Local Children’s Charity on a Winning Streak

By Laurel Fairworth

Twenty year old Eric Salomon is really enjoying his training in commercial baking at Variety, The Children’s Charity Vocational Training program known as Variety Works. It is but one of the innovative new vocational projects geared to teaching kids and young adults a useful trade. In the past Eric would be aging out the system, but now he can continue to learn for additional years into adulthood with the goal of self-sufficiency. Eric stated “I have the opportunity to learn to do something I love that will allow me to be more independent. It’s awesome.”

The revitalization is part of CEO Angus Murray’s vision for the non-profit. Variety has been in the Philadelphia area since 1935 and its Camp and Development Center has been in existence since 1949, one of the first in our area to provide a safe place for kids with disabilities. Originally serving boys who survived polio it now supports children with temporary and permanent disabilities. The main campus sits on 80 donated acres of prime real estate in Worcester, Pennsylvania where Variety hosts a working farm. It holds summer camps, year round activities, extended school year programs, plus its first joint agricultural venture with an area institution. Promoted three years ago, Murray is seeing his ideas bear fruit.

The charity hit a rough patch almost a decade ago but has rebounded both financially and most importantly through innovative programs aimed at creating more options for those with special needs. As we close in on the charity’s 85th anniversary Variety has made an amazing comeback by bringing on board an experienced development and program director, reinvigorating the camp’s facilities, and committing to a comprehen-sive three year strategic plan to transform Variety’s entire campus.

Angus Murray has stated “It is so exciting to see the hard work our staff, families and community partners finally come to fruition to ensure Variety and our kids have a bright future.”

Murray’s game plan included bringing on other experienced professionals and forging relationships with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, The Philadelphia Zoo and Einstein Hospital. A pilot program is underway which will be fully operational by January 2018. In regards to the ZOO, our students grow produce which in turn is sold to the Zoo to feed the animals. In 2016 The Philadelphia Zoo purchased over $20,000 worth of produce from Variety Works. The circle is complete as monies from this effort are reinvested to fund and expand the initiative.

Vegetables and fruits grown at the farm are pesticide free, aquaponic, farm to table and are being cultivated by all the kids including those in wheelchairs. Kale, radishes, tomatoes, onions, squash, banana leaves, corn, herbs and flowers children are a sam-pling of some of the tasty items being sold.

Moving forward, the charity is in discussions with numerous food chains and high end local restaurants throughout the Philadelphia Metropolitan area to provide produce and employment for the teens once they graduate from our program.

CEO Angus Murray states, “One of the parents whose child came through the program told me they had no idea their child has this hidden talent or aptitude. They were amazed and pleased and that is what we want for all our kids”

Murray explains that is exactly what drew him to the non-profit and why he wakes up each day full of creative ways to expand its reach. He vows to continue the moderni-zation of Variety until each child receives the guidance he or she requires.

StandWithUs Israeli Soldiers Tours Comes to Philadelphia

By Ferne Hassan

The innovative Israeli Soldiers Tours program features two Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reservists who relate their personal experiences upholding the strict IDF moral code while fighting an enemy that hides behind its civilians. Their stories have never been heard before. Karen and Haitam will speak at the University of Pennsylvania and at Swarthmore College on October 23 and 24. Karen and Haitham will discuss their backgrounds, life in Israel and answer questions. They put a “human face” on the IDF uniform. Last names are withheld for security reasons.

IST is one of the most effective counters to the BDS campaign and the annual campus “Israel Apartheid Weeks.” Although anti-Israel students protest the soldiers with accusations and lies, they simply can’t refute their eye-witness experiences. These are stories from the front lines, not the headlines.

Haitham (Tom) 30, a Bedouin Israeli was born and raised in Bir al-Maksur, a Bedouin village in northern Israel. Although Bedouins are not required to serve in the Israeli army, many join. Tom drafted into the Israeli Air Force in the Iron Dome unit.

Stationed in the West bank, he arrested a Palestinian in his home, who put up no resistance, as if wanting to get captured. On the way to jail, Tom asked the young man “why, we are both Muslims and the religion forbids murder?”

His answer shook Tom and revealed the reality of the situation. “You are free, you have a decent life in Israel. We don’t have that, no one from the Palestinian Authority cares how we live or what we need. I did this for for my family. Yes I will go to jail but the Israelis take good care of us in jail, and because of this terror attack I will be a hero and my family will be heroes and they will get money on a monthly basis from the Palestinian Authority – more than we can get even I work the whole month back home.”

Tom is getting his degree in Law, Government, and Management at the Academic College for Science and Law. He works for Acharai (“Follow Me”), a non-profit that prepares teens for their military service, and guides them to be more socially involved and responsible.

Karen 24, is studying politics and government, Middle East and Israel at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. Raised in New Jersey, she experienced anti-Semitism when a swastika was drawn on her school locker. Karen made Aliyah at age 16 on her own after finishing high school. Her goal was to enlist in the IDF and defend Israel, as her parents and grandparents did.

Karen served as a Basic Training Commander and later on with the Paratroopers. She was stationed Gaza border near the Erez crossing. She explains how Hamas steals from its own people; its leaders living in luxury, while the people suffer.

Hamas continuously launches rockets into Israel’s southern towns and one night, the siren went off, giving everyone 15 seconds to run to the bomb shelter. It was night of constant shelling, yet in the midst of the fear, the 200 soldiers made the best out of it and created a strong bond. This bond lasted. Although already released from service, Karen was quick to help her fellow soldiers once Israel had to enter Gaza to destroy the underground terror tunnels by raising money and bringing them food. During her free time, Karen rescues street animals and finds them caring homes as a volunteers at shelters.

The entire StandWithUs “Israeli Soldiers Tour” has six teams of two speaking throughout the United States primarily on campuses, in high schools, synagogues and churches from October 22 – November 5.

Ferne Hassan is the associate director of StandWithUs in Philadelphia.

Pride in Jewish Identity Under Nazi Occupation

Ladies wearing Jewish stars. Photo: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Ladies wearing Jewish stars. Photo: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

During World War II, German authorities and their collaborators in Nazi-occupied countries forced people of Jewish descent to wear identifying badges as a way to isolate them and publicly mark them as inferior. But some chose to embrace their forced visibility and celebrate their Jewish identity by posing for professional photographic portraits while wearing the yellow star.

[Read more…]

Can Democrats Win Control of the U.S. House in 2018?

By Bill Madway, DJOP

The 2018 midterm elections offer a critical opportunity for the Democratic Party. Although it won’t be easy – due, in large part, to gerrymandering – we have a realistic chance of winning control of the U.S. House. All 435 seats in the House will be up for election. With the GOP currently at 240 seats and the Democratic Party at 194 (one seat is vacant due to the resignation of Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz), we need a net gain of 24 seats to take the House.

One reason for optimism is that the President’s party typically loses House seats in midterm elections. Over the past 18 midterm elections, which dates back to Harry Truman in 1946, the President’s party has lost an average 25.6 seats in the House. So, the gain we need (24) is within this parameter.

Another reason for optimism is the Democratic Party’s current standing in “generic ballot” surveys, that is, in polls that ask people which party they would support in a Congressional election. According to FiveThirtyEight’s most recent findings, Democrats hold a 10-point lead vs. the GOP in the generic match-up. The figure is similar in RealClearPolitics’ most recent calculations; Democrats hold a 9-point lead.

What does this mean? In a recent report, Alan I. Abramowitz of Sabato’s Crystal Ball writes, “…Democrats will need a lead of at least five points on the generic ballot in early September of 2018 in order to gain the 24 seats they need to take control of the House” (emphasis mine). The recent poll results compiled by FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics show that the five-point threshold is well within reach.

Looking specifically at Pennsylvania, our state will play a pivotal role in the battle for control of the House. In a recent column published by PolticsPA, Louis Jacobson, senior correspondent for PolitiFact and a staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, identified four House incumbents as vulnerable to ouster. All four are Republicans from Southeastern PA – Ryan Costello (PA-6), Pat Meehan (PA-7), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-8), and Lloyd Smucker (PA-16). All of the Democrats in the House, except Matt Cartwright, who represents the 17th Congressional District (Wilkes-Barre, Scranton and Easton), are considered safe. Cartwright is rated as potentially vulnerable.

Kyle Kondik, Managing Editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball is not as bullish on the Democrats’ chances in these four races. In a July 27 column, he rates all four as “Leans Republican,” but this represents a downgrade from “Likely Republican” for Costello and Meehan. So, if strong Democratic candidates are selected in the 2018 Primary Election, and Trump’s approval ratings continue to fall, all four of these seats could realistically flip. Looking at the incumbent Democrats, Kondik rates Bob Brady (PA-1), Dwight Evans (PA-2), Brendan Boyle (PA-13), and Mike Doyle (PA-14, Pittsburgh) as “safe.” Democrat Matt Cartwright (PA-17) is rated “likely” to win.

What are the implications of these predictions for Democratic voters? While the signs are encouraging, they’re only signs. Action is required to turn them into reality. If you reside in one of the “flippable” district discussed above, get involved in the primary process now as some candidates have already announced their running. Investigate them, and if there is someone you support, volunteer for her/his campaign, make a contribution, etc. Don’t wait until 2018 to bring your resources to bear; beating an incumbent is seldom easy and can’t be done, if people wait until after the Primary Election to get involved.

For PA Democrats who reside in a Congressional district currently represented by a Democrat, you’re in an enviable position. Your Representative in the House is very likely or likely to win re-election in 2018. But you can’t take anything for granted; so making sure your Representative is re-elected is job one. However, you can do more, much more. You can help Democrats running in nearby Congressional districts win by volunteering and providing much-needed funds. And as I said above, don’t wait until 2018 to get involved.

A final word. In response to the question I posted at the outset, yes, the Democratic Party can win control of the U.S. House in the 2018 midterms. What’s more, Pennsylvania, as it has many times in the past – look no further than the 2016 presidential election, for an example – will play a pivotal role in the outcome. And this means all of us have an important role to play. There are several “flippable” seats in PA. As long as each of us does not confine our electioneering efforts to the arbitrary boundaries of our own Congressional district, we will defeat several GOP House incumbents in PA, getting our party closer to the majority in the House.

Bill Madway is part of the leadership team of Democratic Jewish Outreach PA. He has 25+ years practicing and teaching marketing communications and market research. For questions or comments about the commentary above or other topics, contact him at 610-527-9502 or wmmadway@gmail.com. You can follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/thtleader.

 

Update on Redistricting Cases With Potential Pennsylvania Impact

The issue of partisan gerrymandering was on the docket during the first week in October, both in the U.S. Supreme Court and in courts in Pennsylvania. Partisan gerrymandering is the practice of intentionally drawing voting district lines in a way that benefits a particular political party. Here is a court-by-court update on the status of these gerrymandering cases.

In the U.S. Supreme Court

https://pixabay.com/en/supreme-court-building-usa-546279/

U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court heard oral argument in the Wisconsin redistricting case, Gill v. Whitford. Early news reports of the argument suggest the expected: the four liberal justices see the injustice of a gerrymander that denies people of the “wrong” party a meaningful right to vote. The four conservative justices may be willing to stay with the existing system, under which courts do not interfere with redistricting on the grounds that it is a “political” matter. Justice Kennedy, who is potentially the key swing vote, appeared to take the arguments by the plaintiffs seriously. Judgment in the case will take a while, likely emerging sometime during the present term, which lasts until the end of June 2018.   –Ken Myers
 

In the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

The day before the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the Wisconsin case, another partisan gerrymandering case was filed in federal District Court in Philadelphia by five Pennsylvania citizens. Taking a different approach from the Wisconsin case, the Pennsylvania plaintiffs in Agre v. Wolf argue that the the partisan nature of Pennsylvania’s 2011 congressional district map violates the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution. They claim that even the attempt or intent to gerrymander is unconstitutional under this clause and that the court should require Pennsylvania to come up with a process of redistricting that has effective guarantees against partisan overreach.

As Raymond Solomon, one of the plaintiffs in the case, explained:

We’re not just looking for a new map, but a new process. California, Arizona, New Jersey and other states have shown that there can be neutral and fair processes that do not rig the outcomes in advance. We feel the U.S. House is the People’s House, and deciding who goes to the People’s House belongs to the people and not the politicians.

 

In the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

At the state level, a hearing was held before Senior Judge Dan Pellegrini of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania in a partisan gerrymandering case brought by petitioners the League of Women Voters and individual voters from across the commonwealth. At issue in the hearing was whether this case should be delayed until the U.S. Supreme Court delivers its ruling in the Wisconsin case, as claimed by lawyers for the Pennsylvania General Assembly and its leaders.

The petitioners argue that a delay is not warranted because their case is based on the state constitution, not the federal one, and therefore, would not be governed by the Supreme Court’s ruling. They also emphasize that time is critical to prevent yet another election where the voices of Democratic voters are effectively silenced because their voting districts were drawn to secure Republican victories.

Judge Pellegrini said that even if he allows this case to proceed without waiting for the Supreme court’s ruling in the Wisconsin case, the judicial process will not be completed before the 2018 midterm elections. He did mention the option of a King’s Bench petition, which can potentially fast-track a case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

When can we expect Judge Pellegrini to rule on whether he will delay the case or permit it to proceed in Commonwealth Court? David Gersch, one of the attorneys for the petitioners, believes the judge will issue his order within a few weeks.

 

Will the Next Charlottesville be Here?

Jeffrey Saltz, Democratic candidate for Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County

By Jeffrey Saltz

Candidates for public office frequently state that they learn the most about local issues by talking with their voters.  This may sound like a cliche, but in fact I recently learned about virulent anti-Semitism and racism lurking right in our backyard, by talking with voters who have been exposed to such hatred.

Together with my running mate Wendy Rothstein, I am a Democratic candidate for Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County — the main county court located in Norristown.  As a candidate, I have traveled the length and breadth of Montgomery County, a large and diverse district, from my home in Lower Merion to close-by communities in Cheltenham and Abington, to the more rural areas farther north.  Wherever I go, I have spoken of the lessons that we have learned this year about the importance of judges in protecting individual rights and in standing up to government abuse of power.

Ever since August 12, I mention the march of neo-Nazis and Klansmen in Charlottesville, which for me was a blaring wake-up call.  The Charlottesville march was sickening and terrifying.  And the most frightening part was that we know that we have not seen the last of these hate groups — especially with the encouragement provided by Donald Trump’s message of moral equivalency.  As I have addressed groups around the county, I have asked the question, “What if the next march is here?”  Free speech is constitutionally protected, but violence and intimidation are not.  Who do you want sitting in the courthouse if the marchers come here and bring these legal issues with them?

Audiences seemed responsive.  But in truth, I wondered whether my questions were just abstract and hypothetical.  That was until I went to the Perkiomen Valley, in the northern reaches of Montgomery County, encompassing towns like Schwenksville, Red Hill, and Pennsburg.  To a group of voters, I posed my usual question — “What would happen if the Klan were to come here?” — but the reaction was very different.  They laughed.  My question was a foolish one.  As the audience explained, “The Klan is already here.”  They told me how Klan members have lived in the community for years, including the man in their neighborhood who stands in public places dressed in a Nazi-style brownshirt.  The Klan has typically been quiet, but recently, I was told, they have become more vocal.  “They feel they have permission now,” one voter said.

White supremacist carrying a Nazi flag during Charlottesville riot. Photo courtesy: Andy Campbell

Voters in the town of East Greenville showed me flyers that they had received in the mail, anonymously, before the Charlottesville march.  I will not describe them in detail, because they were so offensive that I refuse to repeat their content.  Let me just say that they were the most vile anti-Semitic and racist materials that I have ever seen.  It was as if they had been taken right off the wall of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.  They were appalling.  I could only imagine the fear that was evoked when everyone in the neighborhood opened their mail that afternoon.

My experience with the voters of the Perkiomen Valley drove home the point that questions about where the next Charlottesville will occur are not just hypothetical.  The hate groups are already here.  More of them may be coming.  We need to be ready, so that violence and intimidation do not threaten our democratic values and individual rights. 
_______________

Jeffrey Saltz lives in Lower Merion and is a Democratic candidate for the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas.  He is a past President of Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne.  More information is available at www.saltzforjudge.com. 

The Book of Jonah in Today’s Politics

Demonstrators sitting-in outside PA State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe’s office. Photo courtesy of March on Harrisburg.

By Rabbi Michael Pollack

In the Biblical worldview, our world has a moral compass, and our history is intimately linked to our actions. Our collective crimes and injustices result in our pain and suffering, and our ancestors called this divine judgment and divine wrath. In the words of the enlightenment philosopher Hegel, “World history is world judgement.” The Bible is a series of historical atrocities interpreted by our ancestors as divine judgement for our collective moral and ethical failures. Our ancestors’ crimes usually included materialist idolatry, injustice, corruption, violence, and  war — all performed in an atmosphere of mistrust and spite. And our weakened society too often turned against itself in civil war, or was unable to fend off invaders like the Assyrians or the Babylonians.

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Two Gratz Students Produce Hip New Jewish Toys

Partners in Yom Tov Toys: Elana Gootson (left) and Jessi Sheslow (right).

Using her coursework at Gratz College, student Elana Gootson launched Yom Tov Toys in 2016 with her business partner and fellow student Jessi Sheslow. The two entrepreneurs are now producing an innovative toy that is different from anything else available on the market today — a toy that seamlessly combines kid appeal with Jewish humanitarian values.   [Read more…]

Sen. Scott Wagner Berates George Soros With Anti-Semitic Comment

Pennsylvania state Sen. Scott Wagner, a wealthy Republican and a Trump supporter who is running for governor of the commonwealth, has had some run-ins this year with political trackers. Trackers are campaign hires responsible for videotaping opposing candidates, with the goal of recording politically useful gaffes. In May, Wagner was captured on tape assaulting a tracker like a violent thug. Three months later, in the following exchange with a tracker about billionaire George Soros, Wagner came off as an anti-Semite: [Read more…]