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Posts Tagged ‘Baltimore’

Native Baltimore Rabbi Runs for Beit Shemesh City Council

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Baltimore native Rabbi Avraham Leventhal, who moved to Beit Shemesh eight years ago after making aliyah, has tossed his hat in the political ring and is running for a seat on the city council. Elections will take place October 22.

Another former American, Rabbi Dov Lipman, also was active in politics after making aliyah. He joined Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party and won a seat in the Knesset in the elections earlier this year.

Rabbi Leventhal joined the Tov political party, explaining that is comprised of “Orthodox Jews with a strong social action agenda.” He added, “They assist residents regardless of their party or religious affiliation. This is exactly the style of good government that Anglo olim seek. “

Beit  Shemesh is home to a large Anglo population but also has been the scene of violent clashes between Haredi extremists and modern orthodox and secular residents,

Rabbi Leventhal said, “An ‘us vs. them’ mentality has taken hold. There are many levels to the various conflicts including Haredi vs. Haredi, veteran residents vs. newcomers and olim vs. those native to the city. Unfortunately this is reflected in the functioning of the current municipal government. City Hall doesn’t serve all residents equally.”

Maryland Jews Battle $1 Million ‘Jewish Christian’ Crusade

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

The war to assimilate has gone for the “soft sell,” with a Christian missionary blitz trying to convince Jews in Maryland and other states that it is okay to have a double identity as a Jew and a Christian.

Ten young women from a Baptist college in California have fanned out in Greater Baltimore’s highly concentrated Jewish community to try to convince them to accept Jesus while remaining Jews.

Unlike the Jews for Jesus movement, the new missionary program carries an even more dangerously tempting message for wavering Jews.

Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, told the Baltimore Sun that even the most liberal rabbi would reject the notion of a “Jewish Christian.”

The proselytizing program is particularly offensive to the area’s Jewish community because it replaces the clearer and less acceptable notion of outright conversion to Christianity.

The missionary effort is being financed by Tom Cantor, who was born into a Jewish family and who is the president of a medical products company in southern California. He said he spends more than $4 million a year to push his concept in the United States and elsewhere. The $1 million summer blitz focuses on Jewish areas in Baltimore as well as in other major East Coast cities.

The Jewish community in Baltimore is highly cohesive and includes one of the highest percentages of orthodox Jews in the country. It also suffers from the same crisis of assimilation that threatens every other Jewish community in the Diaspora.

The Baptist girls approach them in modest clothing, giving the impression that they may be Orthodox Jews, although Lou Rossi, a pastor of  church helping the campaign  told the Sun he does not think the women are trying to deceive anyone.

Abramson last week decided to meet with Rossi, pastor of the Granite Baptist Church, which furnishes a van for the missionaries.

“Our goal has never been to disrupt or violate the Jewish community, or any community,” said Rossi, but he admitted that touring Jewish neighborhoods with a van marked “Granite Baptist Church”  is a cause of complaints from Jewish residents.

“This is not talking to Jews,” Ruth Guggenheim, executive director of Jews for Judaism in Baltimore, told the Baltimore newspaper. “This is no different than the Jehovah’s Witnesses coming to your door.”

The women often try to open a conversation by telling people in their homes that they want to talk about Israel, and they go into their sales talk on Jewish Christianity.

Cantor insists he is a Jew. “I love my people. … I don’t want any of them going to hell” for not having accepted Jesus.

Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of the Beth Tfiloh  Congregation, the largest modern Orthodox synagogue in Greater Baltimore, told the Sun that if Cantor really cares about Jews, he can contribute his money to Jewish causes.

Here is one suggestion:  Organizations that fight missionaries.

Two Religious Girls Box-Kick Their Way to World Champions (video)

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Two religious teenagers, one a convert from India and the other born in Baltimore, have won the world championship in Thailand-style kick-boxing for their weight class.

Officially known as Muay Thai, the combat sport is known as “the art of eight weapons” because of the use of fists, elbows, knees, shins and feet.

One might expect that world champs in the kick-boxing sport would be huge gorillas from the Amazon, but two winners in the girls’ championships held in Thailand recently are none other than two religious girls from Israel.

One is Nili Block, who was born in Baltimore and moved with her family to Israel around 15 years ago. The other is Sarah Avraham, whose family was close friends with Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, two of the six victims of the Muslim terrorist attack in Mumbai in 2008.

Having already been acquainted with the Jewish religion through their association with the Holtzbergs, they decided to convert and move to Israel after the terrorist attack.

Nili and Sarah train five times a week at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, attacking a punching bag to sharpen their skills under the supervision of a coach. Their rigorous regime paid off in Thailand, where they were crowned champions after Nile defeated her Bulgarian opponent in the flyweight class of 112-118 pounds, while Nili beat her British opponent in the 125-138-pound class.

Nili is an all-round athlete. Before flying to Thailand for the championships, she ran in the 6-mile Jerusalem Marathon in March and win first place in the women’s 16-19 age group, finishing ahead of 500 runners in her category. Later the same month, she won the 10th Amateur-Pro Muay Thai Championships in Bangkok.

“Nili is amazing − slim and tall, she’s built for this sport, and she possesses quite an array of weapons. She can devastate an opponent with her hands, knees and feet, and she has perfect technique,” said Shuki Rozensweing, an Israeli boxer who won the World Muay Thai Association and World Muay Thai Federation unified title in April 2011.

He told the Thai BigChili website, “She is a complete fighter with a high IQ for the sport…. A fight is not only won on strength. Nili won all three rounds against the Bulgarian girl, who was physically stronger, by virtue of her superior technique.”

She is in the 12th grade and has to decide this year whether to enlist in the IDF or serve in “Sherut Leumi,” national service.

The IDF would love to have her in its ranks. She says she is not sure if she wants to miss out serving as a regular soldier and suspend her boxing talents, but Shuki thinks she has a good chance to receive the IDF’s special athletic status, which would allow her to continue to train.

Besides that, let’s see what happens if an Arab terrorist starts up with her.

Nile discovered Muay Thai through her other after the family moved to Israel.

‘‘My mother was at that time a volunteer police woman attached to the Jerusalem police department and she was looking for some kind of martial arts which would be beneficial for her work,” said Nili. “I went with her as she looked for a Muay Thai training camp and I started to train with her. I stopped training for two years while going to school and resumed when I was 13.” Her father, a dentist, supports and encourages her to box.

So much for stereotyped-orthodox families.

The most thrilling moment in the Thai championships was hearing the Israel national anthem Hatikvah two times, once after Nili won her gold medal and the second time when Sarah won.

Sarah’s story is no less spectacular than Nili’s.

Her father is a doctor and was the family physician to the Holtzbergs, who ran the Chabad House in Mumbai.

Sarah was 14 years old when the family converted and then moved to Kiryat Arba, where she learns at a religious “ulpana” high school.

Hevron resident Michael Pollack spotted her talent and put her in touch with Thai boxing coach Eddie Yusopov.

Keeping in mind that Abraham and Sarah were buried in the Patriarchs’ Cave in Hevron, Pollack told the Times of Israel last year, “She draws her strength from where we live in Kiryat Arba. That gives her an inner strength that explodes in the ring.”

Preserving Baltimore’s First Synagogue (Part I)

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from “The Lloyd Street Synagogue of Baltimore: A National Shrine” by Israel Tabak, American Jewish Historical Quarterly (1961-1978); Sept. 1971-June 1972; 61, 1-4; AJHS Journal page 343. The article is available at www.ajhs.org/scholarship/adaje.cfm.

While it is not known precisely when Jews first settled in Baltimore, we do know that five Jewish men and their families settled there during the 1770s. However, it was not until the autumn of 1829 that Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, whose Hebrew name was Nidchei Yisroel (Dispersed of Israel), was founded. This was the only Jewish congregation in the state of Maryland at the time, and it was referred to by many as the “Stadt Shul.”

The original 29 members of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation met in a room over a grocery store located on Bond and Fleet Streets (now Eastern Avenue). By 1835 the congregation occupied a one-story building on High Street and membership had increased to 55. In 1837 the congregation acquired a three-story building on Harrison Street near Etna Lane where it worshipped until 1845 when it built its new synagogue on Lloyd Street.

Rabbi Abraham Rice

Readers of this column likely are familiar with the life of Rabbi Abraham Rice from the articles “Abraham Rice: First Rabbi in America” (November 6, 2009) and “The First Rabbi in America, Part II,” December 4, 2009. Rabbi Rice, the first ordained Orthodox rabbi to settle permanently in America, became the spiritual leader of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in 1840.

Rabbi Rice was known for his piety and upright character and for a number of years he was probably the only person in America qualified to pasken sheilas. He became one of Orthodoxy’s foremost spokesmen at a time when it was under attack from the Reform movement.

“Abraham Rice’s place in the history of American Judaism is secure. The courage and dauntlessness with which he defended the principles of historic Judaism give him a unique place among the pioneers of Orthodoxy in America. His consistent and uncompromising stand in matters of Jewish theology was the strongest factor in stemming the tide of Reform. His devotion to the study of Torah and his depth of talmudic learning made it possible for [halachic] Judaism to gain a foothold on American soil, where for centuries Jewish life was spiritually barren and Torahless. His dedication to Jewish education and his personal instruction of many a youth in this community were responsible for a new generation of enlightened laymen to be raised up who changed the entire physiognomy and religious climate of the Jewish community of Baltimore.” (“Rabbi Abraham Rice of Baltimore, Pioneer of Orthodox Judaism in America” by Israel Tabak, Tradition, 7, 1965, page 119.)

The Lloyd Street Synagogue

Within a few years of Rabbi Rice’s arrival the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation was able to build the Lloyd Street Synagogue, the first Jewish house of worship to be built in Maryland and the third oldest surviving synagogue in the United States.

“There is no doubt that Rabbi Rice was the prime factor in the growth and consolidation of the congregation. It was under his guidance that the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation was able to build its own sanctuary befitting a Jewish community of stature and dignity. The architect commissioned to design the new synagogue was Robert Carey Long, Jr., who achieved renown for the several houses of worship he built in Baltimore at the time. In 1842, Long built the Alphonsus Roman Catholic Church; in 1843, St. Peter’s Catholic Church; and the following year, Mt. Calvary Episcopal Church and the Franklin Street Presbyterian Church. The Jewish community was sufficiently affluent to afford the services of such an eminent architect, and the Lloyd Street Synagogue was completed and dedicated in 1845.”

The synagogue building was built of brick and was sixty feet wide by seventy-five feet deep. It cost about $20,000.

The synagogue contained what was then a most innovative feature – a “Shield of David” that was conspicuously set in the main window of the synagogue above the Holy Ark, in the eastern wall, which everyone faced in prayer.

Isaac Lesser, chazzan of Congregation Mikve Israel of Philadelphia, wrote the following description of the synagogue after attending the dedication ceremonies on Shabbos Parshas Vayelech (September 26-27, 1845):

The Tale Of Two Armstrongs In Elul

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Two major news stories involving two famous men named Armstrong occurred within days of each other recently. Was it random happenstance? Or was there hashgacha involved?

We know that nothing happens outside Hashem’s realm and power. But did Hashem have a specific reason for these two events occurring together when they did?

Of course, we can’t claim to know the specifics of how Hashem operates the world, but something tells me there must be a message for us to uncover from the two men named Armstrong.

Lance Armstrong is a hero to millions of people, especially to those battling cancer. While on the rise in a cycling career, he was diagnosed at age 25 with a cancer that metastasized to his brain and lungs. His cancer treatments included surgery and extensive chemotherapy, and his prognosis was initially very poor. He was told he had less than a forty percent chance to live. But he not only survived, he went on to become a world class cyclist and win the most prestigious international cycling race, the Tour de France, for an unprecedented seven consecutive years.

But something happened to make him less of a hero in the eyes of many. After years of rumors and investigations, he decided to stop fighting charges that he used illegal steroids and hormones. (He still maintains his innocence despite the allegations of those who claim to have witnessed otherwise, though he is no longer battling them in order to clear his name.)

On the other hand there is Neil Armstrong, the famous astronaut and the first man to walk on the moon, who died at the age of 82. He coined perhaps the most famous secular quote of the 20th century upon taking that first step on the moon in 1969, saying, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

While Neil Armstrong could have taken advantage of his fame, as other astronauts of his era did, he shied away from the limelight. He simply did not want any financial or material gain to come from his work for his country and its space program. After retiring from NASA he went on to live a very quiet life teaching at a small college in Ohio.

Lance Armstrong. Neil Armstrong. Both become major news stories within days of each other for very different reasons. Both become major news stories in Elul.

What does the name Armstrong connote? A strong arm. Lehavdil thousands of havdalos, the name Armstrong brings to mind that the Ribbono shel Olam is described in Egypt as having a Yad HaChazakah, a Strong Hand or Arm. In Parshas Ki Savo (26:8), the pasuk says that Hashem took us out of Egypt with a Yad HaChazakah. We mention this pasuk in the Hagaddah and we say there this Strong Arm refers to the plague of dever, the death of the animals of the Egyptians. The Malbim explains that only with regards to dever do we find the Torah describing that Yad Hashem struck the Egyptian flock. For no other plague is the term “the Hand of Hashem” used. This indicates that dever was somehow the greatest of all the plagues. In fact, the Malbim says that dever existed in every plague and encompassed all of the Ten Plagues. Without going into the details of how that was the case, we derive from this that the term Yad HaChazakah relating to Hashem indicates great judgment and consequence.

Is it any wonder, then, that we find the word Armstrong in the news in Elul, with the Day of Judgment right around the corner? Indeed, the Yad HaChazakah is coming and we must prepare.

And how do we prepare? We must learn the lesson of Lance Armstrong and the allegations against him. We may be heroes to many people who look up to us for our various spiritual accomplishments. But unless we do teshuvah, whatever we do in private that is inappropriate can and will come back to haunt us when the Yad HaChazakah chooses to have it displayed. That display may be in this world or it might wait for the next, but He will judge the inner core of who we really are and there is no escaping it. False facades and fortune only last so long before eventually being blown to pieces.

Granting Tuition Reductions In Day Schools: A New Approach

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Many American parents are passionate about providing their children with opportunities to participate in sports and develop as great athletes. A recent article in the Financial Post posed the question “Are your kids’ athletic dreams worth breaking the bank for?” For parents of elite athletes, the costs can be astronomical. Such parents designate “tens of thousands of dollars of their household budget to help their child’s athletic career blossom, a sacrifice that impacts everything from daily spending to retirement.”

Take the case of the National Ski Academy. The mission of this private full-time school is to “provide an environment for student athletes to maximize individual potential through the pursuit of alpine ski racing excellence, academic achievement and personal growth.”

Its director, Jurg Gfeller, says parents have to be committed financially to be part of the program. “If you are here five years, you are spending $150,000 on your kids and they have already spent money before and sometimes it’s probably not finished after [you graduate],” said Gfeller.

The financial sacrifice many of these parents make for their children to excel in athletics is tremendous. Their commitment to sports is so great that they see no choice other than to provide their children with the foundation to become great athletes, regardless of the cost. “You can’t say no” says one parent, Susan Remme, who had three children attend the academy.

Now suppose for a moment that this school suddenly introduced a new scholarship program for qualifying students offering up to a 70% reduction in tuition. The only stipulation for receiving this grant of over $100,000, was that the parents must sign a moral obligation agreement requiring them to put forth a good faith ‘best effort’ in donating back to the school as much as possible while at the school and after their children graduate. The funds received from this moral obligation would enable the school to provide the same assistance to others in need.

What would you say the reaction would be from the parents? Astonishment. Disbelief. Then, when the reality set in that the offer was genuine, can you imagine the level of heartfelt gratitude and endless appreciation? In exchange for well over $100,000 in tuition assistance in training and educating these budding athletes, the only requirement is the expectation for the parents to do their sincere best to allocate as much of their charitable donations as possible to the school. Is there any doubt the parents would feel so indebted to the school that they would go to great lengths to financially demonstrate their appreciation for years thereafter?

Jewish day schools across the country have been providing parents precisely this type of financial aid for decades. Yet how much do parents of day school students who receive this financial help give in donations while at the school and after their youngest child graduates? While to my knowledge there has not been a statistical study done on this subject, based on my experience and informal discussions I have had with other school administrators over the years, in general, it doesn’t seem to be an amount of any significance. Unfortunately this seems to be the rule rather than the exception.

Why is this so? Perhaps it is because our culture is so ingrained with a sense of entitlement that some parents feel tuition assistance is a “right” – along with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Their outlook is that despite the tens of thousands of dollars they received in reduced tuition, they have paid enough in tuition over the years to their school and choose not to allocate to it any further donations.

To be clear, I realize full well that parents have many financial obligations on their plate. Upon the graduation of their youngest child from day school, many parents have new obligations to the high schools and post-high schools their children now attend. In addition, some parents help support their married children and have other critical, sometimes even crushing, financial obligations. I am not proposing taking from these funds and directing these monies to their former day schools.

There are, however, many local, national and international organizations vying for support. Many of them serve good and vital causes. The organizations can be attractive and provide an opportunity to be part of something “exciting” or to really “make a difference.” Some even promise miraculous segulos and yeshuos. But these are discretionary charitable funds. In contrast, there is a moral obligation to make day schools a top-priority recipient.

Fighting The Tuition Crisis With Financially-Driven Parent Volunteer Programs

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

A recent CNN Money article focused on how more students than ever are requesting need-based financial aid from the private schools they attend. “Private schools are getting flooded with financial aid applications, and a growing number of the parents seeking help are earning $150,000 or more a year,” the article stated. It also pointed out that “overall, the average cost of tuition at private schools across all grades is nearly $22,000 a year, up 4% from a year ago and 26% higher than it was in the 2006-07 academic year, according to the National Association of Independent Schools.”

To make matters worse for private day schools, the recession of the past few years has adversely affected the fundraising numbers in many of these schools, especially in the geographical areas hardest hit. And if that wasn’t bad enough, once again the Obama administration, for a fifth time has proposed lowering the income tax deduction for charitable giving. By decreasing the value of itemized tax deductions for higher-income taxpayers, the president’s proposal would weaken the incentive for the wealthy to give to private day schools and other non-profit organizations.

In light of these developments, schools must consider new and innovative ways to increase income and reduce costs in order to maintain financial stability and fiscal health. One approach that should be considered is to institute a parent volunteer program. There are many schools throughout the country that have established parent volunteer programs. However, the central purpose of many of these programs is to benefit the educational quality of the school. That’s the objective behind Three for Me, a national parent volunteer organization running in thousands of schools across the U.S.

While enhancing educational quality through parent volunteer efforts is certainly worthwhile, schools should consider making financial goals the primary objective of such a program. By using the time and efforts of the parent body, schools can effectively convert hundreds of parent-hours into thousands of dollars in revenue and savings – in essence, monetizing the massive amount of man-hours of the parent body.

Many school administrations are already overworked and understaffed, so in order for such a program to succeed it would need to be low maintenance and easy to manage. Further, in order to generate the necessary volunteer hours to have a financial impact, parent participation would need to be made obligatory (staff excluded). There is a case to be made for making participation voluntary for full paying families while making financial aid grants conditional on participation. It is not unreasonable to ask the beneficiaries of financial aid to give a small amount of their time back to the school each year. However, in many schools, the perceived disparity would be a non-starter.

A little over ten years ago, the school I manage instituted such a program. We made participation obligatory for all families receiving tuition assistance and voluntary for all full-paying families. Staff was exempt. The results of the program are compelling. From a pool of approximately 200 parent volunteers, annual gross revenue raised totals on average $170,000 while annual costs savings total on average $30,000. The program’s methodology has been fine-tuned over the years so that today not only has it become a vital part of our operating budget, it takes a relatively small amount of time to administer.

Either way, undertaking and implementing such a program is a serious commitment. While the program is not difficult to manage once it is up and running, it can be somewhat time consuming to establish. In addition, there is no doubt that many parents will be less than happy with this new obligation. But by having the parents give back a minimum of one or two hours each month, the increase in revenue and cost savings can bring great financial relief to the school especially in these very difficult economic times.

Finally, it should be pointed out that this is only part of an overall solution. Schools need to adapt many of the best practices in corporate management in order to grow and thrive. Foremost is implementing strong and effective internal and financial controls and then training the staff with the knowledge to execute these controls properly. This should be done in conjunction with establishing proper governance and long-term strategic planning with active parent involvement.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/fighting-the-tuition-crisis-with-financially-driven-parent-volunteer-programs/2012/07/11/

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