Making their mark
By Jenny Glick
Special to the Jewish Times
They’re young and Jewish and making a mark — in business, the arts and architecture. This month, iNSIDER takes a look at five Jewish “up-and-comers” who were raised in Baltimore.
Brandon Walker, Singer/Songwriter
“…I eat Chinese Food on Christmas, go to the movie theatre too, ’cuz there just ain’t much else to do on Christmas … when you’re a Jew!”
You might have heard Brandon Walker’s song, “Chinese Food on Christmas.” It received close to two million hits on YouTube and pushed the former Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School music teacher into the spotlight.
Twenty-six-year-old Walker has the right look and sound to be a pop artist, but it’s his creative lyrics that set him apart from other young singer/songwriters trying to break into the music scene. He’s written other Jewish-themed songs, which also showcase a perfect marriage of Jewish humor and fun including “Get Down Moses” and “February’s Here,” about JDating.
Take the lyrics of “February’s Here”: “I’ve got dark curly hair and I love corn beef on rye. My grandparents live in Boca and they say I’m a menches guy. Now all I hit is search, and I found love at last…Congratulations, we’ve found ten thousand people…that match!”
Walker’s talent and range as a pop artist singer/songwriter is clear in newer, more seriously themed tunes including “One Step Behind.”
Walker’s boyish good looks could help sell albums, but he says his goal is not to be the next John Mayer. He just wants to write songs for him.
“I love being creative and I love writing music. Wherever life takes me, I want to keep sharing my love of music with as many people as possible,” he says.
To hear Walker’s latest songs, head to brandonwalkermusic.com .
Laini Nemett, Artist
Laini Nemett is a petite 25-year-old redhead, whose paintings will take your breath away. The only daughter of Baltimore MICA professor and artist Barry Nemett, she grew up in art studios. With babysitters who were all MICA students —forget paint by numbers — she was doing real art when she was just three-years-old.
“I think it was a big part of our development; our babysitters were his best students. Every time they came over, this cool girl was doing these amazing things,” she recalls.
But it wasn’t just the babysitters who spiked her interest in art.
“I was shy as a little kid. Art was a way of breaking out of myself. It’s how I connected with expressing myself to the world,” she says.
After graduating from the Carver Center for Arts and Technology, Nemett built up an impressive resume for such a young artist. She graduated with honors from Brown University. She spent a summer residency at Yale University and she was the recipient of a prestigious Fulbright grant to study in Spain.
While in Barcelona, she composed a series of paintings with graffiti backdrops, with a friend as the focal subject.
She says she works off classical painting traditions, but her paintings exude a young, hip, contemporary vibe.
Though she works hard at her craft, she has never had to work hard at showings. She plans to pursue a master’s in fine arts so, like her father, she can teach as well as paint.
To see Nemett’s recent work, log onto MyArtSpace.com and search Laini Nemett.
Gabriel Kroiz, Architect
How many people with migrant worker and short-order cook on their resumes end up creating an entire new way to help Baltimore row houses go green? Gabe Kroiz, founder and principal of Kroiz Architecture in Baltimore, is the architect behind “Green-HAB,” which incorporates eco-products and thinking in rehabbing Baltimore’s row houses.
Yet, Kroiz doesn’t just want to transform spaces. He also wants to help launch a new generation of young architects into his field. He has a unique opportunity to do that as the undergraduate program director for Morgan State University’s School of Architecture and Planning.
“Architecture hasn’t diversified. One-and-a-half percent of architects are African-American, which amounts to approximately 40 to 50 seseking registration nationally each year. I’ve got a class that size. If five of the 40 go through, it will make a big difference nationally,” he says.
What a mentor Kroiz makes. The boy who grew up in Bolton Hill and attends Beth Am Synagogue recently renovated the inside of Donna’s Café on North Charles Street. He is renowned for his design of Korea’s SSamzie Gil shopping center, which turned design models of traditional shopping centers upside-down. The shopping center has a sloping walkway that leads in a continuous spiral to a “green” rooftop park and tea room.
Kroiz easily could have fled to architectural meccas like New York or Chicago, but saw staying in Baltimore as a way to make the city better.
“I like to fix things; I am a problem solver. I come at the world ethically. We have a chance to make things better when we are here,” he says.
To see Kroiz’s innovative “green” designs, check out his website at kroizarch.com .
Noha Waibsnaider, Entrepreneur
Walk into almost any Starbucks, Bloomingdale’s or Hudson News stores, and you can grab a bag of Peeled Snacks. The organic, single-serve portions of mango, apple and cherry dried fruit snacks are the brain child of Noha Waibsnaider.
Waibsnaider moved from Israel to Baltimore when she was nine. She says as a child, she was disgusted by the fatty, gross snack choices in the United States. After college, she worked for a company that produced peanut butter and pasta sauces.
At the time, she was traveling a lot and airport food became the inspiration for her products. “I was traveling so much and the trail mixes in the airport were terrible,” she recalls. “I thought people deserved something better.”
Waibsnaider first tried out Peeled Snacks in five Party City stores in the Reisterstown/Owings Mills corridor, but sales tanked. Meanwhile, after her product got a coveted endorsement in O: The Oprah Magazine, positive PR for Peeled Snacks snowballed and she received rave reviews from scores of health/ fitness magazines around the country. She says she now has more orders than she ever dreamed.
“It’s so exciting to be able to say, ‘Yes, you can walk right down the street and get it,’” she says.
Never mind that Oprah, singer Mariah Carey and actress Liv Tyler snack on Peeled Snacks. Waibsnaider says the best customer is her one-and-a-half-year-old toddler.
For more information on Peeled Snacks, log onto peeledsnacks.com .
Justin Berk, Weatherman
He caught the weather bug early. As a child, ABC2 meteorologist Justin Berk cut short outside fun with friends, so he wouldn’t miss a moment of the nightly forecast.
“I’d be out playing with my friends. I’d come home at 4:30 and sort out the weather pages. I would lay the weather pages out on my knees and sit in front of the TV,” he says.
By junior high, Berk had his father put a weather station on his roof, so he could get the very latest data.
He received his degree in Meteorology from Cornell University. In addition to his work at ABC2, he teaches at Stevenson University.
Berk has a healthy respect and admiration for the fickleness of Mother Nature. Knowing just when to make the prediction can be a risky proposition when people are depending on you.
But this self-professed “weather geek” has been right seven years in a row when he predicted we would get snow on December 5th.
“I love watching the power of nature,” he says. “I truly believe there is nothing we can do to change it. The only thing is to think a step ahead, and to prepare for it.”
You can catch Berk mornings on ABC2 News, or e-mail him at ABC2News.com .