A Moment of Silence in Honor of the Victims

President Barack Obama will lead the nation in amoment of silence this morning  at 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time to honor the innocent victims of Saturday’s horrific shooting senseless tragedy in Tucson, Arizona. The victims ranged in age from 9 to 76. In addition to the six dead, there are 14 wounded including those still fighting for their lives. The President also signed a proclamation calling for flags to be flown at half-staff.

The shooting’s aftermath will reverberate for a long time related to issues of access to public officials and their attendant safety, as well as the issue of words having consequences. These are issues which Israel has painfully dealt with since the first Intifada and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

Remember that silence, too, can be powerful. As Obama said,

“It will be a time for us to come together as a nation in prayer or reflection, keeping the victims and their families closely at heart.”

Please take a few minutes at 11 this morning to remember those who lost their lives, and that all of our lives have been changed forever from this. Nothing good ever comes from hatred and random violence.

The President will observe the moment of silence with White House staff on the South Lawn.  

Reactions to the Tucson Tragedy

Announcement on the Pima County Republican website promoting an event last June organized by Republican challenger Jesse Kelly. There is nothing wrong with holding a gun-themed campaign event, but the way they worded the ad is just sick and encourages borderline personalities to engage in this kind of violence.

Bonnie Squires reached out to a number of Jewish leaders for their comments on the tragic shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and nineteen other people who were shot outside a supermarket in Tucson, Arizona.  

Here are their comments.

Betsy R. Sheerr,  former President of JAC-PAC, a pro-choice, pro-Israel advocacy organization:

I’ve had the privilege of knowing Congresswoman Giffords since she first ran for office six years ago. Even then, we knew were in the presence of a rising star: knowledgeable, passionate about public service, unafraid to take a bold stand politically, and genuinely warm and approachable. Supporting her candidacy has been gratifying: she is a devoted Member of Congress and a thoughtful, bright woman.

This tragic shooting is an affront to all Americans. Perhaps, just perhaps, it will shock our country into reexamining our accepted standards of civility and the ways we permit extremism and hatred to fester in our midst.

Pennsylvania State Representation Josh Shapiro (D-Abington and Upper Dublin)

The attack on Rep. Giffords was an attack against all who serve and our democracy. My thoughts and prayers go to each of those injured and the families of those slain.  

Our country was founded on the promise and hope of words from common people. We need to restore a sense of civility and purpose in our public discourse by encouraging all points of view be heard and consensus be sought.  

Marcia Balonick and Gail Yamner, Executive Director and President of the Jewish Women’s Political Action Committee (JACPAC)

Yesterday Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), was shot while at an event known as “Congress-on-your-Corner” in a grocery store parking lot in Tucson, AZ. Eighteen other people, including six members of her staff, were also shot. There were six fatalities, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old child. Giffords survived surgery at University Medical Center in Tucson. Although she is in critical condition, her surgeon stated he is as “optimistic about her recovery as it is possible to be” given the extent of her injuries.  

The shooting of Congresswoman Giffords has caused shock and dismay in many quarters. One of 27 Jewish members of Congress, she is a special friend to JAC. Marcia Balonick, executive director, said the JAC contingent that attended the Congressional swearing-in ceremonies on Wednesday attended a reception in her honor. “I met and spoke with her mother and we talked about how special she is. Her mother told me how lucky she was to have such a wonderful daughter and that life was ‘always an adventure with Gabby.’ The attempted murder of any member of Congress would be tragic to me, but this is personal.”    

In 2009 Giffords spoke for JAC at the Detroit chapter’s membership event. She was extremely well received. Lisa Lis, chair of that event, also considers the shooting a personal matter. “This is truly heartbreaking. She is a bright star in the Congress, passionate about bringing positive changes to the country. When she spoke at our meeting, we were so impressed by her dedication to public service. She was genuinely approachable and touched everyone’s heart.”

Gabrielle Giffords is a positive force on issues of concern to JAC. She is a staunch advocate for Israel, reproductive rights and separation of religion and state. Her door is always open to JAC and the PAC’s relationship with her is very close.

She stood on principle when it came to health care reform even though it could have cost her her re-election. As a member of the Armed Services committee, she is well respected and well liked even by her political opponents. Gail Yamner, JAC President, said “You cannot help but like her. She is a warm, caring woman who wants only to serve her country. She is an incredible woman who believes in an America that is for everyone.”

We do not fully know the shooter’s motivation, but Arizona’s laws that permit easy access to guns make it too easy to commit a heinous crime such as this one. His violent act is likely to have a chilling effect on the public’s access to elected officials. American democracy is ill-served by a violent gun culture and by security barriers erected between the people and their government. Neither is consistent with Gabby’s modus operandi.

The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is a personal affront, an affront to the Jewish community, to her Arizona constituents and to the country.

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL 20)

I am sickened by the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, her staff, and others today in Arizona.
“Gabby is one of my closest friends and my thoughts and prayers are with Mark, Gabby’s parents, and their family as they struggle to get through this unimaginable tragedy. I pray for her full recovery and the recovery of the other victims of this horrific act of senseless violence.

Anyone who knows Gabby, knows that she is one of the nicest people you will meet. I’ve never heard her raise her voice in anger or express anything but optimism for our future and our nation.

Just two days after she stood on the floor of the House of Representatives and read from the 1st Amendment of the Constitution guaranteeing free speech, she was shot while speaking with her constituents. The interaction of a Member of Congress with the people they represent is one of the greatest tenets of our democracy. I know how strongly Gabby feels about being accessible to the people that she represents.

I know from our many hours spent together that Gabby ran for Congress for one reason, to make America a better place and after her recent reelection, she made the following statement: ‘Our country must be strong enough to solve problems and that means we must learn how to work together again. Our children are counting on us.’

To her staff and the family members of her staff and Judge John Roll killed in this shooting I extend my deep sympathy and prayers. No one, not a Member of Congress, nor a dedicated public servant should have to fear for their safety while working to uphold our democracy.

And to the people and family members of the public attacked at this event, you are in my thoughts and prayers. The American public should not have to worry that they will suffer a violent attack while carrying out their right to petition their government.

My husband and I will be praying as hard as we can that Gabby pulls through this and makes a full recovery so she can be the bright light that she has always been to her family and friends.

Nancy Gordon,  Pennsylvania Coordinator, Million Mom March (2000), Co-founder, CeaseFirePA

This a terrible tragedy, but it is not the first and it will not be the last.  Also tragic are the shooting deaths of Chief Judge John Roll, the other victims of this shooting (including a 9-year-old girl), and the 13 Americans, on average, who lose their lives to gun violence every single day.  An effective way to reduce the incidence of gun deaths and injuries would be to restrict access to guns, through meaningful background checks, licensing of gun owners, registration of guns, and a prohibition on civilian ownership of assault weapons.  Most of our legislators have refused to take these steps.  While this shooting was horrifying, anyone who’s been paying attention should not be shocked by it; with over 300,000,000 guns out there in civilian hands, and virtually no regulation of who’s allowed to have them, we are all at risk, all the time.  No wonder that 13 people are killed each day, and almost 300 people are shot and injured every day, according to the Brady Campaign.

Phil Goldsmith, president of CeaseFirePA

It is a terrible tragedy and our prayers are with her and the familes of all the victims. Once again, it demonstrates how easy it is for guns to get in the wrong hands in this nation.

Anti-Defamation League, Arizona Chapter

Phoenix, AZ, January 9, 2011 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today condemned the tragic shooting rampage that wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed and wounded more than a dozen innocent bystanders in Tucson, with reports of six dead and 14 wounded.                    
 Miriam Weisman, ADL Arizona Regional Board Chair, and Bill Straus, ADL Arizona Regional Director, issued the following statement:  
      We are shocked by this unconscionable and horrific act of violence against one of our highly respected public servants.  We agree with President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner that this was more than an attack on one member of Congress – it is an attack on all public servants and the very fabric of our democracy.

      During her years in the statehouse, Rep. Giffords served on the ADL Arizona Regional Board.  Her affiliation with ADL, which monitors and exposes hate and extremist groups, contributed to her awareness of the nexus between hate ideology and violence.  It is a testament to her dedication to her constituents that despite past threats against her, Rep. Giffords has always been so accessible to the people she represents.  Our thoughts and prayers are with Congresswoman Giffords and the other victims and their families.

ADL remains in contact with law enforcement as investigators endeavor to establish a motive for the attack. It is critical to determine whether the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, acted alone or with others, and whether he was influenced by extremist literature, propaganda or hate speech.  While it is still not clear whether the attack was motivated by political ideology, the tragedy has already led to, as Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik put it, “soul searching” about the connection between incivility and violence. We applaud Sheriff Dupnik’s statements
condemning the volatile nature of political discourse in America and for taking this investigation seriously.

Lynne Honickman, Founder, Moms Against Guns (now merged with CeasefirePA)

It was the worst of times! devastating… unbearably sad…senseless… a beautiful young representative reaching out to her constituency…a child beginning a proud life of service…a judge who had devoted 40 years to our benefit, and many  others who had come together to dialogue for the welfare of all. But, in the way of all evil acts, there is its opposite side, the best in our country will rise above politics and self serving rhetoric -and will demand not only  justice but a new kind of civility that will not tolerate illegal guns, automatic weapons in wrong hands and anyone or anything that jeopardizes our hard fought and hard won freedoms.

We are all heartsick—– but, non-the-less hopeful Americans, praying for Gabby Gifford’s recovery as well as her companions and the families of all those stricken….May G-d Bless them and our country…and keep us all strong and just.

Affiliations are provided for identification purposes only and do not imply endorsement of the organizations indicated.

Senator Specter’s Final Remarks in the United States Senate

Today, U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) delivered the final floor statement of his Senate career.

This is not a farewell address, but rather a closing argument to a jury of my colleagues and the American people outlining my views on how the Senate – and with it, the Federal Government — arrived at its current condition of partisan gridlock, and my suggestions of where we go from here on that pressing problem and key issues of national and international importance.

To make a final floor statement is a challenge.  The Washington Post noted the poor attendance at my colleagues’ farewell speeches earlier this month.  That is really not surprising since there is hardly anyone ever on the Senate floor.  The days of lively debate with many members on the floor are long gone.  Abuse of Senate rules has pretty much stripped senators of the right to offer amendments.  The modern filibuster requires only a threat and no talking.  So the Senate’s dominant activity for more than a decade has been the virtually continuous drone of the quorum call.

Joan and Senator Arlen Specter. (Photo: Bonnie Squires)

But that is not the way it was when I was privileged to enter the world’s greatest deliberative body 30 years ago.  Senators on both sides of the aisle engaged in collegial debate and found ways to find common ground on the nation’s pressing problems.  When I attended my first Republican moderates luncheon, I met Mark Hatfield, John Chaffee, Ted Stevens, Mac Mathias, Bob Stafford, Bob Packwood, Chuck Percy, Bill Cohen, Warren Rudman, Alan Simpson, Jack Danforth, John Warner, Nancy Kassenbaum, Slade Gorton, and others-a far cry from later years when the moderates could fit into a telephone booth.  On the other side of the aisle, I found many Democratic senators willing to move to the center to craft legislation: Scoop Jackson, Joe Biden, Dan Inouye, Lloyd Bentsen, Fritz Hollings, Pat Leahy, Dale Bumpers, David Boren, Russell Long, Pat Moynihan, George Mitchell, Sam Nunn, Gary Hart, Bill Bradley, and others.

More after the jump.
They were carrying on the Senate’s glorious tradition.  The Senate’s deliberate, cerebral procedures have served our country well.  The Senate stood tall in 1805 in acquitting Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase in impeachment proceedings to preserve the independence of the federal judiciary.  The Senate stood tall in 1868 to acquit President Andrew Johnson in impeachment proceedings that preserved the power of the Presidency.  Repeatedly, in our-223 year history the Senate has cooled the passions of the moment to preserve the institutions embodied in our Constitution which have made the United States the envy of the world.

It has been a great privilege to have had a voice for the last 30 years in the great decisions of our day: how we allocate our resources among economic development, national defense, education, environmental protection and NIH funding; the Senate’s role in foreign policy; the protection of civil rights; balancing crime control and defendants’ rights; and how we maintained the quality of the federal judiciary-not only the high profile 14 Supreme Court nominations that I have participated in but the 112 Pennsylvanians who have been confirmed during my tenure in the District Courts or Third Circuit.

On the national scene, top issues are the deficit and national debt.  The Deficit Commission has made a start.  When raising the debt limit comes up next year, that may present an occasion to pressure all parties to come to terms on future taxes and expenditures to  realistically deal with these issues.

Next, Congress should act to try to stop the Supreme Court from further eroding the Constitutional mandate of separation of power.  The Court has been eating Congress’s lunch by invalidating legislation with judicial activism after nominees commit under oath in confirmation proceedings to respect Congressional fact finding and precedents.  The recent decision in Citizens United is illustrative.  Ignoring a massive Congressional record and reversing recent decisions, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito repudiated their confirmation testimony and provided the key votes to permit corporations and unions to secretly pay for political advertising – effectively undermining the basic democratic principle of the power of one person/one vote.   Roberts promised to just call balls and strikes and then moved the bases.          

Congress’s response is necessarily limited in recognition of the importance of judicial independence as the foundation of the rule of law.   Congress could at least require televising the court proceedings to provide some transparency to inform the public about how the Court is the final word on the cutting issues of the day in our society.  Brandeis was right that sunlight is the best disinfectant.  The Court does follow the election returns and does judicially notice societal values as expressed by public opinion.  Polls show 85% of the American people favor televising the Court when told that a citizen can only attend an oral argument for three minutes in a chamber holding only 300 people.  Great Britain, Canada, and state supreme courts permit television.

Congress has the authority to legislate on this subject just as Congress decides other administrative matters like what cases the Court must hear, time limits for decisions, the number of justices, the day the Court convenes and the number for a quorum.  While television cannot provide a definitive answer, it could be significant and may be the most that can be done consistent with life tenure and judicial independence.

Additionally,  I urge Congress to substantially increase funding for NIH.  When NIH funding was increased from $12 to $30 billion annually, and $10 billion added in the stimulus package, significant advances were made on medical research.   It is scandalous that a nation with our wealth and research capabilities has not done more. Forty years ago, the President of the United States declared war on cancer.  Had that war been pursued with the diligence of other wars, most forms of cancer might have been conquered.

I also urge my colleagues to increase their activity on foreign travel.   Regrettably, we have earned the title of “The Ugly Americans” by not treating other nations with proper respect and dignity.   My experience in Codels to China, Russia, India, NATO, Jerusalem, Damascus, Bagdad, Kabul and elsewhere provided the opportunity for eyeball to eyeball discussions with world leaders about our values, our expectations and our willingness to engage in constructive dialogue.  Since 1984, I have visited Syria almost every year.  My extensive conversations with Hafiz al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad have convinced me that there is a realistic opportunity for a peace treaty between Israel and Syria if encouraged by vigorous U.S. diplomacy.  Similar meetings with Muammar Ghaddafi, Yasser Arafat, Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein and Hugo Chavez have persuaded me that candid, respectful dialogue with our toughest adversaries can do much to improve relations among nations.

And now let me shift gears – in my view, a principle reason for the historic stature of the United States Senate has been the ability of any Senator to offer virtually any amendment at virtually any time.  The Senate Chamber provides the forum for unlimited debate with the potential to acquaint the people of America and the world about innovative proposals on public policy and have a vote on the issue.

Regrettably, that has changed in recent years because of abuse of the Senate rules by both parties.  The Senate rules allow the Majority Leader, through his right of first recognition, to offer up a series of amendments to prevent any other senator from offering an amendment.  That had been done infrequently up until about a decade ago and lately has become a common practice by both parties.

By precluding other Senators from offering amendments, the Majority Leader protects his party colleagues from taking tough votes.  Never mind that we were sent here and paid to make tough votes.  The inevitable and understandable consequence of that practice has been the filibuster.  If a Senator can not offer an amendment, why vote to cut off debate and go to final passage?  Senators were willing to accept the will of the majority in rejecting their amendments, but unwilling to accept being railroaded to concluding a bill without an opportunity to modify it.  That practice led to an indignant, determined minority to filibuster and deny the 60 votes necessary to cut off debate.  Two years ago on the Senate floor, I called the practice “tyrannical”.

The decade from 1995-2005 saw the nominees of President Clinton and President Bush stymied by the refusal of the other party to have a hearing or floor vote on many judicial and executive nominees.  Then in 2005, serious consideration was given by the Republican Caucus to changing the long standing Senate filibuster rule by invoking the so called “nuclear” or “constitutional option”.  The plan called for Vice President Cheney to rule 51 votes were sufficient to impose cloture for confirmation of a judge or executive nominee.  His ruling, challenged by Democrats, would then be upheld by the traditional 51 votes to uphold the Chair’s ruling.

As I argued on the Senate floor at that time, if Democratic Senators had voted their conscience without regard to party loyalty, most filibusters would have failed.  Similarly, I argued that had Republican Senators voted their consciences without regard to party loyalty there would not have been 51 of the 55 Republican Senators to support the nuclear option.

The Majority Leader scheduled the critical vote for May 25, 2005.  The outcome of the vote was uncertain with key Republicans undeclared.  The showdown was averted the night before by a compromise by the so called “Gang of 14”.  Some nominees were approved, some rejected, and a new standard was established to eliminate filibusters unless there were “extraordinary circumstances” with each senator to decide whether that standard was met.  That standard has not been followed as those filibusters have continued in recent years.  Again, the fault rests with both parties.

There is a way out of this procedural gridlock by changing the rule on the power of the Majority Leader to exclude other Senators’ amendments.  I proposed such a rule change in the 110th and 111th Congresses.  I would retain the 60 vote requirement for cloture on legislation with the condition that Senators would have to have a talking filibuster-not merely the present notice of intent.   By allowing senators to offer amendments and a requirement for debate, not just notice, I think filibusters could be effectively managed as they had been in the past and still be retained where necessary to give adequate debate on controversial issues.

I would change the rule to cut off debate on judicial and executive branch nominees to 51 votes as I formally proposed in the 109th Congress.  Important positions are left open for months including judicial nominees with emergency backlogs.  Since Judge Bork and Justice Thomas did not provoke filibusters, I think the Senate can do without them on judges and executive office holders.  There is a sufficient safeguard of the public interest by requiring a simple majority of Senators on an up/down vote.  I would also change the rule requiring 30 hours of post-cloture debate and the rule allowing the secret “hold” which requires cloture to bring the matter to the floor.  Requiring a senator to disclose his “hold” to the light of day would greatly curtail this abuse.

While political gridlock has been facilitated by the Senate rules, partisanship has been increased by other factors.  Senators have gone into other states to campaign against incumbents of the other party.  Senators have even opposed their own party colleagues in primary challenges.  That conduct was beyond contemplation in the Senate I joined 30 years ago.  Collegiality can obviously not be maintained when negotiating with someone simultaneously out to defeat you, especially within your own party.

In some quarters, “compromising” has become a dirty word.  Some senators insist on ideological purity as a precondition.   Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine had it right when she said we need to distinguish between the compromise of principle and the principle of compromise.  The Senate itself was created through the so-called “Great Compromise,” in which the framers decreed that states would be represented equally in the Senate and proportionate to their populations in the House.  As Senate historian Richard Baker wrote, “Without that compromise, there would likely have been no Constitution, no Senate, and no United States as we know it today.”

Politics is no longer the art of the possible when senators are intransigent in their positions.  Polarization of the political parties has followed.  President Reagan’s “Big Tent” has frequently been abandoned by the Republican Party.  A single vote out of thousands cast by an incumbent can cost his seat.  Senator Bob Bennett was rejected by the far right in his Utah primary largely because of his vote for TARP.  It did not matter that Vice President Cheney had pleaded with the Republican caucus to support TARP or President Bush would become a modern Herbert Hoover.  It did not matter that 24 other Republican Senators out of 49 also voted for TARP.  Senator Bennett’s 93% conservative rating was insufficient.  Senator Lisa Murkowski lost her primary in Alaska.   Congressman Mike Castle was rejected in Delaware’s Republican primary in favor of a candidate who thought it necessary to defend herself as not being a witch.   Republican senators contributed to the primary defeats of Bennett, Murkowski and Castle.  Eating or defeating your own is a form of sophisticated cannibalism.  Similarly, on the other side of the aisle, Senator Lieberman could not win his Democratic primary.

The spectacular re-election of Senator Lisa Murkowski on a write-in vote in the Alaskan general election and the defeat of other Tea Party candidates in 2010 in general elections may show the way to counter right-wing extremists.  Arguably, Republicans left three seats on the table in 2010-beyond Delaware, also Nevada and arguably Colorado-because of unacceptable general election candidates.  By bouncing back and winning, Senator Murkowski demonstrated that a moderate/centrist can win by informing and arousing the general electorate.  Her victory proves that America still wants to be and can be governed by the center.

Repeatedly, senior Republican senators have recently abandoned long held positions out of fear of losing their seats over a single vote or because of party discipline.  With 59 votes for cloture on the Democratic side of the aisle, not a single Republican would provide the 60th vote to advance legislation on key issues such as identifying campaign contributors.

Notwithstanding the perils, it is my hope that more senators will return to greater independence in voting and crossing of party lines evident thirty years ago.  President Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage” shows the way.  Sometimes party does ask too much.  The model for an elected official’s independence in a representative democracy was articulated in 1774 by Edmund Burke of the British House of Commons, who said: “his [the elected representative’s] unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience…[including his vote] ought not to be sacrificed to you, to any man or any set of men living.”

Above all, we need civility.  Steve and Cokie Roberts, distinguished journalists, put it well in a recent column:  “Civility is more than good manners . . . Civility is a state of mind.  It reflects respect for your opponents and for the institutions you serve together. . . This polarization will make civility in the next Congress more difficult – and more necessary – than ever.”

A closing speech has an inevitable aspect of nostalgia.  An extraordinary experience has come to an end.  But my dominant feeling is pride in the great privilege it has been to be a part of this unique body with colleagues who are such outstanding public servants.  I have written and will write elsewhere about my tenure here, so I do not say “farewell” to my continuing involvement in public policy, which I will pursue in a different venue.  I leave with great optimism for the future of our country and the continuing vital role of the United States Senate in the governance of our democracy.

National Museum of American Jewish History Opening

Long-time board members and supporters of NMAJH, Lyn and George Ross, have their names emblazoned on the new museum.

Bonnie Squires

One of the great mysteries surrounding the evolution of the new National Museum of American Jewish History site was solved at a press preview right before the official opening and dedication of NMAJH.  For months I had been wondering – how could Patrick Gallagher, the “interpretive designer” who worked so closely with Gwen Goodman, Executive Director Emerita, the board of trustees, and the new CEO Michael Rosenzweig, have translated the vision of Goodman and her board into the amazing new building on Inde
pendence Mall?

I mean – you don’t have to be Jewish to love bagels and lox.  But do you have to be Jewish to interpret the history of Jews in America into a museum which will speak to all ages, all ethnic groups, all different expressions of Judaism, all the immigrant groups in American society?

Some of the older artifacts in the new museum, like this pile of immigrant suitcases, look outstanding in their new home.

So I asked Gallagher, as he stood next to Goodman, after the press conference.  And he answered, “I’m Jewish!”  Now at first I thought he was joking – until Goodman confirmed that yes, indeed, Patrick was Jewish.    Gallagher had converted to Judaism in his twenties when he was getting married.

And like other people who have studied their way into Judaism, instead of simply having been born into the religion, Gallagher probably knows a lot more about Jewish history, traditions, customs and practices than many of those born Jewish.

Gwen Goodman, Executive Director Emerita of the National Museum of American Jewish History, and Patrick Gallagher, the interpretive designer of the new museum.

For ten years, Goodman and her board worked with Gallagher & Associates, in creating the core exhibition. The new museum has been designed by the internationally acclaimed architectural firm Polshek Partnership Architects.

The grand opening gala will feature performances by Bette Midler and Jerry Seinfeld, along with seminars by academics and a ribbon-cutting featuring Vice President Joe Biden.  Nearly one thousand patrons and sponsors will attend the gala concert and dinner, with national figures flying in from around the country.

And as Polshek explained, the beacon atop the glass and terra cotta structure will act as a reflection of the Statue of Liberty’s torch, a call to freedom; a reminder of the Eternal LIght which shines in every synagogue around the world; as well as a reflection of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, American icons of freedom, just across the street from the new National Museum of American Jewish History.

The move to Independence Mall included the 19th century statue, now situated on the Caroline and Sidney Kimmel Plaza, which was a gift from the Jewish community of Philadelphia.

Photo credits: Bonnie Squires

Explaining the mission of the NMAJH are (left to right) architect James Polshek and NMAJH CEO Michael Rosenzweig.

Secretary Sebelius Stumps for Onorato in Bala Cynwyd

Bonnie Squires

A “Women for Onorato” campaign event took place Tuesday night in Lower Merion, at the home of Nancy and Rob Fox, Esq., featuring Mrs. Shelly Onorato and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.  Democratic State Committeewoman Penny Gerber and former Pennsylania state treasurer Robin Wiessman urged the crowd to get out the vote next Tuesday for Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato (D-Pittsburgh) who is running for Governor of Pennsylvania against State Attorney General Tom Corbett (R-Shaler).

Nancy Fox, host of Women for Onorato; Shelly Onorato, wife of Dan Onorato; U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius; and Rob Fox, Esq., co-host.

PPRA Gold Medal Award to Dr. Amy Gutmann, Penn President

Dr. Amy Gutmann, President of the University of Pennsylvania, To Receive Philadelphia Public Relations Association’s 2010 Gold Medal Award

University President Honored for Increasing Access to Higher Education and for Championing Civic Engagement with Communities both Domestically and Globally

— Bonnie Squires

The Philadelphia Public Relations Association (PPRA) will honor Dr. Amy Gutmann, President of the University of Pennsylvania, with the organization’s 2010 Gold Medal Award on Tuesday, November 9, 2010, 11:30am – 1:30pm at the Loews Philadelphia, Washington Room, 1200 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19107.

More after the jump.
Helping PPRA honor Gutmann is event speaker David L. Cohen, Executive Vice President of Comcast and Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the University of Pennsylvania.  Invited guests include Governor Edward G. Rendell and Mayor Michael A. Nutter. The event’s theme is “Making History … Ben Franklin Would Approve.”

The PPRA Gold Medal Award honors individuals and organizations whose accomplishments leave a lasting impact on our community and bring national recognition to Philadelphia. As a Gold Medal recipient, Gutmann joins Ambassador Walter Annenberg, Governor Edward G. Rendell, former President of Drexel University Constantine Papadakis, 6abc’s Jim Gardner, author Lisa Scottoline, and nearly 60 other prominent individuals and organizations in the Philadelphia area.

“We are honoring President Gutmann because she is the standard to which all leaders in Philadelphia should be held,” said Beth Archer, president of the Philadelphia Public Relations Association. “Whether she’s expanding Penn’s environmental commitment, or improving access to higher education for Philadelphians, she brings positivity to our region.”

As President of the University of Pennsylvania since 2004, Gutmann substituted grants for student loans for all eligible undergraduates and has increased undergraduate financial aid by 78 percent. She has recruited eminent, multidisciplinary teacher-scholars to Penn’s 12 schools; expanded Penn’s campus while increasing green space by 20 percent; and championed civic engagement domestically and globally.

A distinguished political philosopher, Dr. Gutmann has authored and edited 15 books and more than 100 articles and essays on ethics and public policy, deliberative democracy, and education.  

In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed her Chair of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

Previously, Dr. Gutmann served as Princeton University’s Provost, Dean of the Faculty, and founding Director of the University Center for Human Values.  

“I am honored to accept this award on behalf of Penn,” said Gutmann. “Local engagement is one of the cornerstones of our Penn Compact. Day in and day out at Penn, we act on the knowledge that the health and vitality of Penn is inextricably linked to that of Philadelphia. We work together with our Philadelphia neighbors and leaders to make both Penn and Philadelphia the best that we can be. I commend PPRA for consistently advancing leadership in our region.”

The PPRA Gold Medal event is co-chaired by Bonnie Squires, president of Squires Consulting and a Penn Alumna, and David Brown, Executive Vice President and General Manager of WURD-AM.

The event committee also includes noted PR practitioners Sylvia Kauders, Sally Berlin, Lisette Bralow, Mark Tarasiewicz, Joan Gubernick, Michael Cavacini, Kera Walter, Meredith Avakian, and Megan Smith.

Registration for the Gold Medal event is $65 for PPRA members; $75 for nonmembers; and $650 for a table of ten, and can be purchased by visiting www.ppra.net or calling 215-557-9865.

Keystone Hospice Observes Jewish Holidays

Rabbi Brian Nevins-Goldman, the Jewish chaplain at Keystone Hospice in Wyndmoor, began buliding the Sukkah on the grounds of the historically certified residence in Wyndmoor in preparation for the celebration of the holiday of Sukkot.  Gil Rosenthal and David Campbell, volunteers, designed and built the Sukkah, and volunteer Lois Blofstein  and Rabbi’s daughter Corianna assisted them with decorating the Sukkah.

Photo: Sukkah-building on the grounds of Keystone Hospice brought together volunteers and staff members, inclulding (left to right) David Campbell, of Elkins Park;  Gil Rosenthal, of Chestnut Hill;  Rabbi Brian Nevins-Goldman, Keystone Hospice Jewish chaplain, and his daughter Corianna; and volunteer Lois Blofstein, of Elkins Park. (Bonnie Squires)
Gail Inderwies, founder and CEO of Keystone Hospice, believes that celebrating all religious holidays from all ethnic groups, as well as all American holidays, lifts everyone’s spirits.

On Wednesday, September 22, following lunch, there was a program in the sukkah welcoming Sukkot, with prayers, songs, art and fresh fruits.  Sukkot began that evening and lasts 7-8 days.

Keystone Hospice residents, family members and staff members are invited to attend and participate in all the events.  

President Obama Campaigns for Joe Sestak

President Barak Obama points to Joe Sestak and praises him for his decades of service to the country.

Convention Center Democratic fundraiser

President Barack Obama is getting his groove back, and Joe Sestak, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, was the beneficiary last night.  Hundreds of party faithfuls bought $250 tickets to see Obama and Sestak at a huge reception in the Convention center, while well-heeled supporters were escorted into the $1000 VIP reception.  Then there was a private dinner for the very highest-priced tickets.  While waiting for Obama to land in Philly, a string of luminaries spoke to the crowd, reiterating what has become a disciplined Democratic theme: get out the vote, hold onto the House and the Senate, support Obama’s initiatives, and make certain that Pennsylvania ends up with two Democratic Senators after this November’s election.  Making the point and leading the crowd in energetic chants of “Go, Joe!” were Pat Croce, the ultimate cheerleader; Governor Ed Rendell; Senator Bob Casey; Congressman Bob Brady; and Mayor Michael Nutter.

Among the Sestak supporters waiting for the senate candidate and President Obama to arrive Monday at the Convention Center are AFT-PA union officials, (left to right) Jerry Jordan, Ted Kirsch and Arlene Freedman.  

When President Obama and Admiral Sestak appeared on stage, they were greeted with overwhelming cheers and applause.  Obama used the occasion to praise and endores Sestak, and then he reiterated th themes which he has recently bugan talking about in an effort to bolster the Democratic Party base. He told an anecdote which other Democrats have used in the past month, saying, “When you want to go forward in a car, you put the gear into ‘D.’  When you want to go backwards, you push ‘R.’  It’s not a coincidence.”  The audience recognized instantly that “D” was for “Democratic” and “R” was for “Republican.”  

Obama reminded the audience that not a single Republican had voted for the stimulus bill or for the jobs bill, and that the Republican agenda has not changed in decades: they want to privatize Social Security, despite what has happened to the stock market in the past two years, and they want to remove all regulations on financial institutions,  despite the bank disaster which still has the economy struggling.

Obama gave shoppers at the Reading Terminal Market a thrill before crossing the street to the fundraiser, stopping to buy cheese steaks and, in deference to the First Lady’s push for healthy eating, some apples as well.

Photos and copy by Bonnie Squires.

Clinton Stumps For Sestak at JCC

— Bonnie Squires

President Bill Clinton stumped for his friend Joe Sestak, running for U.S. Senate, at the Golden Slipper Center for Seniors at the Kaiserman JCC (Jewish Community Center) in Wynnewood, his first stop of a very busy day.  Clinton praised Sestak for having an economic policy plan which fit with Clinton’s philosophy and success.

The appearance at the Jewish community center was a last-minute addition to Clinton’s whirlwind Philadelphia schedule as he came to town to honor former British Prime Minister Tony Blair with the Liberty Medal Monday evening.  But Clinton, who had campaigned for Sestak when the Congressman first ran for office five years ago , seemed genuinely delighted to speak to an adoring Jewish crowd on behalf of his former military advisor.

Clinton told the audience that each year the Pentagon picks the brightest member of the military to send to the White House as military advisor to the President, and they had selected Joe Sestak to send to him.  

Sestak’s words to the JCC audience reminded us of Senator Arlen Specter’s appearance there, years ago, when Lynn Yeakel was the Democratic contender for U.S. Senate.  Specter won that close race.  Perhaps Sestak had that in mind as he continued his wooing of the Jewish community.  And Clinton proved once again that he is a huge magnet, even with only a few hours’ notice.

Clinton gave a detailed analysis of the current economic situation in the country, pointing out the success of his philosophy when his administration turned around a huge deficit and left office with a huge surplus.  He credited Sestak with having a detailed plan and vision for creating jobs in three areas which are vital: small business, manufacturing, and the green economy.  

(photo credit: Bonnie Squires)

Astronaut at National Museum of American Jewish History

The first event held at Philadelphia’s New National Museum of American Jewish History is literally out of this world.

Bonnie Squires

Garrett Reisman, with his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, who was the first Jewish member of the space station crew, went up the first time in 2008 where he was able to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary. Israeli President Shimon Peres gave him the symbol of State of Israel to take with him for the occasion. His second trip was just in May of this year, where he and a fellow astronaut had to do a space walk in order to install an additional module to the space station.  
   The National Museum of American Jewish History hosted Reisman in a special event which was the first to be convened in the not-yet-completed new site of NMAJH.  Reisman, dressed in a flight suit, entranced the crowd of founding members of the museum with his stories of his space flight and one very interesting challenge he encountered in trying to install the new module on the space station.

More after the jump.

Bonnie Squires talks with Dr. Garrett Reisman.

   It seems the plug and socket would not fit which would have activated the electrical system.  Nos here was Reisman and his colleague, out in space, trying to comlete a task they had trained for during an entire year.  And it wasn’t working.
   Then Reisman had an aha! moment.  Calling into the space ship, he asked when they would be traveling directly into the rays of the sun.  Then he covered the plug end of the module to shield it from the heat, allowing the socket to expand from the incredible heat from the sun.  And voila!  He was able to push the plug into the socket.
   Of course, Reisman may have more scientific jargon for the plug, but I used the language most of us can understand.
   Reisman used a Star Wars / SAT analogy in order to relate how incredibly large the International Space Station is: “The Space Shuttle is to International Space Station, as the Millenium Falcon is to the Death Star.”
   A highlight of the evening, in addition to getting to ask questions of a Jewish astronaut, was the NASA film of his voyage, including some lighter moments of “flying” inside the spaceship and bobbing for M&Ms.
   But when I asked him how many hours a day he and his six colleagues had to work, not play, he answered matter-of-factly that in the entire twelve-day voyage, they only had four hours off.  And that was why, in the playful scenes in the film, all the astronauts were wearing the same shirts.  It all took place in one four-hour down-time segment.

   Impressive was Reisman’s commitment to the late astronaut from Israel, Ilan Ramon, who was lost in the Columbia shuttle disaster.  Reisman and Ramon had been in the same training unit, even sharing a Passover Seder together. Naturally, Reisman took up the flag for both American Jewry and Israel when Ramon was lost.
   Reisman had carried into space with him the original April 2006 proclamation that had created Jewish American Heritage Month.  
   Michael Rosenzweig, President and CEO of NMAJH, and Gwen Goodman, executive director emerita, praised Philadelphia Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and U.S. Senator Arlen Specter for their work in passing Jewish American Heritage Month and for having NMAJH designated as the museum of American Jewish history in America.

NMAJH board member Joe Zuritsky and his wife Renee; Executive Director Emerita Gwen Goodman; and CEO Michael Rosenzweig.

   Marcia Jo Zerivitz initiated the legislation for a Florida Jewish History Month, which was became the nation’s first such commemoration each January when it was signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) in 2003 saying “Everyone else has a month. We need a month too. We have so many stereotypes to debunk.”
   Zerivitz then set out to establish a National Jewish History Month despite a decision by the Bush administration to create “no more new months”. Debbie Wasserman Schultz took it on as a personal project to overcome the moratorium and succeeded in finding 250 co-sponsors to the legislation which gave it the critical momentum to come to the floor of the House of Representatives on December 14, 2005 where it passed unanimously 423-0. Senator Arlen Spector championed a similar measure in the Senate on February 14, 2006 and the bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush in April 2006. Since National Jewish History Month has been observed each May.  
   The officials from the Jewish Museum of Florida and the Jewish American Heritage Month Coalition turned over the 2006 proclamation to the NMAJH, posing with the astronaut. The proclamation was launched May 14, 2010 on the Space Shuttle Atlantis travelling 4,900,000 miles on its 186 orbits before returning to Earth on May 25, 2010.
   After the flight, Reisman returned home on May 27 to find an invitation from President Obama in his mail inviting him to the first annual Jewish Heritage Reception at the White House on that same day. Reisman called the White House to say he would not be able to make it, but at least he had a good excuse for RSVPing so late: He was in outer space at the time.
   The fabulous new site of NMAJH will open to the public the weekend of November 12, 2010. The museum will feature the Mezuzah which Reisman installed on the Space Shuttle Atlantis next to his sleep station.
  Congreswomen Allyson Schwartz was instrumental not only in passing National Jewish History Month but also in a joint resolution recognizing the museum as the official National Museum of American  Jewish histroy.
   At the reception after the event, Betty the Caterer feted everyone with space themed fare including Dipping Dots, Tang, Star Fruit and Cosmic Cocoa. Afterwards, Reisman returned to his alma mater the University of Pennsylvania to catch up with some of his old friends.

Two Torahs: Columbia Torah (left) and Atlantis Torah (right).

  He then continued to California, where he participated in premiere of the film An Article of Hope at the San Diego Jewish Film Festival. The film is a documentary about the little Torah which Ilan Ramon took with him on the ill-fated Space Shuttle Columbia. Ramon received this Torah scroll from his Physics professor Joachim Joseph who received it when he had a secret Bar Mitzvah as a boy in the Nazi concentration camp Bergen Belsen.
  Everyone clearly agreed with National Jewish History Month coordinator Abby Schwartz that “it gives us such nachos to see a nice young Jewish boy honoring his people from outer space.”