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…]

A Hearing on Gerry­man­dering in Pa. Commonwealth Court

Map of the U.S. congressional districts in Pennsylvania.

This week, Pennsylvanians have the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the democratic process. On Wednesday, October 4, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court will hold a hearing challenging the constitutionality of the state’s congressional district maps. Petitioners in this case, which include the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters and individual citizens from across the state, claim that their votes have been rendered meaningless by maps intentionally drawn by state legislators to favor Republican outcomes. Proponents of redistricting reform are calling on Pennsylvania voters to show their support by packing the courtroom for the 10:00 a.m. hearing and the ensuing press conference. [Read more…]

Fighting to Make Our Votes Count

Carol Kuniholm addressing the press at the Pennsylvania Capitol, with supporters of redistricting reform behind her.

Now that the Pennsylvania General Assembly has returned from summer recess, advocacy groups, like Fair Districts PA and March on Harrisburg, are intensifying their fight for redistricting reform. Explaining the importance of their mission, Carol Kuniholm, chair of Fair Districts PA, said at a recent press conference in Harrisburg:

For the first time in generations, many of our fellow citizens are questioning the underlying premises of democracy itself. … We feel our votes no longer count and our voices are no longer heard. When we look for causes, we see our gerrymandered districts and our lack of choice at the polls.

[Read more…]

Helping the Victims of Hurricane Harvey

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Texas as they face the epic devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey.The storm that unleashed approximately 27 trillion gallons — or a record 51 inches — of rain on Texas and Louisiana left 50 people dead (a figure that is expected to increase), thousands of residents displaced and billions of dollars’ worth of property destroyed.


Rescue by Texas Army National Guardsmen. Photo: Lt. Zachary West.

While hatred and evil were on display a mere few weeks ago in Charlottesville, the best of humanity has shown itself during the response to Harvey. From the brothers who drove from Dallas to participate in multiple dangerous rescue efforts to the human chains spontaneously created for saving others to the local Pizza Hut that delivered pizzas by boat to people in need of food, selfless acts of courage have abounded during the tragedy in Texas.

For those still seeking a way to help the victims of Harvey, we have compiled the following list of Jewish organizations engaged in Harvey relief efforts: [Read more…]

Gerrymandering: The Theft of Our Democracy

Drawing voting district lines to benefit a particular political party, or gerrymandering, threatens the American democratic process. As explained by Michael Pollack, local political activist and executive director of March on Harrisburg, gerrymandering “creates geographically bizarre districts with single-party monopolies; it rejects competitive elections; and it encourages hyper-partisanship and well-funded fringe candidates.”

Concerned about the impact of gerrymandering on the electoral process, a group of mathematicians in Boston, called the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group (MGGG), has been studying redistricting from a geometric and computational perspective. Supported by the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University, MGGG is committed to training mathematicians on the quantitative aspects of redistricting, enabling them to serve as expert witnesses and consultants on this issue. The group also collaborates with experts in other fields and endeavors to educate the public about the dangers of gerrymandering. [Read more…]