Jewish War Veterans Honor Black WWII Soldier

At a Holocaust education program, students at Benjamin Franklin High School (BFHS) learned about the life of Leon Bass, Ph.D., an African American soldier of the Second World War who witnessed the horrors of Buchenwald concentration camp. This program was sponsored by Fegelson-Young-Feinberg Post #697 of the Jewish War Veterans.

Bass was born in Philadelphia on January 23, 1925, and his father was a Pullman porter. In World War II, Bass was an Army soldier in the all-black 183rd Engineer Combat Battalion. He arrived at Buchenwald in April 1945, only one day after the camp had been liberated.

Brian Camper, climate and culture manager for BFHS, shared Bass’s description of the camp with the students: “Those who survived the camp reeked of burnt human flesh and torture chambers, and [were] still covered with blood.”

After being discharged as a sergeant, Bass returned to Philadelphia and graduated from West Chester University. He became a teacher at BFHS, and eventually became the school’s principal. He also earned a doctorate in education from Temple University. In his later years, he wrote the book Good Enough: One Man’s Memoir of the Price of a Dream.

Brian Camper

Brian Camper

Bass also spoke publicly about what he saw of the camps as a liberator. “Up until his death,” said Camper, “Dr. Bass continued to speak out,” regularly attending Holocaust memorial events honoring survivors and liberators. In addition, Bass was featured in the TV documentary film Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II.

Delia Bass Dandridge, Bass’ daughter, also spoke about her father. She explained that he was inspired to speak out about what he had seen at Buchenwald after hearing a Holocaust survivor tell her story to the students while he was principal at BFHS. “He knew then,” said Dandridge, “that he had his own story to tell, and he went around the country for thirty-plus years doing just that.”

“My father had a great strength,” she said, “and a great sense of humor and humility. He grew up in a very difficult time in our country, but he had parents who constantly told him he was ‘good enough.’ He passed this message on to his children, his grandchildren, his students, and to all those who needed to hear it.”

Larry Farnase

Larry Farnese

Pennsylvania State Senator Larry Farnese spoke next, saying, “As a friend, neighbor, husband, and brother, Dr. Bass was a lot like many of us here today. As a leader and a difference maker, he was like very few others.”

Farnese also explained that when Bass helped to liberate Buchenwald, “he did so as a member of the ‘other Army,’ the segregated Army.”

In his tribute to Bass, Don Cave, an aide to State Senator Anthony Williams, mentioned the recent presidential debates:

Think about the climate today in America. Think about the craziness: you hear about divisiveness; you hear about racial overtones…. We’re all in this thing together, and when one 19-year-old man with a rifle went overseas to Germany, to fight for a country that didn’t give him rights, understand that. What kind of a man… would pick up a gun and go fight for rights he didn’t have? Yet [when] he saw the humanity in these other people who were going through these crazy evil situations, he saw himself in them.

You cannot sit still and wait while you see another race or another group of people being dismantled and destroyed, because, guess what, when they’re done with that group, they’re coming for you. That’s what we mean: We are all in this together.

Cave challenged the students, “Do you have the heart to be like Dr. Bass, and go outside of yourself?”

Ronit Treatman

Ronit Treatman with Allan Silverberg of Post 697

Ronit Treatman, past president of The Philadelphia Jewish Voice, and granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, asked, “How likely do you think it is, for a little girl from Israel to get to meet the American soldier who liberated her grandfather?”

I’ll tell you, it’s not very likely, but it happened to me. My grandmother survived Auschwitz; my grandfather was one of the people that Dr. Bass liberated from Buchenwald, and I grew up with them. I grew up in that community of survivors.

One of the things Treatman came across living among Holocaust survivors was “how grateful they were to the soldiers who saved them,” she said:

I was growing up during the Cold War. My grandmother was liberated by Russian soldiers, and my grandfather was liberated by Americans, and they were grateful to both of them. I really appreciated the opportunity to tell [Bass] what he meant to us. We got a chance to talk, and it was so interesting; I didn’t know the American Army was segregated at that time.

Treatman respected Bass even more due to his service at the corps of engineers:

I also was a soldier; I served in the Israeli army, and I can tell you, that even in 1986, my friends who served as army engineers had a very dangerous job. They’re the guys who take apart land mines, and most of my friends who served [as engineers] were missing at least one finger. When Leon Bass told me that’s what he did, I looked at his hands, and all the fingers were there. He was very good.

One thing Bass and Treatman’s family shared “was the silence,” she said:

Growing up, we never talked about the war… Then, if you wanted to talk about it, you were walking on egg shells, because you knew if you asked the wrong thing, it would be very upsetting, and the next thing I knew was my grandmother [would] be swallowing Valium.

Bass became a pacifist after the war, Treatman said, “and I’m not sure I would be a pacifist, learning about what life was like here, and I come from a family of fighters. I don’t know what you may think the Holocaust survivors were like.” Members of Treatman’s family fought in the Spanish Civil War on the side of the Republic, and one of her grandfathers fought the British in pre-Independence Palestine.

Peter Nelson

Peter Nelson

Peter Nelson, director of the New York office of Facing History and Ourselves, a program dedicated to teaching about racism and discrimination, spoke of Bass’ experience in the Second World War:

He was told he wasn’t good enough to go into a restaurant with fellow soldiers, he wasn’t good enough to be in certain barracks, he wasn’t good enough to walk on the street, and the truth was, he wasn’t ‘good enough.’ He was great enough.

Mary Johnson

Mary Johnson

Mary Johnson, senior historian for Facing History and Ourselves, said that Bass “made the connection [between] what he had witnessed in Europe and what was happening in this country, with segregation, and the importance of the Civil Rights Movement. He always made that connection because so much of what transformed soldiers that were in Europe was finding out what happens if you allow that kind of discrimination and hatred to occur.”

Danny Goldsmith

Danny Goldsmith

Anthony Luker, representing Congressman Brendan F. Boyle, presented a congressional citation form to Delia Bass-Dandridge, honoring Bass for his service in the Army and for his Holocaust education work.

Danny Goldsmith, a survivor of the Holocaust, told the story, with pictures, of his family in Belgium during the Holocaust and World War II.

Event photos are courtesy of John O. Mason.

POWER Legislative Assembly at Arch Street UM Church

Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild (POWER), a coalition of religious congregations formed to deal with the social problems of Philadelphia, gathered for a legislative assembly at the Arch Street United Methodist Church on Monday, January 18, 2016, Martin Luther King Day.

The Reverend Robin Hyneka, pastor of Arch Street UM Church, greeted the people representing many of POWER’s member congregations – Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, and others. “Today, we’re gathered,” He said, “because we care about public education, we care about economic dignity, we care about racial justice. We care about these things from the bottom of our hearts and in the depth of our souls. We’re going to reorient ourselves in our work tonight, we’re going to hear some reports about what work is going on, and what work we need to do, in those three areas and some other areas.” Then, Hyneka asked for a roll call of the member congregations represented in the assembly.

The Reverend Leslie Callahan, Senior Pastor of St. Paul’s Baptist Church, led a faith reflection for the group, saying, “It’s wonderful to be here, to share with all of you in this day of remembering with you the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr., and moreover to be with POWER” [where the assembly participants] “not only celebrate in theory, we actually live out and practice the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.”

Speaking on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Callahan said, “Not too long ago, we were paying attention to Detroit, and whether water is a right, as the residents of Detroit were threatened with having their water cut off. Meanwhile in Flint, the residents were experiencing, as a large community, and in a continuous way, the poisoning of their water.” The water supply of Flint, Callahan continued, has been poisoned “not by a natural disaster, but by the piping in of polluted and corroded water that has been untreated, ignoring the cries of citizens who said ‘Our water doesn’t smell right, it doesn’t taste right’; and ignoring the work of pediatricians who said ‘My patients are coming in, more and more of them poisoned by lead’. Finally, when it could no longer be ignored, there was an acknowledgement on the part of Governor Rick Snyder, whose own emergency manager in Flint had been ignoring the problem since 2014, when the Flint River water had been piped in, and now, as a nation, we have been paying attention.”

The water crisis in Flint, said Callahan, “reminds us of the reality of environmental racism, reminds us of the reality of the connection between placing profits over people, reminds us of the connection of lead poisoning,” reminding everyone that Dr. King spoke of the problems of lead poisoning of children in the Sixties, adding “in 2016 it’s still an issue.” The state of emergency for Flint, she said, “did not develop in 2016, it is the result of the very kinds of practices of putting profits above people that are part of so many of the administrations of our nation, is cities and in rural areas across the nation.”

41K0n4t7NCL._SX442_BO1,204,203,200_The job of members of POWER, said Callahan, “is to remember that we are all interconnected with Flint, but not just with Flint. We are interconnected with Flint, whose crisis we are aware of now, but we are interconnected with the crisis of all Philadelphians whose crisis are ongoing now, who won’t hear the declaration of a state of emergency until far later.” Callahan spoke of Dr. King’s statement in the Letter from the Birmingham Jail that “we are all in an inescapable network of mutuality, a single garment of destiny.”

The Reverend Dwayne Royster, Executive Director of POWER, spoke of the group’s “renewal and reflection process,” saying, “Over the course of the last several months…we have slowed things down for a minute,” adding, “we weren’t engaging in actions at the same level and capacity as we have been, and we needed to go back and think about where we are.”

“Over the course of the years,” said Royster, “we (POWER) have grown, and we have had an opportunity to engage and have become more powerful,” but “we were more successful and grew larger than we ever imagined at the beginning, and as we became more powerful, we are doing more work.”

Royster recalled POWER’s campaign to change the City Charter for a higher minimum wage for employees of companies contracted with the City. “We needed to change the way Philadelphia was operating, so we no longer were legislating poverty in our communities.” He said, “We worked at that. We continue to fight day in and day out, and we eventually came to a place where we realized we needed to stop for a minute and figure out where we are, because we were growing exponentially, faster and faster, and we didn’t have the structures in place to [deal with] that, and to figure out where we needed to go forward.”

The board of POWER, said Royster, hired a consultant, “and we began the process of listening throughout the organization, figuring out where they were, and figuring out where we needed to go to be able to grow more powerfully in the future.”

Royster spoke of his reading King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail as part of his spiritual discipline, recalling that the white clergy asked for “moderation” from King and waiting for time to pass. “We in POWER,” said Royster, “are in that same situation right now, having to face the reality of why we can’t wait, when young black men and black women are being killed indiscriminately by police departments, in jails and prisons across the country, we can’t wait. When our brothers and sisters who happen to be created in the image and likeness of God but might be from another country, and we call them illegal – but there’s nobody that’s illegal in the sight of Go – and are being deported, and people are making money off their back, we can no longer wait. When our children are being given less than an adequate education, not because they don’t have great teachers but because we don’t have enough money to give them the resources that they need in their classrooms, we can’t wait. We no longer have the luxury to be able to say we want to build prisons but we can’t fund education, if we fund education we won’t need prisons on the flip side.

“We can’t wait,” Royster continued, “when people are making $7.25 an hour working forty hours a week, and still can’t feed themselves and their families, when income inequality is at its highest level ever, we can’t wait any more, and we can no longer be silent or passive in these moments and hours.”

The assembly broke into strategy teams to discuss economic dignity, education, racial justice, fundraising, and communications. They reassembled, and joined in the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” the African-American anthem written by James Weldon Johnson.

The assembly concluded with a prayer action led by the Reverend Maria McCabe and Imam Abdul-Halim Hassan in honor of Mayor Jim Kenney, who had just visited the Station House homeless shelter in North Philadelphia, “seeing people doing God’s work by serving others,” as he put it. Kenny, he said, spoke to the residents of the shelter and said, “There but for the grace of God go I,” and he commended the staff of the shelter for their work.

The Disappearing Middle Class

pew

According to a report from the Pew Research Center, the American middle class, once the backbone of the economy, is now in the minority. Persons identifying as “middle class” are finding it more difficult to make ends meet; the number of “middle class” Americans has shrunk from 53% to 44%. According to the Pew survey, the number of people who identify as “lower middle” or “lower” class has risen to 40%, compared to 25% in February 2008.

Here is the “free market” supposedly working its magic. The idea that if we just let the capitalists do their thing, without the government intervening – except to grant tax breaks and repress dissidents, like workers organizing – we would all prosper, and not just stockbrokers and hedge-fund managers. We are returning to the period just after the Civil War, the “Gilded Age,” when capitalists dominated the government and all public discussion, when workers -including the women and children – worked from before sunrise to after sunset, in mines loaded with poisonous gasses ready to collapse, working for close to nothing and having to pay for their equipment which enhanced their bosses’ prosperity, watched over by supervisors who had no respect for workers and could shoot them if they got out of line – these are the days to which we are returning.

There is a history, which I and other Labor scholars are digging up. It speaks to resistance of corporate tyranny and of workers organizing for their rights, their lives and their dignity. Contrary to what you might have been told, they did NOT passively accept their industrial fatalities, poverty, sickness and oppression as their fate, instead they organized. While mistakes were made along the way, they demanded respect from their employers, and this is how the American middle class, the envy of the world, was born. This was a level of society to which all aspired. With good-paying union jobs, workers could buy houses, send their kids to college, and have leisure time to do other things besides work. From the union movement, workers had a mechanism to work out disagreements between supervisors and workers, attain medical care, and develop skills to advance in the company.

Currently, the number of American union workers has declined to around 11%. Any progressive revival in this country must include a revival of the union movement, and I believe we can do it. It’s better to believe we can do it, as opposed to corporations and their media dictating to us what or what not to believe.

The latest epitome of capitalism at its finest, and its ultimate outcome, is Martin Shkreli. He is the hedge fund manager (with no background in medicine or pharmaceuticals) whose company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, jacked up the price of Daraprim — a life-saving drug used to kill parasitic infections (particularly in HIV-AIDS and cancer patients), from $13.50 a tablet to $750.00 a tablet. A jump of 5,000%. This had nothing to do with medicine or healing sick people, it was just a way to make money for investors, and for Shkreli to line his own pockets. In a CBS News interview, Shkreli portended, “What’s the big deal?”

Shkreli has been arrested for securities fraud, transferring money from one company to pay off the debts in another. He is accused of defrauding other investors and capitalists. Ripping off patients and the public is considered by some to be the “free enterprise system” at its finest. The only thing separating Shkreli from other corporate types is that he was caught and charged.

According to the Republican right-wing politicians and media, Shkreli and his ilk are the people to whom we are expected to trust our economy. These are the people our working-class forbearers fought against while organizing for their rights and their benefits. They are those who owned the government, including police and militias used it to beat down efforts by workers and other repressed groups fighting for their rights. These are the people who run the government, at the local, state, and federal levels — party has nothing to do with it — and we the working and low-income people are not part of the discussion about our economy, our society or our future as a nation.

There is a meme that working-class white men are irredeemably bigoted on the basis of race and religion, and many liberal commentators also pick up on this idea. This, supposedly, is the basis of the appeal of Donald Trump, the billionaire real-estate tycoon running for President, calling for a “stronger” wall to keep out Mexican immigrants, saying “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best…They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.”

Trump has played on the legitimate fears of terrorism, talking about banning all Muslims from entering this country, including American citizens traveling outside the country. I wonder if that includes U.S. military servicemen and servicewomen not being able to return to the country they served and their loved ones? Trump, the billionaire, has become a rallying point for racists to come out of the woodwork, receiving the endorsement of notorious neo-Fascist hate groups.

We have seen the videos of white males beating up non-white people at the instigation of Trump’s rhetoric. And Trump is part of the same capitalist-plutocratic class that has ruled the country with impunity since the Reagan administration “got the government off the backs” of racists and oligarchs. Here is the ultimate realization of the “Southern Strategy” of Nixon and the Republican Party. The idea is to play on the racial hatred and fears of working-class whites, who had finally attained some economic security, and blame African-Americans, women, and other minorities asserting themselves and their liberal enablers, for whatever difficulties they have encountered in recent years. Many pundits have treated this tactic like it was a stroke of political genius, as if racism could not be removed from our minds and our politics.

Now we have Donald Trump as the front-runner among Republican presidential candidates, and the party bosses are nervous. But he is the monster they created, along with the Tea Party movement.  Individual taxes cover the tax breaks of corporations, like Shkreli’s and Trump’s, which historically paid for reinvestment in new equipment and to hire more workers. Changes to the tax code over the past several decades have shifted winners and losers and have enriched an already rich plutocratic class, which has set up plants in countries with low wages, corrupt and compliant governments, and paying workers pocket change as wages. This is where we were in this country before unions, and to which we are headed back, if we don’t organize and educate ourselves about the issues that really affect us. I hope we resolve to do so this year.

The Fight for Fair School Funding Continues

Save-Our-Schools-2[1]Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower, and Rebuild (POWER), the coalition of religious congregations dedicated to fixing the problems of unemployment and education in Philadelphia, continues its campaign for full and fair funding of schools.

Last month I joined my synagogue, Congregation Leyv Ha-Ir (Reconstructionist), along with other POWER-member congregations, in a teach-in and demonstration on school funding in Harrisburg. Named a “Moral Takeover,” this event was part of an alliance between POWER and other faith-based activist groups in Pennsylvania to demand equitable funding of schools, and to protest cuts by the legislature in state funding for schools while corporations receive tax breaks.

We arrived in Harrisburg, in front of the state capitol, and the participants gathered for the prayer service and teach-in in Grace United Methodist Church, on State Street near the capitol.

The Reverend Vernal Sims, a special education teacher in the Harrisburg public schools, spoke of the problems he has had with the schools being underfunded and parents therefore not sending them there.

Darlene Sistrunk, associate minister at Grace Christian Fellowship in South-West Philadelphia, quoted the former South African president, Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” She also described the change of atmosphere in local schools in recent years:

Our beautiful children feel the pressure of underfunded schools. They’re reaping the pain of $355 million being taken out of the school budget in just 2011-2012 alone…

The hopeful chatter that used to fill our school halls has been replaced with questions about where the school nurses are, where the guidance counselors are, why is my principal drinking so much Pepto-Bismol, and why are there forty kids in my classroom.

Shelley Gombs-Faircloth, from Allentown, explained why she moved her daughter to a private school:

For three years, my daughter was a student in the Allentown school district. But statistics, like the one I’m about to share, are part of the reason why I moved her from this (school) district and placed her in a private school. These statistics are part and parcel of adequate funding and a failed funding formula have a devastating impact on our school district.

According to the Pittsburgh Times, the Allentown school district is ranked 486th, out of 500 Pennsylvania school districts, based on PSSA results, in reading, writing, mathematics, and science. Only 14 school systems ranked worse. Every day on average, three students are pushed out of the district prior to graduation. In fact, the Allentown school district has one of the highest dropout rates in the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And of the students that remain in the district and graduate from one of its two high schools, only 19% go on to a four-year college. In fact, the Pennsylvania Department of Education has identified 50% of the district’s 20 schools as persistently low-achieving schools…

There are students who dutifully attend classes and have no books to study from at home, because teachers must carry books from class to class. There are also classes where books are so old it’s certain much of the information within them have changed.

The Reverend Bishop Dwayne Royster, pastor of Living Water United Church of Christ and Executive Director of POWER, spoke on the “myth of scarcity” and how politicians say there is no money available from the state for schools: “We don’t have enough money for schools, but corporations in the state of Pennsylvania have gotten, over the last year, $3.9 billion dollars in tax cuts, grants, and other things.”

As an example, Royster spoke of the Comcast building in Center City Philadelphia, which “is not entirely full, but they are building a brand new building in Philadelphia that has $147 million in tax cuts from the city, and countless millions of dollars from the state, to build this brand new building.”

In the meantime, the School District of Philadelphia is short of the money that it needs to provide counselors, and teachers, and aides, and books, and toilet paper for the children that go to school there.

After the teach-in at Grace Church, participants moved to the open tent on the steps of the state capitol, where they laid their hands on people participating in a fast for fair and full school funding.

 

“SlutWalk Philadelphia” Grows Up

The idea of the original “SlutWalk” came up in 2011, when Toronto police constable Michael Sanguinetti discussed campus rape at a forum at York University and remarked, “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.”

The lead organizer of the march, Christie Eastburn, said that “the ignorance of one police officer ignited people across the globe into action. The suggestion that women can avoid rape by dressing conservatively was something that people were tired of hearing, and we decided this antiquated belief needed to end.”

Eastburn said that the purpose of the march was “to give support to survivors of rape, and also to educate the community and to raise awareness about the issue of rape culture”:

There are many different things in society that basically give people the idea that sometimes rape is okay, that it is condoned, or that victims are blamed when something happens to them.

On September 27, the march took place in Philadelphia under a new name: “The March to End Rape Culture.” Eastburn said that since the first Slutwalk, “groups of people let it be known that the word ’slut’ was not something they felt they could reclaim”

Some African-American women felt they were not in the position to reclaim the word ’slut’ because of the unique construction of the sexualities of African-American women in America, and the different associations that [the word] has for them. Some groups didn’t identify with the word, others found it triggering.

The first speaker at this march was the chair of the Philadelphia branch of the group Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment (PAVE), Preeti Pathak who gave these statistics:

  • one in four girls, and one in six boys, will be sexually assaulted by the age of eighteen…
  • every two minutes, someone in the U.S. in sexually assaulted…
  • seventeen percent of men, and twenty-five percent of women, are or will be victims of sexual assault in their lifetime…
  • ninety percent of young women involved in prostitution were victims of sexual abuse as children…
  • only five to twenty percent of sexual assaults are actually reported by girls and women…
  • an even smaller percentage of male survivors report [being raped]…
  • one in twelve college age men admit having fulfilled the prevailing definition of rape or attempted rape, yet virtually none of these men identify themselves as rapists.

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) says that 17.6% of women and only 3% of men are victims of sexual assaults, and that 40% of rapes get reported to the police. However, RAINN agrees with Pethak’s other claims.

Pathak defined a rape culture as “a culture in which sexual violence is accepted as part of everyday life,” which include such things as “rape jokes, slut shaming, victim blaming, sex negativity, trans-phobia, homophobia, sexism, racism, and silence.”

Pathek added that “male allies and male survivors stand alongside women and shatter the silence. Gender-based violence is not just a women’s issue anymore, but a human-rights issue.”

An activist for LGBT youth of color, Qui Alexander, referred to the assault on two gay men in Rittenhouse Square earlier in the month, and the push for hate-crime legislation to combat assaults on LGBT people:

Violence against trans-women of color, and gender non-conforming people of color, is normalized in our society, particularly around trans-women of color, particularly around sexual assault, in this way where people talk about it to each other saying, ‘Hey, you have to protect yourself because this will happen.’

A survivor of child molestation and rape and founder of Just Be Inc., a group dedicated to the well-being of you women of color, Tarana Burke, spoke about the importance of support groups for victims:

I was introduced to the word ‘survivor’ during a meeting of activist women in California in the late nineties. It was on that trip that I also met more than one women who had the same experiences that I had, or worse. It was the first time in my life that I did not feel completely alone in the small world of ‘victim’ that I created for myself. The realization that I wasn’t alone changed my life.

The magic of what happened to me in California wasn’t just in meeting those women, it was being able to share my experiences with other women who didn’t look at me with pity or sympathy, but with genuine empathy that created authentic connections that crossed social, economic, and racial lines.

There weren’t deep conversations about reproductive rights or restorative justice, there was no mention of rape culture at all. It was just me taking a chance and sharing a part of myself that I have successfully compartmentalized and kept under wraps for a very long time, with women who have carved out a safe and protected space for me to share. The outpouring of empathy was so simple that I almost missed it.

Last Tuesday, the Pennsylvania House voted 195-0 and passed the bill known as the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry in PA (SAFER PA).

The bill, introduced by state Representative Brendan F. Boyle (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery), will require timely testing of DNA evidence kits, and that backlogged and untested evidence be reported to the state. The legislation also requires that victims or surviving family be notified when DNA testing has been completed.

Boyle praised the legislature after the bill’s passage:

Nationwide, there are at least 400,000 backlogged and untested rape-kits of which we know. Many states, including Pennsylvania, have no reporting requirements, meaning the true extent of this backlog is unknown. Every untested kit represents a horrible injustice to the victim; a victim who may be lacking the closure that would come with solving their case. Passing my legislation today represents a big step toward bringing justice and closure to victims of sexual assault.

Bernie Sanders Speaks at 1199C

Bernie Sanders, the Independent US Senator from Vermont, spoke at a gathering of progressive activists in the ballroom of AFSCME District Council 1199C on Thursday, July 24, 2014.

“We are living in a moment in history,” Sanders began, “in which our great country faces more challenges than at any time since the Great Depression. If you throw in the rather huge issue of climate change, and the kind of planet we’re going to leave to our children and our grandchildren, it may well be that at this moment we, and people all over the world, are facing more challenges than has been the case for a very long time.

“In America today, economically,” Sanders added, “the great middle class of this country, which was once the envy of the world, is disappearing. When you pick up the newspapers, they tell you the unemployment is 6.2 percent. Don’t believe it, because you can ascertain and determine unemployment in a number of ways. If you throw into the statistics, as you should, people who have given up looking for work, people, increasingly, who are working twenty or thirty hours a week who need to work forty hours a week, real unemployment in this country is close to twelve percent.”

Of employment statistics for youth, Sanders added, “When you look at young people, youth unemployment is close to twenty percent, youth unemployment for African-American kids is close to forty percent. Today in America, when we talk about young people, the future of our country, every one of us, and everyone of our fellow Americans, should be humiliated by the fact that in this country today, we have the highest rate, by far, of childhood poverty, which is now near twenty-two percent.

“When you have so many kids in poverty,” Sanders continued, “what ends up happening is that we end up having more people in jail than in any other country on earth, including China. So we have a system, where kids are born into poverty, where kids are not educated, where kids drop out of school, where kids hang out on street corners, whether it’s Philadelphia or Burlington, Vermont, and we’re shocked when they’re doing drugs or other self-destructive activities, and then we send them to jail at fifty thousand dollars or more a shot. I think we can do a little bit better than that.”

About health care, Sanders said, “Health care must be considered a human right. I hope all of you understand is that basic principle, that whether you’re poor or whether you’re rich, whether you’re old or whether you’re young, you can get sick, and you need to go to a doctor, and you should be able to get the best quality health care the system can offer, regardless of your income.” In spite of “the modest gains” of the Affordable Health Care Act (“Obamacare”), Sanders said, “we now have forty million people who have no health insurance, and we have more people than that who have high premiums and high deductibles.” A recent study from Harvard, Sanders said, showed “we lose forty-five thousand people a year because they don’t have insurance, or they have high deductibles and co-payments, and they don’t go to the doctor when they should.” The time, added Sanders, “is long overdue for this country to do what every major country on earth does, and guarantee health care for all people as a right.” The best way to do that, said Sanders, is through “ a Medicare-for-all, single payer program.”

In the current free-market health care system, said Sanders, “as a nation, we spend far more per capita on health care than do the people of any other nation, and yet our health care outcomes, in terms of life expectancy, how long we live, infant mortality, and how we treat a number of diseases, lags behind (those of ) other countries. We don’t have enough primary care doctors, we don’t have enough nurses, we don’t have enough dentists, because the function of this health care system is not to provide quality care to all people, it is to make as much money as possible for the private insurance companies, for the drug companies, and for the medical equipment suppliers, and that has got to change.”

One of the issues that needs to be discussed, said Sanders, is “creating an economy that works for all of the people, and not just for the people on top.” Sanders recalled a time when college courses on “what we would do with all of the leisure time that we had because automation was going to reduce” work times; “The theory was that with robotics and automation, people would not have to work forty hours a week, they would work twenty hours a week, and what would the American people do with all that free time?

“Well they don’t teach that course anymore,” Sanders added, “the courses they now teach are on how people deal with the extraordinary stress that they are under.” As chair of a sub-committee on health care, “we did a hearing entitled, ‘Poverty As A death Sentence.’” The point of the hearings, said Sanders, was “people on top (financially) live substantially longer and healthier lives than people down below, working people and low-income people. Yes, it has a lot to do with access to good health care,” but also, “it has to do with the stress of trying to survive day after day when you don’t know how you’re going to feed your kids, and you don’t know how you’re going to put gas in the car to get to work, and you understand that if your old car breaks down, and if you don’t get to work you get fired, and you don’t know what happens then.

“People in this country are living under enormous stress,” Sanders added, “because of economic uncertainty, not knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow, not knowing whether they’re going to have their job tomorrow, or whether their job is going to China.” The American people, Sanders said, “are pretty angry. Unfortunately, a lot of them are angry for the wrong reasons, and they’re angry against the wrong people.

“They should be angry,” Sanders continued, “that despite a revolution in technology, which was supposed to lower the workweek, you have millions of people working longer hours for low wages…They’re not working one job, they’re working two jobs, they’re working three jobs, trying to cobble together income. They’re working fifty, sixty, seventy hours a week.” Noting that American workers get less vacation time than workers in other countries, Sanders added, “when people do have vacation time, they don’t take it, because they’re afraid that if they do take it, their job may not be there when they come back.” People are angry, he continued, “because they see an increase in productivity and they see, in many cases, their incomes going down.”

Since 2001, Sanders continued, “we have lost over sixty thousand factories, and millions of good-paying jobs.” The cause, he said, “has everything in the world to do with the disastrous set of trade policies supported by Republicans and Democrats.” Many in the trade union movement “knew exactly what was happening way back when they were negotiating NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) and permanent normal trade relations with China. This is what corporate America wanted, they wanted the opportunity to shut down America, go abroad, pay people pennies an hour, and bring those products back into America. We have lost a significant part of our manufacturing base (and) millions of decent-paying jobs. My message to American manufacturers is, if they want us to purchase their products…they damn well better start manufacturing these products in America.”

 

 

 

 

 

Thousands Rally at Love Park to Support Israel

Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro applauds as Rep. Chaka Fattah (PA-2) affirms Israel's right to defend itself. (Photo: PJVoice)

Federation CEO Naomi Adler and Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro applaud as State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams affirms Israel’s right to defend itself. (Photo: PJVoice)

Members of the Greater Philadelphia Jewish Community joined in a rally in support of Israel at JFK Plaza (“Love Park”), 16th Street and JFK Boulevard, on Wednesday, July 23, 2014.

The event was sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia; the Philadelphia Jewish Voice; American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev; American Friends of Magen David Adom; American Jewish Committee; Anti-Defamation League; Boys Town Jerusalem Foundation of America; The Collaborative; Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region; Female Hebrew Benevolent Society; Hadassah of Greater Philadelphia; Jewish Exponent; Jewish Learning Venture; Jewish National Fund; J-Street; Philadelphia ZOA; and Tribe 12, along with several synagogues and schools. Several schools and other groups organized buses to the rally.

Across the street, on the steps of the Municipal Services Building, 15th and JFK Boulevard, pro-Palestinian demonstrators held a counter-rally.

Michael Hersch, Philadelphia Area Director of the Jewish Labor Committee, said of the rally,

I am a first-generation American, that is also the grandchild of four Holocaust survivors, and I dedicated my career to Jewish communal service, and I think this is a moment where Jewish people have to remind each other that there’s certain things we’re going to agree to agree on.

Noting that much of the political progressive community has taken a stance hostile to Israel, when asked if there is still a place in the progressive community for pro-Israel sentiment, Hersch said, “It’s really difficult for me to comment on what other individuals and other organizations see as an appropriate stance for them to take on Israel. I feel like Israel, like other nations, has good and bad about it, and I feel like the people of Israel are my people, I have family that live over there, so for me it’s an organic stance that I take. This feels like the right place for me to be, and I can’t speak to what other progressives are thinking and doing with regards to Israel.”

Sherrie R. Savett, President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, greeted everyone attending, saying, “ I am overwhelmed by all of you who have come here today to stand with Israel. It’s hard to estimate, but I believe there are thousands of you here, standing strong with Israel. It just shows, that for Israel and for us, it was highly necessary for us to have this rally.”

Savett quoted a letter from Rabbi Neil S. Cooper, of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood, who was in Israel, stating,

To stand with Israel is not about politics, it’s not about right and left, it’s about right and wrong. Standing up for Israel in her time of need means to put aside internal differences in order to come together and show that we are united in our support and solidarity with Israel….

I have been in constant contact with friends and representatives in Israel, and they told me something that surprised me. The men, women, and children of Israel feel isolated. The Israelis are the most resilient people that I’ve ever known, they are forever committed to living normal lives in the Middle East, the only democracy in that region. But nothing is normal now. They have been barraged by, on average, one hundred forty missiles a day, for the past two weeks. They are being attacked by air, on sea, and on their own land in the south.” In the Federation’s partnership community Netivot-Sedot Negev, Cooper wrote, “children cannot go to camp or school, adults cannot go to work or run errands. They cannot be more than fifteen seconds away from a shelter at any moment, taking a shower can be positively nerve racking, everyone is on edge. Children are simply traumatized. The support of North American Jews and non-Jews, our support, is a major boost to the Israelis. Our support, both emotional and financial, really matters to the Jewish people of Israel, and to all the people of Israel….

Over the last two weeks, nearly two thousand rockets were fired against Israel. Twenty-nine members of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) and three civilians lost their lives, may their memories be for a blessing. The loss of life is a tragedy. I must firmly say every life lost is a tragedy, not just an Israeli life. Every person who has perished in this war was beloved by their families, and we profoundly mourn the loss of innocent life on both sides of this painful conflict. We pray that peace to the region will be restored soon. Peace requires partners, and Hamas must stop these daily and indiscriminate attacks. Their victimization of Israelis, as well as their own innocent people, whom they use as human shields for storing weaponry, is deplorable.

Cooper’s letter called for “an end to the violence, and to prevent further unnecessary death and despair, that has imperiled lives both in Israel and in Gaza”

Savett noted that US and European airlines suspended flights to and from Tel Aviv, and said, “Now more than ever, we must demonstrate our unwavering support for, and solidarity with, our brothers and sisters in Israel. Your presence today is vitally important, so we are videotaping this rally and sending the video to our Federation’s partnership community so they know just how much the people of Philadelphia care for them.” Savett spoke also of “disturbing images in the media from around the world, showing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic demonstrations. It becomes increasingly important for Israel to see images and to hear words of love and solidarity.”

Rabbi Greg Marx, of Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen, gave the invocation for the rally. Marx led the group in the chant from the Hassidic Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav, Gesher Tzar Me’od; veha’ikar lo ‘lfachayd klal (Hebrew for “The world is a narrow bridge, but the main thing is to not be afraid). Marx added:

They [the Israelis] are not afraid, and we too will not be afraid. We will not be afraid of those who will hate us, solely because we love Israel. We will not be afraid to stand with our brothers and sisters, who have to run into bomb shelters with only seconds to spare. We will not be afraid to defend Israel as it seeks security and deterrence.

We will not be afraid of a violent protest driven be anti-Semitism across the globe, with the goal of forcing us to cower and hide. We will not be afraid to sing Hatikava [the Israeli national anthem] with a lump in our throat, and hope in our heart. We will not be afraid to say ’I am proud of Israel for her strength and for her restraint.’”

Naomi Adler, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, thanked everyone for their support of Israel, and added, “Please don’t let it stop now. Stay in touch with us (the Federation), tell us when you’re in Israel, come with us to Israel to show your solidarity. Support Israel in every way that you possibly can. So not forget this day, and stand with Israel every day.” Adler then introduced members of the Christian clergy who came to show support for Israel. “Support for Israel crosses all religious denominations,” she added.

Wayne Kimmel, Treasurer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, spoke next, saying,

I’m here today to support Israel. I’m here today to support peace. I’m here to support our own Israeli Prime Minister, who is from Philadelphia, Benjamin Netanyahu. I’m here to support the soldiers of the IDF. I’m here to support the citizens of Israel, and most importantly, their right to defend themselves from terrorists.

Kimmel introduced Elad Strohmayer, Deputy Consul General for the Mid-Atlantic region.

Thirty-two Israeli heroes,” Strohmayer began, “have fallen within the past two weeks, while exercising their highest duty, defending our people. Three Israeli civilians were killed by Hamas rockets only because they were Israelis. 2100 rockets have been fired at Israel in the last three weeks by Hamas, causing terror and fear, in an attempt to disrupt our daily routine…..

But let me be clear: we will not surrender. The Israeli people are resilient and strong. We choose life, and we will not let Hamas war crimes dictate how we live. Come walk in the streets of Israel today. You may see people that may be afraid but are still strong, afraid for their own safety and for the lives of their loved ones who are in the field of battle, but strong as we continue to strive. Summer camps go on with security adjustments, restaurants and cafes are full of people who want to enjoy the sunny days. And yes, our airport is open….

We’re gathered here today to say, enough is enough. We have shown restraint in the face of 9000 rockets that were fired at Israel since 2005. We have shown restraint when they kidnapped soldiers, slew innocent children, and dug tunnels of terror under Gaza to infiltrate Israel and kill more people. We have shown this restraint because unlike the deadly terrorists of Hamas, we cherish human lives, no matter if it’s the life of an Israeli or a Palestinian. Saying the IDF is the most moral army in the world is not an empty slogan. Hams is using its own people as human shields. They’re firing at us from within schools, mosques, and hospitals. The IDF identifies these terrorists hidden within civilian populations in Gaza, and alerts the innocent people to evacuate. But Hamas not only asks them to ignore these warnings, but actually threatens them and physically forces them to stay in their homes. Hamas war crimes tactics are the reason we have taken on so many casualties.

Pointing out the pro-Palestinian demonstrators across the street form the rally, Strohmayer said, “I don’t hate them, I feel sorry for them. I’m sorry that their hearts are full of hate. Around the world we see demonstrators shouting ’Death to Israel, death to the Jews,’ with burning hatred in their eyes. Synagogues were broken into and burned in Paris. Pro-Israel demonstrators are terrorized by anti-Semites, and yes, it’s time to call it what it is, it’s anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism again raises its ugly face.”

The next speaker, Professor Ed Turzanski, co-chair of the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Center for the Study of Terrorism, is also a Professor of Political science at LaSalle University.

During the Second World War, Winston Churchill came to the United States, when the atrocities of Bataan had become known. When he came to the Congress, he asked one question, ‘What kind of people do they think we are?’ As we see Israel under attack today, we have to ask the question of ourselves, ’What kind of people do they think we are?’ …

Turzanski challenged the news media,

Have you ever read the Hamas charter? Do you know what it says, not just about Jews, but anyone who is not of their Muslim faith? Do you not recognize the common sense connection between action and consequence? There are those, some of them in very high places, who will have a moment off camera, where they say something which they then do not repeat off camera, because they know that the truth is different. We’re here to remind people of that truth.

Referring to the pro-Palestinian demonstrators across the street, Turzanski said, “Our friends across the way are very angry, and they have a reason to be angry. Their people are subjected to horrible treatment, but if they want to exercise the right of anger, they have to exercise the responsibility to identify the source of their misery.” Addressing the pro-Palestinian demonstrators, Turzanski said, “Hamas has ruined your country. They have ruined the lives of your children. They have taught hatred to your children, from the earliest of age. They have denied you the opportunity to develop a land that Israel left voluntarily nine years ago. What have you done with that land? You have built tunnels so you can protect missiles. You have built tunnels so that you can go to Israel to kidnap and murder the innocent. Is this your idea of taking a land that was given to you so that you can fulfill your deepest aspirations?”

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter recalled his recent trip to Israel:

I am deeply saddened and concerned by the weeks of violence that so many of us in Philadelphia, the United States and the world are experiencing daily and up to the minute because of the severe conflicts and bombings taking place in the Middle East. In my travels last year to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Bethlehem on behalf of our great City, I had the opportunity to talk with businesspeople, students, parents, community leaders, academics, religious leaders and government officials –  Israelis and Palestinians, and remarkably, many expressed the same desires and hopes -to live in peace, to be safe and secure and to have better lives for themselves and their children. It is so clear that we must all seek a peaceful resolution to the on-going conflict, and that a mutually agreed upon and enforceable cease-fire is needed immediately. You cannot pursue peace, and engage in fighting at the same time, that won’t work to resolve anything. It is my deepest hope that the two parties will heed the call of President Barack Obama to bring about a peaceful end to the current hostilities, that each party will acknowledge the other parties’ concerns and rights to live peacefully and securely, and that longer term sustainable solutions can be discussed, negotiated, mediated and agreed upon that recognizes each parties’ right to exist, to be secure and to defend itself from harm and danger. The Middle East, and the world, need peace now.

Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-PA) issued a statement on the subject:

I am deeply saddened by the unnecessary loss of any and all lives during this latest crisis in the Middle East. Today, and every day, I stand with Israel and support its right to defend itself and its citizens.

I have supported the Iron Dome since its inception, and continue to be reassured by its success over the last several weeks in intercepting hundreds of rockets and protecting the Israelis in their path. Further, I am currently working in the Appropriations Committee on supplemental funding to provide an additional $225 million to accelerate and expand the Dome’s defense capabilities.

I agree with President Obama that any cease fire negotiations must also include a demilitarization of the Gaza Strip; I support Senator Kerry’s ongoing negotiations in the country and am pleased to hear of today’s progress.

Israel is, and remains, one of America’s most important allies. We must work to swiftly end the current violence and return to unconditional cease-fire in the region. Ultimately we hope for, and work towards, the day when there is a two-state solution and living in peace can be the reality.

Voter Suppression Efforts

         Laws have been passed in Ohio, Wisconsin, and other states with Republican controlled legislatures and governors that try to limit voting rights for minorities, seniors, and college students, piously raising the specter of “voter fraud”. I look forward to court challenges to these bills, challenging their constitutionality, but with the Supreme  Court the way it is, and memories of Citizens United, It’s cause to worry. I have other memories, of  how African-American voters in Florida in 2000 were either purged from the rolls, or intimidated by police from going to the polls, and then we had the eight lost years of George DUH Bush.

Saving the Stiffel Center


“Save Our Stiffel” is the name of a newly-formed group dedicated to keeping the Jacob & Esther Stiffel Senior center, 604 Porter Street in South Philadelphia, from closing due to lack of funds.

Programs held at the Stiffel Center include classes in Yiddish; art, poetry and music classes; cultural and travel experiences; health and exercise programs; traditional holiday programs; daily hot kosher lunches; fitness and wellness classes; medial and legal advice; chaplaincy services; and a thrift shop.

Laurel Katz, actor and radio host, is part of the effort; “No one had organized,” she recalls, “a committee to raise the funds that are needed, because we found  out fairly recently that that Stiffel is operating on a $200 thousand annual deficit, and they need $200 thousand by June 30th, and a promise for future funding, because they want to close it.” The Stiffel Center is a branch of the Klein JCC.

More after the jump.
“There were sort of reasons why,” the Stiffel clients were late in being informed of the closing, adds Katz, “It’s a little confusing and unclear, but the way I went into this is to not think about what happened in the past and what brought us here, but what can we do now, immediately, right away, to remedy this problem, to keep the center open, and that’s my sole focus.”

The committee to save the Stiffel, says Katz, has formed very recently, and “We since have a press release, and we are called ‘Save Our Stiffel’, SOS. No one had really organized something, there wasn’t any organized group, and now there is, and the word is out. We are organized, and we had a very encouraging meeting with a lot of very passionate people, and also people that are very plugged into assorted places in the community. We’re in the process of drawing up a packet to present to people who have the ability to write decent checks, because really, $200 thousand is not a lot of money. If someone wants to write a $200 thousand check, we’ll name the auditorium after them.”

The packet, says Katz, will tell the history of the Stiffel Center, “with the immigrants of South Philadelphia, not just Jews, (but including) the Italian community, and we’re going to get that out to whoever we can.” The packet will focus on people who can write big checks. Along with this will be a more grassroots approach, with such ideas as a concert at the center and a silent auction. “It’s going to be like a blitz,” says Katz, “it has to be because of the time issue.”

Stay tuned to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice for further developments as they occur.