Irony in My Life

Written by Kenneth Kohn on . Posted in Community News

Professionally, I am an attorney with doctorates in pharmacology and immunology. I have practiced intellectual property law, specializing in the biotech/pharma space, for over 30 years. As of late, I also manage or assist in the management of several companies.

Privately, I have been married for almost 40 years, am a father of four and a grandfather of three, and coached basketball for over 25 years.

Now the irony. I lost one parent to heart disease, and one died with the onset of dementia in her 90s. My father-in-law suffered from cardiovascular disease most of his adult life, and eventually succumbed to a blood-born fungal infection most likely caused by chronic antibiotic treatment for a respiratory infection. My mother-in-law recently suffered a stroke, also a product of cardiovascular disease. Meanwhile, the companies I am involved with are pre-revenue start-ups that own therapeutics and diagnostics in the areas of cardiovascular disease and dementia and treatments which could have obviated my father-in-law’s fungal infection. It is ironic that each of the treatments I am involved with could have extended my parents’ and father-in-law’s lives and helped prevent the onset of my mother-in-law’s stroke had they been available during their lifetimes.

Purim’s Warning for Us in Modern-Day America

Written by Meshulem Ungar on . Posted in Community News

Lately, we all hear this bad press surrounding our president and his advisors, while as Jews we are concerned about the changing US relationship with Israel and anti-Semitic attacks like the recent vandalism of a St. Louis Jewish cemetery and the bomb threats to schools and other Jewish institutions across the country. The fact is, however, that the government is still running, the military is still fighting, the IRS is still collecting taxes–– and, if there are attacks against Jews, law enforcement is still going to protect Jews.

The real danger, especially for us Jews, lies in something we can learn from the holiday of Purim: the role of a leader’s advisors. In the Purim story, evil Haman gains the trust of King Achashverosh, who gives Haman his royal stamp— the one object signifying the king’s power. Haman uses the king’s authority to persecute the Jews of Persia. Today, it is unfortunately possible that a top government official, after gaining the trust of the president, will target groups he does not like. While he might not seek to exterminate a people like Haman did, he could oppress and harass them.

Dulles Justice and Purim

Written by Nicole Goldstein on . Posted in Community News

Purim teaches us that there is a time for rending our clothes and wearing sackcloth and ashes, and there is a time for confronting the king. The Dulles Justice Coalition, a non-partisan alliance of attorneys and other volunteers, sprung up quickly in the hours after the January 27 Executive Order on Immigration. The order temporarily suspended entry into the United States by foreign nationals from seven countries, as well as the Refugee Admissions Program. The response of the DC Jewish community to this modern-day Purim story shows just how much we have taken to heart the lesson of Mordechai and Esther.

The executive order (EO) wreaked havoc on airports around the country and around the world. Passengers embarked from foreign destinations with valid visas, and landed to find that their visas had been summarily revoked. Some of these travelers have lived in the United states for decades and have Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status, some were students at American universities, and some were tourists.

Taking Purim to the Street

Written by Aviva Werner on . Posted in Community News

Fulham Street in Kemp Mill is a quiet residential side street like any other in this suburban neighborhood of Silver Spring, Maryland. Traffic is light, and greenery is in abundance. The street’s lovely split-level and colonial-style homes have modest backyards, many of them littered with toys and other evidence of the families with young children who call this block home.

But each year, on Purim day, this quiet side street comes to life in an incredible way. Neighbors call it “Purim on Fulham,” a block-wide Purim carnival open to friends and neighbors from around the Silver Spring community. Fulham residents from an array of different shuls, schools and stages in life come together to offer fresh popcorn and cotton candy, a moon bounce, petting zoo and carnival games galore to the greater Jewish community.

“It is beautiful to see how Purim on Fulham brings the whole block together,” says Rachel Cattan, whose family runs the face-painting booth and the moon bounce. Her neighbors agree that their block festival is a unique combination of unity and family fun. “It’s a beautiful show of achdus [unity],” says Amy Sukol, hostess of the popcorn popping and music booths. “Our kids absolutely love it,” adds Debbie Cohn, whose family hosts the cookie decorating station.

How It All Began

The annual Purim block carnival is the brainchild of Rachel Ravin, proprietress of the cotton candy machine and basketball toss game. When she and her family moved onto Fulham Street several years ago, they were thrilled to finally have so many frum [religious] neighbors. “We used to live in another community,” she explains, “where we were really far away from other frum families. We moved to Kemp Mill and, for me, one of the most exciting things was being on a block filled with Orthodox Jews.”

Purim On Campus with UMD Chabad

Written by Chaiky Backman on . Posted in Community News

Feet stampede the floor going round and round the Megillah, as Rabbi Backman and his Chabad entourage lead sweaty men in dance. Fifteen, maybe 20 students all clad in basketball jerseys follow the rabbi, a short yet giant community figure, around the makeshift bimah. Watching the circle of men stamp in delirious simcha (happiness), I can remember feeling sorry for the inhabitants of the apartment below us. This is Purim night on the University of Maryland, College Park inside a raging off-campus apartment. This is Rabbi Backman at approximately midnight, and it is far from his last Megillah reading of the evening. Huge bellowed “boos” and a racket of rattles erupts when the name Haman (Purim’s villain) is read.

“It’s like we are at a Terps’ basketball game and the other team has scored and we fill the air with noise to irritate our competition.” This is how Eliana Block, a senior, multi-platform journalism major from Chicago, explains her experience with Chabad Purim.

Gesher and CESJDS Receive Bomb Threats

Written by Gabe Aaronson on . Posted in Community News

The two local schools were among Jewish institutions across the US targeted in the latest wave of bomb threats.

Two Jewish day schools in the Greater Washington area were targeted with bomb threats as the school day began on Monday morning February 27.

Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax received a bomb threat by phone at 9:19 A.M., and the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School's Upper School in Rockville received a similar threat at 9:22 A.M. Both schools immediately contacted the police.

Police departments in Montgomery County and Fairfax County rushed to the scenes – police were on site within 2 minutes according to Gesher head of school Dan Finkel. After consultation with police, Gesher's 143 students evacuated the building and CESJDS Upper School students gathered in the auditorium. Officers and canines searched both schools for explosives.

In both cases, the police found no evidence of explosives and classes resumed at both schools by 11 A.M. “Once we established that it was safe,” Finkel said, “getting open again was our priority.”

"They cleared the school, no threat was found," Montgomery County Police Information Officer Rick Goodale stated. "And now [our detectives] are trying to determine who made the threat.” Fairfax County Police Spokesperson Don Gotthardt said that their investigators are aware of the incident in Rockville and will work with Montgomery County police as needed to find the culprit.

Kol HaBirah will be covering this news as it unfolds and will include interviews with law enforcement, community leaders and more in our upcoming print issue, hitting the stands March 2.

Gabe Aaronson is a special correspondent for Kol HaBirah.

JPDS’s Community Library Project Wins Kohelet Award

Written by Kol HaBirah Staff on . Posted in Community News

Impressive, collaborative, strategic, caring, and dedicated are some of the adjectives that come to mind after talking with Jewish Primary Day School’s (JPDS) Kindergarten General Studies team, comprised of Lisa Davis, Xani Pollakoff, and Vas Pournaras. Despite teaching separate classes, these educational leaders work closely together, planning their sessions on a weekly basis, discussing their students’ skill sets and coming up with creative ways to simultaneously further develop them and learn from them. Ronit Greenstein, Director of Communication, credited the strong parental involvement as a contributing factor to the strong development of the students. She talked about how the parents leverage their expertise and professions to develop the students, citing a recent example where a parent helped train the students in interview skills.

Saving Jewish Children From the Nazi Haman

Written by Rafael Medoff on . Posted in Community News

As Jews the world over entered their synagogues on Purim Eve 1939 to listen to the Megilla’s tale of Jews being saved from genocide in ancient times, there was a glimmer of hope that they, too, would be saved from catastrophe. 

For six long years, the Hitler regime had brutalized German Jewry while the international community generally turned a deaf ear. In response to the Kristallnacht pogrom, however, in early 1939 U.S. Senator Robert Wagner (D-New York) and Rep. Edith Rogers (R-Massachusetts) took action. Just a few weeks before Purim, they introduced legislation to save 20,000 Jewish children from the Nazi Haman by admitting them to the United States, outside America’s strict immigration quotas.

Mazon Sheds Light on America’s Hidden Hunger

Written by Suzanne Pollak on . Posted in Community News

42.2 million Americans are struggling with hunger–– and that figure includes members of our community.

ROCKVILLE (Md.) –– After viewing a 60-minute presentation on hunger in America, Jill Myers of Rockville was visibly moved.

“The food thing is something that eats away at me. There are so many people in the Jewish community who have big Shabbat dinners and lavish bar mitzvahs and weddings. There is always excess that I know goes to waste. It just frustrates me,” said Myers, a member of the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington board of directors.

The presentation Myers viewed was entitled “This is Hunger.” The traveling interactive exhibit, housed in a 53-foot-long double expandable traveling truck trailer, was created by Mazon, a Jewish organization working to end hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds in the US and Israel. The exhibit stopped at the JCC from February 16 to 21 and was at Washington Hebrew Congregation from February 8 to 13.

Latest Wave of Bomb Threats Hits Home

Written by Gabe Aaronson on . Posted in Community News

Gesher and CESJDS were two of 31 Jewish institutions across the US targeted by bomb threats on Monday.

School officials and parents praised the swift police response to bomb threats at two local Jewish day schools this week, but Jewish organizations across the country are demanding an end to the ongoing threats and increased federal and state funding to protect their communities.

On Monday February 27, Gesher Jewish Day School in Fairfax, Virginia, received a bomb threat from an unidentified caller at 9:19 A.M., said Head of School Dan Finkel. The Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School’s (CESJDS) Upper School in Rockville received a machine-recorded phone threat at 9:37 A.M., Head of School Rabbi Mitchel Malkus said. Both schools immediately contacted the police.

Inclusion in Action at Annual Yachad Shabbaton in Potomac

Written by Chad Freeman on . Posted in Community News

At Beth Sholom Congregation in Potomac, Maryland, the largest Modern Orthodox synagogue in the Greater Washinton area, we always look forward to our annual Disability Awareness Shabbaton. Presented in partnership with Yachad, the Shabbaton includes many inspirational events. This year is no different: a full slate of events centered around disability inclusion are planned over the course of February 24-25, including a community-wide Shabbat dinner on Friday night (advance registration required), a special guest speaker, a community discussion panel, inclusive Shabbat davening with Yachad of Baltimore, and an inspirational Havdalah service and drum circle to conclude the shabbaton on Saturday evening.

Yachad is the only international organization promoting inclusion for children and adults with disabilities in the broader Jewish community. The organization works to ensure that those with diverse abilities their rightful place within the Jewish community, all while educating and advocating for a greater understanding, acceptance, outreach, and a pro-disability attitude.