Sen. John Sidney McCain III (1936-2018)


The Last Stop on the Maverick Express

— by Michael Bihovsky

If the past is any indication, some of my fellow liberals will take issue with the nice things I’m about to say about Senator John McCain, but today we lost a hero in an age where heroes are so very hard to find…especially, let’s be frank, on the Right.

But John McCain was a hero. For starters, he risked his life time and again to defend our country, and was tortured beyond most of our comprehension for doing so. I honor him for that.

In an age of nearly unanimous hate and vitriol, McCain called for civility and respect in our discourse. I honor him for that as well.

And for most of his career, McCain acted – and voted – like a true moderate. Moderation has become a toxic word on both sides of the aisle, but not to me. Life, and government, is often about compromise – and although McCain recently voted with Trump on a lot more issues than I’d care for, he never did so out of cowardice or to fall into his party line. He voted what was, to him, his conscience – and even if I disagree with the specifics, I respect the integrity.

Which leads me to the main issue I will remember and praise John McCain for: he – along with Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski – defeated the repeal of the the Affordable Care Act, which has literally saved the lives of so many people I know and love. Why? Because his fellow Republicans had provided no alternative, and because it had been pushed through without any Democratic consultation (let alone support). Therefore, according to McCain, supporting the repeal would be utter negligence and hypocrisy, and since it would lead to tens of millions of people losing health insurance, he voted no. If he had voted yes, a lot of people who are alive right now would not be.

I think that I, even more than most Republicans, long to see a day when the Republican Party is restored to some semblance of honor, conscience, and integrity. To me, John McCain represented those admirable traits. Was he perfect? Far from it. But I will take an imperfect official doing his best over someone who is perfectly corrupt and self-interested any day.

Thank you for your service, Senator McCain, and for your example. Rest in peace.

The post Rest In Peace, John McCain. And Thank You. appeared first on Michael Bihovsky’s Blog.

What’s Happening in Philly’s Jewish Young Professional Scene

Rachel Abramowitz. Photo: Tribe 12.

By Rachel Abramowitz

In a person’s life, the longest time between Jewish rituals is the duration from bar/bat mitzvah to marriage. For Millenials today, that gap is only getting wider.

So what does Judaism look like for young professionals when there isn’t a ritual in sight to connect them? What does Jewish community look like outside the bounds of traditional rituals? As the engagement associate for Tribe 12, a non-profit that connects 20s/30s in Philadelphia to the Jewish community, it’s my job to “mind this gap” of the young professional experience. In this interim of milestones, I create programming that not only fosters community, but also connects 20s/30s with all the  Jewish Philly happenings and opportunities.

[Read more…]

CHOP Pediatric Oncologist Honored as Citizen Diplomat

Dr. Stephan Grupp. Photo: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Thirteen-year-old Emily Whitehead, who six years ago was suffering from an aggressive form of leukemia, is alive and well and in remission, thanks to the pioneering work in immunotherapy by Dr. Stephan Grupp, M.D., Ph.D., at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Grupp has since traveled throughout the world to teach doctors in other countries about using this therapy to treat children and young adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. As a result, Citizen Diplomacy International, an organization that seeks to foster connections between Philadelphia and the global community, honored Grupp this month at its second annual “Citizens Soiree: A Dinner for Diplomacy” at the National Museum of American Jewish History. [Read more…]

A New Approach For Personalizing Learning In Jewish Day Schools

A laptop. Photo: Raimond Spekking

By Andrea Helling

San Francisco-based education technology company, AltSchool, is kicking off a nationwide search to partner with innovative Jewish day schools. Thanks to a grant from Philadelphia-based Kohelet Foundation, select day schools will have the opportunity to join the growing network of schools and districts using AltSchool’s personalized learning platform, which includes access to Judaic Studies milestones built into the technology. In addition to comprehensive training and services for teachers, schools also get the unique chance to collaborate with the Pengineers and designers to help shape the tools. Longtime Jewish day school education leader, Bryna Leider, has joined AltSchool to spearhead the initiative and support day schools in the network.

“Educators know that technology alone cannot improve learning,” said Leider, AltSchool’s Head of Partnerships for Jewish Education. “That’s why teachers using the AltSchool platform play an essential role in the design of the tools being developed to empower a learner-centric education. This marks the first time a coalition of teachers from day schools around the country will be able to work alongside Silicon Valley engineers and product designers to improve Jewish day school education broadly.”

[Read more…]

Sharing Stories Across Generations

By Rosie Gertzman

This spring, students from the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy Holocaust Education and Reflection Club (HEAR Club) loaded up a bus and headed to Wesley Enhanced Living (WEL) in Media, a senior living facility previously known as Martins Run. The eighth- through 11th-grade students embarked on a day of sharing, learning and growing with the WEL residents. It was a day filled with laughter, tears and thought-provoking questions. [Read more…]

Lower Merion Yeshivot March Together at the Celebrate Israel Parade

The Lower Merion Jewish schools at Celebrate Israel Parade in NYC. Photo: N. Aaron Troodler

By N. Aaron Troodler

Carrying their large banners and waving Israeli flags with pride, three local Orthodox Jewish Day Schools from the Greater Philadelphia area marched together up Fifth Avenue in New York City on Sunday, June 3rd as part of the Celebrate Israel Parade.

For the first time ever, Caskey Torah Academy in Wynnewood, Kohelet Yeshiva in Merion Station and The Mesivta High School of Greater Philadelphia in Bala Cynwyd marched jointly under the banner of “The Yeshivot of Lower Merion, PA.” The three schools, which collectively educate over 600 students in the Greater Philadelphia area, traveled to Manhattan to take part in this exciting celebration marking 70 years since the founding of the modern State of Israel. Approximately 200 students, parents and grandparents from the three Lower Merion schools walked proudly, danced and sang Hebrew songs along the parade route.

[Read more…]

Make Your Counting Count

Rabbi Shaya Deitsch. Photo: Twitter

By Rabbi Shaya Deitsch

While you were on your way to the polls or at home in protest or apathy for last week’s primary midterm elections, did the inevitable thought creep up on you: “Why do I even bother? Does one vote even matter?” Spiraling further into self-depreciation, you may have even compared yourself to the “big decision makers” and questioned your right to have a say at all: “Who am I to have an opinion?”

True, our democracy gives us this right to vote, but beyond this right, does it really count for anything?

As we think about counting, and whether our counting—well, counts—it may have thematically dawned on us that we have just finished counting down the Omer, the tradition of counting the days between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot.  Daily, we verbally counted as a community and as individuals—one day of the Omer, two days and so forth for the last 49-days.

[Read more…]

Musical Program Tells the Story of Two Jewish Pianists in Nazi Germany

Two Pianos: Playing for Life uses music, live readings and narration to depict the story of two female pianists, who played for all-Jewish audiences after the Nazis had banned Jewish musicians from German public performances. The program premieres on June 9 in Philadelphia at the Mary Louise Curtis Branch of the Settlement Music School.

Romanian-born Anna Burstein and Polish-born Halina Neuman met in Germany in 1926 at the Leipzig Conservatory. Seven years later, by the spring of 1933, Hitler’s new regime was moving to exclude Jews from German life. Doors to orchestras with Jewish conductors were padlocked. Jewish performers and professors were attacked in the press and interrupted by uniformed thugs shouting, “Schweine Jude!” Their concerts and lectures were cancelled “to ensure public safety.” Then, new laws began excluding Jews from government employment, including over 50 city orchestras. Within two years, Jews were legally barred from nearly all aspects of German economic, political and social life.

Anna Burstein’s 1936 Leipzig Jüdischer Kulturbund card. Levin Family Collection. Reprinted with permission.

The Jüdischer Kulturbund (Jewish Culture Association) was formed by dismissed Jewish artists, enabling them to continue performing before segregated all-Jewish audiences. It was approved by the Nazis in July 1933, and branches quickly spread from Berlin to over 60 German cities, including Leipzig. Anna Burstein and Halina Neuman played two-piano concerts with the Leipzig Jüdischer Kulturbund under the Third Reich.

Concert photo of Anna Burstein, c. 1942. Levin/Hoffman Collection. Reprinted with permission.

Years later, in 1938, Burstein came to Philadelphia. She was among the exiles who fled the Third Reich to ultimately enrich their new American home with their talent. For 15 years, she performed at local venues, receiving strong reviews. In 1945, she joined Settlement’s piano faculty, where she taught for nearly four decades.

Halina Neuman. The Hoffman Family Collection. Reprinted with permission.

Neuman did not arrive in this country until 1951, after surviving the Warsaw Ghetto, the Polish Home Army uprising, labor and DP camps and post-war refugee stops. Finally, she followed her daughter to the United States, and three months later, gave her first American concert. She retired as a piano professor at Rutgers University.

The live readings in “Two Pianos” are based on first-person interviews with Burstein and Neuman, conducted 40 years ago by Burstein’s daughter and son-in-law, Nora Jean and Michael Levin. The couple spent decades researching, organizing and recapturing the family’s story in full context. Co-producers of “Two Pianos,” the Levins also narrate part of the performance with Neuman’s grandson, Dr. Kenneth Hoffman. Neuman’s grandsons contributed material to the program, as well as to the exhibit set up next to the recital hall, which includes some of the women’s original documents and memorabilia.

The music for the one-hour program will be performed by the acclaimed Russian-born, Wisconsin-based Four Hands piano duo Stanislava Varshavski and Diana Shapiro. Having met at Israel’s Jerusalem Conservatory, Varshavski and Shapiro went on to win numerous competitions and have now been playing together for two decades. Showcased on two grand pianos, they will perform excerpts from works played by Burstein and Neuman under and after the Nazis, including selections from Arensky, Brahms, Toch and Chopin. With their artist-in-exile stories echoing those of the characters they portray, Varshavski and Shapiro will also perform live readings based on the first-person interviews of Burstein and Neuman.

“Two Pianos” is being presented by The Jüdische Kulturbund Project, which seeks to keep the legacy of the Kulturbund alive through educational programs and performances like this one. The Project connects examples of Jewish artists living under Nazi rule with artists facing oppression around the world today.

“We are so excited to bring this story to life,” said Gail Prensky, creator, executive producer and project director of The Jüdische Kulturbund Project. “Music sustained these women and fueled their will, not just to survive during the darkest hours of Nazi Germany, but to thrive.”


“Two Pianos: Playing for Life” will premiere at 7 p.m. on Saturday, June 9, in Presser Hall at the Settlement Music School’s Mary Louise Curtis Branch, 416 Queen Street, Philadelphia. A discussion, as well as a reception to meet the performers, will follow the program. Admission is free, but reservations are required because seating is limited. For more information, contact co-producer Michael Levin at [email protected] or at 202-828-3212.

Time to Revitalize Judaism: A Respectful Challenge to the Jewish Establishment

By Prof. Richard H. Schwartz

As author of Who Stole My Religion? Revitalizing Judaism and Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal Our Imperiled Planet, I was immediately intrigued by the title of Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo’s new book, Jewish Law as Rebellion: A Plea for Religious Authenticity and Halachic Courage. The idea that Jews should not blindly accept the status quo, but should use Jewish law as a source for rebelling against complacency, denial, injustice, oppression and more, with the courage to apply Jewish teachings to help promote a better world, excited me. [Read more…]