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…]

Gratz College Offers an Online Ph.D. in Holocaust and Genocide Studies

As world events churn perilously with ethnic hatred and violence, expertise in the field of Holocaust and genocide studies is needed more than ever. Atrocities perpetrated by terrorist groups around the world and hate crimes on the rise in the United States and Europe make the promise of “never again” seem to ring hollow. In response to these acts, experts are needed to inform government policy, educate the public, and provide teachers with the tools they need to instruct the next generation on the dangerous repercussions of hatred and intolerance.

This fall, Gratz College will launch an online Ph.D. program in Holocaust and genocide studies, making this important field accessible to students everywhere. This program is the first in the United States to offer a Doctor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies degree, as opposed to a Ph.D. in a related discipline, such as history or sociology. [Read more…]

Smartphone Addiction Inspires New Maccabeats’ Shabbat Video

“I wish there was a thing like Shabbat … a worldwide day where we’re not on our phones … an actual day of real rest.” This quote comes from a rather unexpected source: Katy Perry, in an interview with Cosmopolitan. The quote also appears in the opening shot of a new music video — not a video by Katy Perry, but one by the Jewish a cappella group the Maccabeats.

This video was produced by the organization Jew in the City. According to its website, the group’s mission is to “break down stereotypes about religious Jews and offer a humorous, meaningful look into Orthodox Judaism,” which the group describes as being “just as relevant today as it ever was.” The Maccabeats’ video demonstrates this point by juxtaposing the quiet isolation a of a cell-phone-obsessed society with the robust joy and interconnectedness of Shabbat.

In the video, our technologically imposed solitude is aptly played out against the backdrop of the Maccabeats’ rendition of the 1960’s Simon & Garfunkel classic The Sound of Silence. Some of the lyrics are so spot-on that it is shocking to think they were composed over 50 years ago. For example, “People talking without speaking” is a perfect description of texting or communicating via social media. And, “the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made” conveys our dependence on our devices.

In contrast, the joy of Shabbat is depicted in the video during the singing of Lecha Dodi — “Come, My Beloved,” which is the traditional song for welcoming Shabbat. During this part of the video, every sound is audible, from birds chirping to children laughing to glasses clinking. Alluding to the mitzvah of intimacy on Shabbat, the song ends with a tender moment between husband and wife and the tagline “Turn off the Sound of Silence. Turn on the Sound of Shabbat.”

This video was shared by Rabbi David Levin, the Radmal, on his Jewish Relationships Initiative blog. The video is covered by the Standard YouTube License.

Middle East Expert David Makovsky Speaks at Gratz Gala

The crowd of 260 that attended Gratz College’s Jeffrey B. Plevan Annual Gala must have left the event with a spring in their step. From the videos during the cocktail hour to the accolades for the honorees – board member Leon Levy, retiring professor Dr. Saul Wachs and former College President Joy Goldstein – the whole event was supercharged with gratitude, positivity and optimism. Even the keynote speaker, David Makovsky, the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute, offered a rather upbeat assessment of Israel and its relationship with its Arab neighbors, a topic more often described in terms of deep-rooted problems. [Read more…]

Prof. Saul Wachs Retiring After 42 Years at Gratz College

Dr. Saul Wachs, the Rosaline B. Feinstein Professor of Education and Liturgy, is retiring at the age of 85, after 42 years of teaching at Gratz College. Described as a legend within the field of Jewish education, Dr. Wachs will be honored with a tribute at the Gratz annual gala, an honorary doctorate at commencement and a scholarship prize created in his name. He has also been granted emeritus status by the Gratz College Board of Governors.

Dr. Saul Wachs

Dr. Saul Wachs

[Read more…]

Texas Synagogue Steps Up When Local Mosque Falls Victim to Arson

The Muslims of Victoria, a small city in southern Texas, have experienced the healing power of kindness in the face of devastating cruelty. Their mosque, the Victoria Islamic Center, was destroyed by an arsonist on January 28, the morning after President Trump issued his original executive order banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim nations. While the investigation into the fire continues, officials are not yet able to call the arson a hate crime. [Read more…]

Refugee Ban With Holocaust Parallels

“An America which turns away refugees is not America. We forgot that during the Holocaust. Let’s never again forget who we are,” writes Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS. Hetfiled was one of many to point out a compelling coincidence: President Trump issued his controversial refugee ban on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. [Read more…]

Rocking and Rapping the Hanukkah Story With the Musical Group Six 13

Tonight we offer a double musical treat for Hanukkah from Six 13, a nationally renowned, all-male Jewish a capella group. An internet sensation, the group has also performed on national TV and radio, and in venues across the country and around the world. As described on their website, their music is “fueled by thumping beatbox, intricate arrangements, and soulful harmonies” with the goal of “connect[ing] Jews around the globe with their heritage through music.” The lyrics in Six 13’s Hanukkah videos below are impressively creative and thoroughly entertaining.

Here is their 2014 parody of the Taylor Swift song “Shake It Off”:

Six 13’s most recent Hanukkah song, which they performed at the White House for the president and the first lady, is a parody of the show “Hamilton”: