Shimon Peres: May His Name be for a Blessing

Shimon Peres

Shimon Peres.

The staff of the PJVoice joins with the world wide Jewish community in mourning the passing of Shimon Peres. Many American Jews, particularly those old enough to have experienced the formation of the State of Israel, see a direct line from Ben-Gurion to Shimon Peres. Peres helped shape the development of the Jewish State to a great extent.

The founding Israeli leaders were never divorced from the hard reality of Israel’s security situation. Each of them took a turn leading the military, and fully understood the need for protection from both internal and external enemies.

Still Peres, especially later in life, saw the need for an accommodation with the Palestinian Arabs, while protecting the State of Israel. When the opportunity came, he applied his utmost effort to carry out the goal of a two-state solution. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, for his work as Foreign Minister negotiating the Oslo Peace accords. [Read more…]

Advice and Consent and the Nomination of Judge Merrick Garland

One seat on the nine-member Supreme Court has been vacant since Justice Scalia died unexpectedly on February 13, 2016. To rectify this problem, will President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court be headed for a vote, for withdrawal or for a recess appointment? [Read more…]

J Street Marks a Turning Point

Peter Beinart, J Street Panel Discussion.

Peter Beinart, J Street Panel Discussion.

Under the heading “Evolving Politics of the Jewish Community,” J Street presented a panel discussion about Jewish politics and, in addition, about how the perception of J Street has changed. The panelists were David Axelrod, Peter Beinart, Rep. Yvette Clarke (D – Brooklyn) and Jim Gerstein. The speakers set out some of the important shifts in the beliefs and values of the American Jewish community. [Read more…]

Political Parties at the Crossroads

Professor Edward Newman

Edward Newman, Professor of Social Policy

How should political parties pick nominees for president?

This spring and summer have put both major political parties in the limelight, along with the candidates.

From the moment that Donald Trump appeared to be a serious contender, the Republican Party “regulars” have struggled to prevent his nomination. At the recent Republican convention, key figures (such as ex-presidents) were notably missing. [Read more…]

Rep. Mark Cohen: Looking Toward the Democratic Convention

Rep. Mark Cohen

Rep. Mark Cohen

Looking ahead to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) next week in Philadelphia, we interviewed Rep. Mark Cohen, a delegate and a high political official. Cohen is a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from District 202 in Philadelphia. Having served in the House for 43 years, he holds the record for longest-serving state House member in Pennsylvania history. He also holds important positions, including chair of the vital House State Government Committee. [Read more…]

Keep America Great

US flag at half staff
First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

How we respond to the disaster at the gay nightclub in Orlando clearly depends on who we are. Hillary Clinton responded by asking for better gun control, a stronger fight against ISIS, and national unity and resolve. Donald Trump announced the need to get tough fast or “we are not going to have our country anymore.”

According to Trump, the reason the shooting happened is that the shooter’s parents immigrated here legally, 30 years ago. Trump wants to bar Hispanics and Muslims alike from entering this country. When a second-generation American offends him, whether it’s a Muslim shooter or a Hispanic judge, the answer is the same: they are products of their foreign forebears, not to be trusted. So ban them from this country.

It is trite to say that we as Jews have an obligation to support immigrants and immigration. Trite, but true. Our obligation is to the Constitution and also to ourselves, our parents and especially our children.

A serious problem is the widespread unhappiness with the workings of our economic system, and lack of faith in the ability of government to meet people’s needs. The unfortunate result is that a candidate for the presidency who builds a campaign on hate and fear can amass 13 million votes, and in doing that, secure the inside track to nomination by one of our two major political parties.

A hallmark of democracy is respect for law. We have come through major attacks on that respect: Orval Faubus, Governor of Arkansas, standing on the steps of a public school defying court-ordered integration. Sen. McCarthy reading names of alleged proponents of the overthrow of the government with no evidence or due process whatsoever. Frank Rizzo, as police commissioner, allegedly boasting about his department’s handling of demonstrators: “When I’m finished with them, I’ll make Attila the Hun look like a fag.”

What we must recognize is that all the gains of the Civil Rights Movement are reversible, as soon as we – who fought for them – stop fighting for them. The First Amendment freedoms of speech and association, and separation of church and state, are reversible. In the primary campaign, candidate after candidate expressed the goal, if elected, to strengthen religion, meaning to use the power of government to strengthen Christianity.

But this is not just theoretical. Fifty years after Brown v. Board of Education, achieving school integration remains a battle. Every woman’s right to choose is challenged repeatedly by state legislatures, despite the likelihood that a court will strike down each effort. Under FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, we are told that the government monitors millions of telephone calls and Internet messages daily under blanket orders of a secret court. And we stand at a crossroads at which the next appointment to the United States Supreme Court could change the course of our civil rights and voting laws for decades. In short, our civil rights never stand still — they are always growing or shrinking or both.

So I am a one-issue voter, and that issue is keeping America safe for democracy. That includes respect for the government, along with a healthy desire to see it improve. That includes shouting out every sign of xenophobia, fear of the “other,” whether based on ancestry, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation. Before I even think about the traditional “bread and butter” issues, I insist on a candidate for whom equality and justice are real, not just fashion statements to be mouthed or discarded depending on the audience.

Preserve Unpleasant History or Eradicate It?

By Rs-nourse (Own work) [<a href="">CC BY-SA 4.0</a>], <a href="">via Wikimedia Commons</a>

Harvard Law School’s former shield
Courtesy of RS-Nourse

Princeton University and Harvard Law School have asked very similar questions and reached opposite conclusions: how should we address our history, the victories and defeats?

Princeton, where Woodrow Wilson served on the faculty and was university president before his election as President of the United States, displays his name prominently. There is a Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs as well as a Wilson dormitory.

But it has recently become known that Wilson harbored racist feelings and appears to have acted on them, keeping blacks out of the University and later out of some government offices during his presidency. A movement developed on the campus to eradicate the Wilson name.

Harvard Law School has had a shield adopted in 1936 with symbols including a sheaf of wheat. This seemingly innocent drawing turns out to honor Isaac Royall, an 18th-century landowner who donated land to establish the first law professorship at Harvard. Royall, it has been discovered, was a slaveholder.

Students and faculty at both institutions have now protested the symbols, and both universities have ruled: Princeton will retain Wilson, while Harvard will remove the wheat sheaf from its symbols. Which is the correct route, to preserve history or relieve newly empowered hard feelings?

Our community preserves symbols of its successes and failures forever. Hanukkah and Purim recall battles won or lost, Tisha b’Av marks the destruction of Solomon’s Temple 2500 years ago. Preserving the Holocaust might be our equivalent to the challenges at the two universities. We oppose any representation of the swastika in public, in the belief that it implies approval of Hitler’s regime. At the same time we heap opprobrium on Holocaust deniers. We seek to preserve the memory of the Holocaust out of concern that it could recur, somewhere at some time.

Isaac Royall and Woodrow Wilson were great men of their times, however imperfect as measured today. Very few people outside of Harvard are likely to know what the sheaf of wheat represents. The dormitory and the School of International Affairs at Princeton are not symbols of slavery by any reasonable measure. In the battles over these symbols, the combatants are measuring each other’s commitment to the principle of freedom as they (differently) perceive that principle.

At Harvard, expunging a tie to a figure in history is considered acceptable. Nobody suggests that Harvard find Royall’s heirs and return the value of his gift. The Law School simply disowned the offending history.

Princeton will keep the symbols but is has created an exhibit of Wilson’s achievements and also his flaws, presenting the policies and practices he followed as university president and then as the nation’s leader. Princeton faces the more difficult situation, dealing with a figure of modern history whose strengths and weaknesses are fair subjects of study by scholars inside and outside the institution. Yet Princeton has chosen the path of intellectual honesty. It will mark the flaws in Wilson’s life and character but not seek to expunge his name or the favorable aspects of his legacy.

So what is most important to our community: suppression of symbols that deliver a mixed message, or do we prefer the preservation of history with its many human flaws?

JSPAN Haggadah Supplement: The Immigration Crisis

supplementThe 2016 Jewish Social Policy Action Network Haggadah Supplement edited by Steven Sussman and Kenneth Myers is entitled “The Immigration Crisis: A Pesach Seder Reflection for 2016” and focuses on immigrants and refugees. Their plight calls to us at this season of the Jewish year when we remember that we were exiled from our homeland and enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years, and then stateless nomads for forty years in the wilderness of Sinai, at the mercy of the elements, often losing faith as danger surrounded us.

At your Seder, consider the crisis in Europe and what we can do to relieve the suffering of refugees.

The supplement is now available for download.

[Read more…]

Leonard Bernstein Concert Draws Large Audience in Elkins Park

From left to right, some of the cantors who organized the concert: Cantor Joshua Gordon, Cantor Amy Levy, cantorial soloist Rebecca Schwartz, Hazzan Jeffrey Weber, Hazzan David Tilman, Cantor Elena Zarkh

From left to right, some of the cantors who organized the concert: Cantor Joshua Gordon, Cantor Amy Levy, cantorial soloist Rebecca Schwartz, Hazzan Jeffrey Weber, Hazzan David Tilman, Cantor Elena Zarkh

The coming 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth was the occasion for a concert of his music at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel. The concert was produced by the Kehillah of Old York Road and cosponsored by the Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

Under the direction of Hazzan David Tilman, cantors, other soloists and a chorus of forty voices delivered Bernstein music from his show “West Side Story,” from his operetta “Candide,” and from his more serious symphonic work “Mass.” The concert concluded with a full performance of the three movements of “Chichester Psalms.” Solo performers included Hazzan Jeffrey Weber, Elizabeth Weigel, Rebecca Schwartz, and in the performance of “Chichester Psalms,” boy soprano Owen Yoder, who brought the audience to its feet with applause.

The Kehillah of Old York Road is comprised of Congregations Adath Jeshurun, Beth Am, Beth Sholom, Keneseth Israel and Kol Ami, all located in Elkins Park. The event marked twelve years of joint activity by the Kehillah and attracted about eight hundred guests.