year’s GA will focus on Diaspora-Israeli relations. (Jewish Federations of North America)

The speakers will provide a “wow” factor, too. Attendees will hear from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Mayor Nir Barkat, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennett, among dozens of others.

Siegal and Susie Gelman said it was challenging to balance the scheduling, but recruiting speakers was not hard. Said Gelman: “Politicians and other public figures in Israel understand the importance of participating in the GA … that this is the pre-eminent conference of Diaspora communal leadership. I don’t think anyone has to be convinced of coming to the GA.”

JFNA represents half of the world’s Jews, with 154 federations and 300 network communities throughout North America.

And what makes it especially promising is that not only are the names big, but they are diverse. They come from all perspective of Israeli political and social life, offering people a chance to be educated, informed and to come to their own conclusions through interactive dialogue.

The Greater Washington area is sending the largest contingency of participants this year. Baltimore is also sending a hearty group, including many who will be receiving awards from JFNA. Jakir Manela, for example, will receive the JCSA Young Professional Award. Katie Applefeld will get the Harry Greenstein Young Leadership Award.

Applefeld told the JT, “I am psyched and excited. … I am traveling with an incredible group from Baltimore, and there will be just incredible programming and a chance to see our overseas partners up close and in person. There is nothing like being with a group of committed leaders from around the country, celebrating the work of the federation, while in Israel.”

Washington also has two young leadership award recipients. Mike Plostock and Josh Stevens have won the Jerome J. Dick Young Leadership Award. The Greater Washington federation is also bringing home an honor in the form of the Sapir Award for Outstanding Annual Campaigns. This award is given to local federations that exemplify the highest standard in campaign achievement.

“We are honored to receive the prestigious Sapir Award for Annual Campaign Excellence from JFNA. It’s a testament to the dedication and hard work of outstanding volunteers and professionals, working in partnership to build a strong Jewish community at home and abroad,” said Steve Rakkit, executive director of the Greater Washington Federation.

Surrounding the GA are federation mini-missions. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington is offering its travelers three tracks as part of its Israel Your Way mission — business, arts and culture and a first-timers mission.

Robert Zahler is on the first-timers mission. Active in the federation for decades, Zahler has traveled around the world but never to Israel. For now, he told the JT, “I am very excited for it.”

What will be the result of two-and-a-half days immersed in thoughtful dialogue with 3,000 Jewish leaders? That’s different for everyone, said Siegal, but he hopes that the conference will help to convey the message of JFNA to the younger generation, that it will reinvigorate leaders to do more locally and will spawn a dialogue that continues throughout the 2014 campaign year.

“The most exciting thing for a Jew is to be in a room with 3,000 other Jews like you,” said Siegal. “I think it is really exciting to be with people who want to explore how to bring joy into Judaism.”

Added Susie Gelman: The GA will breathe some extra energy into federation leaders, so that we will return to our home communities, redouble our efforts and deepen the dialogue between Diaspora Jews and Israelis.”

The Baltimore Jewish Times will be covering the GA from Israel. To read daily updates, visit jewishtimes.com/GA2013.

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

‘Tell Your Story’

110813_tell-your-storyWhile it may not seem like the breaking of glass windows at Jewish-owned buildings by the Nazis would have inspired any creativity at all, two upcoming concerts at Strathmore Hall in Bethesda prove that it takes a lot more than that to quiet art.

In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, more than 300 people from 22 area synagogues will perform a concert entitled Voices of the Holocaust on Nov. 10. The night before, an original opera called “Lost Childhood” will make its debut before a full orchestra.

Sunday night at 7:30, a concert featuring cantors and youth and adult choirs from the Maryland, D.C. and Virginia area will perform a musical work organized in five parts. It has been arranged from 22 original melodies written by Jews while they were living in the ghettos and concentration camps during the Holocaust.

“It’s a major undertaking. We are talking about a lot of volunteer choirs. Each group has to sing some Yiddish, and not everyone is comfortable with that,” said Cantor Laura Croen of Temple Sinai. She, along with Cantors Marshall Kapell of Congregation B’nai Tzedek and Susan Berkson, who teaches at Howard County Community College, are co-chairs of the event.

“It’s going to be amazing,” added Berkson, who has been cantor at Temple Emanuel in Kensington and Congregation Ohr Chadesh in Damascus. “All the cantors each are doing a solo or a duet. It’s going to be a very, very big thrill.”

“But there are moments when we will all be singing together,” said Croen.

Voices of the Holocaust marks the third time area synagogues have performed together. They also did for Israel’s 60th birthday and the 350th anniversary of Jewish music in America.

Performing along with the synagogue choirs will be singers from Juniata College in Pennsylvania. The Columbia Orchestra will accompany the singers, and Jason Love, a conductor and cellist from Howard County, will lead the entire production.

A discussion with arranger Sheridan Seyfried and moderated by Tara Sonenshine, former undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, will precede the concert. Following that, there will be a short service to commemorate Kristallnacht.

About two years ago, Berkson was visiting her son at Juniata College and attended a school concert with music from the Holocaust.

“We were just amazed how wonderful it was,” she said, adding that the concert became the seed that eventually led to the upcoming communitywide concert.

Individual choirs have been practicing separately and will only get together as a group two times before the actual concert.

The night before, an opera that has been 16 years in the making will be performed. It is a collaboration by two cousins and tells the story of a troubled Jew, who was a child during the Holocaust, and a younger German from a prominent family of Nazi sympathizers. It is loosely based on the book “The Lost Childhood” by Yehuda Nir, but it mainly centers around a fictitious meeting of the two as adults.

Composer Janice Hamer, who teaches at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, and librettist Mary Azrael of Baltimore, who writes poetry and teaches poetry writing at Johns Hopkins University, collaborated on this production.

Azrael, the mother of two and grandmother of three, has lived in Baltimore and has written poetry most of her life. She has had a few books published, some poems set to music and is a co-editor of “Passager Journal” and an editor at Passager Books, a press that focuses on the work ofwriters over 50.

After reading “The Diary of Anne Frank” as a child, she knew at once she wanted to be a writer.

“I got from her that it’s really important to tell your story, because the world can change at any minute,” Azrael said about Frank.

Azrael had collaborated once before with Hamer and won a national award. “So we were kind of giddy,” and they thought they should keep working together, Hamer with the music and Azrael with the story and words.

They decided to write an opera, thinking it would consume a year or two of their lives. They spoke of doing something about Anne Frank or some other child who had been in hiding during World War II.

A set of coincidences followed, and Hamer met Nir, who gave her a copy of his memoirs, and Gottfied Wagner, the great-grandson of composer Richard Wagner. Hamer and Azrael are fascinated by the way both men’s childhood experiences continued to affect their lives.

Nir’s anger arose from his youth when he had to pose as a Polish Catholic during World War II after his father was killed by the Nazis. Wagner was horrified by his family’s strong anti-Semitic views, which he continues to fight.

“They shared a kind of anger,” said Hamer, whose parents live in Rockville. She noted that Wagner has nothing to do with his family. And Nir “called himself an angry Jew,” explaining he was not a victim but a veteran of the war. “He had kind of an aggressive stance.”

Azrael began writing the words (the libretto) after reading Nir’s book.

While Nir and Wagner “are really good friends,” she chose to place them in conflict. Their story, she explained, deals with the question, “If you are not my enemy, who are you? Who am I? This is not only a story about Jewish persecution.”

She wrote what she felt, imagining the rhythms and spirit of the music and what instruments would be played as she went along. Azrael plays piano and hammered dulcimer and considers poetry the closest word form to music.

Meanwhile, she spoke with Hamer as she progressed, working to “inspire Janice enough to write the music for it.”

Then Hamer worked on the music, hearing “the sounds in my mind, all the colors,” she said.

The result is a score of 473 pages that took about 10 years to write, five years to orchestrate and another two years to proof read. The women raised $100,000, too.

The pair utilized lots of workshops sponsored by American Opera Projects in New York. This gave them a chance to hear the work sung by top singers and get audience reactions. The opera was performed using just a piano during a summer festival in Tel Aviv in 2007. The concert by the National Philharmonic at Strathmore Music Center on Nov. 9 will be the first performance with full orchestra and soloists. National Philharmonic will make a recording of that performance, which the two women will send around hoping to convince opera companies take it on.

See related articles:
Kristallnacht: 75 years since the Night of Broken Glass >>
On Deaf Ears: Cartoonists spoke out against Kristallnacht, called for the U.S. to help save the German Jews >>

Suzanne Pollak writes for JT’s sister publication, Washington Jewish Week.

On Deaf Ears

110813_on-deaf-ears“I could scarcely believe that such a thing could occur in a 20th-century civilization,” President Franklin Roosevelt declared in the wake of the Nazis’ Kristallnacht pogrom, which devastated the German Jewish community 75 years ago next month.

Most Americans, like their president, were appalled to read of Nazi stormtroopers burning down hundreds of synagogues, ransacking thousands of Jewish-owned businesses, murdering some 100 Jews and hauling 30,000 more off to concentration camps Nov. 9 to 10, 1938. In the days following the pogrom, three American editorial cartoonists would try to channel the public’s sympathy for the victims into concrete steps to help German Jewry.

In response to Kristallnacht, President Roosevelt recalled the U.S. ambassador from Germany for “consultations” and extended the visitors’ visas of the approximately 12,000 German Jewish refugees who were then in the United States. But at the same time, FDR announced that liberalization of America’s tight immigration quotas was “not in contemplation.”

In the wake of Kristallnacht, humanitarian-minded members of Congress introduced legislation to aid German Jewry. The Wagner-Rogers bill proposed the admission of 20,000 German refugee children outside the quotas. Nativist and isolationist groups vociferously opposed the Wagner-Rogers bill.

Typical of the opposition’s perspective was a remark by FDR’s cousin, Laura Delano Houghteling, who was the wife of the U.S. commissioner of immigration. She warned that “20,000 charming children would all too soon grow into 20,000 ugly adults.”

An appeal to FDR by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt to support Wagner-Rogers fell on deaf ears, and an inquiry by a congresswoman as to the president’s position was returned to his secretary marked “File No Action FDR.” Mindful of polls showing most Americans opposed to more immigration, Roosevelt preferred to follow public opinion rather than lead it. Without his support, the Wagner-Rogers bill was buried in committee.

Ironically, when Pets Magazine the following year launched a campaign to have Americans take in pure-bred British puppies so they would not be harmed by German bombing raids, the magazine was flooded with several thousand offers of haven for the dogs.

Most American editorial cartoonists, like most Americans, exhibited little interest in the plight of Germany’s Jews. But there were exceptions. A handful of cartoonists used their platforms not only to express sympathy for the refugees, but also to call for practical steps to help them.

Six days after Kristallnacht, Paul Carmack, staff cartoonist for the Christian Science Monitor, drew a cartoon titled “The Best Answer to Race Persecution.” It showed a large hand, labeled “Humanity,” handing a document titled “Assistance” to a crowd of Jewish refugees.

Five days later, the Christian Science Monitor published another editorial cartoon responding to Kristallnacht, this time by J. Parker Robinson. It showed a mass of people, labeled “Jews,” marching past a sign pointing to “Exile,” with a giant question mark looming over the horizon. He titled the cartoon “Wanted: A Christian Answer.” The question was the fate of the Jews; the answer, the cartoonist insisted, was for Christians to accept their moral responsibility to help the downtrodden.

Meanwhile, in the pages of the Chicago Daily News, another cartoonist pleaded for help for Germany’s Jews. Staff cartoonist Cecil Jensen drew a group of Jewish refugees on a large rock, surrounded by turbulent ocean waves. They can see, in the distance, a 17th-century-style ship, labeled “World Rescue Efforts.” Whether or not the ship will save the refugees is unclear. Jensen titled the cartoon “Mayflower,” invoking America’s own powerful historical symbol of refugees from religious persecution reaching a safe haven.

Sadly, few Americans heeded the appeals of Paul Cormack, J. Parker Robinson and Cecil Jensen, despite the horrors of Kristallnacht. When a “Mayflower” ship called the St. Louis approached America’s shores just a few months later, President Roosevelt turned it away.

Expressions of sympathy were not matched by deeds. There were no U.S. economic sanctions against Nazi Germany, no severing of diplomatic relations, no easing of immigration quotas.

The Roosevelt administration’s muted reaction to Kristallnacht foreshadowed the terrible silence with which it would greet the Nazis’ Final Solution.

See related articles:
Kristallnacht: 75 years since the Night of Broken Glass >>
‘Tell Your Story:’ Two concerts to commemorate Kristallnacht, bring beauty out from the darkness >>

Rafael Medoff is founding director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. This feature is adapted from his forthcoming book, “Cartoonists Against the Holocaust,” co-authored with Craig Yoe, and was provided by JNS.org.

Notes From The Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preview Ayelet Hashachar’s album, Matai here

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

Ah, Music

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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