Looking Back On 5773

[slideshow id=”Local YIR”]

The year 5773 was packed with successes and challenges. At the Baltimore Jewish Times, our team of reporters wrote 889 articles about the happenings in this community and the rest of the Jewish world.Before Rosh Hashanah starts next week and we move on to 5774, here is a look at the top stories from the past year.

September 2012 — French Railway Won’t Run Here
The Maryland subsidiary of a French company accused of not fully acknowledging its Holocaust complicity did not receive a $204 million contract with the state railway. Keolis Rail Services America, a subsidiary of the French rail company known as SNCF, was among the firms beaten out in the bidding for a six-year contract to run two commuter lines.

SNCF trains transported 76,000 Jews and other prisoners from the suburbs of Paris to the German border from 1942 to 1944. The company was paid per head per kilometer, according to reports.

Holocaust survivors and their advocates contended that the company had failed to act quickly enough to make its archival materials accessible to researchers and was making the moves only to gain lucrative rail contracts in the United States.

The decision came months after a 2011 bill was passed that stopped any Eastern European transportation company from being awarded state contracts until the state archivist agreed that those companies had fully disclosed their World War II-era activities in the deportation of individuals to extermination camps or death camps.

October 2012 — Politics and the Pulpit
In October, a month before the presidential and local elections, Marylanders were focused on several state referendums. A heated debate in the Jewish community focused on Question 6, a referendum to legalize same-sex marriage, and Question 4, which provided in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.

Reform synagogues such as Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and Temple Oheb Shalom displayed signage encouraging support for marriage equality, while Bolton Street Synagogue organized phone banks and door-to-door canvassing to encourage community members to vote for Question 6. In his Rosh Hashanah sermon, Rabbi Ron Shulman at Chizuk Amuno Congregation alluded to Questions 4 and 6 when he told congregants: “Immigrant children raised in America deserve their place. Same gender couples deserve marriage equality. We can’t deny others what we insist on for ourselves.”

In sharp contrast, the Rabbinical Council of Greater Baltimore, the Vaad Harabonim, reaffirmed the Torah’s unambiguous stance in opposition to such unions and encouraged community members to vote no on Question 6.

November 2012 — A Century of Progressivism
In November, The Park School celebrated its 100th anniversary with special events, exhibitions and its traditional auction to raise money for the school’s financial-aid program. The school, located on a 100-acre campus off Old Court Road, continues to be a mecca for progressive education, a model for diversity and a place where students from fourth-generation legacy families mingle comfortably with newcomers. Happy Anniversary, Park!

December 2012 — Still Everybody’s Buddy
After 18 years serving as the Greater Baltimore Jewish CommunityCenter’s executive director, Louis “Buddy” Sapolsky announced that he was stepping down from the role.

More so than for his title alone, Sapolsky, 68, is being remembered for the countless contributions he made that set up the JCC to be sustainable, vibrant and significant for years to come.

“He is known and respected for his ability to focus on the big picture of planning for JCC success while never losing interest in the details,” said Rabbi Lawrence Ziffer, executive vice president of the Macks Center for Jewish Education. “He has demonstrated to the community that the JCC is capable of changing with the times and meeting the ever-changing needs and interests of a vibrant community.”

Sapolsky tirelessly worked to upgrade the center’s facilities and put into place programs such as Israel’s 50th anniversary celebration, Jerusalem 300 and the JCC Maccabi Games and ArtsFest.

In 1995, when Sapolsky started at the JCC, there were 8,000 members. Today, there are 17,000.

“If we hadn’t changed the facilities, we wouldn’t be around today,” Sapolsky said. “We live in a consumer-driven word, and there is no loyalty to organizations anymore. We have to run it like a business, be strategic. … We always need to stay ahead of the curve and try to see around the bend.

Staying still is going backward and not a viable option.”

January 2013 — Day School Teacher Charged With Abuse
Physical education teacher Foye Minton, at the now closed Day School at Baltimore Hebrew, was arrested and charged with child abuse of a former student.

The student, now 20, told police that Minton’s alleged abuse began when she was a minor while enrolled at the now defunct Shoshana S. Cardin School. Minton was the school’s dean of students and its director of athletics at the time. He previously worked at the Boys’ Latin School of Maryland.

After the charges were filed, Minton claimed the relationship was consensual, and his attorney, Adam P. Frank, offered the following statement: “Any sexual involvement with the alleged victim … occurred when she was over the age of 18 and with her parents having full knowledge of the relationship throughout.”

According to reports, the abuse continued for about four years, and the victim told police that Minton repeatedly attempted to contact her after she severed the relationship. Maryland law prohibits adults in a position of trust, authority or guardianship (such as a teacher) from having a sexual relationship with a minor, regardless of consent.

David Prashker, then the current head of school at Cardin, declared his desire to cooperate fully with the investigation.

Said Barbie Prince, who was head of school at the time of the alleged abuse, “If I suspected anything inappropriate, he would not have remained an employee.”

Crafting the Sacred Horn

[slideshow id=”Sacred Horn”]

The sound of the shofar is unmistakable — its loud, triumphant blasts can be heard throughout Rosh Hashanah services and during Yom Kippur when the fast is over. But that hollow, smooth, shimmering, resonant horn heard in synagogue took meticulous handiwork to transform from the crude horn of an animal to a majestic shofar.

“They’re magical instruments,” said Maurice Kamins, a San Francisco psychotherapist who may be one of the only hobbyist shofar makers in the United States who isn’t a rabbi. “… It’s the oldest continuously used instrument we know about.”

While a shofar could be made in about five minutes, it takes some dedicated craftsmanship and practice to make it well.

The first step in making anything is obvious: acquiring the materials. The horn must be from a kosher animal, although the animal doesn’t necessarily need to be slaughtered in a kosher manner. To be a shofar, the horn must be one that grows hollow. While rams’ and goats’ horns are commonly used, shofars can be made out of the horns from kudus, ant-elopes native to Africa with long, curvy horns, ibex, wild goats with long, ridged horns, gazelles, water bucks and black bucks. Deer and bulls’ horns are off limits since they don’t grow hollow, and the latter would remind us of a biblical mistake.

“It’s associated with a baby cow that we worshipped as a people at Sinai, a big mistake,” said Rabbi Hillel Baron, director of the Lubavitch Center of Howard County. “We don’t want to remember a big mistake we made.”

Shofars should also not be fashioned in a way that loses sight of its natural form, which hollowing out a horn would violate. In animals that grow naturally hollow horns, bones from the skull plate grow inside of the horns. Baron likens it to having a finger with a nail that surrounds the entire finger.

Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen, director of the Chabad of Owings Mills, said a ram’s horn is preferred because it is reminiscent of Abraham’s sacrifice to God.

Rabbi Baron gets his horns from another rabbi who gets them from a farm in Pennsylvania, the name and precise location of which he does not know. Because the horns aren’t easy to acquire, the rabbi guards his source. Rabbi Nochum Katsenelenbogen (affectionately known as Rabbi K), director of the Chabad of Owings Mills, get his from various farms. Kamins finds his on the Internet and has had luck getting kudu horns from ranches in Texas.

The horns generally come from older animals, which naturally grow longer horns, and are cut off the skull after the animal is dead. Baron said it’s not typical for kosher-slaughtered animals to have such large horns since kosher meat is usually from younger animals. Many of the farm’s meat
customers are from Caribbean and Muslim communities, who prize older animals, Baron said.

If the horns aren’t cleaned out when they arrive, the shofar maker must get the bone and connectivetissue out of the horn. Baron said water with a high concentration of bleach works, Rabbi K said vinegar and acidic substances work, and Kamins said boiling the horns works, too. Sometimes, the insides will fall out if the horn is knocked on something; sometimes you need a vice grip to the insides out. The “most disgusting, but sometimes but most efficient” way, Kamins added, is to get the horn wet, wrap it in a plastic bag and place it in the sun for two to three weeks. The tissue should turn to slime, but he warned that one must cover his nose if using this method.

Soap and water can be used to clean the inside once the bone and tissue are cleaned out. With a hollowed-out horn in hand, the next step is to find where the hollow part meets the solid part. Rabbi K sticks a hanger wire into the wide part of the horn, and makes a mark on the outside of the horn an inch or an inch-and-a-half into the solid part. He then cuts the remainder of the solid part off using a handsaw.

What is perhaps the most important part comes next — drilling the holes for the mouthpiece. The opening at the end should be wide, and the hole should get narrower inside the shofar. To do this, Rabbi K uses a straight drill bit to make the initial hole and then uses a cone-shaped drill bit to widen the mouthpiece.

“Usually a big one, that allows for a larger hole and also has much more thickness to it, so that would be more of a bass shofar — [with a] loud, heavy sound that tends to be easier to blow,” Baron said. “But then if you want sort of a higher note, higher sound, [you make] a smaller hole.”

A grinder or sandpaper can be used to smooth out the mouthpiece. To make the shofar shine, shellac, polyur-ethane can be used.

Kamins said to make a shofar that can make a sound, takes a very short time, but grinding and polishing the shofar can take anywhere from two to five hours.

How can a shofar maker be sure that after all of this work the horn will make a good sound?

“Other than blind, stupid luck, nothing,” Kamins said.

Why go to all the trouble?

There are three reasons we blow the shofar, Rabbi K said. The shofar is
like the sound of a cry, and the Jewish people are crying out to recognize transgressions from the past year and ask God to put us in the Book of Life. The shofar also functions to wake people up to recognize they can and should be better. The third reason is that the shofar is crowning God.

For Kamins, who once considered himself somewhat of an atheist, making 400 to 500 shofars from 19 different animals in the past 20 years has brought him closer to Judaism.

“I get to live in that horn and do everything in my power to carry that sound up and, in that process, bring a thousand people up with me,” he said. “And there’s nothing as magical as that silence when you know everybody is just following that sound.”

Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter — mshapiro@jewishtimes.com</em>

True To Their Words

Elise Saltzberg explains that the BJCC does not have services; it has programs. (David Stuck)

Elise Saltzberg explains that the BJCC does not have services; it has programs.
(David Stuck)

Elise Saltzberg is a fourth-generation Secular Jew with a capital S.

“A secular Jew with a small s is often translated to mean unaffiliated and uninvolved,” explained Saltzberg, 56, of Pikesville, a founding member of the Baltimore Jewish Cultural Chavurah, a Secular Humanistic congregation founded by Rabbi Judith Seid about 15 years ago.

“Growing up, I went to a secular Jewish Sunday school. We learned Jewish history, culture and celebrated some Jewish holidays (not God-centered ones) like Purim, Sukkot and Passover. I learned to speak Yiddish. It wasn’t ‘Jewish light.’ It was a different model,” said Saltzberg, who was raised in New Jersey.

In her 2001 book, “God-Optional Judaism,” Rabbi Seid, who now lives in Northern California, wrote that precursors to Secular Humanism existed as early as the mid-1500s,although Jews didn’t began to self-identify as Secularists until the mid-1800s.

According to Rabbi Seid, “Secularism was based on the idea that there was a distinct Jewish national spirit that had been created over the centuries of Jewish experience and that this national spirit, or ‘peoplehood,’ rather than religious dogma was what defined being Jewish.”

Saltzberg acknowledged that many Jews have trouble accepting a Judaism that doesn’t contain a fundamental belief in God. Her husband, Dr. David Saltzberg, was one.

“David was from a very different background. He was raised Orthodox, although not by today’s standards. When we got married, I agreed to keep kosher, send my kids to day school and attend shul,” said Saltzberg, who noted that in addition to her membership in the BJCC, she and her family are also active members of Chevrei Tzedek.

“I have no regrets. I agreed to everything in the context of shalom bayit (peace at home), which is very important to me. My kids got a wonderful education, and the people I’ve met through school are my best friends in Baltimore,” she said.

Saltzberg attends services at Chevrei most Shabbatot but isn’t actively engaged in the service.

“Either I chat outside with friends or I read a Jewish book or magazine,” she said.

While some may find her admission baffling, a section of the 2008 Pew Forum study, Belonging Without Believing: Jews and Their Distinctive Patterns of Religiosity — and Secularity, showed that while 55 percent of self-identified Jews belong to congregations, only 41 percent believe in God or a universal spirit. In other words, almost half of affiliated Jews don’t believe in the religion their synagogues are teaching them or their children.

For many people, wrote Rabbi Seid, participating in services when they don’t believe in much of the content poses no conflict. These non-believers are in shul for the sense of community, history, poetry and music they find there. They are able to “ignore or redefine what is offensive to their true beliefs.”

Yet, Jews such as herself, she wrote, are “just constitutionally unable to say what we don’t believe. We understand that words have literal meanings and transcendent meanings, but we are not willing to ignore the literal meanings to achieve the transcendent.”

Bob Jacobson first learned about BJCC through an article in the JT. Today, he is co-president. (David Stuck)

Bob Jacobson first learned about BJCC through an article in the JT. Today, he is co-president.
(David Stuck)

Bob Jacobson, BJCC co-president, came to that conclusion when he was 19, after spending his childhood in Cranston, R.I., where he was raised in an observant Conservative family.

“I went to Hebrew School, had my bar mitzvah, was confirmed and was pretty devout until [then],” he said. “Then it stopped making sense. One day in services, I realized I didn’t believe what I was reading. It was freeing but also alienating. Now what?”

Jacobson, 62, said he did “nothing” about his Jewish practice until 1982, when he got married.

“Neither my wife nor I were religious or affiliated with a synagogue, but I had a feeling of wanting to be married Jewishly,” he said.” So we got married at Beth Am Synagogue. Later, my wife got involved at Beit Tikvah. My son went to Sunday school there.

“I first read about BJCC in the Jewish Times. About six months later, I made it to a program and said, ‘This is for me; I feel comfortable here.’”

Saltzberg stressed that BJCC doesn’t have services.

“We have programs,” she said.

Many of the programs are held in members’ homes. Sometimes, as with this year’s High Holiday programs, they are held at larger venues.

A typical BJCC Rosh Hashanah program includes holiday-themed readings, poetry and songs. Apples and honey are served, members take stock of the previous year and participate in a modified tashlich (symbolic casting-away-of-sins) activity,” Jacobson said.

On Yom Kippur, the congregation listens to a recording of Kol Nidre.

“One year, we listened to Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt. Another year, I played it on clarinet. Last year, we listened to Johnny Mathis,” said Jacobson.

BJCC members participate in an abbreviated version of the Al Khet (confession of sins), but in addition, they acknowledge the positive contributions they have made throughout the year. As in congregations elsewhere, Yom Kippur observance at BJCC includes the blowing of a shofar.

Fasting, said Saltzberg, is not part of BJCC’s tradition. However, the group’s Yom Kippur program is the only event at which food is not served.

In addition to holiday celebrations, the congregation offers a Friday night Shabbat program and a variety of Jewish educational programs. Every year, BJCC honors a Secular Humanistic Jewish role model. This coming year’s honoree is the late author and illustrator Maurice Sendak.

The congregation doesn’t have traditional b’nai mitzvot services, but does have a structure for b’nai mitzvot-style experiences. Usually, said Jacobson, the b’nai mitzvah candidate is given a Torah portion to study, but he or she is not expected to read it in Hebrew or to chant. Students are also required to complete a research project and presentation and participate in a community service project.

Community service is an important part of the congregation’s mission. Tzedakah is collected each year, and a recipient organization is chosen at the BJCC’s annual meeting. This year’s recipient was Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Last year, the recipient was Jewish Recovery Houses.

Today, the congregation includes about 20 households and is affiliated with the Society for Humanistic Judaism, one of two umbrella organizations for Secular Humanistic Judaism. The group has no rabbi.

Rabbi Seid began rabbinical studies and became the first person ordained by the Leadership Conference of Secular and Humanistic Jews during the time she led BJCC. Jacobson recalled that the rabbi was rejected by the Baltimore Board of Rabbis when she applied for membership about 10 years ago.

“We’re probably off the radar for most of the Jewish community,” said Jacobson. “To the extent we’re known, there’s probably a lack of understanding. I’ve literally had people ask, ‘Is this a Messianic thing?’ Many in the mainstream Jewish community don’t seem to grasp that you can be actively Jewish and a Secular Humanist. They ignore the fact that a huge segment of the Israeli population practices Judaism this way, as did most of the early Zionist leaders, among them David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir.”

As for Jacobson, Secular Humanistic Judaism is a way he can practice Judaism and express his Jewish identity without conflict.

“A big principle of Secular Humanistic Judaism is integrity — we say and do what we believe in and conversely don’t say or don’t do what we don’t believe in,” he said.

Join BJCC For The High Holidays
Baltimore Jewish Cultural Chavurah will offer free services for Rosh Hashanah on Sept. 5 at 7 p.m. at Prologue Inc., 3 Milford Road and for Yom Kippur on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. at Summit Chase Clubhouse, 2405 Green Summit Road. To make a reservation, call 410-493-2473 by Aug. 30 or visitbaltimoresecularjews.org.


Rosh Hashanah In The Park

082313_rh_in_the_parkTemple Isaiah in Fulton is moving its popular Rosh Hashanah family service outdoors this year to Centennial Park in Ellicott City.

Last year, the Howard County congregation’s afternoon open-to-the-public family service at the temple drew close to 200 people. Now, the congregation is trying its hand at what’s called “Public Space Judaism.”

“It’s really meant to be something that’s relaxed and celebratory,” said Rabbi Craig Axler, who explained it’s a way for the synagogue to create opportunities that draw people to Judaism, “to be able to put something out there that has a low enough bar that anyone could come in.”

If passers-by just wander in, so much the better, he said.

“That’s part of what happens with Public Space Judaism. There will likely be some people who come because they’re intrigued,” Rabbi Axler noted.

Temple Isaiah will hold its traditional morning service as usual. The family service is an opportunity for families to worship together, as well as an opportunity to reach into the unaffiliated community.

“Mostly, the focus on that day is to bring in the New Year joyously at a beautiful location, up on the hill overlooking the lake, and have that spiritually in the outdoors,” said Monica Recht, a member of the Temple Isaiah board.

The service takes place on Thursday, Sept. 5, at 2:30 p.m. at Centennial Park Pavilions E, F and G — rain or shine. It’s free and open to all.

Participants are invited to arrive an hour early with a picnic lunch. Families should bring blankets to sit on, and they can throw balls and toss Frisbees as they wait for the service.

“The service, I think, is going to be really lovely. It will be really great for families,” said Rachel Petroff Kessler, Temple Isaiah’s family educator. “There will be a lot of singing, great stories by Rabbi Axler. Whether these are families that are also celebrating the holiday at synagogue in some way or are not currently connected to a synagogue in the area, it’s a great way for them to have a Rosh Hashanah experience together.”

“They can certainly expect a lot of music,” said Rabbi Axler.

At 3:45 p.m., the congregation will head to Centennial Lake for Tashlich, where participants will toss bits of bread or other food into the water to symbolically cast off the sins of the previous year.

A dessert Kiddush follows Tashlich.

The outdoor family service is a first for Howard County. The organizers emphasize that Rosh Hashanah in the Park is in no way competing with Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s popular Rosh Hashanah Under the Stars at Oregon Ridge Park in Cockeysville. In its seventh year, the Under the Stars service will take place on erev Rosh Hashanah, Wednesday, Sept. 4. (Under the Stars is also free, but preregistration is required. Go to bhcong.org.)

Working with the Jewish Outreach Institute, Temple Isaiah will hand out customized Shalom Sesame calendars for the kids to take home and color. The calendars list Temple Isaiah events and other Jewish events and activities in Howard County.

“We’re out there opening our arms. We’re publicizing this event within our synagogue community and also in the broader community in Columbia and Howard County,” said Petroff Kessler. “This is something we hope everyone feels comfortable attending, whether they’re members of a synagogue or not.”

If successful, Rosh Hashanah in the Park could become an annual event.

Rosh Hashanah in the Park
Thursday, Sept. 5, 2:30 p.m.
Centennial Park, Pavilions E, F, G
4800 Woodland Road, Ellicott City

For information, call 410-888-9100 or visit templeisaiah.org.

Amy Landsman is an area freelance writer.