Monday, November 5, 2012

Vote for Maryland Question 6 (Marriage Equality) on Tuesday

You'll find below a guest blog written by someone who cares deeply about marriage equality -- across the country but specifically in Maryland. Please read and consider the critical nature of voting FOR Question Six on the Maryland ballot tomorrow.

Dear friends,

Tomorrow is election day, and I am writing to ask for your support on an issue that is very important to me -- marriage equality. Your ballot will include several questions. On Question 6: same-sex marriage, I ask that you please vote FOR the referred law. A YES vote on Question 6 is a vote for fairness and religious freedom.

What is Question 6?

Passage of Question 6 would, for the first time, affirm the right of gay and lesbian couples to marry in Maryland. This issue may seem noncontroversial, but it is not. 30 states currently ban all forms of marriage except one-man-one-woman couples. While a handful of states (and the District of Columbia) provide full civil marriage equality rights as a result of legislation or court decisions, no state has ever voted popularly to do so. Maryland would be the first, and we hope that it will be joined on Tuesday by Maine and Washington.

The latest polls of likely voters have shown support hovering around 50% in Maryland -- too close for comfort.

So, while you might think Barack Obama has Maryland in the bag -- and you would be correct -- it is still important to vote for Question 6.

Where do I vote?

Take a moment to look up your polling place and make sure you are registered to vote. The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. You don't have to bring a thing -- not even your driver's license. Commit to voting and make a plan for what time you will go. There could be a line at the beginning or end of the day. As long as you are in line by 8 p.m., you should be permitted to vote.

It would mean so much to me if you would commit to voting FOR Question 6. More information is available from Marylanders for Marriage Equality.

Please forward this message to someone who might need a reminder. Thank you!

* * * * *

Below is the Washington Post Endorsement of Question 6:

When [Gov.] O’Malley signed the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act in March, the law’s effective date was pushed to January, giving opponents time to petition the question onto the November ballot. A vote for the landmark law would allow it to go into effect and permit committed same-sex couples to wed. It would also make Maryland the seventh state, in addition to the District of Columbia, to approve marriage equality.

Here’s what the law would not do: It would not force clergy to perform marriage ceremonies in violation of their religious beliefs. Nor would religious organizations be required to participate in such ceremonies if they objected. The law strikes the right balance by protecting religious freedom while granting the freedom to marry. We urge Marylanders to vote for the law.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Channel 9 covers tree stumps; auction announcement

Channel 9 came by to shoot the tree stump table and chairs and learn a bit more about the mystery.

Now soliciting your ideas on who is behind this sweet story...

And one last announcement - Thanks to the brilliant suggestion of a very smart friend, and because I don't feel the table and chairs is mine or anyone's to keep without properly paying this kindness and whimsy forward, the table and chairs will be auctioned off to benefit Hurricane Sandy relief.

Please get in touch if you're interested. Funds will be donated through official channels to American Red Cross Hurricane Relief.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Washington Post story most popular

The excitement continues! Right now, the Washington Post's story on the tree stump table and chairs courtesy of Hurricane Sandy and some local whimsy, is now trending as the most popular story on Post Local!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Washington Post covers tree stump table phenomenon!

After I shared the mysterious tale of the "hurricane fairy" who left a table and chairs made out of the wood from a Sandy-fallen tree, I received some amazing responses:
  • Stop it! The hurricane fairy? Thanks for sharing this adorable story. 
  • Thank you for sharing. It brings a smile to my face knowing someone had some humor in all this.
  • This is a GREAT story. Speaks well the administration and the way the city is being run. I love it!!! I want one!!! 
  • Someone loves you. How nice!
  • That is SO SWEET!!!!  
  • How cool is that? Thank you for sharing the story and photo. Great happenings all around us, we should all share these tales more often! If you ever tire of your new porch furniture, let me know and I'll come take it off your hands - for a trade or your $. I showed it to my daughter and she adored it, asking if she could have one for her tree house. 
  • Wow!! I loved seeing this, thanks for sharing.  Looks like you have a very handy secret admirer!  
  • It sure made me smile, laugh with joy even.
  • This is fantastic - I love it! If I see you outside with a cup of tea next time I come by, I'll say hello!
  • Wow - If that was the city, that's some terrific customer service. I can well imagine the tree guys left you the table and chairs - the teacups may be a playful neighbor? Please let us know if you resolve this friendly mystery!
And now, the story is even more famous thanks to the Washington Post!

Mystery patio set possibly made from fallen tree turns up on Woodley Park porch

Superstorm Sandy claimed more than 150 lives and countless homes as it rampaged through the Caribbean and up along the Eastern Seaboard. But amid the damage and destruction have emerged stories of small and large kindnesses.

Store owners handing out food, those with power allowing neighbors to charge dying cell phones.
Now comes the tale of a truly unexpected gift — patio furniture.

The wind and rain that accompanied Sandy as the storm moved through the Washington region Monday brought down a tree in front of Samantha Friedman’s home in Woodley Park. It landed on an unoccupied car and blocked Cathedral Avenue.

On Tuesday, Friedman returned home from work to find the tree gone from the street and her yard. In its place and on her front porch were a table and four stools, made from what she believes was the toppled tree. Cups, saucers and teapot had been placed on top.

Friedman posted a picture of the new setup on her blog 26minus5 with the caption: “Looks like the city of D.C. left us a present when they removed the tree fallen from Sandy’s winds. The table, chairs AND the tea set appeared on my front porch when I got home from work yesterday.”

The photo spread online when NBC4 Washington featured before and after pictures of the incident on its Facebook page.

But here’s the thing: D.C. Department of Transportation spokesman John Lisle said the unfinished wooden furniture is not the work of the Urban Forestry Administration, which oversees government tree cleanup in the District.

“I don’t think we had anything to do with it, or at least, that’s the answer we got when we circulated the picture to staff,” Lisle said. “I think our crews are a little bit too busy to be stopping and making tables for people.”

Friedman, 29, emailed the neighborhood listserv in search of the furniture’s creator. A few people offered to buy the stumps, but she declined.

“I didn’t create it and I don’t feel like I own it. I don’t feel like it’s mine to be selling,” Friedman said.
Most people responded in appreciation of what they saw as a bright spot in the aftermath of the superstorm, she said. But no one knows who the “hurricane fairy” might be.

“I wish I knew who made it so they could get the credit,” she said.

Friedman has decided to keep her new porch set. Whoever did it intended to leave it there, she said.

“It’s very quirky and adds this welcoming environment to the front porch,” she said. “It’s a very cute little mystery.”

(Samantha Friedman) - Woodley Park resident Samantha Friedman found a tea set on top of a wooden table and chairs on her porch Oct. 30. She believes they were made from a tree that fell in her front yard during Hurricane Sandy Oct. 29, but has not been able to determine who left the gift.
(Samantha Friedman) - A fallen tree lies across Cathedral Avenue after Hurricane Sandy toppled it Oct. 29.


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Tree Stump Table on NBC4!

Wow, thanks to NBC4 Washington, the mystery of the tree stump tea service is becoming famous! NBC4 posted before and after pics on its Facebook page and even made the picture its cover photo.

Caption from NBC4 Washington's Facebook page: When life gives you downed trees - make furniture. This is what tree-removal crews left for a Woodley Park resident.

The after and before pics featured at NBC4 Washington's Facebook page - tea set and tree stump table; ginormous tree that fell thanks to Hurricane Sandy

Tree stump table

Looks like the city of D.C. left us a present when they removed the tree fallen from Sandy's winds. The table, chairs AND the tea set appeared on my front porch when I got home from work yesterday.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Sandy pays a visit to my street

This just happened.

A huge tree in my front yard just fell down, across my yard and that of two neighbors, across Cathedral Ave. and hit a car. Amazingly, no houses or people got hit. We are incredibly lucky.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jewish Agency head to offer leadership insights in Rockville TONIGHT, D.C. THURS.

The president of my firm, Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications, has a new blog on Washington Jewish Week. This week, Steve Rabinowitz and I wrote a piece together, talking up Jewish Agency International Development's Misha Galperin and his new book, Reimagining Leadership in Jewish Organizations: Ten Practical Lessons to Help You Implement Change and Achieve Your Goals.

Misha will be discussing the book TONIGHT (Wednesday, September 19) at the JCC in Rockville and TOMORROW (Thursday, September 20) at the DC JCC. Come check it out. The full blog post follows below.
Misha Galperin, President and CEO of Jewish Agency International Development
Gotta' admit, it's nice to have a byline every once in a while!

9/18/2012 10:22:00 PM
Misha Galperin to offer leadership insights in Washington, Rockville THIS WEEK

with Samantha Friedman

One of Washington's most famous sons of the Jewish nonprofit community returns to our area this week. Misha Galperin, who headed the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington for nine years, is now in New York as the head of Jewish Agency International Development (a client), where he is responsible for the Jewish Agency for Israel's External Affairs. He just came out with a new book, Reimagining Leadership in Jewish Organizations: Ten Practical Lessons to Help You Implement Change and Achieve Your Goals, and he's coming back to Washington to talk about it. In other words, he's got years of experience in Jewish leadership; yes, he literally wrote the book.

The book is divided into ten lessons drawn from Misha's own experience - in fact, the book came out of a speech he gave at his last DC Jewish Federation annual meeting as CEO. Not only has he held high-level positions locally and nationally, but what you might not know is he's also a clinical psychologist who grew up in the former Soviet Union. This background guides the way he advises people to become involved in leadership capacities, to identify and cultivate leaders, to effect positive change in an organization, and to ensure that leaders exert the proper level of attention toward creating and carrying out a succession plan to perpetuate their organizations.

Not everyone is a leader. Misha isn't afraid to admit this, or, he says, should we be. He provides a list of what to look for in a leader, things like inspiration, questioning authority while respecting the past, empathy, courage, an affinity for problem solving, willingness to make decisions and risk making mistakes, possession of deep convictions, optimism. People may be natural-born leaders, he proffers, but if they don't have the tools or support to hone their leadership skills, their innate abilities will go to waste. Nurturing leadership must be a larger, organized societal effort, not something done in a vacuum.

The book is a book for the here and now; the audience is current or future leaders of Jewish institutions and nonprofits we may know or hope to know - or hope to facilitate in their endeavors. Interestingly, Misha opens the book by relating the opportunity for a refined focus on leadership in the Jewish community to the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement. He writes:

"Similar movements are sprawling across the United States and Europe, begging for financial equality in a world of haves and have-nots. Each protest differs in its objective or focus, but they all share a common denominator: the anger and disappointment that emerge in the vacuum of leadership. These are largely grassroots, leaderless movements. They are seen as attacking people with power, but ironically they too seek someone to represent them. Protesters are dissatisfied with the status quo, but there is no one to talk to, no one to listen, no one to galvanize or point them in a direction. They want things to be different, but they don't know how. This global trend showcases the major deficit in leadership we are currently experiencing."
You should read the book yourself - whether you're looking for people to lead specifically Jewish organizations or any other organizations or groups in which you're involved - but here's the cheat sheet of Misha's lessons in leadership:
  1. Find the right people
  2. Nurture people who matter
  3. Invest in partnerships
  4. Don't be afraid to push the bus - when the "Jewish communal bus" runs out of gas due to challenges including "lack of resources, nagging politics, completion, and lack of enthusiasm," the real leaders step up, and their value becomes apparent
  5. Vision is everything
  6. Work quickly
  7. Take risks and make mistakes
  8. Find a mentor
  9. Zero in on what's important
  10. Be inspired, stay inspired
Of course, these are only his lessons, and he makes an important point in closing:
"Articulate how you lead, and you begin to lead differently. Find the language to express your own deeply held leadership principles, and you will discover what you stand for, even if you have always had some inkling before. Writing it down, speaking it, and sharing it with others will help anchor your own commitments."
For more, see what Washington Jewish Week's Meredith Jacobs learned about the book from her interview with Misha Galperin, published in last week's edition, as well as eJewish Philanthropy's review of the book. Then come see Misha.  
Follow me on Twitter @steverabinowitz but Samantha wrote most of this.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Running at dusk

Sometimes there is nothing better than a run through the city after a long day. It's refreshing and reflective and sometimes even revelatory. In last night's case, I found myself exploring a dirt trail in Rock Creek Park I'd never taken before.

The trail wound through Dumbarton Oaks and Montrose parks, and I almost felt like I was seeing Washington from a vista I'd never had before. I don't know how I missed these trails. I have lived near an entrance to the park for almost a year now, but I guess like anything else, people tend to stick to what they know, and my norm is a paved trail that runs behind the zoo. There is something about running on a narrow dirt trail wide enough only for a single person, with a canopy of trees overhead that envelops you just enough to give shade and a little seclusion without feeling too cut off from the world.

I emerged in what I suppose would be called northeast Georgetown, where R Street is lined by gorgeous homes and a cobblestone sidewalk. On the way home, I passed embassies and headed north through Dupont Circle. One route - so many elements of the city at once.

Deer at home in the Garden at Dumbarton Oaks

The Oak Hill Cemetery

Monday, June 18, 2012

TOMORROW: Faith leaders to fast to limit solitary confinement before Hill hearing

Media Advisory: June 18, 2012
Samantha Friedman, office: (202) 265-3000 or cell: (202) 215-9260 or

TOMORROW: Faith Leaders to Discuss Opposition to Prolonged Solitary Confinement
Capitol Hill press conference to conclude 23-hour nationwide fast following first-ever Congressional hearing on solitary confinement

Washington, D.C.A group of religious leaders will end a 23-hour nationwide fast on Tuesday, June 19, at 12 p.m. in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, interceding on behalf of the tens of thousands of American prisoners currently housed in solitary confinement across the country.  The fast will be held in conjunction with a Senate hearing on the use of solitary confinement in the U.S. federal penitentiary system.  This is the first time Congress has explored this issue.

Hundreds of people of faith across the country have agreed to take part in the National Religious Campaign Against Torture’s “23-Hour Fast to End 23-Hour Solitary” in anticipation of Tuesday’s Senate hearing.  The length of the fast symbolizes the 23 hours per day inmates are typically required to spend in solitary confinement cells.  As evidenced by recent prisoner hunger strikes in Virginia and California, refusing food is one of the few means prisoners across the country have to protest their conditions in solitary confinement.  The fast is intended to draw attention to the physical, emotional and psychological harm caused by prolonged solitary confinement.

A 12 p.m. press conference Tuesday will include a ceremonial “breaking of the bread” among religious leaders of various faiths, to conclude the fast.  Among those attending will be:

·         Rev. Richard Killmer, Executive Director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture
·         Linda Gustitus, President, National Religious Campaign Against Torture
·     Dave Louden, Chief of Staff, Justice Fellowship/Prison Fellowship Ministries
·         Bill Mefford, Director of Civil and Human Rights, General Board of Church and Society of   the United Methodist Church
·         Maggie Siddiqi, Program Coordinator, Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances, Islamic Society of North America
·         Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, Director of North American Programs, Rabbis for Human Rights-North America
·    Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, Director, Presbyterian Church Office of Public Witness
·         Kathy McNeely, Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
·         Archbishop Michael Seneco, Presiding Bishop, North American Old Catholic Church
·         Rev. Jonathan Barton, General Minister, Virginia Council of Churches

The press conference is open to the media, and coverage is welcome.  Photo and video opportunities will be available.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) has been outspoken and effective in its efforts to limit the use of solitary confinement in U.S. prisons.  Its press conference will follow a hearing, Reassessing Solitary Confinement: The Human Rights, Fiscal and Public Safety Consequences,” convened at 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 19, in Dirksen 226 by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, chaired by Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin.

What: Discussion on the harmful use of solitary confinement in our nation’s federal prisons, jails, and detention centers

When: Tuesday, June 19, 2012, at 12 p.m.

Where: Room 216, Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C.

Who: The National Religious Campaign Against Torture and supporters

Why: To share the reasons prolonged solitary confinement is morally, psychologically and physically harmful, as well as economically detrimental, and to discuss alternatives
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is a growing membership organization committed to ending U.S.-sponsored torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Since its formation in January 2006, 315 religious organizations have joined NRCAT, including representatives from the Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Unitarian Universalist, Quaker, Orthodox Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, Buddhist, and Sikh communities. Members include national denominations and faith groups, regional organizations and local congregations. More information is available at


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Arkansas Jewish food in Tablet

Joan Nathan went to Arkansas and wrote about my peeps!!

As a follow-up to an earlier post on Joan Nathan's enlightening visit into the world of Jewish food and culture in Arkansas, here's her piece published in today's Tablet magazine, complete with photos from the Jewish Federation of Arkansas' Jewish Food Festival and quotes from many of my most favorite Arkansans:

A Taste of the Jewish South

Jewish food festivals across the South offer a regional twist on traditional recipes—and the best place to find corned beef in barbecue country

Frying latkes at last year’s Jewish Food Festival in Little Rock, Ark. (Doris Krain)

The rented freezers at Congregation B’nai Israel in Little Rock, Ark., are stuffed with over 1,800 latkes, 700 schnecken, 700 cabbage rolls, and 400 kosher beef kebabs—all in preparation for the city’s sixth annual Jewish Food Festival on May 6.

“It brings the Jewish community together,” said Scott Levine, who co-chairs the event with his wife, Jane. “And it is an opportunity to introduce our culture and our foods to non-Jews.”

“Lots of people have tasted falafel, but you wouldn’t believe how many have not had a bite of kugel,” explained Leah Selig Elenzweig, who, along with her husband, Neal, was one of the early movers behind the event, which is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Arkansas. For those who don’t want to try something unfamiliar, the festival also offers more standard Jewish fare, she added: “everything from kosher hot dogs to deli sandwiches.”

Jewish food fairs are springing up all across the South. There’s HardLox, the Jewish Food and Heritage Festival in Asheville, N.C.; the Jewish Food Fest in Corpus Christi, Texas; the Jewish Food Festival in Montgomery, Ala.; and the granddaddy of them all, Shalom Y’all, the Jewish food festival marking its 24th year in Savannah, Ga. And like next month’s event in Little Rock, all these festivals offer a chance for Jews to reconnect with their culinary heritage, and for non-Jews to get a taste of Jewish cooking—including a particularly Southern brand of Jewish cuisine.

“I think they are very popular because people like ethnic food,” said Lauri Taylor, chairman of Shalom Y’all. This fall’s event will feature a wide range of Jewish food, from sizzling Sephardic lamb to homemade chopped liver, apple strudel to egg creams—in addition to klezmer music and other entertainment.

“Food is a big part of Jewish culture in general,” said Macy Hart, president of the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life—and Jews in the South have developed some of their own recipes. “When we came to the South, Jewish dishes were not available to us. [So] we assimilated our foods within the fabric of Southern life.”

In most of the South, Hart explained, “we don’t have delis on every corner.” So, if you want to sample a bit of this Southern Jewish cuisine—schnecken with pecans, kugel with corn flakes—or if you just want a good corned beef sandwich in the land of barbecue, the food festivals are the place to be. “The importance of the contribution of the Jews, even in communities with diminishing numbers, is shown here.”


Jewish food fairs in the South date back to just after the Civil War. At that time, the festivals were often fundraising events, benefiting synagogues or local hospitals, and the menus had specific themes, like strawberries, or oysters.

Yes, oysters. This tradition can be attributed to Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the founder of the Reform movement, who loved oysters. In an editorial in his influential American Israelite newspaper on April 4, 1895, he wrote: “There can be no doubt that the oyster shell is the same to all intents and purposes as the scales are to the clean fish, protecting against certain gases in the water. In fact, the oyster shell is a close connection of scales. It is the scales only which the Talmud acknowledges as the sign of cleanliness. … Oysters grown in ponds outside of the sea are certainly kosher, also according to Maimonides.”

Aunt Babette’s Cook Book, published in Chicago in 1889, included an entire oyster chapter, as did many of the Council of Jewish Women’s fundraising cookbooks from Boston to Portland, Ore. It is not surprising then, that by the end of the century, a Reform temple in Alabama held an oyster dinner fundraiser.

Times have changed in the South, and even the Reform synagogues that tend to hold these festivals provide some kosher food at the events.

Today, the fundraisers have morphed into food fairs where the communities boast of serving authentic New York deli food as well as “start from scratch” Jewish kugels, blintzes, and schnecken. “You don’t have to know how to pronounce rugelach or challah to know how delicious these baked goods are,” boasts the Montgomery fair’s promotional material. “Other menu items include brisket (slow-cooked beef), potato latkes (pancakes) and stuffed cabbage—not to mention Carnegie Deli cheesecake, straight from the Big Apple!”

The foods served at these events tell as much about the history of the South as they do about today.

Arkansas’ Jewish population currently includes roughly 2,000 families. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, 14 towns, such as Levy and Altheimer, were founded by Jews or named after early Jewish residents.

In Little Rock, Jews first peddled goods brought by river boats to the outlying community of farmers. Little by little, they became merchants (or, as one Mississippi lady told me, “mercantiles”) in stores along the riverbanks, when the river was king, before the advent of the railroad and later the automobile. Then their children became lawyers and doctors, abandoning the small towns for bigger cities.

Elenzweig strolled with me recently down from the Clinton Library to the site of the Little Rock festival, the River Market Pavilion, perched up high, like the Acropolis, on the banks of the Arkansas River, near stores started by the first Jewish settlers. Coming mostly from Germany, they brought dishes like the potato charlotte (which they now call potato dressing, in Southern fashion), stuffed veal, and Elenzweig’s grandmother’s recipe for her muffin-like schnecken rolled with pecans and real brown sugar, rather than the more German walnuts and white sugar.

Elenzweig’s ancestors came first to nearby Pine Bluff in the mid-19th century from Germany, probably lured there as others were by word of mouth or newspaper advertisements in the German press promising them land. In Pine Bluff, we visited the Jewish cemetery, as big as a football field. Few, if any, Jews live there anymore, having moved to Little Rock and elsewhere.

Many of the old recipes have been lost with modern times and intermarriage. But, at the food fairs you can see some remembrance of the past.

Elenzweig’s Grandma Tessie’s delicious recipe for schnecken, copied from an old scribbled recipe, are baked by the hundreds. Elenzweig’s husband, Neal, the cook in the family, shared his Brooklyn mother’s cranberry stuffed cabbage, now used each year for the festival. The kugel, adapted from Rita Fagan, who is in charge of gathering the food for the festival, is especially popular, a very American recipe with corn flake crumbs on top and noodles that don’t need to be boiled in advance.

Millie Baron’s Queens-born father came to Hot Springs (where Bill Clinton grew up) with the Army during World War II, met her mother, and stayed; Baron will be delivering some macaroons to the festival this year. At her Ambrosia Bakery, Baron makes many Jewish recipes, and her Jewish treats often find an audience among Arkansas’ non-Jews: Her grandmother’s rugelach are a popular Christmas treat, for instance.

Challah, which she calls braided bread, is sold every day of the year, with churches often ordering them for the Sabbath. “Two men, one with a Wall Street Journal and another the New York Times, order them every day with a cup of coffee,” she said. And when I was visiting just before Purim, Baron was delivering 600 hamentashen to a church in Little Rock that wanted to know more about their Jewish roots. Recipes for her challah and bagels come from George Greenstein’s Secrets of a Jewish Baker: Recipes for 125 Breads From Around the World.

The Little Rock food festival involves Jews living across the entire state and brings people together in ways that only cooking can. For months the (mostly) women gather at the synagogue or in their homes, baking and freezing. Then, Sunday morning, they thaw the foods and cover them in plastic wrap. The festival attracted over 12,000 people last year; this year they are hoping for 15,000.

For Elenzweig, the best part of the festival is meeting unaffiliated Jews who somehow just appear. “Except for the food festival, I never would have known about their Jewishness,” she said. “Maybe food brings back memory for them and they just want to come.”

But plenty of people who come aren’t Jewish at all. “We have a big rush of folks coming in after church,” she noted. “At first I thought it was all about us, but it isn’t. It is also about the outreach to the greater community.”

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012

Baby Jack the bulldog

Everyone's favorite Hoya, Jack the Bulldog, is getting a puppy! As Jack recovers from his ACL injury and imparts all his mascot secrets, the little guy will keep him company and be inspired to become the next big thing in tearing up cardboard on the floor of the Verizon Center.

More from Washington Post's D.C. Sports Bog.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Prepping for the White House

This afternoon, Jewish cookbook author Joan Nathan is leading a Passover baking demonstration at the White House, and I am pretty excited I get to go. Nathan recently visited Arkansas to do some research on Southern Jewish culinary culture, and I hooked her up with some chefs there, including the pastry genius behind Hot Springs' Ambrosia Bakery, Millie Baron, and Neil Elenzweig, in whose kitchen I first tasted kreplach. Let's be clear —there's no Zabar's or Bagel City in Arkansas; I'm pretty sure that aisde from the Jewish Food Festival once a year, Millie's is one of, if not the only, places in the state where you can actually buy rugelach.

The White House will feature a live stream of Chosen Food - A Celebration of Jewish Food and Culture beginning at 3 p.m., in case you want to tune in. The White House blog entry on today's event includes a recipe for pear charoset from Little Rock chef Mike Selig of the Clinton Presidential Center, result of Joan Nathan's recent factfinding mission to my beloved Arkansas!

Though they are very few, it seems any association for me with the White House kitchen always takes me back to Arkansas. Former White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier visited Little Rock to recount stories experienced during 25 years at the White House as part of the Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II administrations. This is the guy who lists such items as biscuit cutters and marzipan sculpting tools among the equipment in his kitchen, and while I'm still gearing up the courage to try most of his recipes, I am forever indebted to him for teaching me how to make the most delicious chocolate chip cookie (there's a secret ingredient).

Monday, March 26, 2012

Cherry blossoms!

Washington's famous cherry blossoms are even beautiful on a gray day. The much admired pink blooms came early this year the 100th anniversary of their arrival and with recent windy weather, the ground by the Tidal Basin is already covered in the delicate petals. Was happy to catch a sighting before they're gone for the year.

The Jefferson

Pink fireworks!
The FDR Memorial is embedded within the grounds near the cherry blossoms.

Washington's newest monument, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., also amidst the blossoms

Friday, March 9, 2012

Literacy shines in Little Rock

Literacy Action of Central Arkansas celebrated its fourth annual Shine a Light on Literacy Thursday night at the Arkansas Governor's Mansion. Once again, hundreds of people had the opportunity to learn about the crucial need to improve adult literacy in the state, while at the same time bidding on great art and books.

Today's THV aired a great story on the evening; as always our inaugural honorary chairman of the first event held in 2009, Arkansas First Lady Ginger Beebe, and her husband Governor Mike Beebe, supported the cause as they do every year. A screenshot is below, but click the link to watch:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Frugal feast in honor of Shabbat (or, an ode to Sasha)

My dear friend Sasha Lyutse, sustainable food warrior and vegan chef extraordinaire, recently brought her quickly becoming famous Frugal Feast to Washington. She and some friends in New York were inspired to come up with the concept after reading a column by the New York Times' Mark Bittman on Slow Food USA's $5 Challenge. As Sasha explains it, the goal is "to show that buying normal ingredients from a regular grocery store and cooking them at home is cheaper than going out to eat or eating fast food and to help support healthy, sustainable, and affordable food—what [Bittman] calls, quite simply, 'real food.'”

So, a dinner party in the coziness of home, surrounded by friends and delicious home-cooked food and wine? I mean, what more does one really want out of dinner. Frugal Feast covers the basics -- the food, the satisfaction of not just being thrifty in one's grocery shopping choices, but really and truly saving money versus a standard night of cooking or going out, and the camaraderie of friends who appreciate the value of good, healthy food and togetherness.

What made Friday's Frugal Feast even more special, however, was that it was Shabbat. No matter how religious one is, even if one isn't Jewish, there is something so unique about taking a break from the day, from the rapidity and non-stop nature of so many of our lives, to rest, to enjoy each other, to sit down with each other.

Lighting the candles, saying the prayers, sharing the home-made rustic bread Sasha created, added a sense of tranquility and comfort that is difficult to put into words. I think everyone present was sort of reflecting -- internally -- at how lovely all this was and how it should become a more typical part of our lives.

Before getting into the deliciousness that was the actual dinner, I should note that Ms. Lyutse is the person who has convinced me that vegan cuisine is not just for the birds and can in fact be quite hearty and delectable. In the past few months, she has made me such things as red lentils with sauteed onions and celery, tempeh on a bed of buckwheat garnished with caramelized onions (always onions) and multigrain porridge. I mean, seriously, when has the word porridge crossed your mind except in the context of Goldilocks? Trust me, it's real. When she asked me to buy turnips, I had to Google them in the store to figure out what I was looking for. She introduced me to quinoa, kale and swiss chard (reduced with garlic). In her modesty, she'll tell you that such dishes "make themselves" and that they're so simple, "no recipe exists."

"Food is the organizing principle of my life," she once said to me while stirring homemade oatmeal  (ingredients included walnuts, raisins and the sweet nectar of agave).

A visual taste of Friday's meal below. I challenge you to try the $5 per person meal and see what happens. It gives you a maximum you can spend to guide you as you think carefully about your recipes, ingredients and yields, but it's doable, I promise.

Garlic and shallots at bottom left, the bread at top left and the sweet potatoes baking
Beautiful ingredients
Kale chips to start, topped with a concoction of macadamia nuts, cherry tomatoes, shallots and fresh rosemary

Rustic bread baked in a Dutch oven
Roasted garlic and shallots to spread on the bread
Beginnings of the stew
Stew with coconut milk added
Coconut milk, chickpea and spinach stew with sundried tomatoes, ginger and lemon, served over roasted sweet potatoes and garnished with fresh cilantro

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Just published! Sowing the Seeds of Sustainability

Wrote my first piece for 270 Inc., a bimonthly magazine designed to reach the business community in Montgomery and Frederick Counties in Maryland (the I-270 corridor). "Sowing the Seeds of Sustainability" will be published in March/April 2012 issue.

The original piece can be found at 270 Inc.'s website.

Sowing the Seeds of Sustainabilty

March 1, 2012

Sowing the Seeds of Sustainabilty

Hospital green teams work to ensure a healthier future

By Samantha Friedman

A hospital should be the first place that comes to mind when considering establishments promoting healthy living and a healthful environment. But with their critical need to sterilize medical equipment, eliminate germs and properly dispose of toxic or disease-spreading medical waste, combined with the enormous energy and water usage in a 24/7 facility, hospitals  have only recently begun to adopt environmentally sustainable practices.

Medical centers are becoming increasingly diligent in their efforts to operate in greener, environmentally sensitive ways that in the long term actually save money and further improve patient health and well-being. Until now, groups of dedicated hospital staff members with a personal interest in making their workplace more sustainable most often have led the push for change. Called “green teams,” they are comprised of representatives from various hospital departments such as facilities and building management, medical supply purchasing, food services, transportation, housekeeping and janitorial services and community outreach. These groups lean on and learn from each other, forming a network through Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment.

“We have to go so far in changing the culture,” says Suzanne Jacobson, an emergency room nurse who coordinates the green team at Frederick Memorial Hospital in Frederick. “We can educate the hospital community, but sustainable initiatives go beyond the hospital. That’s what our goal is, to keep putting out there what the hospital is doing.”

In Montgomery County, Shady Grove Adventist, Holy Cross, Montgomery General and Adventist Rehabilitation hospitals have green teams.

Green team leaders say it has not been hard to convince hospital leadership of the significance of paying attention to things like energy efficiency, reusable supplies, lower-chemical cleaning supplies and paints and waste stream management.  The backing of hospital administrators is essential—they control the money needed for the research behind and initiation into energy- and cost-saving efforts. Today, more than three-quarters of Maryland hospitals have greening programs, and three—the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis and Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore—have full-time “sustainability managers.”

A compelling force behind growing sustainable operations in hospitals is the concept that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, one person or a single department can introduce recycling bins, but when the whole hospital or the entire health-care provider industry makes sustainable practices customary, the results will be considerable, not only for the hospital, but the larger community beyond its walls as well. Nationally, for instance, Kaiser Permanente, one of the largest providers in the country, has used its huge purchasing power to lead the way in requiring suppliers to share information on chemical content in products, and in January, Kaiser announced the six-month roll-out of a conversion to intravenous equipment free of PVC and DEHP, chemicals known to have negative effects on people and the environment.

Maryland green team leaders share ideas and resources through Maryland Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (MD H2E), a grant-funded initiative of the University of Maryland School of Nursing established in 2005 to promote environmental sustainability in health care. According to the organization’s technical director, Joan Plisko, who visits facilities to advise them on best practices and organizes meetings to facilitate collaboration among green team leadership, “We are leading the nation. There are other states that are trying to pursue this, but what you really need is funding, and we have had that consistently over six years.”

Practice Greenhealth is a national membership organization that keeps hospitals tuned in to sustainable initiatives across the country; hospitals pay to belong. Plisko, on the other hand, consults at no charge.  “For six years, [MD H2E] has been the go-to organization for sustainability and health care. What our organization wants is for the hospitals to own this.”

Boasting successes and figuring out new ways to be environmentally sound has become a “friendly competition” among green team leaders, says Denise Choiniere, a public health nurse who is a sustainability manager at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Plisko is certain the health care industry’s attention to green efforts in Maryland will only grow – as well as set a model for other industries. “The intersection of health care reform and environmental sustainability is huge,” she says. “Doing the right thing for the environment because we are health-care providers is essential. Energy consumption saves money. Reducing your use of toxic pesticides and switching to less toxic, green cleaners have a positive impact on the health of employees, staff and patients.”
She attributes an explosion in interest over the past two years to “a little bit of good timing.” “You hear about global climate change, air pollution, pollution in our water, so going green is now more mainstream,” she says. “And when we can tie it to cost savings and health outcomes, it’s a no-brainer.”

Waste Not, Want Not

One of the most significant and widespread ways hospitals are saving money is reducing medical waste. In the past, all waste coming out of medical facilities, whether it was infectious medical waste (known as red-bag waste) or what would elsewhere be considered standard municipal trash (clear bag waste) was tossed out together and sent to be burned in an incinerator. A dangerous side effect was the release of dioxins, mercury, lead and other pollutants into the air.

“I’ve been a nurse for 32 years,” says Carol Chandler, chair of the green team at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital and the hospital’s director of the nursing education department, “and back then, it seemed like most of the equipment we used was reusable. Thirty-two years later, it’s all disposable as we got into infection control and single-use devices and began using more plastic rather than sending down equipment to be sterilized and reused again. We have a huge impact on the environment because of all of the disposables. Health care is the second largest producer of waste after the food services industry. We use a lot of resources, and we dispose of a lot of resources.”

According to Health Care Without Harm, an international network of hospitals, health care systems and environmental and community groups interested in promoting medical industry standards that do not harm the health of people and the environment, improving waste stream management focuses on three strategies: separating wastes so only those that require incineration are burned, reducing the amount of waste generated and improving recycling of materials such as paper and reuse of instruments and medical products when safe to do so. Significant progress has been made nationally. The organization reports that while more than 5,000 medical waste incinerators were in operation in the 1990s, there are fewer than 100 today.

Chandler has led efforts at Shady Grove to analyze waste stream management to effectively reduce the hospital’s footprint by examining consumption at the front end as well as improving waste separation. If a hospital pays by the pound for trash removal, recycling reduces costs. A group of nurses spearheaded a successful initiative to explore whether packaging containing sterile surgical equipment could be recycled. They collected the plastic wrap, and the environmental services department showed it to recycling companies to find out. The nurses were right, and today, a greater proportion of the packaging is recycled than thrown out. Nurses also have turned the blue wrap that contains sterilized equipment into bags for patient belongings, further diverting the level of trash headed for the landfill.

Cutting the Paper Trail

One way to reduce paper use is to move toward electronic data storage. At Holy Cross Hospital, says green team leader and service coordinator for plant operations Claudia Schreiber, lab data and other medical files and even W-2 forms are now digital.

As far as energy conservation, incorporating low energy consumption LED lighting to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is becoming increasingly common. Adventist HealthCare for instance, now purchases nearly 15 percent of its electricity in what is known as green energy, making it the largest purchaser of green energy of the health-care systems participating in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Green Power Partnership. Holy Cross is installing movement sensors in storage rooms and other non-patient rooms to replace what used to be 24/7 lighting with lights that automatically turn on and off as staff enters and leaves.
Product purchasing provides significant opportunities for incorporating products that have less of a negative impact on the environment, as well as cleaning products with less harmful chemicals. Shady Grove, for instance, now uses biodegradable washcloths, and Frederick Memorial Hospital has reusable needle boxes to cut down on plastic waste. At Holy Cross, disposable leg warmers, used to prevent blood clots for bedridden patients, and pulse oximeters are sterilized and reused, saving the hospital money.

Many of the efforts are simple but have monumental impact when incorporated on a large scale. Suburban Hospital encourages recycling in mixed bins throughout the hospital, has eschewed foam cartons and plastic covers from the cafeteria and is replacing paper towel dispensers with hand dryers in restrooms, says Leslie Weber, senior vice president for government and community relations.

Along the way, green team coordinators and sustainability managers are focusing on educating fellow staff members on why sustainability across the board is important and how they can better incorporate it into their day-to-day lives, both at work and at home. Earth Day provides a yearly opportunity to engage staff and update them on green initiatives.
When Shady Grove was in the process of building its tower expansion, which opened in 2007, the green team conducted a cost/benefit analysis on investing in water-saving technology that would recycle water as well as reduce the amount of water needed for sterilizing equipment. It successfully convinced the executive team to buy the equipment, reducing water consumption by 70 percent.

LEEDing the Way   

The architectural industry’s green building standard is known as LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a certification system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council to acknowledge facilities that incorporate sustainable design elements. Last year, Anne Arundel Medical Center opened the first LEED-certified hospital tower in the state.

“The tower has between 18-20 percent energy conservation due to a combination of our 17,000-square-foot green roof, which helps with cooling and maintaining the temperature in the building, very high-efficiency HVAC systems, and eight LED lights in operating rooms, with 90 percent energy conservation,” says Charlotte Wallace, a pediatric nurse turned sustainability manager at Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis. Surgeons appreciate the high-tech lighting because the lights do not heat up like traditional overhead lights, maintaining room temperature at a comfortable level and eliminating the need for blowing air conditioning.

In Montgomery County, Suburban Hospital, now a member of Johns Hopkins Medicine, which is known for its sustainable initiatives, plans to build a 300,000-square-foot addition that will double the size of the current building. The engineering and architectural team has designed the structure with the goal of achieving LEED Silver certification. Not only is Holy Cross in the process of building a LEED Silver tower, but it also has been incorporating LEED standards as it has renovated parts of the older building. A new hospital Holy Cross is building in Germantown, slated to open in 2014, will have a completely green roof, like its new tower in Silver Spring.

Transit is another area ripe for sustainability initiatives. In Frederick, many staffers live outside of the city proper and must commute to work, says Jacobson, which has motivated her green team to develop a carpool system. The team’s transportation committee educates staff on safe bicycling and is working to install more bike racks and generally make the campus more bicycle-friendly. Holy Cross uses diesel-fueled buses to shuttle employees from off-site parking lots. The parking lots have been retrofitted to collect storm water in underground vaults so as to not run off into the adjacent Sligo Creek Subwatershed and are lit by high-efficiency LED bulbs. Certain spots are reserved for carpoolers.

Green team leaders agree that building good environmental practices into the hospital environment is most effective when it can impact the larger community. Frederick Memorial, for instance, is considering sharing the service provided by a confidential paper shredding company with which it contracts by inviting the public to dispose of personal papers in need of shredding.

Many hospitals now source produce from local farmers and host farmers markets on their campuses. Shady Grove’s cafeteria features an all-local vegetable stand popular among employees and composts just about all food waste. Composting, in fact, has become fairly standard in hospital kitchens. Suburban offered a community supported agriculture program, known as a CSA, to its employees last summer. Holy Cross hosts a local farmer who brings in produce and freshly baked pies to sell to employees in the cafeteria.

Adding components like an in-house farmer’s market and elements that beautify the hospital environment can ease busy physicians’ and other staff members’ lives while adding peace and tranquility to patient experiences. When the green team initially gathered at Holy Cross, one of the first things its members did was plant trees and install birdhouses in the hospital’s healing garden.

Perhaps the next step is going green in ways that can help others beyond the hospital. Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore has been recognized for its Grown for Good Garden, an employee-managed garden that generated its first harvest last fall. Most of the crops were donated to a local charity, Our Daily Bread, and the rest shared among the employees who “put their sweat equity into the garden,” says the mastermind behind the garden, Chris DeRocco, green team member and the hospital’s director of food and nutrition. The garden  educates people on where their food comes from, encourages the community to donate seeds or spend time working in the garden, and if DeRocco achieves his next goal, will also become a means of patient occupational therapy. “You start seeing the possibilities of how a small piece of ground can turn into a whole host of things,” he says.

Samantha Friedman is a writer who grew up in Rockville and now lives in Washington, D.C.