I have a friend who a few years ago, for some very odd reason, decided out of the blue to acquire a ham radio operator’s license. Naturally, I made fun of him.
“Hey, Nerdo,” I said to him, “we don’t need ham radios, CBs or Morse Code anymore. There’s a thing out there nowadays called the Internet. We also have something called e-mail”
His curt response to me was, “You’ll see, someday ham radio operators will take over the world.”
Now, looking at the neighborhood of Greengate, I’m starting to think he had a valid point.
As reported by Rochelle Eisenberg in this week’s Jewish Times, Vitaly Galilov, a Greengate resident, has many of his neighbors up in arms. Why? Seems that Mr. Galilov, a ham radio enthusiast, built a pair of ham radio towers on his property. An attorney for the neighbors claims that one tower exceeds Baltimore County Zoning regulations, while the height of the other is in question.
Last spring, Mr. Galilov says he received a permit to erect a 50-foot ham radio tower with antennae. But upon installation, his installers said he needed a taller tower – I hate when that happens!—because his house backs up to a wooded lot. They said it needed to be least 70 feet in height to be effective, so he went ahead and had the larger tower installed. Afterwards, he said he applied for a variance with the Baltimore County Zoning Office.
In other words, shoot first and ask questions later.
Usually not a good policy with one’s neighbors.
The second tower, which is 65 feet high, should not have received a permit, since any tower built must be less than 60 feet, based on county zoning regulations, according to the neighbors’ lawyer.
Should the Greengate residents be concerned that one of their neighbors has an interest in ham radios?
But Mr. Galilov’s response to Rochelle Eisenberg’s question about how he will proceed if a zoning hearing for the towers doesn’t go in his favor—“I spent a lot of money, and I will not stop. If I have to, I will appeal.” – also gives pause for concern.
That’s called not being a very good neighbor.
“A conspiracy of silence speaks louder than words.” – John Lennon
Last night, I dropped by a town hall meeting organized by the Associated to encourage members of the Jewish community to discuss their views on Jewish identity matters. The Jewish Baltimore Talks Town Hall Meeting, held at the Reisterstown Library, was part of a series of gatherings intended to inspire dialogue and thought about what people want their community to be and look like, now and in the future. What does it mean to be a Jew? How do they want their children to live Jewish lives?
Is there a Jewish future?
Unfortunately, it was a pretty lonely experience. Four people turned out, including the facilitator and myself (and I was there as a reporter).
Nonetheless, the four of us had a lively, thought-provoking discussion about what being Jewish means to us and where the organized Jewish community (the Associated, the shuls, the various organizations and agencies, etc.) does things well and not so well. Maybe because it was a small, intimate group, we were pretty candid about the state of the Jewish community, warts and all, and I found myself transitioning from journalist mode to participant (and probably talking a lot more than I should’ve).
The other two participants there were a middle-age man born and bred in Baltimore’s Jewish community and a young woman from “the outside.”
For the man, this is his home and he’d probably never want to live anywhere else. My sense is that he sees room for improvement with the synagogues and temples—which he characterized as being too full of narrishkeit politics, inane territorialism and going through a general malaise—but overall that being Jewish and part of a community is an essential component of who he is. And it’s something he’s strongly, desperately attempting to pass on to his children.
The young woman is originally from another big East Coast city. She attended a Jewish day school for 12 years and has a strong Jewish foundation, but has adopted a more universalistic, holistic approach to life that may be viewed as alternative and not within the confines of the normative Jewish communal experience. I gathered that conventional Judaism and its institutional trappings and precepts, in many, many ways, turn her off, like so many in her generation.
Holding a book in her hand at worship services and simply reading from it, she said, leaves her cold. She seems to want a spirituality that is based on compassion and communing with nature and fellow human beings, not on what she views as rigid “indoctrination,” intractable tradition and prayer by rote. In other words, the conformity and repetition of Jewish life ain’t her thing.
And then there was me (and my big mouth), kvetching about things I often complain about to friends and family – why can’t shuls “steal” some of the more fun, successful concepts adopted by certain liberal-based churches (coffee houses, fellowship groups, dropping the formal attire, etc.)? Why is the community so focused on money and buildings (a true turn-off to so many young Jews)? Why are God and spiritual nourishment so often devoid from the picture, even at shuls?
But at the end of the evening, the man I mentioned earlier posed an excellent, albeit obvious, question to the facilitator that perhaps really spoke to the state of the local Jewish community – where is everyone? Why are we the only ones here?
He pointblank asked her how many people received emails about the town hall meeting – which was posted on the Associated’s Web site and promoted by e-blasts and other means—to which she responded more than 500.
“That says a lot,” he said, looking around the empty, austere meeting room at the library, brimming with historical artifacts and renderings of Reisterstown and its founders. “I took the time out to come here. I’m a busy person. Where are all those other people? Don’t they care?”
At that point, you could hear the January wind whipping around outside. Just a cold silence.
I know the Associated will be having more of these gatherings in the future. Let’s hope that they get bigger turnouts. Figuring out who we are and where we’re going is nothing to slough off. This is an important conversation to have.