Candidates in the 4th Congressional District Offer Perspectives on Israel

With the primaries next week, candidates are crisscrossing the 18 newly drawn congressional districts in Pennsylvania, talking to voters about a host of issues, ranging from gun violence to education to healthcare to the environment. However, the issue of Israel is rarely discussed during candidate forums and speaking engagements. Since this issue is profoundly important to many of our readers, we have decided to ask some of the candidates about their views on Israel, starting with those in the 4th Congressional District, which now consists primarily of Montgomery County. [Read more…]

The Clock Is Ticking on Redistricting Reform in Pennsylvania

Current Pennsylvania congressional district map, handed down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

During the May 15 primary elections, Pennsylvania voters throughout the commonwealth will find themselves voting in different congressional districts than they have in the past. These new districts were created by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a historic decision that struck down Pennsylvania’s 2011 district map on the grounds that it was unconstitutionally drawn to favor Republicans. The new Supreme Court map will be in effect for the 2018 elections and presumably the 2020 elections, but what happens after that? [Read more…]

A Tale of Two Bills in the Fight Against Gerrymandering in Pennsylvania

Senate Bill 22 and House Bill 722 were virtually identical when introduced last year in their respective chambers of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. They had bipartisan support and were drafted by legislators, policy staff and advocates for accountable government, with the goal of ending partisan gerrymandering — the intentional drawing of voting district lines to benefit a particular political party. So far, these bills have taken divergent paths: one, exemplifying how the democratic process should work, and the other, demonstrating what can happen when this process is hijacked by partisan politics. [Read more…]

World War II Treasures Discovered in a Shoebox

At the Passover Seder, we recite the story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. For Marc Shatzman and his family, there is also another Passover story to tell — how Shatzman’s maternal grandfather, Bruno Elkan, celebrated Passover as a Jewish American soldier in Europe in 1945:

While I was in Belgium I attended a Seder given by the seven Jewish families left in town. … The stories they told me are hard to believe but I know they are true. How they managed to survive the Hitler regime is hard to comprehend. They were lovely people & I felt quite at home.

These words were written by Elkan to his future wife, Adele Berkowitz, in a letter dated March 30, 1945. In a subsequent letter, he mentions a young girl at the Seder, who told him things that “no human being can understand.”

Bruno Elkan during World War II.

Through his letters to Berkowitz, Elkan created a first-hand account of the life of an American soldier in Europe during World War II. Until recently, his prolific wartime correspondence dwelled in a shoebox in Marc Shatzman’s closet. Although Shatzman never met his grandfather — who survived the war, but died from an allergic reaction at an early age — he feels connected to him, in part because of their physical resemblance. [Read more…]

On a Quest to End Gerrymandering and Make a “Good Map”

Anne Hanna.

They canvass. They lobby. They protest. Concerned citizens insert themselves into the political process on behalf of the public good in different ways. Anne Hanna, a Ph.D. student in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech, became politically active in the best way she knew how: by using her computational and data analysis skills in the fight against partisan gerrymandering — a fight that is front-and-center in Pennsylvania right now. [Read more…]

Cattle Car of Dreams on Display at Barrack

Every year, the Holocaust Education and Reflection (HEAR) Club at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in suburban Philadelphia creates a special school legacy project, with the goal of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive. One year, it was a flower garden dedicated to the children of the Holocaust. Another year, it was butterflies stenciled on the walls of the school stairwells, commemorating the poem The Butterfly, written by a young Holocaust victim, with the iconic line “I never saw another butterfly.”

Cattle Car of Dreams. Photo: Shira Stein.

And for 2017-2018, it is the Cattle Car of Dreams. At first, the project’s title seems a bit jarring. How could a vehicle that transported Jews to their deaths, obliterating their hopes for the future, be described as a “cattle car of dreams”? [Read more…]

A Jewish Response to the Plight of the Dreamers

Photo: Bend the Arc Facebook.

Koach Frazier is arrested as Stosh Cotler and Rabbi Jonah Pesner continue to sing. Photo: Bend the Arc Facebook.

“Why would you do this for us?” This question was posed after a group of over 80 rabbis and Jewish leaders were arrested during a protest at the Capitol, led by the Jewish organization Bend the Arc, on behalf of the Dreamers. [Read more…]

Partisan Gerrymandering Is on Trial in Pennsylvania

State and federal courts in Pennsylvania are taking up the issue of partisan gerrymandering — and their decisions could potentially have a significant impact on the 2018 midterm elections. Partisan gerrymandering is the intentional drawing of voting district maps to benefit a particular political party — and Pennsylvania is infamous for its gerrymandered districts. As Stephen Wolf of the Daily Kos explains, “[T]he GOP’s brazenly tortured lines have produced a stable 13-to-5 Republican congressional majority in what is otherwise an evenly divided swing state.” [Read more…]

It’s a Triple Wedding — and You’re Invited

In many ways, Israel is a culturally diverse, largely secular, modern society — but not in the context of Jewish marriage. To be legally valid, an Israeli Jewish marriage requires the authorization of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, which means Orthodox law determines who can marry, and Orthodox tradition governs the wedding ceremony. [Read more…]

Barrack Students Visit Home of the Paper Clips Project

From left to right, Maddison Barrack, Rebecca Shaid, Sarah Scheinmann and Emma Dorsch.

When their plane touched down in Tennessee, Emma Dorsch, Sarah Scheinmann, Rebecca Shaid and Maddison Barrack — four high school students from the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in suburban Philadelphia — did not realize that they were about to embark on a life-changing experience. Representing Barrack’s Holocaust Education and Reflection (HEAR) Club, the girls would be attending a dedication at Whitwell Middle School in rural Tennessee, home of the famous Paper Clips Project. [Read more…]