Stairway on the campus of the University of Maryland. Photo from Wikipedia

Sabbath-observant Maryland students receive diplomas in alternative ceremony


The University of Maryland hosted an alternative graduation to accommodate 22 observant Jewish students who could not receive their diplomas at the regular graduation, which took place on Shabbat.

The full university commencement was held on Sunday, May 21, but 19 of the university’s 34 individual colleges held their ceremonies the day before, according to Chabad.org.

The campus Chabad Jewish student center and campus Hillel requested that the administration hold an alternative ceremony on Sunday, to which the university agreed.

On Sunday afternoon in the atrium of the student union building, each student was called up by name and received his or her diploma from William Cohen, the associate provost and dean for undergraduate studies, who represented the university.

Paul Hamburger, a senior partner in the international law firm Proskauer Rose LLP and a member of the Chabad on Campus international advisory board, made the commencement speech.

“This graduation ceremony is separate from and still a part of the University of Maryland graduation exercises,” he said. “It is a testament to how you can find a balance between your Jewish identity and your integration into the world at large.”

Maryland’s wild primary and other snapshots from the ‘other’ Super Tuesday


Maryland goes to the polls Tuesday – one of five states where the two remaining candidates in the Democratic presidential race and the three in the Republican race are facing off.

The headline: It’s the new Super Tuesday, at least for the Democrats. This could be the day that once and for all determines that Hillary Clinton is the party’s candidate. One of rival Bernie Sanders’ advisers, Tad Devine, hinted last week that if Sanders does not score a major upset, there may be a “reevaluation,” although the campaign manager, Jeffrey Weaver, is vowing to stick it out to the convention in July.

But there are down-ticket primaries as well, and plenty of pro-Israel and Jewish action above and below the surface. Here’s a look at those races.

Chris Van Hollen and Donna Edwards are not talking about Israel. Or Mars.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., is retiring, and two popular members of the U.S. House of Representatives are vying for her spot: Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen.

A major difference between the two candidates? Israel. Edwards has been an outspoken critic of Israel and the pro-Israel lobby; Van Hollen, except for a blip of criticism after the 2006 Lebanon War, has been solidly in the pro-Israel column.

But it has barely registered in the campaign.

Edwards tried to make Iran an issue a year ago, suggesting Van Hollen did not back the nuclear deal – until he did. Debates between the candidates have focused on identity issues and the ability to get along with others. Edwards would be only the second black woman in the U.S. Senate and Van Hollen from 2007 to 2011 was a popular chairman of the House reelection campaign. (The Intercept reported Monday that Haim Saban, the pro-Israel entertainment mogul, contributed $100,000 to a political action committee backing Van Hollen.)

Pro-Israel rumbling has occurred mainly below the radar, in social media, where Van Hollen supporters are distributing a list showing the lawmaker signing pro-Israel letters and backing pro-Israel resolutions that Edwards abjured or opposed. In 2009, for instance, when 390 lawmakers voted for a resolution backing Israel during its war against Hamas that year, Edwards voted “present.”

Also, curiously, not an issue: Edwards, an ardent supporter of funding for a manned mission to Mars (NASA is headquartered in her district), has said she would go herself, even if she would not be able to return. (The challenges to returning astronauts safely from a Mars mission are considered formidable.)

“If they need somebody who would go to Mars even without a return ticket, I would volunteer,” she said in February 2015 on National Public Radio’s Washington-area affiliate, WAMU.

Just a month later, after she declared her candidacy, WAMU reminded her of her pledge, and asked if she would go even if it meant leaving during her six-year Senate term. Edwards dodged the question.

The ADL did not endorse the wine store guy.

There are 14 candidates — five Republicans and nine Democrats — running to replace Van Hollen in Maryland’s 8th District, which encompasses suburbs of Washington, D.C. Three of the Democrats are Jewish, as are two of the Republicans. The district includes a big chunk of Montgomery County, which is estimated to be as much as 10 percent Jewish.

The Republicans are seen as having no chance in the general election. Leading contenders among the Democrats are Jamie Raskin, a state senator who is Jewish, and Kathleen Matthews, a former newscaster who is married to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews.

And then there’s David Trone, whose wife and children are Jewish and who owns the Total Wine & More chain, and who is self-funding — to the tune of $12.4 million, a national record.

When Trone appears before Jewish audiences, as he did earlier this month at a debate at Kemp Mill Synagogue convened by the Orthodox Union, he mentions that next month, he will receive an Anti-Defamation League award for his charitable work. His mailers also mention the award.

It sounds like an endorsement, but the ADL is at pains to say it’s not.

“He was locked in by ADL as an honoree long before he entered this race,” an official of the organization told JTA. “ADL will be making it crystal clear that we are not endorsing his campaign.”

Know your voters.

Some of the 14 candidates in the race for Maryland’s 8th District have done their research and some have not, and it plays out in interesting ways in the Jewish campaign.

The front-runners, Raskin and Matthews, have accepted J Street’s endorsement, but are also careful at Jewish events to mention that they have plenty of friends at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. They all oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

There have also been some missteps:

Israel is sovereign, and likes it that way.

Speaking at Kemp Hill, Trone may have pandered a bit too much to a crowd proud of Israel’s independence.

“Israel is without question our most important ally,” he said. “We should look at Israel as the 51st state.”

Trone remembered a local favored cause, extending statehood to Montgomery County’s neighbor.

“Or if you count the District of Columbia, the 52nd state.”

There’s always audio or video.

Speaking at an Iranian-American Candidates Forum on March 27, Trone said: “We certainly support the Iranian deal. It’s the right thing.” A blogger caught it on video.

Speaking to the Orthodox Union crowd on April 8, he cast the Obama administration as out of its depth and said it did not get “the right deal.”

“Iran … understands only strength. What was most important to the administration was getting the deal because that was the legacy the administration wanted, getting a deal, and when you approach a situation like that, you don’t get the right deal,” he said.

Another candidate, Joel Rubin, who as the State Department’s liaison to Congress had advocated for the deal, pointed out the discrepancy on Facebook. Trone now maintains he is aligned with popular (and Jewish) Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., who voted against the deal, but now says the best way forward is to make sure it is implemented correctly.

Soften ‘em up and then deliver the blow.

Rubin helped found J Street and has been a prominent advocate, in and out of the federal government, for the Iran deal.

At the Kemp Mill synagogue event, he led with fond memories of leading a Zionist Organization of America youth tour of Israel in 1993 before dropping the “J Street” bomb on the Orthodox and politically conservative crowd. There were murmurs, but the room mostly stayed friendly.

Contrast with Ana Sol Gutierrez, a delegate in the state Assembly who chose  the April 17 debate at the JCC in Rockville to announce, in the middle of answering an unrelated question, that she is endorsing Bernie Sanders, hardly the favorite for a mainstream pro-Israel crowd. The room was awash in gasps.

Israel one-upmanship

Did you know Kathleen Matthews spent New Year’s in Israel with husband Chris?

Did you know Jamie Raskin has family in Israel and likes hanging with them when he’s there? Which is frequently?

Did you know Joel Rubin’s bubbe Yetta endorsed him and that he has family in Israel and he’s there, frequently, and that he remembers Yitzhak Rabin saying “There will be peace in the North,” and that he can say it in Hebrew, and will, multiple times? “Yihiyeh shalom betzafon.”

And, oh yes, David Trone is getting an award from the ADL.

Don’t ignore Republicans just because they don’t win.

At least 200 voters turned out for the Orthodox Union’s April 8 Kemp Mill event; barely 20 turned out for the GOP version on April 14 at Young Israel Shomrai Emunah in Silver Spring.

But if you missed it, you missed a question from the audience rare, if not unprecedented, in a congressional primary debate: “How do you define the word Zionism?”

The answers from the three candidates present were poignant:

Aryeh Shudofsky, a financial services analyst who is a graduate of Yeshiva University, described getting to know an Israel where “secular Israeli Jews are as proud of being Israeli as the religious ones are.”

Dan Cox, an attorney and a conservative Christian, recalled walking through Auschwitz and witnessing “the evidence of why we must stand for freedom.”

And Jeff Jones, a local Methodist pastor, said Zionism, for him, was the commandment to share one’s heritage.

“We have got to understand how to share our story with the next generation,” he said. “It takes effort, it takes a family, it takes a community.”

US Holocaust museum to collect items for time capsule


The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is seeking messages and personal artifacts from Holocaust survivors for a time capsule to be opened on the museum’s 50th anniversary in 2043.

The capsule will be on display in the museum’s David and Fela Shapell Family Collections and Conservation Center in Bowie, Maryland, which is scheduled to be opened next year.

“Every day the museum engages in a battle to rescue truth and keep Holocaust memory alive – a battle that will only intensify with each passing year,” Sara Bloomfield, the museum director, said Monday in a statement.

Starting this month in Florida, the capsule will move on to collecting items in California, Illinois and New York before returning to Washington, D.C.

The Shapell Center is expected to provide enough space to allow the museum’s collections to double in size in the next 10 years.

Currently, the museum houses more than 18,000 objects, 76 million pages of documents, 135 million digital images, more than 88,000 photographs and images, and over 14,000 oral testimonies by survivors, witnesses and perpetrators.

“We need to be able to tell this story from every perspective,” Bloomfield said.

How David Bowie’s ‘adoptive’ Jewish family welcomed him to America


David Bowie didn’t start his first trip to the United States with a drug-filled party or a wild show, but with a quiet evening at the home of a Maryland Jewish family.

The English rocker had just released the album “The Man Who Sold the World,” which built on the success of his popular “Space Oddity” album in Europe. But he wasn’t yet a household name in the States when his first U.S. tour was set to kick off in January 1971.

Bowie’s North American publicist, Ron Oberman of Mercury Records, invited him to stay with his parents in Silver Spring for a night before setting out to play shows in cities from New York to Los Angeles.

Oberman’s younger brother, Michael Oberman, a music journalist for the now-defunct Washington Star who had been writing about Bowie for a few years, picked the rocker up from the airport. Bowie was pre-Ziggy Stardust phase, which was characterized by strange costumes and a mullet of orange hair, but as the younger Oberman recalled to the Washington City Paper, his unorthodox appearance was enough to strand him in customs for four hours.

Michael Oberman had to explain to his parents who Bowie was, but they welcomed him into their home. The Oberman brothers and their parents had drinks with Bowie before heading out to dinner. Where they dined is a matter of historical debate.

Oberman recalled that the family took Bowie to a steakhouse, where the rocker’s appearance aroused so much attention that they had to close the curtains around their booth. But biographer Marc Spitz (“Bowie: A Biography,” 2009) has written that the group went to a Jewish deli named Hofberg’s, which was known for its corned beef sandwiches.

Whatever the dining venue, Oberman, who was planning to write a magazine-style piece about the experience, said he ended up talking to Bowie more about theater than music.

“It was part of my job to meet and know these people. It was a rarity to spend that much time with an artist,” Oberman told the Washington City Paper. “It wasn’t an interview, just spending time with him.”

After dinner, Oberman said he took Bowie to his own house in nearby Takoma Park, where they smoked out of a bong (something Bowie had never seen before) and hung out with the band Sky Cobb. According to Oberman, members of the band were rude to Bowie — something they regretted years later when he became an international star.

Spitz’s book says that Bowie went to a house party in Garrett Park, Maryland.

Still, Bowie seems to have enjoyed his time with the Oberman family.

“In one of his biographies, he called my mother his ‘adoptive American mother,’” Oberman said.

The Jewish lawyer who is defending a synagogue vandal


From murderers to sex offenders, some of the least desirable citizens of Maryland’s Montgomery County have walked through the doors of attorney Barry Helfand’s office.

But it took a quiet teenager to make Helfand question his responsibility as a lawyer.

Sitting in Helfand’s Rockville office this spring, 18-year-old Sebastian Espinoza-Carranza detailed how he, along with three juveniles, had spray-painted swastikas, “KKK” and other graffiti on the Shaare Torah Congregation in Gaithersburg, a suburb of Washington, D.C.

In April, Espinoza-Carranza confessed to vandalizing the Conservative synagogue.

Helfand, who is Jewish, fretted briefly that he was about to be asked to represent a neo-Nazi, someone who hated Jews enough to commit a crime against them.

Typically, in murder cases, Helfand said he learns about the victims. But in this case, Helfand thought, “I am the victim of the crime. When one Jew is attacked, it’s almost as if all are attacked.”

He added, “I don’t think there is anyone who is Jewish who hears about this [incident] who isn’t offended.”

But Helfand pulled himself together, realizing he didn’t know Espinoza-Carranza — nor did the young man know him. He wondered if the high school senior noticed the mezuzah on his office door, or if he even knew what a mezuzah was.

He assumed the Espinoza-Carranza family saw his kiddush cup with a Jewish star prominently displayed on a window ledge behind his desk, placed where anyone sitting in a chair facing the attorney would notice. But Helfand observed no reaction — positive or negative — over the Jewish symbol.

“I don’t know why they picked me,” Helfand said of his clients. “Nobody tells me why.”

After listening to the young man’s retelling of the April 7 incident, the attorney immediately concluded that “this was no anti-Semite. This was a kid.”

Helfand added: “He is just a young man who made a terrible, horrible mistake and is not a horrible person.”

He decided to represent Espinoza-Carranza in his legal troubles — they could send him to prison for nine years — believing that as a Jew, he had a crucial role to play.

“He needed a Jewish education,” Helfand said of the teen. “If nothing else, he was going to learn Jews have compassion.”

Helfand said he arranged a trip to the U.S. Memorial Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., so that his client could “learn why the Nazi symbol strikes such a chord in the Jewish heart.” He also reached out to Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal of Shaare Torah to schedule a private meeting in his office with Espinoza-Carranza.

Though some friends and family cautioned Helfand against taking the case, the attorney said his goal was to keep the teen out of prison and possibly have his record erased in the future.

“I want to time this thing so if he wants to go to college, wants to get a job,” his arrest and guilty plea won’t impede that, Helfand said.

In September, Espinoza-Carranza pleaded guilty in Montgomery County Circuit Court to damaging a religious institution, defacing religious property and malicious destruction of property valued at more than $1,000.

While each of the three charges carries a maximum three-year prison term, Espinoza-Carranza is expected to get five months’ probation and no jail time when he is sentenced on Oct. 20.

Under the plea agreement, Espinoza-Carranza must visit the Holocaust museum, which he’s already done, write an essay about the visit and speak with representatives of Shaare Torah.

The prosecutor in his case, senior assistant state’s attorney Sherri Koch, also is Jewish.

Asked if Espinoza-Carranza’s anti-Semitic act affected how she approached the case, Koch said no.

“I wouldn’t treat any case differently,” whether it involved a synagogue, church or mosque, she said.

“The community was the victim,” Koch said, and it is always the job of the prosecutor “to protect the community.”

Charges dropped against Maryland ‘free range’ parents


Charges against Maryland parents who allowed their children to walk home from a park alone have been dropped by Child Protective Services.

It is the second neglect case filed against Jewish Silver Spring residents Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, who are known as “free-range” parents for their style of parenting, which believes in giving children more freedom to make choices without parents hovering nearby. The charges were dropped earlier this month, the Meitivs told local media on Tuesday.

The couple’s children, ages 10 and 6, were picked up in April by police a few blocks from their Silver Spring home. They were walking home from playing in a local park and taken to Child Protective Services, where they were held for several hours and not permitted to call their parents.

In December, the Meitivs were slapped with neglect charges when police found their children alone in a park near their home. Those charges also were dropped.

Danielle Meitiv told the Washington Post she is concerned about how Child Protective Services will deal with the family in the future.

“I feel like we won’t know for sure if real progress has been made until our kids go for a walk and come home safely without being bothered,” she said.

Maryland budget slams Israel academic boycotts, offers no penalties


Maryland lawmakers included language in the new state budget condemning academic boycotts of Israel but scrapped any penalties that were included in a bill under consideration.

Wording in the 2015 fiscal year spending plan, which was adopted April 6, includes a statement of strong support for Israel along with condemnation of the American Studies Association’s (ASA) boycott of the Jewish state, but no separate law or financial penalties.

The bill had called for a 3 percent penalty against any Maryland public college using public money to send professors and other staff to conferences hosted by organizations that support a boycott of any country that has a declaration of cooperation with Maryland — a list that includes Israel. The measure did not specifically mention Israel or the ASA boycott.

The American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League had opposed the proposals in the state Senate and House of Delegates.

Maryland school bus strikes, kills Holocaust survivor


A school bus killed a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor as he was crossing a street in a Maryland suburb of Washington.

Elia Miranski was using a walker when the bus hit him in Silver Spring near Washington D.C., on Wednesday, the Silver Spring Patch news site reported. He died later that day in a hospital.

The bus was returning students to Hammond Middle School in Howard County  after a field trip to the White House, according to police. None of the 14 students or two chaperones on board were hurt, nor was the driver.

The school brought in crisis counselors for students and parents, the WBALTV television channel reported.

Authorities said Miranski had safely crossed the southbound lanes of Columbia Pike and was attempting to cross the northbound lanes when he was struck, CBS reported.

Montgomery County police believe the first two lanes of northbound traffic crossed by Miranski were stopped on a red, left-turn arrow. The bus was traveling on a green signal when it struck the man. The driver was identified by CBS as 52-year-old Lori Jean Latimer of Elkridge and the incident is under investigation.

Miranski, who was born in Poland, had escaped from German soldiers during the Holocaust, the Washington Post reported. He later fought in World War II in the Soviet military.

Last May, Miranski gave the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum an oral account of his escape. The recording is available on the museum’s website.

Hospitals battled to protect patients as Sandy raged


At one New York hospital where backup generators failed, staff carried premature babies down more than a dozen flights of stairs in one of the more dramatic moments for healthcare workers during powerful storm Sandy.

Record flooding and power outages across the northeastern United States made for a long night caring for the most critically ill, as several hundred patients were evacuated in New York City, day-time hospital staff slept overnight on vacant beds and less urgent procedures were postponed.

From Maryland to Massachusetts, hospitals large and small had prepared for the worst as the storm approached, stocking up on supplies and ensuring backup power generators were ready. At least 30 people were reported killed by the storm, and millions left without power.

In its aftermath on Tuesday, many hospitals were still limiting care to the neediest patients, canceling chemotherapy sessions and elective surgeries and anticipating a new influx to emergency rooms as travel conditions improved.

New York University's Langone Medical Center near the city's East River was one of the hardest hit as eight feet of water flooded its basement. It evacuated all 215 patients, including critically ill infants, when its backup generator failed.

“It is a very long operation because they have to hand move every patient. There are no elevators and some of the patients are on the 15th floor,” said hospital spokeswoman Lorinda Klein. “All the patients have been safely transported … the nurses had battery-operated machinery for patients that needed that level of care.”

Nearby Bellevue Hospital also grappled with a power outage and visitors on Tuesday were turned away at the door as many hallways remained dark, though a receptionist assured them that patients “are okay and have lights.”

The Manhattan Veteran Affairs Hospital and the New York Downtown Hospital, both in low-lying areas of lower Manhattan, evacuated patients before the storm hit. Other city hospitals picked up the slack, including Beth Israel Medical Center, where one student nurse said nurses had stayed put at the hospital since Sunday, with some working multiple shifts.

Dr. Adam Levine, an attending physician at Rhode Island Hospital's emergency room, began to see patients injured in the storm overnight.

“I treated a man who was driving and had to stop very suddenly when a branch crashed into his front windshield,” he said. While many people tried to wait out the night with whatever ailed them, some took the risk to drive to the hospital. “We admitted one woman who relies on home health care attendants and when they could not come to her she had to come to the hospital and be admitted because there was no one to care for her,” he said.

PLUGGING UP WINDOWS

In tiny Crisfield, Maryland, on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay, McCready Memorial Hospital claims to be the smallest hospital in the state of Maryland with only half a dozen beds.

Situated at sea level on a tiny peninsula, the hospital faced a 6-foot storm surge and wind-driven rain that brought water into the building as power from the electrical main flickered off and on.

“We're at sea level, so it doesn't take much to get right up close. We're up high enough so water didn't enter the building through any doors. But it did enter through some windows,” said Shane Kelley, who handles community outreach for McCready.

Kelley said staff plugged the leaking windows with towels and used large commercial vacuums to clear water before closing off rooms. While no new patients showed up for emergency care during the storm, McCready had 11 emergency room visitors before noon on Tuesday, mainly elderly people who waited out the storm before seeking care for hypothermia and respiratory problems.

“We remained open throughout the storm. We did have to go onto our generator several times throughout the storm. We did lose power. At this point, we're all here as a team and able to accept any patient who needs our help,” said Kelley.

St. Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport, Connecticut, closed its chemotherapy infusion center and other outpatient areas and between 60 and 80 of the hospital's 2,700 staff slept in the empty hospital beds.

Danbury Hospital and New Milford Hospital, both members of the Western Connecticut Health Network, canceled outpatient services and elective services.

The 85-bed New Milford hospital lost power and fell back on a generator. The 371-bed Danbury hospital weathered the storm using a cogeneration plant, which spokeswoman Andrea Rynn said provides steam power when it needs to come off the local utility grid.

Additional reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, David Morgan, Svea Herbst-Bayliss, Toni Clarke; Writing by Debra Sherman; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Claudia Parsons

Baltimore synagogue offers to share parking lot with mosque


A synagogue in a Baltimore suburb with a large Orthodox Jewish population has offered to share its parking lot with a mosque.

The Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in Pikesville, Md., has offered the use of its parking facilities to a fledgling congregation of Ahmaddiya Muslims that recently purchased a former mansion and assisted-living facility across from the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, the Baltimore Jewish Times reported. The congregation is part of an international Muslim movement founded in 1889 in India that preaches universal peace.

The congregation of Ahmaddiya Muslims is made up of 40 families. Its leader, Dr. Agha Khan, a neurosurgeon at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, met recently with Rabbi Andrew Busch of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and other congregational officials in an effort to build good relations. Khan also met with Baltimore Jewish Council officials and leaders of the Pikesville-Greenspring Communication Coalition Community, according to the newspaper.

“Right from the beginning, because of his involvement with Sinai, he knew he needed to have some discussions with leadership in the Jewish community,” Dr. Arthur Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, told the Baltimore Jewish Times.

The Ahmaddiya congregation plans to put in its own parking lot in the future.

Shomrim case going forward in Baltimore


Lawyers for two Baltimore Jewish brothers accused of beating a black teenager withdrew a request to move the trial out of the city and requested a bench trial.

The trial of Avi and Eliyahu Werdesheim will begin Wednesday morning in Baltimore Circuit Court before Judge Pamela White with no jury. Defense attorneys had requested a change of venue because of perceived similarities between the case and the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida.

The brothers, who are accused of beating a 15-year-old male in November 2010, have pleaded not guilty to the charges of second-degree assault, false imprisonment and carrying a deadly weapon They face up to 13 years in prison if convicted on all three counts.

Eliyahu Werdesheim, now 24, was a member of Shomrim, a Jewish neighborhood watch group, at the time of the incident. According to a police account, Eliyahu Werdesheim told the black teen, “You don’t belong around here,” while his brother, now 21, threw the boy to the ground, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Lawyers for the Werdesheims claimed Monday that their clients should be tried elsewhere because black community leaders in Baltimore have linked the case with the death of Martin, a black teen from Florida who was shot by a neighborhood watch patrolman named George Zimmerman. Zimmerman is being tried for second-degree murder, and the case has received widespread national attention.

“Both involve young African-American males walking along on public thoroughfares who supposedly were accosted by one or more Caucasian members of citizen patrol groups who felt they didn’t belong in the area, and allegedly subjected to unprovoked attacks,” the defense lawyers’ motion said, according to the newspaper.

The motion added that the Werdesheims’ case has “ignited a firestorm of controversy, recriminations and protests in the greater Baltimore metropolitan region and has served to polarize various segments of the community.”

Prosecutors in the Werdesheims’ trial had said it should go forward because the two incidents are separate.

Citing Trayvon Martin case, lawyers seek change of venue in Baltimore assault


Lawyers for two Baltimore Jewish brothers accused of beating a black teenager requested that the trial be moved out of the city because of perceived similarities between the case and the death of Trayvon Martin.

Avi and Eliyahu Werdesheim are accused of beating a 15-year-old male in November 2010. Eliyahu Werdesheim, now 24, was a member of Shomrim, a Jewish neighborhood watch group, at the time of the incident.

According to a police account, Eliyahu Werdesheim told the teen, “You don’t belong around here,” while his brother, now 21, threw the boy to the ground, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Lawyers for the Werdesheims claimed Monday that their clients should be tried somewhere else because black community leaders in Baltimore have linked the case with the death of Martin, a black teen from Florida who was shot by a neighborhood watch patrolman named George Zimmerman. Zimmerman is being tried for second-degree murder, and the case has received widespread national attention.

“Both involve young African-American males walking along on public thoroughfares who supposedly were accosted by one or more Caucasian members of citizen patrol groups who felt they didn’t belong in the area, and allegedly subjected to unprovoked attacks,” the defense lawyers’ motion said, according to the newspaper.

The motion adds that the Werdesheims’ case has “ignited a firestorm of controversy, recriminations and protests in the greater Baltimore metropolitan region and has served to polarize various segments of the community.”

Prosecutors in the Werdesheims’ trial say it should go forward because the two incidents are separate.

Md. student asked to defend wearing kippah


A Jewish student at a Maryland high school was asked to prove that he wore a yarmulke for religious reasons.

Caleb Tanenbaum, 17, was asked by the administration of Northwood High School in Silver Spring to provide a letter from a rabbi explaining why he wore the plain, off-white knitted kippah, Patch in Wheaton, Md., reported.

Caleb, an Israeli by birth, decided recently to wear a kippah, according to the news website.

Camp Moshava receives conservation grant from Maryland


Habonim Dror Camp Moshava has received $1.36 million from the state of Maryland to permanently set aside 230 acres for conservation.

The grant, the largest of its type this year, comes through Maryland’s Rural Legacy Program and affects 85 percent of the land at Camp Moshava.

Located in Hartford County, the land to be set aside will preserve the habitats of native plant and wildlife species, support natural resources, and protect forests and wetlands.

According to its website, Camp Moshava is an international Labor Zionist youth movement dedicated to teaching the values of kibbutz.

The Maryland Rural Legacy Program provides funding to protect large areas of land from development sprawl and provide environmental protection.

“Our campers and staff have always taken great pride in the special natural features of our site,” said Eytan Graubart, the camp’s executive director. “Now we have ensured that this unique environment will be preserved forever.”

Md. redistricting hearing changed for Shabbat


A hearing to discuss political redistricting in the Baltimore area was rescheduled to accommodate Jewish Sabbath observers.

Twelve public meetings were scheduled throughout the state to allow input from residents into the congressional and legislative redistricting. The two meetings in the Baltimore area both conflicted with Shabbat.

The meeting scheduled for Aug. 12 was moved from 7 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; Shabbat starts at about 7:30. A second meeting will be held on a Saturday at the end of the month.

“There is enough time to testify and get home or go to synagogue” before the Sabbath begins, Linda Janey, assistant secretary for communications at the state Department of Planning, said in a news release posted on Citybizlist.

Testimony in the form of an e-mail is also permitted. The Maryland Legislature will hold a special session on redistricting the week of Oct. 17.

Maryland enacts Holocaust train bill


Maryland enacted a law requiring the French national railroad to publish its Holocaust-era records if its U.S. subsidiary is to receive a state contract.

Under the law Gov. Martin O’Malley signed Thursday, the French rail company SNCF must catalog and put online records relating to its transportation of 76,000 Jews and other prisoners from the suburbs of Paris to the German border from 1942 to 1944.

SNCF owns Keolis America, which is bidding to run two lines of the Maryland Area Regional Commuter train service. The company says it can complete the required work in less than six months, according to reports.

“Citizens around the world will finally be able to know the full extent of SNCF’s cooperation and participation in the Holocaust,” said a statement issued on behalf of SNCF survivors and their families, who have lobbied for similar laws in other states and nationally.

The company was paid per head per kilometer to deport the Nazi victims, according to reports. Critics say that since the war, the company has refused to apologize for its actions.

The company has defended itself by saying its employees were under the control of the occupying Nazi forces. SNCF has posted material on its website claiming that “many railway workers took part in the French resistance.”

Maryland is the first state to enact such a law.

Separately, bills introduced in March in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the Senate, and by a bipartisan slate of top lawmakers, would make SNCF and other railroads that transported Jews during the Holocaust subject to lawsuits in federal courts.

First Hillel hoops tourney tipping off at Maryland


Men’s and women’s teams from 20 colleges will compete at the University of Maryland in the inaugural National Hillel Basketball Tournament.

Twenty-five men’s teams and seven women’s squads will be participating in the tournament this weekend, with the women’s final at 3:15 p.m. Sunday and the men’s final 30 minutes later.

The tournament is being presented by the Israeli professional basketball team Barak Netanya to benefit the participating Hillels and Bring It In-Israel, a non-profit organization in Netanya that uses basketball to teach life skills, develop leaders and build community for disadvantaged youth.

Games will begin Saturday after sundown at two sites, Reckord Armory and Ritchie Coliseum. Each team will play three preliminaries and then be seeded into a single-elimination tournament bracket. An awards ceremony at Ritchie Coliseum following the finals will crown the champions and honor outstanding players.

The University of Maryland Hillel also will provide a Shabbat experience to include traditional services, meals and social activities starting Friday with the Tournament Kickoff Shabbat Dinner. Maryland students will host the players in campus housing.

“It’s such a unique and exciting opportunity for Jewish students from all over the country to come together for a Hillel weekend of basketball, Shabbat and celebration,” said Rabbi Ari Israel, executive director of the Maryland Hillel. “Seeing student leaders step up to plan the entire weekend is a true testament to their commitment to our community.”

The participating schools are Binghamton University, Boston University, Brandeis University, Columbia University, Cornell University, Goucher College, the University of Michigan, Muhlenberg College, New York
University, Oberlin College, the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton University, Queens College, Rutgers University, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, the University at Buffalo, the University of Maryland, the University of Rhode Island, Washington University in St. Louis and Yeshiva University.

Maryland House passes Holocaust train bill


France’s national railroad must publish its World War II-era records if its American subsidiary is to win a Maryland train contract.

Under legislation approved unanimously Monday by the Maryland House of Delegates, SNCF must catalog and put online records relating to its transportation of 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 to deport the Nazi victims, according to reports. Critics say that since the war, the company has refused to apologize for its actions.

SNCF owns Keolis America, which is bidding to run two lines of the Maryland Area Regional Commuter train service. The company says it can complete the required work in less than six months, according to reports.

To become law, the bill would have to be reconciled with a previously passed Senate version.

The California state legislature passed a bill similar to the Maryland one, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the measure. Last year, Keolis won a contract to run Virginia’s commuter rail.

The company has defended itself by saying its employees were under the control of the occupying Nazi forces. SNCF has posted material on its website claiming that “many railway workers took part in the French resistance.”

At Conservative rabbis’ confab, it’s not about the organization, but the future


Listening to Conservative rabbis talk about their movement is like witnessing an intervention.

They talk of “saving” Conservative Judaism – and sometimes they blame the parents when things go wrong.

“Reform rabbis speak positively about their movement and less positively about their synagogue, while Conservative rabbis speak positively about their synagogue and less positively about their movement,” said Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Md., paraphrasing a refrain he says he has heard often from Reform and Conservative colleagues.

Weinblatt was one of nearly 300 Conservative rabbis who came to Las Vegas this week for the annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly, the movement’s rabbinic group. On the agenda, as usual, was the future of Conservative Judaism – what it is, where it’s headed, and how rabbis can get that message out to the world.

“The Conservative movement belongs to us, and we’ll either fix it or bury it,” said Rabbi Edward Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, Calif., during a panel Monday on what Conservative Judaism will look like in 20 years. “We’re the rabbis. We need to get together, stop the bulls—t, and get it done, or we’ll become a shrinking, dwindling, heteronomous movement with very little to say.”

At this gathering, there was little of the grumbling by key Conservative synagogue leaders that reportedly prompted the development and release last month of a new strategic plan to restructure the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Instead, there was energy, even a little bravado, at the Rabbinical Assembly conference, and criticism was tempered by concern for the Conservative movement’s future.

“We need a new financial model,” said Rabbi Steven Wernick, executive vice president and CEO of United Synagogue and the man in charge of overseeing the restructuring of the congregational umbrella group. “Less edifice and more personnel. Multiple minyanim in the same building—the Hillel model.“

What will the new strategic plan, a year and a half in the making, mean to members of Conservative congregations? Not much, said Wernick—at least, not for a while. “It’s navigational. The implementation plan – how do we get there – is what we’re working on now.”

At any rate, institutions do not a movement make, rabbis at this convention reiterated. That’s particularly the case in the Conservative movement, whose three main institutions – the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue – are modeled on the separation of powers within the U.S. government rather than on anyone’s notion of the most effective way to deliver religious services and build Jewish community. Those are two of the main interests on rabbis’ minds today.

“The Conservative movement is not these institutions,” said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly. “These institutions are more than 100 years old and in urgent need of rethinking.”

The ideas and values of Conservative Judaism, on the other hand, are as relevant and compelling today as ever, she said.

“People get hung up on the Conservative institutions—are they good or bad. That’s beside the point,” she said. “They’re only good or bad in terms of how they help us get out our message of building a sustainable, joyful community that finds meaning in Jewish tradition and is committed to making the world a better place.”

The convention featured formal discussions among the United Synagogue leadership and key figures among a group of about 50 rabbis who have been pushing for completely overhauling United Synagogue. They call themselves Hayom: Coalition for the Transformation of Conservative Judaism. Those discussions took place behind closed doors, but their message is no secret, nor is the rabbis’ dissatisfaction with the new strategic plan.

“The clock has started moving faster, and it’s up to the chancellor and the R.A. to determine the fate of the North American Conservative movement,” said Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, Calif., a leader of Hayom. Creditor helped craft the strategic plan, which, he says, “left some of the most dissatisfied communities dissatisfied,” despite his and his colleagues’ best efforts.

Some of the Hayom congregations, including Netivot Shalom, have refused to pay the full dues assessed them by the United Synagogue. Those dues can run upward of $80,000 a year for the largest shuls. It doesn’t pay, said one rabbi who preferred to remain anonymous, “because we don’t get anything for that money.”

That’s what Wernick is trying to deal with by rebuilding his board, bringing together educators, rabbis and lay leaders in a new leadership development program, and re-imagining the old synagogue model of dues-paying membership. The changes won’t come quickly or easily, he said.

But this was a rabbinic conference, not a United Synagogue gathering, which meant less interest in strategic plans and more intellectualizing about what Conservative Judaism is supposed to be—and how its rabbis can best serve their congregations.

“I’m not sure the organizational structure matters to people in my pews,” said Rabbi Howard Lifshitz of Congregation Beth Judea in Long Grove, Ill. “The institutions of the Conservative movement are unknown to them. Most people who come into my synagogue want to know how their participation will touch them, what it will add to their lives.”

At Monday’s morning plenary, Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky of Ansche Chesed in Manhattan locked horns with Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles over solutions to the movement’s malaise.

Kalmanofsky championed a Judaism of purpose and complexity, one that moves beyond the 20th-century emphasis on helping Jews fit into American society and concentrates instead on helping them “find moral and spiritual purpose”—a “passionate authenticity” that will “seed, nurture and harvest opportunities for people to find depth.”

Wolpe argued, on the other hand, for a coherent ideology that “could be put on a bumper sticker,” to let Jews know what the movement stands for.

“Intellectual complexity is not the way to bring people into your synagogue,” he said. “You have to pray to something expressible. You can’t beseech a nuance.”

While that big picture conversation was going on in the main plenary, rabbis of congregations outside the major metropolitan centers opined that although they found the discussion fascinating, those weren’t their day-to-day concerns.

“I’m not that much into the politics,” said Rabbi Michael Werbow of Congregation Beth Shalom in Pittsburgh. “Our shul is 80,000 square feet. The sanctuary seats 1,800, and we get maybe 100 people on Shabbat.”

With a $150,000 deficit and less than one-quarter of his membership paying full dues, Werbow says the future of his synagogue doesn’t depend on how the movement is reorganized.

“Our deficit isn’t going away if we don’t pay our dues to the United Synagogue,” he said.

“I don’t think the work I’m doing is ‘saving’ the movement,” added Ita Paskind, assistant rabbi of Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax, Va. “In my daily work I try to touch Jews and help them connect to their tradition. I get a fair amount of questions about what the movement says about certain things, but that’s an opportunity for me to explain what Judaism says about it.”

Maryland Senate committee passes Holocaust disclosure bill


A bill requiring recipients of state contracts to fully disclose their ties to any operation responsible for transporting people to Nazi concentration camps, was passed unanimously by a Maryland state Senate committee.

The Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee approved the bill, aimed at the French rail company known as SNCF, on March 3. The full state Senate is scheduled to take up the measure this week. A state House committee also heard testimony last week.

Holocaust survivors and their families testified before the committees last week in favor of the bill, which would prevent SNCF, through its subsidiary Keolis, to bid to run two lines of the Maryland Area Regional Commuter train service.

Keolis submitted a bid last July to the Maryland Transit Administration for a new five-year deal, but the MTA canceled the bidding in the same month, saying the offer had not attracted enough competition. Bidding is expected to open again in the coming months, and both Keolis and CSX are likely competitors for the deal. CSX currently has the contract, which ends in 2012, the Baltimore Jewish Times reported .

SNCF trains transported 76,000 Jews and other prisoners from the suburbs of Paris to the German border from 1942 to 1944, and the company was paid per head per kilometer, according to reports. Critics say that since the war, the company has refused to apologize for its actions.

The Maryland bill would in part require any entity and its majority owners pursuing a procurement contract with the Maryland Department of Transportation to provide train service to disclose what, if any, activity it undertook in the deportation of individuals to extermination camps or death camps during the period between Jan. 1, 1942 and Dec. 31, 1944. It also asks those companies to disclose any records in their possession and whether they have ever provided restitution or reparations, the Baltimore Jewish Times explains.

The California state Legislature passed a bill similar to the proposed Maryland one, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the measure.

Retrial ordered in Md. case held on Shavuot


An Orthodox Jewish plaintiff in a medical malpractice trial will be allowed a retrial after he missed part of the trial for a religious holiday.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled Feb. 24 that by not rescheduling the court date so that Alexander Neustadter could appear, his opponent went unchallenged, prejudicing the trial.

The trial had been scheduled last year on Shavuot. Neustadter missed the opportunity to challenge a witness for the Holy Cross Hospital of Silver Spring and lost the case. He had sued the hospital for not reintubating his 91-year-old father, a Holocaust survivor, after his breathing tube had been removed.

Neustadter’s attorney notified the defendant’s lawyer shortly after the trial date was set, but the judge was not made aware of the conflict until a month before the trial. The judge said that was too late to change the tight court schedule, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Maryland bill requiring disclosure of Nazi assistance


Maryland legislators introduced a bill requiring recipients of state contracts to fully disclose their ties to any operation responsible for transporting people to Nazi concentration camps.

The legislation, which was introduced last week in the State House and Senate, is clearly aimed at the French rail company known as SNCF. The operation, via its subsidiary Keolis, is likely to soon bid again to run two lines of the Maryland Area Regional Commuter train service.

Keolis submitted a bid last July to the Maryland Transit Administration for a new five-year deal last, but the MTA canceled the bidding in the same month, saying the offer had not attracted enough competition. Bidding is expected to open again in the coming months, and both Keolis and CSX are likely competitors for the deal. CSX currently has the contract, which ends in 2012.

SNCF was paid per head, per kilometer to transport European Jews, as well as American and Canadian prisoners of war, for the Nazis. Critics say that since the war, the company has refused to apologize for its actions.

The company has defended itself by saying its employees were under the control of the occupying Nazi forces. SNCF has posted material on its website claiming that “many railway workers took part in the French resistance.”

In addition, SNCF President Guillaume Pepy last week officially ceded a former industrial train station and patch of muddy rail lines to the northern Paris suburb of Bobigny so the area can be made into a memorial for Jews deported from there.

Critics say such action—after 10 years of fighting the company to acknowledge its role in the Holocaust—is only being undertaken now to gain U.S. contracts.

“SNCF’s refusal to fully acknowledge its role in the Holocaust and its recent attempt to rewrite history is insulting to its victims and deeply troubling,” state Sen. Joan Carter Conway, the chair of the Education, Health, Environmental Affairs Committee said in a statement. “It is my intention to join with legislators in California to hold any company seeking taxpayer funds to the highest levels of responsibility and corporate ethical standards.”

The California Legislature passed a bill similar to the proposed Maryland one, but the measure was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The Maryland bill would in part require any entity and its majority owners pursuing a procurement contract with the Maryland Department of Transportation to provide train service to disclose what, if any, activity it undertook in the deportation of individuals to extermination camps or death camps during the period between Jan. 1, 1942 and Dec. 31, 1944. It also asks those companies to disclose any records it has in its possession and whether it has ever provided restitution or reparations.

SNCF is facing other roadblocks as it tries to expand in the American market. In the last year alone, 269 Holocaust survivors publicly criticized the Virginia Railway Express for awarding an $85 million contract to Keolis; SNCF faced legislation on Capitol Hill to allow Holocaust survivors and others to sue it; Jewish and non-Jewish groups protested when SNCF bid for a $2.6 billion high-speed rail contract in Florida.

Hatemonger charged in Maryland synagogue vandalism


Police arrested a man associated with hate groups throughout the United States and charged him with vandalizing a Maryland synagogue.

Ian Jacob Baron, 22, was charged with the malicious destruction of B’nai Shalom of Olney, located about 20 miles outside Washington, D.C.

Anti-Semitic phrases, including “death 2 Zionists” and “work will set u free,” were discovered July 26 spray-painted on the synagogue’s walls, parking lot and light posts. The latter phrase was written on a sign over the front gate of the Auschwitz death camp.

Loose change also was scattered near the front door as an insult.

Dan Friz, a public information officer for the Montgomery County Police, said Baron supports hate groups throughout the country, the Washington Jewish Week reported. Friz said Baron had made admissions regarding the case.

Baron was charged with malicious destruction of property over $500, two counts of malicious destruction of property under $500, one count of race/religious property damage and one count of defacing religious property.

After the Summit


Camp David is dead, long live Camp David. That was the slogan as the despondent, disappointed Israelis left the morning after the Middle East peace summit collapsed in the Maryland presidential retreat.”The process is not over,” said strategic analyst Yossi Alpher, a former special adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Barak. “It is hard to think that Barak will simply say, ‘I’m finished dealing with the peace process.’ They’re going to have to get back to talking.”

What, though, would they talk about?

“They closed some gaps,” Alpher insisted. “They made some progress on security and territory. On Jerusalem, what we witnessed was the slaughtering of sacred cows. Barak initiated a public debate, far beyond anything we have known before, on what there is about Jerusalem that is important to us.”Perhaps they might now consider a partial agreement. It is conceivable that Yasser Arafat felt he had to make a tough stand but that he can be more flexible next time. We’ll be back to business some time, maybe sooner rather than later. And Oslo remains the only frame of reference.”

Barak’s announcement at the end of the summit that all bets were off (“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”) was dismissed with skepticism.

“The mere fact,” commented the liberal daily Ha’aretz, “that the core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were discussed is a turning point from which there is no return. The era of sloganeering is over.”Political commentator Nahum Barnea wrote in Yediot Aharonot: “What happened at Camp David was not a funeral, nor was it a two-week stand that is now over.” The Israeli right was preparing, nonetheless, to deliver its eulogy – on the 1993 Oslo peace formula, if not, heaven forbid, on peace itself.

The Likud opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, said he was willing to discuss joining a national-unity government under Barak. “If he invites me,” he said, “I will meet him. The ball is in the prime minister’s court. It depends what he decides to do.”

On the messianic settler fringe, Rabbi Benny Elon held out a poisoned chalice. “The only peace that will result from Camp David,” predicted the far-right National Union legislator, “will be peace among Jews, who will unite now to protect Jerusalem against the joint enemy.”

The right, in other words, is ready to join a Barak coalition, provided the prime minister repudiates all the compromises he offered at Camp David: withdrawal from most of the territory still occupied in the West Bank and Gaza Strip; transfer of some isolated settlers to blocks that would become part of sovereign Israel; a token return, under the guise of family reunion, of some Palestinian refugees to Israel proper; a measure of shared control in Jerusalem. But there is no sign that Barak is backtracking.

Dovish Knesset members, from Barak’s One Israel, Meretz and the Center Party, are already signaling that they would refuse to join a coalition which, as they see it, would write “finis” to any chance of moving toward peace. Barak would find himself, like Ramsay MacDonald in Britain 70 years ago, as a Labor prime minister heading a Conservative government.

“I don’t see how Barak can set up a unity government,” said Yossi Alpher, “since it is clear to Sharon what his points of departure are in negotiations with the Palestinians and the Syrians, and these are not acceptable to him. If Barak went for the Sharon option, he would be slamming the door in Yasser Arafat’s face, slamming the door in Bashar Assad’s face. Only if the assessment shifts to very strong expectations of a violent confrontation with the Palestinians would it look like more of an option.”

So far, Israeli and Palestinian leaders are appealing for calm, though both communities have been placed on informal alert.

It remains easier to forecast what Barak won’t do than what he will or can. The Camp David failure takes some of the immediate heat off the prime minister. The opposition will be less eager to press no-confidence votes. In any case, the Knesset goes into summer recess next week, which will give Barak a three-month respite.

Assuming he does not rush into the arms of the Likud, he will find it equally hard to reconstruct the broad-based coalition that disintegrated on the eve of the Maryland summit. The pro-settler National Religious Party and Natan Sharansky’s Russian immigrant Yisrael B’aliyah remain adamantly opposed to territorial compromise. The Sephardi Orthodox Shas pulled out as soon as Barak announced that he was ready to talk turkey with Arafat.

“One thing is absolutely clear,” Alpher acknowledged. “While Barak has a mandate from the people, that mandate is not reflected in the Knesset. He doesn’t have a peace coalition.”

The only alternative, in that case, would be a “secular” coalition, embracing One Israel, the left-liberal Meretz, Tommy Lapid’s militantly anti-religious Shinui, the Arab parties and an assortment of floating legislators. But Barak knew, before he went to Camp David, that he would not be able to rely on the loyalty of these parties or of mavericks within them.

Logic points, therefore, to elections within a year, perhaps even sooner. Barak will try to call them on his terms rather than be forced to go to the nation as a lame duck. But even then, under Israel’s discredited two-tier electoral system in which the people vote separately for prime minister and Knesset, there is no guarantee that he will emerge with a more congenial legislature.