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AJC Brings Innovative High School Program to Philadelphia

By Max Buchdahl

When Ryan Berger was about to enter his sophomore year of high school, the current University of Pennsylvania freshman watched coverage of the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas with nervous eyes. He was surrounded by people he cared about who had differing opinions on the war — and he wanted answers.

So Berger asked his mother, who is involved with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in New York, what he could do to learn more about the issues. He wanted to know how a high-schooler, with little expertise but a large desire to get involved, could advocate effectively on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people. [Read more…]

Cattle Car of Dreams on Display at Barrack

Every year, the Holocaust Education and Reflection (HEAR) Club at the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in suburban Philadelphia creates a special school legacy project, with the goal of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive. One year, it was a flower garden dedicated to the children of the Holocaust. Another year, it was butterflies stenciled on the walls of the school stairwells, commemorating the poem The Butterfly, written by a young Holocaust victim, with the iconic line “I never saw another butterfly.”

Cattle Car of Dreams. Photo: Shira Stein.

And for 2017-2018, it is the Cattle Car of Dreams. At first, the project’s title seems a bit jarring. How could a vehicle that transported Jews to their deaths, obliterating their hopes for the future, be described as a “cattle car of dreams”? [Read more…]

Locals Recognized for Their Support of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

With the influx of high-tech companies and Israeli military intelligence units, the desert city of Beer-Sheva is becoming the hub of Israel’s rapidly expanding cyber security industry. One of Beer-Sheva’s main draws is its world-class academic institution, Ben-Gurion University (BGU) of the Negev, which offers graduate study tracks in cyber security, and has collaborated with the Israeli government on a national cyber security center.

BGU’s cyber security work is being supported here in Philadelphia as well. The Mid-Atlantic Region of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University (AABGU) — a nonprofit organization that supports BGU — raised funds from its annual tribute dinner for the university’s Cyber Security Research Initiative, and its contrtibution was matched dollar-for-dollar by the Israeli government. The Cyber Security Research Initiative supports needed infrastructure and allocates grants for innovative cyber research at BGU, with the goal of creating a national cyber security research center that is globally unsurpassed. [Read more…]

Kay Lokoff, Founder of the Terri Lynne Lokoff Child Care Foundation, Has Died

Kay Lokoff.

Kay Lokoff, 81, of Philadelphia, was the founder of the Terri Lynne Lokoff Child Care Foundation (TLLCCF), a nonprofit, nonsectarian 501 (c)(3) organization. She created the foundation with her husband, Fred, in August of 1987 to honor the memory of their daughter, Terri, who died tragically in a car accident in July 1986. The foundation became Kay Lokoff’s life raft. It kept her afloat and enabled her to live the second half of her life, which ended suddenly on December 28 while she was on vacation in Florida with her family. [Read more…]

Catching Up With Elected Officials at the Pennsylvania Society Event

This year, The Pennsylvania Society held its 119th annual awards dinner. At these dinners, the society honors an individual, from the commonwealth or beyond, with the Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement “in recognition of leadership, citizenship and contributions to the arts, science, education and industry.” Among its other functions, the society also contributes to Pennsylvania-based charities and provides awards and scholarships to deserving students within the state.

Sen. Bob Casey with Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro and his wife, Lori.

The Pennsylvania Society has always held its annual awards dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, though this year, ongoing renovation at this storied old hotel required a change of venue to the New York Hilton Midtown. Given the venue change, as well as a date change, there were some absences at this year’s annual dinner — but not among elected officials or hopefuls running for office next year. They seemed to be well represented at the event. [Read more…]

Philadelphia’s Hebrew Charter School: Take Two

In the fall of 2019, pending approval of the charter from the School Reform Commission, a Hebrew charter school will open in the East Falls neighborhood in Philadelphia. This will be the second attempt to establish a Hebrew charter school in the area. The Solomon Charter School, Philadelphia’s first Hebrew charter cyber school, closed in 2013 after only five months of operation. The reason for the closure was a failure to operate within the charter and cyber school laws. But Hebrew Public, the umbrella organization that is leading the establishment of the Philadelphia Hebrew Public Charter School, is confident that this new school will succeed and grow.

Hebrew Public, funded by the Steinhardt Foundation, spent more than two years researching potential locations to house the new Philadelphia Hebrew Public Charter School before they settled on the former site of the Women’s Medical College Hospital in East Falls.

Charters schools are public schools, so the Philadelphia Hebrew Public Charter School will not be a Jewish school. The focus of the school will be on the study of Modern Hebrew, Israel and it’s culture, and history. When the students reach the eighth grade, they will be eligible to participate in a fully-funded trip to Israel. Initially, the school will offer classes for kindergarten and first grade. The plan is to add an additional grade each year until it reaches the eighth grade.

Diverse by design, the administrators intend to enroll students from all over the city. Thus far, they  have visited a number of  nursery schools to invite families to consider applying.

Hebrew will be taught using the proficiency approach developed by Dr. Vardit Ringvald. Instead of spending years drilling conjugations, the focus will be on the students’ listening, speaking, reading, and writing abilities. The teachers will be able to use their creativity to select songs, stories, advertisements, and any other media they like to help their students be immersed in Modern Hebrew.

The Hebrew Public umbrella organization encourages its teachers to experience Israel by applying for a summer fellowship to teach English in the country at Talma, an organization for low-income students to learn Hebrew and English. Talma is a public summer school program in Israel that is organized by a partnership between the Israeli Ministry of Education and the Schusterman and Steinhardt Foundations. Fellows are placed in schools that serve Arab, Jewish, Bedouin, and mixed Arab-Jewish schools. This is an opportunity for the teachers to explore Israel and grow professionally as part of an international group of teachers.

Currently, Hebrew Public directly manages and supports Hebrew charter schools in New York, Minnesota, New Jersey, Washington DC, and California. The demographic data for the whole network of schools from the fall of 2016-2017 shows that 50% of the students are caucasian, 27% African American, 11% hispanic, and Multiracial and Asian make up the rest. Of the languages spoken at home, 66% of the students speak English, 11% speak Hebrew, 8% speak Russian, and 8% speak Spanish. These pupils are called “heritage speakers,” as they grow up immersed in a language other than English at home, which adds to the global orientation of the schools.

The School Reform Commission will hold hearings on the charter application in December and January, and vote in February. There is already a lot of interest in the new school in Philadelphia from families who are pre-registering before the charter has even been approved. If it is approved, with Hebrew Charter’s experience and track record of successful schools, Philadelphia’s Hebrew Charter School will be off to a very promising beginning.

Party With a Purpose: Cancer Research

Keatings with Nydia Han sitting at banquet table..

Dan and Sarah Keating with Nydia Han.

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) was once again the beneficiary of the annual Party with a Purpose fundraiser, with over 450 guests attending the event this fall. Dan and Sarah Keating received the Humanitarian Award for their dedication to cancer research. Dr. Stephen Rubin, of Fox Chase Cancer Center, was awarded the Scientific Achievement Award. Nydia Han, a newscaster with TV station 6abc, served as emcee. Beverly Goldberg, co-chair of the gala, announced that funds raised this year would go toward the research and treatment of ovarian cancer. [Read more…]

Congressman Evans on Tax Reform and Children’s Healthcare

Rep. Dwight Evans and kids in school classroom.

Rep. Dwight Evans and kids.

Republican Tax Plan

Congressman Dwight Evans (PA-02) released the following statement after reviewing the latest Republican tax plan.

Our country has not seen bipartisan tax reform since 1986, and I believe we can all agree that the U.S. tax code is in need of a major facelift. Comprehensive tax reform must simplify our tax code, lower rates, and ensure a progressive tax code that helps move everyone in our neighborhoods forward, without simply picking winners and losers.

The Republican party seems to have forgotten one of the guiding principles of our democracy; as their new tax plan does absolutely nothing to ensure that our government is of the people, by the people and for the people. The GOP tax plan borrows trillions from future generations to give tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires at the expense of our Commonwealth’s children and working families. This is entirely unacceptable and not a plan that fits the needs of Philadelphians, Pennsylvanians and Americans. It is time for the Republican party to work across party lines in a deliberate and transparent manner to create a tax plan that listens to, speaks to, and hears the needs of hardworking Americans in our neighborhoods nationwide.

Children’s Health Insurance Program

Congressman Dwight Evans (PA-02) released the following statement in response to the vote on the House GOP CHIP-CHC Reauthorization bill, H.R. 3922; an incredibly, divisive partisan bill that allocates money to pay for the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Community Health Centers (CHCs), and other public health initiatives by cutting funding for both the Prevention and Public Health Fund and the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and raising Medicare premiums for seniors.

According to the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation’s State Health Facts, Pennsylvania’s current DSH allotment is $616.27 million. Cuts to the program will reduce payments by $121.03 million, a 19.6% reduction. Currently, we have more than 176,000 children enrolled in CHIP which will soon run out of money to pay for their care. In the Second District alone, there are 8,360 children who receive healthcare coverage through CHIP.

Let’s stop the games and get something done. We shouldn’t have to sacrifice the health and wellness of one population for another; and that is exactly what this divisive GOP bill does. The bill puts healthcare for our children, our families and our seniors at risk by pitting their needs against one another. Healthcare is not a choice, it is a right. The children in our Commonwealth who rely on CHIP for their basic healthcare needs deserve more than this foolish game of politics. We need to come together, roll up our sleeves and do the right thing. I will keep fighting until we get this done for our children.

The Republican controlled House and Senate failed to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) program which expired on September 30. Nationwide, nine million children rely on CHIP for affordable, reliable healthcare.

Congressman Evans voted “No” on the House GOP CHIP-CHC Reauthorization bill, H.R. 3922.

Congressman Dwight Evans (D PA-02) represents Northwest, West, North, parts of South and Center City Philadelphia, and the western suburbs of Narberth and Lower Merion Township. He serves on the House Agriculture Committee and House Small Business Committee. He is a Co-Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Economic Development and Wealth Creation Task Force.


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.