Articles by Margie Pensak

Check it Out! The Library Collection at Towson University’s Baltimore Hebrew Institute


Anyone remember Baltimore Hebrew University on Park Heights Avenue and its red brick building with the year-round Chanukah menorah atop its front door? Well, the building was replaced by an extension to the JCC parking lot. But what happened to the 90-year-old Jewish institution itself? A unanimous Maryland Board of Regents vote determined its destiny in June of 2009. Baltimore Hebrew University – with its 55 graduate students, seven instructors, and a library of approximately 70,000 volumes – would be moved eight miles northeast to the campus of Towson University, with its more than 21,000 students.

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Bonding Soles, Bonding Souls


When I stepped inside the quaint, old-world shoe repair shop on Seven Mile Lane, close to Reisterstown Road, I was transported back several decades to my childhood in New Haven, Connecticut. The same ragged shoes and boots were piled high on a workbench, waiting to be rejuvenated; an array of shoe polish, creams, and sprays were lined up on a shelf; assorted shoe inserts, shoelaces, and men’s black rubber overshoes were prominently displayed; and key-making machines stood behind the counter. Even the earthy smell of leather was the same. The one difference was that this shoemaker also repairs watches and sells watch batteries!

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Presents with Presence


Chanukah is upon us. And what does every child (and adult?) eagerly anticipate after the Maoz Tzur and the latkas and the dreidel – or maybe even before? Presents, of course.

Gift giving and getting is a beloved part of Chanukah. But it is more complicated than it seems. First of all, there are the decisions. Will you be distributing Chanukah gelt or gifts? One gift or one gift per night? Expensive or cheap? Practical “need” or superfluous “want”? Then there are the feelings. Are gifts a source of happiness or anxiety? I polled some of my fellow writers from around the world for their two cents. This is what they had to say:

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Biz Tank : A Different Kind of Shadchan


For over a decade, rabbi-turned-business-and-marketing-guru Joel Klein has been an unofficial “shadchan” – pairing up fledgling business people with investors. In April 2016, he took his talent one step further by creating BizTank, a chareidi take-off on the popular TV program, Shark Tank. Since its inception, more than 50 hopeful vendors/presenters from all over the world – including Israel, Belgium, and throughout the U.S. – have pitched their ideas at the monthly forum.

That pitch – dramatic and nail-bitingly tense – is just the culmination of the consulting and coaching services offered by Joel. Before the hopefuls go before the investors, he and his team have already prepared them – figuring out the numbers, showing them how to evaluate their business, and coaching them on their presentation.

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Rapping with Rapper Nissim Black

nissim black

My first introduction to Nissim Black was via my then-two-year-old grandson, Asher Zelig Chaim. Little did either of us imagine that I would one day have the privilege of not only meeting but also interviewing the star who sang little Asher’s favorite song, “Hashem Melech.” I caught up with Nissim in Tov Pizza just a day before his recent local appearance for the Unity Havdalah Concert of the Baltimore Shabbat Project.

Nissim’s rise to stardom began way before he found his way to Yiddishkeit. In 2006, when he released his first album, “The Cause and Effect,” he performed under the name D. Black – a shortened version of his birth name, Damian Jamohl Black. The rapper and producer from Seattle, Washington, released his second album, “Ali’yah,” in 2009, after being featured on a fellow rapper’s debut album a year before.

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Kidney Donors Give the Gift of Life


I have to admit that kidney transplants were not on my radar screen until I received a large postcard from The Chesed Fund and Project Ezra a few weeks ago. This mass mailing alerted me to the fact that a kidney donor was needed for a longtime community member and friend, Dr. Moshe (Morris) Lasson. I subsequently saw an ad for a joint Bikur Cholim-Renewal event held last month to educate the Baltimore community about kidney donation. It informed me that another longtime community member and friend, Yossi Ryback, needed a kidney transplant as well. I attended this eye-opening program, one of close to 400 people who did. We all learned a lot, and many people took the cheek swab test for donor compatibility.

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