I wrinkled my nose at the briny smell as I moved closer to photograph the clear plastic cup full of greenish liquid. Resting on the bottom of the cup were the dried glands of several chilazon, the Hebrew word most closely identified as the present day mollusk, murex trunculus. As 25 curious students looked on, the guest presenter, Dr. Ari Zivotofsky from Bar Ilan University proceeded to dip a swath of pure white wool into the murky solvent. Lo and behold, the soaked greenish-yellow wool slowly changed to a rich blue color, known in the Hebrew sources as tekhelet, the unique blue dye used to color the tsitsit (ritual fringes) and priestly garments of ancient Israel.
What a privilege it was to learn alongside these young adults who were enrolled in The Object is the Object, Dr. Barry Freundel’s freshman seminar at Towson University. On Thursday, November 10, Dr. Zivotofsky expertly took the students on a journey from biblical to modern times, exploring the early textual references to ptil tekhelet, which are repeated daily in the Sh’ma blessing: “And it [ptil tekhelet] shall be for you as a fringe, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of G-d, and do them…” (Numbers 15:38-39).
The symbolism of ptil tekhelet is multifold; the rich blue colors recall the ocean and the infinite sky, reminding us of G-d’s presence in the world and of the bond between the wearer and G-d.
Yet, over time, the wearing of tekhelet became relegated only to royalty, placed under restrictions during Roman times, and ultimately banned after the Arab conquest. Thus, the source of this special dye was lost to modern knowledge, only to be rediscovered following research and exploration in the late 20th century. Citing sources in the Talmud that referred to the special properties of tekhelet, researchers embarked on numerous diving expeditions off the coast of northern Israel that led to the identification of the most likely match for the chilazon. As it turns out, the dye is derived from a relatively rare snail found in the Mediterranean. This murex trunculus shellfish found off the coast of what was once ancient Phoenicia contains a special gland that produces the indigo-colored permanent dye. Today, the ancient dying process used to make tekhelet has been revived and wearers of the blue threads can be seen throughout the Jewish world.
On Sunday morning, November 13th, our community will come together at the Owings Mills JCC to share ideas, broaden our knowledge and show our support for Israel. The Israel Advocacy Conference evolved out of a meeting of a group of Jewish communal professionals who hail from the broad spectrum of the Jewish community. What began initially as an effort to share programming ideas quickly became a forum with a long agenda and a desire for community collaboration. Ultimately, 18 community organizations and agencies joined the conversation, lay leaders were enlisted, and the Israel Advocacy Conference was conceived, planned and will soon take place.
The Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University, through the support of Shoshana S. Cardin and her family, is honored to bring the keynote speaker to this event. As a way to honor the memory of her parents, Mrs. Cardin created a generous endowment fund for a lecture series that originally took place every other year at Baltimore Hebrew University. Shoshana’s parents were avid Zionists who made Aliyah to Israel when they were young. Unfortunately, although they planned to eventually move back to Israel, they never did, for a variety of reasons. Shoshana’s father, Sraiah, was a staunch supporter of Israel and a leader of the Zionist movement. He was committed to keeping conversational Hebrew alive in the Diaspora. Sraiah also believed in making an honest assessment of Israel, including its “warts.” He did not feel that this attitude in any way detracted from his abiding love for Israel.
Sraiah taught Hebrew in the U.S. for many years. He wanted American Jews to interact with Israelis in a meaningful way, and felt that the best way to make this happen was for Americans to learn Hebrew.
The first two Shoubin lectures were actually delivered in Hebrew. However, in order to reach a broader audience, subsequent lectures were all delivered in English. The message of each lecture related in a substantive way to the idea that we in the Diaspora are inextricably intertwined with our fellow Jews in Israel. Israel’s future depends on our love, support and in some cases, even constructive criticism.
William Daroff, Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington Office of United Jewish Communities will deliver the Shoubin Lecture at the close of the Advocacy Conference. Daroff is a leading advocate for the American Jewish community’s agenda in Washington, D.C. He is a respected voice for the national Jewish community and is a key player in both domestic and foreign policy issues.
Yesterday, Baltimore Hebrew Institute had the privilege of hosting the final day of the Summer Teachers Institute for Holocaust Education. I felt like a proud mother, welcoming guests into our new home. Many of the educators who attended the Institute were graduates of Towson University. They marveled at the beauty and state of the art technological features of the new College of Liberal Arts building. You could see their pride as they shared their opinions about Towson’s growth, both academically and physically.
The Summer Teachers Institute is an annual event, presented through a partnership between the Baltimore Jewish Council, the Jewish Museum of Maryland, and the Maryland State Department of Education. The Summer Institute has been in place for seven years.
Every year, the Institute has a theme, and this year, the title was: “The Holocaust: Persecution to Nuremberg.” The Keynote speaker of the morning was Professor Harry Reicher, of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the Scholar-in-Residence at the Touro Law Center. He focused his lecture on the factors that set the stage for, and ultimately led to the Nuremberg Trials, as well as their abiding impact on the 21st Century. He was engaging, passionate and knowledgeable.
In the afternoon, we had the opportunity to showcase two of Towson’s other jewels: our library and our faculty. The group made a pilgrimage to the Cook Library, where they enjoyed lunch and an afternoon program in the lovely Towson Room. Three members of Towson’s faculty, Dr. Nicole Dombrowski, from the History department, Elaine Mael, one of our fabulous librarians and Dr. Hana Bor, Program Director of the Graduate Programs in Jewish Education, and Jewish Communal Service presented. Elaine Mael gave the teachers a tutorial on accessing the library’s extensive collection of Survivor Testimonials.
Teachers are always a great audience, but this group was exceptional. It is gratifying to know that there are so many incredible educators out there who are interested in studying the Holocaust. While many of them plan to use what they learned yesterday in the classroom, several others were there solely because of their interest in learning more about it for themselves.
Working together with the staff of the JMM and the BJC, as well as everyone who supported us at Towson was one of the day’s highlights. Everyone pitched in to insure that the day was successful and meaningful for the educators. From schlepping the food to arranging the furniture, and even a last minute ride to Penn Station for our speaker, the power of partnerships was evident throughout the day. As we bid farewell to our guests, I was overwhelmed by their kind expressions of gratitude. I am already looking forward to doing it again next year!
I gave a talk at the Eldersburg Public Library the other day, in conjunction with the Nextbook exhibit on Jewish songwriters, “A Fine Romance.” Just after I introduced myself as one of the faculty members affiliated with the Baltimore Hebrew Institute at Towson University, one of the participants noted that BHU’s old building on Park Heights Ave has been replaced with a parking lot. He did not seem aware of the next chapter in BHU’s story. I proceeded to fill him in, of course.
After 90 years as a fixture in our community, Baltimore Hebrew University closed its doors two years ago, in June 2009. Most of BHU’s faculty and staff now work at Towson University, which has added BHU’s three MA programs to its already extensive list of offerings. The Meyerhoff Library Judaica Collection now resides on the second floor of Towson University’s Cook Library.
The Baltimore Hebrew Institute, the body created as a result of the merger, forms the link between Towson University and the larger community. BHI schedules numerous adult learning activities and courses both on campus and off; provides scholarships to our graduate students, and supports the Jewish studies graduate programs at Towson.
As the first merger of its kind in Maryland’s history (of a private and public institution), this transition has happened with remarkable speed.
With over 2,000 Jewish undergraduates and a vibrant Hillel on campus, Towson University is a fertile field for the growth of Judaic Studies. TU currently has a minor in Jewish Studies as part of its curriculum. Prior to the merger of the two institutions, the menu of options for those interested in Jewish Studies classes was quite limited. However, with the addition of 8 full-time faculty, 6 of whom teach undergraduates in the College of Liberal Arts, course offerings have expanded and multiplied.
Undergraduate offerings for the fall of 2011 illustrate this dramatic growth. Students can take one of Dr. Barry Gittlen’s courses, “Exploring Exodus,” or “Exploring Biblical Archaeology,” or Dr. Susanna Garfein’s ”Introduction to the Hebrew Bible.”
With the addition of our newest faculty member from the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Ben Fisher, our Jewish history options are more extensive. Dr. Fisher will teach “European Jewish History.” Dr. Valerie Thaler will teach “The Holocaust in Historical and Comparative Perspective.”
Those interested in Jewish ethics can go in several directions. Students may enroll in Dr. Shimon Shokek’s “Ethics and Religion in the Jewish-Christian Tradition,” or Dr. Barry Freundel’s “The Jew Confronts the Modern World: Jewish Law and Ethics.” Dr. Freundel also offers the “Introduction to Judaism” course at the undergraduate level.
As at BHU, we continue to offer Modern and Biblical Hebrew at all levels, with instructors Dr. Eyal Bor (modern) and Dr. Susanna Garfein and Heath Dewrell (biblical).
Our graduate students can take many of the undergraduate courses listed above; but we also retain our courses open exclusively to our MA students: Dr. Gittlen will offer Biblical Literature and Civilization; Dr. Garfein will offer a biblical literature course on 2nd Samuel; Dr. Thaler will teach Diaspora Jewish Communities; Dr. Fisher will teach Medieval Jewish History.
For our MA students in Jewish Communal Service & Jewish Education, we offer several professional development courses: Dr. Hana Bor will teach “Strategic Management of Jewish Organizations: Material Resources,” and “Leadership Theory and Practice.” Dr. Rebecca Shargel will offer, “Teaching Classical Jewish Text: A Developmental Approach,” and “From Vision to Practice in the Jewish School.”
Despite this exciting transition that has allowed the core academic mission of BHU to be fulfilled in a new home, the change process is slow and painstaking in some regards. Imagine creating a new brand-name where it did not previously exist, and educating the public (both locally and nationally) on a program in a university as yet unfamiliar to them. While the Towson area has been gaining Jewish residents according to the 2010 Baltimore Jewish Community Population Survey, it is hardly considered “close” to the center of the Jewish community. Some in the Pikesville area consider the 7-mile drive up the Beltway to be more a “journey to the unknown” than a 10-minute ride.
As a faculty member in the History Department at Towson, I’ve asked some community members to visit Towson for a lecture, and their expressions turn skeptical. “Right. And where would I park?” is the familiar response. It’s true that parking can be quite difficult during the business day, especially with the considerable amount of construction that has been going on for the last couple of years. But those who visit in the evening or on Sundays for special programs are often surprised by how easy parking can be at certain times.
Towson has given us a warm welcome; the administration and library staff, especially, have been open-minded and generous. We are hopeful that the Jewish community recognizes that many of our finest professionals at THE ASSOCIATED and its agencies earned their degrees and training under the auspices of Baltimore Hebrew University (or College, prior to the 1990s).
Should you, or someone you know, wish to take a class or two in virtually any realm of Jewish studies, please be in contact with BHI. The graduate programs at Towson in Jewish Studies, Jewish Education and Jewish Communal Service are still the only ones of their kind in the Baltimore-Washington Corridor. With state of the art technology classrooms at our disposal, my guess is that the 7 mile-trek will be well worth the price of gas.
Guest blogger Valerie Thaler, Ph.D., is Assistant Prof. of history at Towson University.
Running up the four flights of stairs to my office today, my hurried footsteps were joined by a friend who, like me, enjoys a morning sprint. With spring in the air, and sunlight teasing the freshly fallen snow, Paul shared exciting news – “my sugar snaps are greening!” As he guided me through i-phone images of his indoor/outdoor garden, I had to admire the sustainable ethic that this environmentalist not only teaches at Towson University, but lives. Paul, who prefers to cycle rather than drive, is truly a “shomer adama”, a guardian of the earth.
I, too, will plant a garden, but only when the snow has melted and the soil has warmed. And my dream of self-sufficiently will remain just that. Nonetheless, I remain grateful to those that plan and plant ahead of the season so that I can have luxury of buying fresh produce from local farms. Here in Baltimore, we are fortunate to have a network of farmer’s markets that enable shoppers on every schedule to support local growers. http://www.mda.state.md.us/md_products/farmers_market_dir.php. (Towson folks, the Thursday market on Allegheny is just a few block away!)
Reflecting on the coffee that is as essential to my daily diet as fresh vegetables, I realize that for most of us, self-sufficiency is not a realistic goal. My coffee beans (shade grown, bird-friendly) will still come from another country. But, at least for today, Paul has inspired me to get started just a little earlier on my modest backyard garden. Home-grown salad, anyone?
“Can you translate the Hebrew name….?”, “Where can I find a Torah…?”, “I have an old book in my possession and it looks like it’s written in Hebrew…”. These are just a sampling of the random inquiries that Michelle and I receive occasionally in the BHI offices. With a name like Baltimore Hebrew Institute, this comes as no surprise to us. We are happy to triage callers to the many agencies, organizations, synagogues and schools that provide Jewish services, but most often callers ring with questions relating to the study of Hebrew. And on this topic, BHI is the right address!
Michelle Taylor, who coordinates our adult education programs, shares her impressions as our guest blogger today:
On the first evening of summer classes in July, Malca Friedman, Hebrew Ulpan instructor exclaimed, “It’s like the United Nations!” While this may seem like a strange comment about a Hebrew language class, it captured the essence of the gathering. Black, white, Asian, Jewish or Christian, the thirty students studying Hebrew during the summer through the Baltimore Hebrew Institute are the picture of diversity. For people who ask “why can’t we all get along?” I say come to our Hebrew classes. Here we get along, work together, share common goals, speak Hebrew, and have a great time. Meeting on Monday nights (for Biblical Hebrew) and Wednesday nights (for Modern Hebrew) at Beth El Congregation in Pikesville, a warm and welcoming learning community has been created. Ulpan Director Dr. Eyal Bor has recruited master teachers and constructed an excellent curriculum. We are proud of our growing Hebrew language program, and the interesting cross section of our community that comes together l’daber ivrit.
Classes for Modern Hebrew Ulpan and Biblical Hebrew will begin again October 4th. For information about how you can join this diverse and stimulating learning community, contact Michelle Taylor (email@example.com).
Jewish law (halakha)has something to say about just about everything, so it comes as no surprise that rulings abound about the halakhic permissibility of smoking. In search of contemporary wisdom on the topic, I turned to two local Rabbinic authorities. Dr. Barry Freundel, an esteemed professor at Towson University, teaches medical ethics. He commented
Jewish law and tradition put a premium on maintaining one’s health. As Maimonides (1138–1204) famously said: “one cannot possibly pursue the knowledge of God unless one’s body and mind are functioning properly”. In that regard, when the first questions were asked about smoking in the 19th century, since the medical science of that era was enthusiastic about the health benefits of tobacco, experts in Jewish law were generally positive about its use. However, as scientific understanding has changed, the reaction has modified along with it. Today the halakhic community recognizes that the imperative to be “extremely careful with our lives” (lit. with our souls) requires that we stop smoking, work to help people beat the smoking addiction, prevent people from beginning a life-long connection to smoking, and protect people from second hand smoke.
Rabbi Avram Reisner (Rabbi, Chevrei Tzedek Congregation) is a member of the Conservative Movement’s law committee. Rabbi Reisner also cited Deuteronomy 4:15, “Be very protective of your lives”, and then provided an additional quote from Maimonides: “There are many things the sages said one must avoid because they are dangerous to life. Whoever transgresses them, saying, ‘I am endangering myself; It is no one else’s business’ is punishable for rebelliousness.”
Rabbi Reisner then continued
In the late 1970s, Rabbi Seymour Siegel took that tack, applying it to smoking in a personal responsum adopted in 1986 by the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. Siegel wrote “It follows that Jewish ethics and Jewish law would prohibit the use of cigarettes.” Though Rabbi Siegel’s words were somewhat tentative (would?), he was facing a world in which smoking was still common. But his words have never been retracted, and only grow more forceful as we learn more clearly how dangerous and pervasive is the harm smoking, and even second-hand smoke, causes.
As a beacon of environmental responsibility, Towson University became a smoke-free campus on August 1, 2010. Kudos to TU for being the first four-year institution in Maryland to give those butts the boot! As far as TU’s campus is concerned, Asur le’Ashen (it is forbidden to smoke)!