Author’s note: These vignettes are true stories based on true stories. All characters are real; names have been changed to protect the innocent. Hindsight is 20/20. I share my world with you because 1.) my life is crazy and hilarious, 2.) we are so immersed in our mundane hectic lives that we forget to stop and smell the roses, and 3.) by stopping to hear my tales, maybe you’ll be reminded to see the silver lining in your life and take some laughs along the way.
WASHINGTON — The purpose of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s sold-out networking event on Thursday March 16 was to “provide business professionals with the opportunity to mingle in the context of support for the Jewish community,” said Neil Gurvitch, co-chair of Federation’s Network Division.
Indeed, it was evident that many connections between the 400 professionals of various and diverse ages, backgrounds, and professions were being formed. Friends, colleagues, and acquaintances introduced each other to their various connections over food and drink for over an hour at the outset of the night.
On Thursday March 23, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) held a conference call with leaders of Jewish organizations to discuss an unexpected development: Israeli police had announced the arrest of a 19-year-old man in Ashkelon with dual Israel-U.S. citizenship in connection with the majority of the bomb threats to Jewish institutions in the United States and Canada since January 2017.
The arrest followed a nearly four-month-long, FBI-led joint investigation into the waves of bomb threats targeting Jewish community institutions, including several in the Greater Washington area.
The courts are presently keeping the suspect’s identity secret until his next court appearance on March 30. The New York Times reported on March 23 that the suspect’s lawyer, Galit Bash, stated her client suffers from a brain tumor that affects his cognitive abilities and may have impacted his behavior. Bash said that her client was rejected from service in the Israeli military because of his medical condition.
Earlier this month, U.S. law enforcement arrested former journalist Juan Thompson in St. Louis in connection with some of the bomb threats. In a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan, authorities accused Thompson of making at least eight of the threats received by Jewish institutions since January 2017, mostly by email.
Israel’s Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the Jewish teen is the primary suspect the more than 150 bomb threats made in that same period. According to Rosenfeld, the suspect made threats to sites in Australia and New Zealand in addition to those in the United States, as well as a threat to a commercial airline flight that prompted an emergency landing.
The young man’s father was also arrested, but as of printing of this article any charges against him have not been made public. The New York Times reported on March 23 the father’s lawyer, Eran Rau, said his client has no criminal record and is cooperating with investigators.
“I congratulate the Israeli Police on leading a complex international investigation, together with law enforcement agencies from around the world, which led to the arrest of the suspect,” Israeli Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan said in a statement following reports of the arrest. “We hope that this investigation will help shed light on some of the recent threats against Jewish institutions, which have caused great concern both among Jewish communities and the Israeli government.”
In public statements, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Greater Washington and Anti-Defamation League (ADL) expressed gratitude to law enforcement bodies in the United States and in Israel for the international cooperation and tremendous effort that has gone into the investigation so far.
“Like many in the Jewish community, we are saddened that the suspect is a young Jewish man. We also recognize that this one arrest does not necessarily mean the end to the bomb threats, or that all the perpetrators are now in custody,” the statement continued. “We are confident that law enforcement will continue to seek perpetrators of other acts of anti-Semitism and racism, and must continue our own vigilance.”
The fact that the suspect is an American-Israeli Jew should not and will not make a difference to legislators considering measures to increase security funding for day schools and other Jewish institutions, according to JCRC Executive Director Ron Halber. “Even without the bomb threats, we are seeing an uptick in hate crimes,” he said, “and most of the religiously motivated hate crimes are directed against Jews.” According to Washington, D.C. police data, in 2016 the police reported 107 total hate crimes, of which 18 were religiously motivated. By comparison, in 2015 the police recorded 66 total hate crimes, of which five were religiously motivated.
“Even though it appears that the main culprit behind the majority of these attacks has allegedly been identified, anti-Semitism in the U.S. remains a very serious concern,” ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan A. Greenblatt said in the organization’s public statement. “No arrests have been made in three cemetery desecrations or a series of other anti-Semitic incidents involving swastika graffiti and hate fliers. JCCs and other institutions should not relax security measures or become less vigilant.”
“We appreciate the support of so many community and organizational leaders, both within and outside the Jewish community, who spoke out and condemned these threats,” he said. “They understood not only how disruptive they were, but also how they traumatized the people affected, especially young children and senior citizens who were evacuated as a result of these threats.”
The Seaboard USY Region’s Mid-Winter Kinnus, or Convention, was hosted March 5-7 at Congregation Olam Tikvah in Fairfax, Virginia. The home-hospitality event was a first for the Fairfax community and drew 110 participants from three states and DC.
“One hundred and ten participants was amazing for a first-time event,” said Seaboard USY Regional Youth Director Sasha Bloch. It was also the region’s first mid-winter convention in at least 10 years, she said.
Taking a selfie with the governor, observing the Senate in session, and learning first-hand how laws are made—these were just a few of the highlights from the Berman Hebrew Academy sixth Grade’s visit to Annapolis for Student Advocacy Day. Berman students were among the 1,300 participants from other non-public schools who heard from Governor Hogan about the issue of school choice (before taking a selfie with him, pictured above). Berman students also had private meetings with State Delegates Bonnie Cullison (D-Montgomery), Maricé Morales (D-Montgomery), and Jeffery Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery) as well as State Senator Roger Manno (D-Montgomery).
Special thanks to Rabbi Ariel Sadwin and Garrett O’Day of the Maryland Council for American Private Education (CAPE) for coordinating the day and for the delicious kosher pastries and lunch.
Chai Lifeline is an international organization that provides crucial emotional and social support to seriously ill children and their families. It has been just over a year since Chai Lifeline formally inaugurated the opening of the new Mid-Atlantic regional office, but from the looks of their annual Purim party this past week you would think they’ve been here forever.
Hosted at the famous Cloisters Castle in Maryland, Chai Lifeline Mid-Atlantic’s Purim Regional Ball was simply extraordinary. The stately castle was teeming with families from all walks of life. There were children in walkers. Children in wheelchairs. Children with the apparent signs of cancer and chemotherapy. It was a sight to take your breath away in the most magnificently magical way. These children were not sad. Their parents were not melancholy. A very real and tangible sense of merriment and joviality pervaded the rooms of the castle. The joy of Purim, and the hope of salvation, permeated the air.
To the casual observer, it would seem like just a regular evening: 15 young adults ate ice cream, played icebreakers games and chatted away with their new friends. A few even danced to the music playing in the background at the March 22 event at Beth Sholom Congregation in Potomac.
But it was almost too much for some of their parents, who have tried so hard to find welcoming places for their Jewish children who, because of their disabilities, have difficulties making friends or feeling wanted.
Officials are mulling options for funding increased security measures at the state level as well.
ROCKVILLE (Md.) — On March 6, hours before the latest bomb threats struck the Greater Washington Jewish community, Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett asked the County Council to immediately approve a $225,000 grant for upgrading building security at the Bender JCC, Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School (CESJDS), and the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
According to the written request submitted by Leggett, the funds will go towards more-secure exterior windows, additional security cameras, remotely-controlled doors, and other security-related building improvements.
Students met with state delegates and senators, and learned about the workings of government firsthand.
On Thursday March 2, Bais Yaakov of Baltimore sent a group of students to Annapolis, Maryland to advocate for the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) Program. The BOOST Program is designed to provide aid to children of low-income families so they can afford to attend a non-public school.
Kemp Mill duo produce “The Zombie Haggadah.”
SILVER SPRING (Md.) — In just over three weeks, with the help of 70 backers on Kickstarter, author Elisha Simkovich and illustrator Avi Litwack pooled together nearly $2,500 to publish over 150 copies of their truly original creation, “The Zombie Hagaddah.” 126 of those books have already been sold, said Simkovich.
Simkovich, 33, and Litwak, 37, had lived in the same community for almost a decade but were connected with each other for this project by two of Litwack’s brothers. Simkovich and Moshe Litwack were sharing their DC commute and discussing the zombie hagaddah idea— “because he also writes, he has some things out there,” explained Simkovich— and Moshe suggested his twin Avi as a potential illustrator. Mordy Litwack made the same suggestion seperately, but it still took a year for the two to meet. The rest is now literally a history, albeit a very strange one involving mummies, curses, dismemberment, and, of course, zombies.
On Presidents’ Day weekend, over 80 Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Cub Scouts from across the Northeast Corridor joined together for a weekend of fun, learning, and adventure. The event was the 18th annual Kosher Klondike, bringing together scouts from Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and even Ohio to learn life and survival lessons in a shomer Shabbat environment.
The Kosher Klondike is based on the Boy Scout Klondike Derby, where scouts utilize their skills in a winter competition. The event is based on the story of the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon to provide challenges for groups of scouts, called patrols. Each patrol consists of scouts from across all of the troops in attendance. The patrols compete to earn points, which are used to give out prizes at the end of the weekend.
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- The Role of the Jewish Chapel at West Point
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- Advocacy for Local Synagogue
- More Than Just a Game
- Fifty Women Partake in the Great Hamentashen Bake
- Putting the Unity in Community
- Jewish Organization Challenges Refugee Ban in Maryland District Court
- Sound Advice for Us All