Q&A With Lower Merion’s Ward 7 Candidates for Commissioner

Lower Merion Commissioner Elizabeth Rogan presents her views at a candidates forum while her challenger in the Democratic Primary, Andrew Karasik, looks on. (Stephanie Peditto/For Main Line Times)

Elizabeth Rogan and Andrew Karasik will debate tonight Monday, October 26, 7:30pm at the St. Katherine Day School. Above, their last debate, in April, shortly before they faced off in the Democratic primary.

Tuesday next week our readers in Lower Merion will participate in a rematch of the contest between the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners’ president, Elizabeth (Liz) Rogan; and filmmaker Andrew Karasik. In May, Karasik challenged the incumbent Rogan in the Democratic primary. In a closely contested election, Rogan secured her nomination for a third term as commissioner of Ward 7 with 398 votes to Karasik’s 362.


Click to enlarge.

Lower Merion’s Ward 7 is a heavily Democratic district and no candidates filed to compete in the Republican primary. However, lacking any candidates of their own, 98 Republicans wrote in “Andrew Karasik” on their ballot, thus guaranteeing him the Republican nomination and a chance at a rematch in the November 3 general election.

With control of the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners at stake, the two candidates for Lower Merion Township’s Ward 7 Commissioner responded to questions posed by The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

1. What in your background qualifies you for being elected to the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners?

Liz Rogan

Liz Rogan

Andrew Karasik

Andrew Karasik

Rogan: I started as the assistant director of planning and community development in Lower Merion Township in 1990 and moved on to be the director of the department in 1997 and continued to serve until the end of 2003. I joined the Board of Commissioners in 2004. I was elected to serve as board president to fill an unexpired term in January 2011. Then I was elected by colleagues in 2012 and again in 2014. Karasik: Lower Merion is the only home I have ever known so it is a home worth fighting for. Beginning in high school, I worked as an advocate for this community, representing the youth of this township in front of the Board of Commissioners and the Board of School Directors. I served on the Coalition of Youth for Lower Merion and Narberth and, for my service, was named Montgomery County Youth Advocate of the year.
2. What do you see as the biggest issue for your ward, for the township?
Rogan: For the ward:

  1. Impending redevelopment at the Saint Charles of Borromeo Seminary;
  2. Managing vehicular traffic volume and speed;
  3. Enhancing and retaining pedestrian walkability.

For the Township:

  1. Preserving residential community character by revising/adjusting zoning code;
  2. Maintaining financial stability while preserving diversity;
  3. Protecting the environment while reducing property and roadway flooding.
Karasik: Ward 7 is one of the densest, most developed wards in the Township. Traffic is a nightmare and our roads are congested beyond reasonable levels. Yet, Ward 7 lies at the epicenter of increasing development in Lower Merion. With the potential development of Saint Charles Boromeo Seminary, the 250 apartments already approved at the Miriam Estate, and the 110 new units at the Palmer Seminary, Ward 7 is bursting at the seams. And on top of all that residential development, one of the largest Whole Foods on the East Coast is being built at an intersection already plagued by congestion. We need new commercial development and we need to enhance our community gems like Whole Foods, but we need to do so in a scaled manner. Placing that much commercial development at that intersection has been deemed by many I have spoken to as irresponsible. (Continued below.)
3. How has your professional life prepared you for an elected office?
Rogan: Working as part of Lower Merion Township’s staff provided direct working experience and understanding of organizational dynamics and structure – I know who to go to for what.It also started my professional network with other professionals in both the full spectrum of municipal operations… not just planning and development, but public works, parks, finance, human resources, information and emergency services, and not just at the local level, but at the county, regional, state and federal level.

I also developed working relationships with related professionals such as in law, engineering, architecture, developers and property managers as well as decision makers at local educational, religious and health care institutions.

I learned about wide range of grant funding programs and the value and benefit of partnering with nonprofit organizations.

ESR_APA_AwardUpdate: The Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association recognized Rogan at last week’s annual conference with their 2015 Leadership Award for an Elected Official. According to the citation, Rogan “has applied planning principles to the diverse challenges of a first-generation suburb, promoting the revitalization of older commercial centers, preservation of historic structures and natural areas, and community engagement for many projects…. Her leadership and advocacy have led to accomplishments for the Township, large and small, including innovative zoning revisions, an official map ordinance for public spaces and pedestrian paths, adaptive reuse of historic buildings, and redevelopment of key properties.” See the Lower Merion Township press release .

Karasik: I’m a filmmaker and a school teacher who teaches film arts to kids. I’m deeply proud of what I do. In a world where so much of what we hear isn’t conversation but yelling; isn’t discussion but posturing, the gaps in society are so crushing sometimes — rich vs. poor, left vs. right, old vs. young, black and white. But we can bridge that gap — I see it happening every day. The arts are so valuable because they give us a language that bridges the gaps between people. Songs, stories, photos, and yes, films — shared ideas and experiences. Shared triumphs and pain that shows us we’re not all that different from each other. That we can get along and thrive together. The fundamental tenet of both teaching and filmmaking is listening. As a teacher, you must listen to your students. You must work with them and guide them into knowledge and development. If I dictate a student’s educational path, rather than guide them along it, their development will stifle and I will have failed as their educator. As a filmmaker, my job is to tell a story. But to tell that story, again, I must listen. I must let the story of my subject unfold rather than dictate the next plot line. As an elected official, I must listen to the residents. Together, we must synthesize our vision for the future, so that I can effectively advocate for them.Professionally, beyond my career, I serve on the Boards of numerous community groups in Pennsylvania, including on the Philadelphia Orchestra Maestro’s Circle Board and the Penn State University Alumni Council. Having been named to these boards is a true honor and underscores my commitment to working to build a better and more philanthropic community.
Lower Merion officially welcomed Pope Francis on September 26, 2015

Lower Merion officially welcomed Pope Francis on September 26, 2015

4. What kind of impact did the visit to Lower Merion and vicinity of Pope Francis make, in your opinion, and what is the lasting legacy, if any?

Rogan: It provided and enabled emergency services personnel the chance to work together directly – from the local, county, region, state and national levels – fantastic coordination and cooperation and communication exercise.It was a terrific PR value and opportunity to be seen on a national stage as a capable and sophisticated organization and community.

May the pope’s message of charity and compassion for your neighbors work to inspire our community to embody William Penn’s vision to become a tolerant and equitable community.

Karasik: Pope Francis’s visit to Lower Merion was a highlight in the 300-plus-year history of this great township. To see Lower Merion showcased on a national stage was nothing short of remarkable.I was especially struck by His Holiness’ warmth and compassion and I think we can all take note of his message and leave one’s mark on the World and to touch everyone we meet in a positive way.
5. How will the Presidential elections of 2016 impact the township?
Rogan: A Democratic administration in Washington, D.C. will enable ongoing practices and policies to continue. For example, Federal cooperation and assistance support the repair and maintenance of Lower Merion’s infrastructure: salt in the winter, emergency aid in disasters, liquid fuels tax, etc.A change to a Republican administration risks a return to the previous policies of unfunded mandates. The Federal government mandated actions from state and local governments without providing technical or financial tools to implement the requirements. Karasik: The 2016 presidential election will be one that represents a clear choice for the future of this country and that choice echoes here in Lower Merion: Do we want leaders who divide and separate us or do we want leaders who will galvanize us into working together for the common good. The township is divided. We are battling Narberth over traffic improvements at a key intersection, rather than working together to find the safest solution that makes everyone happy. Residents are fighting the township at every turn because they feel they have no other recourse — their rights have been trampled upon and their views have been disrespected. We need leadership that will bring everyone to the table with no preconceived notions and will work together to find cohesive solutions that benefit the community as a whole, not specific factions or ideologies.
6. Some development projects have been stalled for years, even decades. Which projects would you want to push forward? Which would you wish to stifle?
Rogan: Local governments do not control private development – that is up to private market forces, basically bankers decide what gets built or doesn’t since they are the source of construction and gap funding.I’d like to see Dranoff’s Cricket project in the ground and complete, as well as the train station’s reconstruction and the development of a parking garage for the train station.

I’d like to kill several of the proposed apartment developments that I believe are actually already underway on Rock Hill road and along the river off Righters Ferry Road. The caveat to that desire is that I would like the pedestrian trail along the river and the bridge that ties over to the Manayunk Movie Theatre to still move forward.

I guess it might also be wonderful if the Merriam Estate were never built since the loss of the woodland will be extremely sad. That said – again, I would still want the public access granted as part of the plan approval to pedestrian trails and Chinese garden on the property and into the Merriam Estate house… neither of those will occur if the plan does not proceed.

Karasik: We need to comprehensively reexamine development in Lower Merion, and we cannot do so without a Comprehensive Plan. It is not enough to say it is in the works or that we are in the final stages. We needed a new Comprehensive Plan decades ago and our leaders dragged their feet, while allowing development to continue in the township without foresight or consideration of impact. This is irresponsible leadership. The very lengthy plan that now comes forward embodies a jumbled vision for Lower Merion, one that does not comprehensively improve our way of life, but rather develops parcels part and piecemeal. The redevelopment of Ardmore is a perfect example of this piecemeal development. By focusing our efforts over the last seven years on one out of scale project, rather than on the entire redevelopment of the Lancaster Avenue Corridor and the Ardmore Business District, we have set back the redevelopment of this key village core for years. Redevelopment in Ardmore cannot hinge on One Ardmore Place. We need a comprehensive redevelopment plan that looks at every major commercial property and works with each individual landlord to develop an intelligent and appropriately scaled mixed-use plan. (Continued below.)
7. Although the board of commissioners does not have authority over the school district and school board, what is your opinion of the state of Lower Merion schools?
Rogan: Lower Merion has wonderful new, modern facilities, both of the high schools and middle schools – as well as our six elementary schools… Management of the attendance districts is atrocious and the overcrowding being forced onto Lower Merion high school is shameful.I also question the administrative structure in the district which is extremely heavy in management layers as compared to actual teachers and support staff. Karasik: As a proud graduate of the Lower Merion School District, I know firsthand the value of our schools. Our schools are turning out matriculating, successful young adults who are ready to make their impact on the world. And it is for that quality education that so many families continue to choose to call Lower Merion home. But we cannot allow the success of our schools to be endangered by a Board of Commissioners that rubber stamps development project after development project, overcrowding our classrooms even further. (Continued below.)
8. What is your plan for the next five years for Lower Merion Township?

  1. Adopt the comprehensive plan and begin implementation of recommendations – including form based zoning for residential neighborhoods and new land use requirements for non-residential/institutional uses. This will directly serve to preserve our community’s character and taxpayers’ quality of life and preserve the township’s environmental, historic and cultural resources.
  2. Stabilize/expand the tax base to reduce future burdens on residential homeowners… This may include new funding options such as a stormwater authority (related benefit of improving water quality and the health of our streams) or the more typical approach of enhancing the value of commercial property.
  3. Maintain and enhance the quality of public services and facilities with particular focus on the volunteer fire service system.
  4. Retaining community diversity while facilitating revitalization and re-investments in our residential neighborhoods and commercial centers.
Karasik: Lower Merion is at a crossroads. We now must decide whether we choose to accept the blind belief that the Township must grow to survive, or whether it is more important to maintain the character of our community and quality of life that have become the hallmarks of Lower Merion. I do not believe that these two paths are mutually exclusive.First and foremost, we must work to protect the interests of current residential property owners. They are the people who elect the Commissioner and Lower Merion is their home. Their interests must always be paramount and cannot come at the expense of development for development sake. Of course, we must reshape the Township as we move into the future. We must reinvent our commercial cores and must continuously make improvements in economic growth. But expanding residential development in Lower Merion in an unscaled and irresponsible manner, not only endangers our character of life, but works against economic growth. Lower Merion will continue to adapt and move forward. But it must do so under responsible leadership that fights for the vision of its residents rather than promotes an agenda of rampant change for the sake of change. If we can return the Township Commissioner to a position where the focus is on the individual Ward and on improving the daily lives of residents with tangible results — things like traffic calming, walkability, and additional open space — then the future of Lower Merion will be a bright one that usurers in a new era for my generation and generations beyond.
Campaign website
Campaign website

Continuation of answers by Andrew Karasik

Question 2 continued: Other parts of Lower Merion are ripe for appropriately scaled mixed use or commercial development. Unfortunately that is not what has been approved. With almost 2,700 new residential units approved or in the pipeline in Lower Merion, with very little new commercial development, we are simply perpetuating congestion and more traffic, while doing little to help our economy. Logic would dictate that new residential development increases the tax base. And while this can be true, in an area like Lower Merion, where all residents, regardless of type of residence use resources at the same rate — and those resources, like our schools are not covered 1:1 by our tax dollars — new residential development will increase taxes and draw down on those resources. I am not anti-development. I am in favor of smart, scaled development that promotes economic growth by targeting commercial sectors with new mixed-use development opportunities. I am not for the simple expansion of apartment units because those units will bring new people closer to transportation centers, especially when those developments are pricing hard working families out of our Township and destroying affordable housing opportunities.

Question 6 continued: If One Ardmore Place is built without comprehensively redeveloping the areas around it, not only will Ardmore fracture, but we will have missed the greatest opportunity we have to build a true village core for Lower Merion. Within Ward 7, the development of the Merriam Estate has been in the works for decades. Yet unfortunately, this project also represents a failure of leadership. Development at the Merriam Estate is the perfect example of unnecessary infill that comes at the expense of open space and our quality of life. The Merriam Estate would make the perfect gateway between Lower Merion and Narberth serving as a passive park for residents of both municipalities to enjoy. Instead of taking advantage of this great asset, our leaders have allowed the building of 250 apartments and a parking garage. When the owners of the Merriam Estate sought to develop the property, they offered the Township possession of the main mansion house for no cost. Rather than seizing this opportunity to create a community gem — a community center or even a conservancy — in the middle of Wynnewood, the Township refused and allowed the mansion to be included in the development plans. The Township should have worked with the owners of the property to not only preserve the mansion, but the entire estate — making the owners whole by purchasing the property and creating a passive park for the community.

Question 7 continued: The unfortunate truth is that because of the high cost of educating our students in Lower Merion, new apartment development will also cause a great increase in our taxes. Currently, on average, the School District raises taxes by about 3.5% every year. As we build more apartments and more school-aged children move into those apartments (which continues to happen in every new development built in the township), the shortfall in taxes paid by apartment residents causes increased taxes on residential property owners. This is not a sustainable model and yet, rather than trying to reduce the tax burden on residential property owners, the Township seeks to further that burden by increasing development. In Lower Merion, often times the left hand does not talk to the right hand. I will advocate for a permanent liaison between the Board of Commissioners and the School Board to ensure a cohesive relationship between our two tax agencies. Unfortunately due to the structure of the School Board, there is little accountability to the residents of Lower Merion. Because School Board members are elected at large, they hold virtually no responsibility to the individual voter other than during election cycles every four years. If the School Board were structured similar to the Board of Commissioners, with each geographical area of the Township electing their own respective School Board member, we would greatly increase the responsibility and accountability of an entity which controls 78% of our tax bill.

Pope Francis and Rabbi Abraham Skorka Reunited in Philadelphia

Marc Kaplin, ADL Chair Emeritus; Nancy Baron-Baer, executive director of ADL SE PA; Andy Goldman, ADL Chair Emeritus; with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, of Buenos Aires, the keynote speaker at the Golden Jubilee observance of "Nostra Aetate" at Saint Joseph's University, and Dr. Philip Cunningham, director of Saint Joseph's University Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations.

Marc Kaplin, ADL Chair Emeritus; Nancy Baron-Baer, executive director of ADL SE PA; Andy Goldman, ADL Chair Emeritus; with Rabbi Abraham Skorka, of Buenos Aires; and Dr. Philip Cunningham, director of Saint Joseph’s University Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations. Photo: Bonnie Squires.

Philadelphia is still basking in the glow of Pope Francis and the Papal Visit, with all the activities which led up to his presence here.  Perhaps the brightest glow is coming from Saint Joseph’s University, which bridges the city and the suburbs (Lower Merion Township), and the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations there.

One day before Pope Francis arrived in Philadelphia, the Institute held a conference, celebrating the Golden Jubilee of Nostra Aetate, with a keynote address by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Skorka, close friend and collaborator from Buenos Aires of the Pope.

After remarks by various people, the assembled audience moved outdoors to see the unveiling of the new sculpture, Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time, by sculptor Joshua Koffman, installed in front of the chapel on the campus. The statue represents Judaism and Catholicism as equals and helpers.

There were representatives from the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the Board of Rabbis, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and the Jewish Community Relations Council.

Rabbi Skorka had been invited to have lunch with his dear friend at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary the Sunday of the Papal Visit.  An unscheduled stop was then arranged, probably by Rabbi Skorka, to the sculpture, and Pope Francis blessed the new statue with holy water.

Dr. Philip Cunningham, director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, made certain that the newly installed president of his university, Dr. Mark Reed, along with several of his board members, and an audience of hundreds of students gathered at the last minute, were able to observe and enjoy the Pope’s presence on campus.

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Skorka, friend and colleague of Pope Francis, with Bonnie Squires.

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Skorka, friend and colleague of Pope Francis, with Bonnie Squires.

But the Jewish participation in the events leading up to the Papal Visit, as well as the Pope’s two-day whirlwind of activities in Philadelphia and Lower Merion, was significant.  The book, On Heaven and Earth, co-authored by Pope Francis when he was still the Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio, with Rabbi Skorka, focused on their interfaith dialogue.  Their decades-long friendship and dialogues were reflected in the generosity and participation of Jewish benefactors in the whole celebration.

The World Meeting of Families also got to hear Rabbi Skorka’s words of wisdom at one of the sessions.

When the Pope arrived at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary Saturday morning, I watched on television as Lower Merion Commissioner Liz Rogan and Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, both Jews, were introduced to Pope Francis.

Jeanette Lerman Neubauer and her husband Joe Neubauer, chairman of ARA (formerly Aramark), were part of the delegation with Mayor Michael Nutter which had visited the Vatican the year before to invite Pope Francis to visit Philadelphia.  The Neubauers were among the major funders of the preparations for the Papal Visit and were prominent at the major events in Philadelphia..

“Supporting religious diversity is not new to Philadelphia,” said Jeanette Lerman Neubauer “Benjamin Franklin contributed to Mikveh Israel.  We were happy to help welcome the Pope. His leadership style is to establish what people have in common as antecedent to resolving differences.  His visit lifted all of Philadelphia.”

One of the most important exhibits tied to the Papal Visit is the Vatican Splendors exhibition at The Franklin Institute.  And it is probably more than coincidence that both Larry Dubinski, the CEO of The Franklin Institute, as well as Mark Greenberg, president of Evergreen Exhibitions which designed the exhibit of treasures, many of which had never been seen before outside the Vatican, are both Jewish.

At the opening reception, there were probably as many Jewish guests as Catholic guests, and Cardinal Chaput was delighted with the turn-out.

There were many moving pieces to hosting Pope Francis and his entourage, and the Honorable Constance Hess Williams, chairman of the board of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said the museum hosted all the religious participants in the Sunday Mass. 1500 priests, deacons, bishops, along with Homeland Security and other federal agents, were installed in the museum.

We have a lot of religious art. We fed them lunch, opened the galleries for them — we have a wonderful Jan van Eyck portrait of St. Francis of Assisi that they all wanted to see.  The catered lunch offered some Argentinian beef, chicken salad on pretzel bread, and items representing Italy, Argentina and the U.S.

So many of our visitors were from other countries – thrilled to look at the museum’s offerings, kept thanking us.  I met a priest from Ambler, Father McHenry, who works closely with synagogues near him.  Many priests have rabbi friends.    For me it was a wonderful opportunity to welcome people to the museum and to Philadelphia.  I hope that Pope Francis’ message endures and resonates, his message of inclusion and cooperation.

Other Jewish participants included David L. Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast, and Lynne and Harold Honickman, the philanthropists who hosted Sister Mary Scullion over the weekend so that she could welcome Pope Francis to the Knotted Grotto installation in front of the SS Peter and Paul Basilica at the top of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.  Thousands of unfulfilled wishes were written on scraps of cloth and tied to the art installation.

Visitors are now flocking to the Jewish-Catholic statue on Saint Joseph’s University campus, giving us hope that interfaith dialogue and cooperation will grow even stronger.

“Plant One Million” Campaign Reaches Halfway

SEMINARY Bishop and tree and seminarians

Bishop Senior gets ready to bless the white oak tree, planted in honor of Pope Francis. Photo by Bonnie Squires.

(left to right) Bishop Timothy Senior; Margaret McCarvill, Interim Executive Director of the PA Horticultural Society; and Alan Jaffe, PHS Director of Communications, at the tree planting at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. photo by Bonnie Squires

Left to right: Bishop Timothy Senior; Margaret McCarvill, Interim Executive Director of the PA Horticultural Society; and Alan Jaffe, PHS Director of Communications, at the tree planting at the St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. Photo by Bonnie Squires.

Bonnie Squires talks with BIshop Senior before the tree blessing ceremony. photo by Jimmy Owens

Bonnie Squires talks with BIshop Senior before the tree blessing ceremony. Photo by Jimmy Owens.

Plant One Million, the largest multi-state tree-planting effort in the nation, is a regional partnership to plant 1 million trees throughout 13 counties in southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and the state of Delaware. The goal is to restore the tree canopy cover — the area of land shaded by trees — in the Greater Philadelphia region to 30%.

The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) reached a major milestone in the Plant One Million campaign this month, when it planted the 500,000th tree at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood.

The white oak tree was planted at the Seminary, located at 100 East Wynnewood Rd., Wynnewood, PA, in honor of the visit of Pope Francis, whose recent encyclical urges everyone to take responsibility for care of the environment. Bishop Timothy Senior blessed the tree on the grounds of the seminary, after Vespers services. Margaret McCarvill, Interim Executive Director of PHS, also spoke at the ceremony.

The September 1 tree planting coincided with the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation established by Pope Francis to remind us of our role as custodians of creation.

Plant One Million is led by PHS, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, the TreeVitalize program of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, the New Jersey Tree Foundation, and the Delaware Center for Horticulture. Residents throughout the region are being asked to add at least one tree to their home landscape, and to “count” their tree on the Plant One Million website to strengthen research and the impact of the tree canopy.

Kerry: Iranian Nuclear Bomb Prohibited Forever

 Secretary Kerry gave a detailed analysis of the reasoning behind the Iran Nuclear Deal, as well as the concern for Israel's feelings about Iran.  He firmly stated frequently that Iran would be prohibited "forever" from creating a nuclear bomb. photo by Bonnie SquiresSecretary of State John Kerry spoke passionately and firmly in support of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran in a speech at Philadelphia’s National Constitution Center.

Secretary Kerry analyzed the reasons why the Congress and the U.S. must approve the deal. He gave a detailed analysis of the reasoning behind the deal, as well as the concern for Israel’s feelings about Iran. He stated frequently that Iran would be prohibited “forever” from creating a nuclear bomb.

Senators Bob Casey (PA) and Chris Coons (DE) had already gone public with their support of President Obama and Secretary Kerry. However, right before the speech began Jeffrey Rosen, the CEO of the National Constitution Center (NCC), had gotten word that Senator Barbara Mikulski (MD) had become the 34th Senator to indicate support, guaranteeing the failure of the Republicans to override the expected veto by President Obama for the projected negative vote by Senate Republicans.

Jewish Adoption Agency Holds Fundraiser in Longport, NJ

 Donna Greenberg (Co-chair of the event), her husband Lou Greenberg, and Rana Bell, Development Director. were delighted with the success of the reception.

Event co-chair Donna Greenberg, her husband Lou Greenberg, and development director Rana Bell were delighted with the success of the reception.

Jewish Adoption and Family Care Options (JAFCO) was founded 22 years ago in Sunrise, Florida. The Emergency Shelter at JAFCO welcomes infants and children of all ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds and even finds foster homes for those children and infants who have medical needs.

The JAFCO “Cocktails for a Cause” reception and silent auction, on August 6, in a private residence in Longport, New Jersey, attracted 140 people. The evening included a fabulous buffet with food donated by dozens of the best caterers and restaurants on the island, and a few in Philadelphia; dozens of themed raffle baskets with great items and restaurant coupons, and a silent auction.

 Standing (l to r) at the registration table: Susan Green, Debbie Casnoff, and Cindy Schlossberg; seated (l to r) Mimi Lapat, Linda Peltz, Beverly Victor, and Michele Gelman

Standing left to right at the registration table: Susan Green, Debbie Casnoff and Cindy Schlossberg. Seated left to right: Mimi Lapat, Linda Peltz, Beverly Victor and Michele Gelman.

The highlight of the event was the showing of a video, featuring a young girl whose life was saved by her being placed in a group home at the JAFCO campus in Sunrise, Florida, as well as a young man who grew up at the JAFCO Children’s Village and is now a practicing physician.

JAFCO recently opened the Ability Center in Florida, which offers respite care for children with special needs so their parents can have some respite time, knowing their children are receiving efficient and compassionate care.

Hostess Linda Brodie; Michelle Simon, Esq.; her daughter Lisa Simon; and Rana Bell, Northeast JAFCO Development Director, at the Cocktail for a Cause reception in Longport on Thursday, August 6.

Hostess Linda Brodie; Michelle Simon, Esq.; her daughter Lisa Simon; and Rana Bell, Northeast JAFCO development director, at the Cocktail for a Cause reception in Longport on Thursday, August 6.

JAFCO opened a Northeast Office in Bryn Mawr, PA, to offer counseling and referral services. Many of the JAFCO supporters have primary residences in Philadelphia and South Jersey, as well as spending winters in south Florida, where they may have first gotten involved with JAFCO’s mission.

Co-chairs of the Longport event were Donna Greenberg, and Carol Sussman. Mrs. Linda Brodie, the hostess, her daughter and daughter-in-law are among the “JAFCO Godparents” – those who have pledged $1800 per year for ten years to support one of the JAFCO children at the Children’s Village.

 (left to right) JAFCO NE Development Director Rana Bell prepares for the JAFCO event with co-chair Carol Sussman, hostess Linda Brodie, and co-chair Donna Greenberg.

Left to right: JAFCO NE Development Director Rana Bell prepares for the JAFCO event with co-chair Carol Sussman, hostess Linda Brodie, and co-chair Donna Greenberg.

Michelle Simon, Esq., hosts JAFCO teen girls each summer at the shore for three or four days, in between the girls’ camp sessions at the Golden Slipper Camp in Pennsylvania. Simon is on the Golden Slipper board of directors and made the original arrangements a few years ago.

For information call Rana Bell, Northeast development director, at 610-397-8688, or visit JAFCO’s website.

JAFCO Cocktails for a Cause 2015 Food Donors

 (l to r) Enjoying the evening were (left to right) committee members Arlene Singer, Debra Greenwald and Mimi Lapat, joining JAFCO "godparents" Phyllis and Herb Victor.

Enjoying the evening were (left to right) committee members Arlene Singer, Debra Greenwald and Mimi Lapat, joining JAFCO “godparents” Phyllis and Herb Victor.

Aversa, Betty the Caterer, BF Mazzeo, Bonefish Grill, Catch, Chef Vola, Circle Liquor Store, Cricket Caterers, Domenico’s, Hannah G’s, Infinity Caterers Inc., Johnny’s Cafe, Johnson’s Popcorn, Sage, Sofia’s, Stella, Steve and Cookies, Supper/The Global Dish Caterers, Scratch Biscuits and Tomatoes.

Photo Credit: Bonnie Squires

 Elaine Friedland, Elaine Silverstein, Bonnie Squires, Susanne Shuster, and Carol Sussman (Co-chair of the event), all of Ventnor, enjoyed the JAFCO evening.

Elaine Friedland, Elaine Silverstein, Bonnie Squires, Susanne Shuster, and Carol Sussman (Co-chair of the event), all of Ventnor, enjoyed the JAFCO evening.

Obama, Congresspersons Call for Justice System Reform at Local NAACP Convention

President Barack Obama pressed the 10,000 conventioneers at the NAACP to help him effect domestic reforms, including the criminal justice system, as well as investments in education.

President Barack Obama pressed the 10,000 conventioneers at the NAACP to help him effect domestic reforms, including the criminal justice system, as well as investments in education.

The thousands of NAACP delegates, alternates and supporters who descended on the Philadelphia Convention Center for the 106th national convention of the NAACP were rewarded for their travels and loyalty. Many members of Congress spoke at the plenary sessions and themed workshops.

President Barack Obama, just on the heels of the successful negotiation with Iran, flew from Washington to Philadelphia to address the NAACP convention. His speech focused on domestic priorities, with no mention of the Iran deal, but the news spread and no one needed to be reminded that the President has had a couple of really good weeks.

Speakers like Congressman James Clyburn (SC-6) and U.S. Attorney Zane Memeger, spoke passionately about the need to reform the criminal justice system, to root out discrimination and profiling and unequal sentencing for African Americans.

President Obama, in his speech, explained why he commuted sentences for dozens of prisoners who, if they had been charged and sentenced today, would have received far less severe prison terms for non-violent drug offenses or possession of drugs like marijuana. He gave examples of ex-offenders he had just met, who had served their sentences and then redeemed their lives. They are now tax-paying citizens.

Right before I came out here, I met with four former prisoners, four ex-offenders. Two of them were African American, one of them was Latino, one of them was white. All of them had amazing stories. One of them dropped out of school when he was a young kid. Now he’s making film about his experience in the prison system.

One of them served 10 years in prison, then got a job at Five Guys — which is a tasty burger — and they gave him an opportunity, and he rose up and became a general manager there, and now is doing anti-violence work here in the community.

It was a treat to watch the NAACP session on resolutions, the debates from the floor, the challenges to the chair, the re-counts, the urging of the NAACP member from Georgia to pass a resolution requiring the removal of ALL Confederate flags from every single state’s public grounds. This amended resolution, or “game-changer,” as the NAACP calls them, passed overwhelmingly.

And it was heartening on the day of the first plenary session to hear Cornell Brooks, the national president of the NAACP, tell a story about a baby born down south who weighed only three pounds and was not expected to survive until night-time. But the doctor who delivered the baby told the mother to pray, if she believed in God. Brooks said the woman called for a chaplain in the hospital, but no preacher or minister was available. But here was a rabbi serving as chaplain, and he came and prayed with the mother.

Senator Bob Casey was featured at the NAACP Convention opening plenary session.  He urged the 8000 attendees from around the country to contact their members of Congress and push for Casey's funding bill for universal early education.

At the NAACP Convention opening plenary session, Senator Bob Casey urged the 8000 attendees to contact their members of Congress around the country and push for his universal early education funding bill.

Then Brooks delivered the punch-line: “And that is why I am standing here today!”

Although I did not hear a mention of the three martyred civil rights workers, Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney, I thought about them often as I traveled the halls of the Philadelphia Convention Center from plenary session to workshops. Listening to heroes like Congressman Jim Clyburn, Senator Bob Casey (PA), Congresswomen Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23) and Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), and Senator Corey Booker (NJ), was inspirational.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who heads up the Democratic National Committee, urged the conventioneers to register to vote and get involved in politics.

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who heads up the Democratic National Committee, urged the conventioneers to register to vote and get involved in politics.

Wasserman Schultz, from Florida, who heads up the Democratic National Committee, focused on voting rights reform in her address to the entire corps of NAACP members. She told me about the unfairness of the voter ID laws in many states and of her intention to increase registration and voting patterns of African Americans.

I bumped into Joyce Kravitz, the president of Tikvah/AJMI, the Philadelphia region’s nonprofit agency for families with members dealing with mental illness. Kravitz, a social work professor, has been an NAACP member for many years, and she attended this year’s convention with her former student, an African American social worker.

Pennsylvania state Representative Jim Roebuck, who has been advocating for Governor Tom Wolf’s budget which restores funding for pre-K and public education, was in attendance. Congressmen Chaka Fattah (PA-2) and Brendan Boyle (PA-13) accompanied President Obama on Air Force One from D.C. to the convention.

NAACP has made national news every day of the convention, and President Bill Clinton and U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch made the closing day of the convention memorable.

Photo credit: Bonnie Squires

Bart Blatstein Opens “The Playground” in Atlantic City

— by Bonnie Squires

Bart Blatstein, the Philadelphia-based real estate developer, believes in Atlantic City. He has created a new magnet to attract crowds to Atlantic City: The Playground. He previewed the first floor, T Street, recently, and wowed the huge crowds with his transformation of the back half of the first floor of what had been The Pier Shops at Caesars into seven different but inter-connected pub restaurants with performing space in each one. There is a different theme, music and menu for each of the restaurants, and the catering is all done by Chef Jose Garces. Butlered hors d’oeuvres were offered for hours as servers roamed the restaurants and hallways.

At the media preview, there were musical groups performing in every single space. You can find something for every musical taste, from rock to country to folk to blues, and everything in between. And at the very end of the pier there is a 2000-seat concert venue, called 39 North, which will book major musical acts, thanks to Philly-based music promoter Bonfire Entertainment.

Woman One Honors Philanthropist Lynne Honickman

This year's Woman One award-winner is the philanthropist and crusader Lynne Honickman.

Lynn Yeakel, director of Drexel’s Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership; Lynne Honickman, and Dr. Daniel Schidlow, Dean of the Drexel College of Medicine.

For the thirteenth year, Drexel University’s College of Medicine’s Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership bestowed its Woman One award on a community leader recently at the Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia. This year’s Woman One award-winner is the philanthropist and crusader Lynne Honickman, who, with her husband Harold Honickman and The Honickman Foundation and its affiliate, The Honickman Charitable Trust, are dedicated to supporting projects that promote the arts, education, health, social change and heritage. Lynne Honickman was recognized for her dedication to Project H.O.M.E. and its Honickman Learning Center and Comcast Labs; for her founding of Moms Against Guns and her merger with CeaseFire PA, working to end violence; for her dedication to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, including the Honickman Photography Gallery, and myriad other projects supported by Lynne and her foundation.

Dianne Semingson, Laurada Byers, Stephanie Naidoff and (seated) Suzanne Roberts. photo by Bonnie Squires

Several of the former Woman One award-winners were present to welcome Lynne Honickman to their ranks. Seen here are Dianne Semingson, Laurada Byers, Stephanie Naidoff and (seated) Suzanne Roberts.

The annual reception and award ceremony raises funds for scholarships for women medical school students.

Lynn Yeakel, director of Drexel’s Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership, announced that $500,000 had been raised for the scholarship fund at this Woman One event. Among the beneficiaries of Honickman’s expertise and generosity who spoke about her amazing efforts were Dr. Daniel Schidlow, Dean of the Drexel College of Medicine; Sister Mary Scullion, founder of Project H.O.M.E., and Shira Goodman,executive director of CeaseFire PA.

A number of medical school women students were presented, all of whom receive scholarships through the Woman One program.

All photos by Bonnie Squires.

Adele Schaeffer and Carol Fitzgerald

Attending the Woman One award ceremony in support of their friend and honoree Lynne Honickman were Adele Schaeffer and Carol Fitzgerald.

The Honorable Constance Williams and Judge Marjorie O. Rendell  know how important is Lynne Honickman's support for the arts in the region.

The Honorable Constance Williams and Judge Marjorie O. Rendell know how important is Lynne Honickman’s support for the arts in the region.

David Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast, and his wife Rhonda.

David Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast, and his wife Rhonda were among the attendees.

Steve Shller, Esq., and his wife Sandy Shellter, and Renee and Joe Zuritsky.

Among those gathered to congratulate Mrs. Honickman were Steve Sheller, Esq., and his wife Sandy Sheller, and Renee and Joe Zuritsky.

Margie Honickman and Lisa Vetri Furman

Margie Honickman and Lisa Vetri Furman.

 Dean Schidlow congratulates Lynne Honickman and her husband Harold Honickman.

Dean Schidlow congratulates Lynne Honickman and her husband Harold Honickman.

Wolf Hosts Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony in State Capitol

Governor Tom Wolf (at mcrophone)hosted the annual Civic Commemoration of the Holocaust Ceremony in the Capitol on Monday, April 20, 2015.  Some of the dignitaries who also spoke included (shown here) Pastor Earl L. Harrris, President of the Interdenominationl Ministry Conference, and Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack.   photo by Bonnie Squires

Left to right: Governor Tom Wolf, Pastor Earl L. Harrris, President of the Interdenominationl Ministry Conference, and Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack. Photo by Bonnie Squires.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf  hosted the annual “Civic Commemoration of the Holocaust” ceremony in the Governor’s Reception Room on Monday, April 20.

Michael Sand, chairman of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalitions’ committee which helped plan the event, had assembled several Holocaust survivors and children of survivors from Harrisburg and York to be present to light candles in memory of the six million who had perished.  Lt. Governor Michael Stack was also one of the speakers.

 Before the ceremony began, Governor Tom Wolf greeted (left to right) Bonnie Squires, board president of the PHILADELPHIA JEWISH VOICE;  Laura Adler Princiotta, CEO of SpArc Philadelphia; and Tanya Regli, Executive Director of The Arc of Philadelphia.

Before the ceremony began, Governor Wolf greeted (left to right) Bonnie Squires, board president of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice; Laura Adler Princiotta, CEO of SpArc Philadelphia; and Tanya Regli, Executive Director of The Arc of Philadelphia.

There was standing-room only, with almost all of Governor Wolf’s Cabinet officials attending, including, among others, Leslie Richards, Secretary of Transportation, and Kathy Manderino, Secretary of Labor. Dozens of members of the House of Representatives and Senate were also in attendance, including Senators Andy Dinniman and Daylin Leach, and Representatives Tim Briggs, Frank Dermody, and Dan Frankel, who presented  the House resolution in observance of the Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Can Tunisia Remain a Tourist Haven After ISIL Attack?


The Bardo National Museum. Photo by Alexandre Moreau.

I take the terrorist attack on tourists outside the Bardo Museum in Tunis personally. Very personally.

My husband, a Tunisian national, who has been an American citizen since 1999, happened to be in Tunisia, visiting his parents, when the gun-toting attackers started mowing down day-tourists as they exited their bus in front of the world-famous museum.

When I finally got through to my husband to find out where he was, in relation to the attack, he was shocked to hear the news. He knew nothing about it until I shared the information.

My sister-in-law Diane had called early in the morning, after watching CNN, to find out if my husband was safe. It was a frantic morning till I was able to get through to him.

Since tourism is the main component of Tunisia’s economy, ISIL, or whoever is responsible for the murderous attack, surely hit their mark. The tourist trade was finally coming back after the “revolution” that set Tunisia on the path to democracy, but created a lot of questions and challenges and slowed down tourism for several years.

My first trip to Tunisia was in 1995 with a delegation of twelve national leaders of American Jewish Congress. In fact, The Philadelphia Jewish Voice’s vice president, Ken Myers, his wife Susan and I represented the Pennsylvania region on that trip, which had us meeting with leadership in Tunisia, then Jordan, and finally in Israel.

I always have a distinct advantage in visiting Tunisia, the former French colony, as I speak French fluently. And although in recent years, English classes have been included in Tunisia’s education system, back in 1995, very few of the leaders, most of whom had attended university in France, spoke English. So I was usually the interpreter.

Who would ever have suspected that violence of this level, the attack on people simply getting out of a tourist bus and entering the Bardo to admire the world’s greatest collection of Greek and Roman mosaics? Oh, yes, the head of an opposition party had been gunned down in front of his home about a year ago, which was shocking enough. But 19 or 20 victims at one time? And dozens more wounded? Tourists from a dozen countries? Spreading fear across all of Europe — and America? This was some vicious act out of a “B” movie.

The Charlie Hebdo and Cacher Hyper Marche murders in Paris had just about faded when Tunis was moved to front and center of the international attention. Because things had settled down in Tunisia in the past couple of years, even with a revolving door of government officials, the security detail for the museum, which is next door to the Parliament building, was relaxed. There were still guards for the Parliament, but the museum was not seen as a “target.”

My visits to Tunisia subsequent to the AJC delegation included five more trips, two of them as a guest of the government’s tourism agency, designed for journalists. But I must confess that I have declined my husband’s invitations to accompany him to visit his parents, ever since the revolution in 2011. Yes, the Tunisian Arab Spring is referred to as the model for Muslim countries, throwing off dictatorships and opting for democracy. But you cannot just paste a layer of “democracy” over centuries of non-participation in government decisions.


El Ghriba synagogue. Photo by Chapultepec.

The reaction of the president and prime minister of Tunisia was instant and strong, vowing to fight against terrorism and terrorists in their country and elsewhere. The U.S., England and France joined in their support for Tunisia’s official reaction to the horror.

Only about 1100 Jews are left in the Tunisia, but many of them, like some of our Tunisian friends, also own homes in Paris and spend half the year there. Others travel to the U.S., Israel, England and France on business. Basically, the Jews in Tunisia are located in two main areas: Tunis, the capital, and the island of Djerba, with one of the world’s oldest synagogues.

Djerban Jews are quite insular, and Orthodox, with schools for girls and schools for boys. I have visited these and admired them, although the girls are not encouraged to pursue higher education. Most of the Djerban Jews are shopkeepers, craftsmen, jewelers, and leather goods impresarios.

However, the dozens of wounded tourists from many countries, those who survived the Bardo assault, will probably serve as a warning to lots of others who wanted to go to Tunisia, either for a day-trip off their cruise ship, or for a week or two at a lovely, and very reasonable hotel, with everything included.

We have to wait and see what the ramifications are for the U.S. and European countries, now that ISIL has decided that killing sprees spread their message and attract new killers. But the instant demonstration by thousands of Tunisians who spilled into the streets of the capital to tell the world that they will not tolerate ISIL in their country, and will hunt them down and punish them, was a heartening scene. I hope to be able to return to Tunisia in the near future.