Meet the #DNC Delegates: Stephanie Markstein

Stephanie MarksteinIn the interest of full disclosure, Stephanie and I have worked on a number of campaigns together over the past decade.

Stephanie Markstein is an At-Large Delegate representing Bernie Sanders. She is chairwoman of the West Chester Democratic Committee, an elected position. Stephanie is also a singer-songwriter and a yoga teacher/personal trainer.

DocJess: So, Stephanie, is this your first time as a delegate?

Stephanie Markstein: Yes, I am a rookie delegate, and I’m very excited.

DJ: How did you get to become a delegate? [Read more…]

Democrats Seek to Take Back PA 6 With Mike Parrish

Mike ParrishWe spend a lot of time thinking about the presidential race, but we should remember that the House and its 435 seats are also on this November’s ballot. Here in Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District, the Democratics have an opportunity to capture the seat because their running a strong candidate with a great biography against first term Republican Ryan Costello who’s been committed to voting the GOP line since he got to DC. I had the opportunity to spend a few hours with Mike Parrish, Democrat for Congress and you can read all about his background and his stand on the issues.  [Read more…]

Obama to Israeli TV: We Won’t Let Iran Too Close to Nuclear Weapon

— by Amir Shoam

President Barack Obama gave an interview yesterday to Channel 2 News, the most popular in Israel, prior to his visit of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. “Taking 25 minutes of his time for this interview in this time of sequestration shows the importance of this visit to him,” said Yonit Levi, Channel 2 News’ main program anchor, who interviewed him.

“We’ve had some big crisis here in the US, so there’s been a lot of domestic work we had to do”, said the President. “What this trip allows me to do is to, I think, is to once again have a chance to connect with the Israeli people. There’s no substitute for that. The bonds between our two countries are so strong — not just shared values, but shared families and shared businesses”.

More after the jump.
About Iran’s developement of a nuclear weapon said the President:

There is a window — not an infinite period of time, but a window of time where we can resolve this diplomatically, and that is in all of our interests — Israel’s, the United States’, the World’s and Iran’s. Right now we think it would take over a year for Iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon, but obviously we don’t want to cut it too close. I continue to keep all options on the table. The United States has significant capabilities, but our goal here is to make sure that Iran does not possess a nuclear weapon that could threaten Israel or that can trigger an arms race in the region. Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel share my view that our commitment to Israel’s security is unbreakable.

About his image within some of the people in Israel, President Obama said:

I think some of this is politics. Particularly when there’s an election season coming up, like there was last year, the attempt to paint me as somehow not fully there and committed to Israel’s security, despite actions and words to the contrary, might have served some political purposes. Throughout my career I have admired not just Israel’s history, not just its core values, not just the incredible success that we’ve seen in terms of its economy, but also the fundamental right of Israel to be secure as a homeland for the Jewish people and its connection to the land. There had been times in which I had differences with some Israelis and pro-Israel individuals here in the United States about what’s the best way to preserve Israel as a democratic Jewish state in a very though neighborhood during a very difficult time. I’ve met with Bibi (Netanyahu) more than any other world leader. We’ve got a terrific business-like relationship, and we get stuff done. This is one of these unique times when you have what would be considered a center-left government here in the United States at the same time as you’ve got a more conservative government in Israel — usually things have lined up a little bit differently — so that probably puts a little bit of strain between our governments in terms of how certain issues should be pursued, but we always get them resolved.

About the Israel-Palestinian conflict the President said:

My goal on this trip is to listen. I’m intending to meet with Bibi and other leaders inside of Israel, I’m intending to meet with Fayad and Abu Mazen and to hear from them what is their strategy, what is their vision, where do they think they should go. What I do know is that is profoundly in the interest of both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people to get this resolved, in part because the environment has changed so drastically.

About the imprisoned Jewish spy Jonathan Pollard Obama said:

There is a justice system that allows for periodic review and the potential for him ultimately being released, and the way I, as President, function here is to try to make sure that I’m following the basic procedures and rules of that review. I have no plans for releasing Jonathan Pollard immediately.

About visiting Israel this time as a President he said:

I’d love to sit in a cafe and just hang out. The last time I was there, as a Senator, I still had the option of wandering through the old city in Jerusalem. That option, I think, becomes a lot trickier once you are actually President. Sometimes I have this fantasy, that I can put on a disguise, wear a fake mustache, and wander through Tel Aviv. It’s the toughest thing about being President — you can’t just slip out and interact with people without having a bunch of guys with machine guns around you.

Najla Said’s Performs Palestine at Interact Theatre


“We Don’t Listen to Each Other’s Stories”

Actress and playwright Najla Said is coming to Philadelphia to perform her one-woman show, Palestine, at the Interact Theatre as part of their Outside the Frame: Voice from the Other America series, March 27 – April 22. Voices from the Other America is a first-time, four-week theatre festival featuring presented works by leading nationally-known story-tellers, solo artists, and monologists, sharing their stories about identity in America.  

In April 2010, Najla completed an eight-week sold-out Off-Broadway run of her solo show, Palestine.  InterAct founder Seth Rozin says: She addresses the audience with a rare and refreshing blend of pride and self-deprecation, as she conveys the delicate balance between living a life of American privilege against the growing awareness of her identity as an Arab woman.”

I had the chance to speak to Ms. Said from her Upper West Side home. In Palestine, Said explores her identity as a “Palestinian-Lebanese-American-Christian woman.”   She  recounts how she shared bagels and lox with her best friend in Brooklyn on Sunday mornings and “was more likely to say ‘oy vay’ and ‘I’m schvitzing’  than any gentiles.”  

Ms.Said is the daughter of academic and public intellectual, Edward Said,  who, according to Ms. Said, described himself, somewhat facetiously, as one of the “last Jewish intellectuals”.   “Part of the journey of writing Palestine, was to explore my Arab-American identity.  I spent my childhood avoiding this part of myself.”  

“When people called me an Arab-American, I tried to embrace it, but I really didn’t know what that is.  It’s been a journey to become more self-aware.   I don’t fit into this or that definition.  I’m a little bit of all things.”

Interview of Najla Said follows the jump.

3 Performances Only:

  • Tuesday, April 17 @ 7:00 p.m.
  • Wednesday, April 18 @ 7:00 p.m.
  • Thursday, April 19 @ 8:00 p.m.

Tickets: $25.00

Interact Theatre
2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia, PA
Box Office: (215) 568 – 8079
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes
Appropriate for ages: 13 and Older

How has the play been received by Jewish and Arab audiences?  Do you find a difference?

NS: There’s a self-selected group of people who would go see an Off-Broadway play called Palestine in the first place.   What I have found is that the reception turns more on class and education levels than on ethnic or religious identity.  When I have performed the play for Arab communities who are more attached to their Muslim identity they don’t really get why this snooty, Upper West Side Arab girl was kissing Jewish boys.”

What was the process like of writing the play?

NS:  I structured it in a way so that people would listen and won’t stop listening to the story.   I tried to imagine I was having a conversation with a someone who didn’t know anything about me, maybe someone Jewish.  

What is your training as an actress?

NS: I attended Princeton as an undergraduate and majored in comparative literature.  In NYC I took many acting classes and studied at the Actor’s Center at the Public Theatre.  I love Shakespeare and Checkov – I’m a geek that way.  I love Genet too.

Palestine is your first play.  Do you see yourself writing more, or focusing more on your acting career?

NS:  Writing is very hard.  Through Palestine, I received a contract to write a memoir about my life as an Arab-American woman.   I have found writing the memoir extremely challenging and have learned a lot.  My editor wanted the book to be more about Arab-Americans as an ethnic group as there are not many books like this.  So it’s less about my Father, Edward Said, as the play is, and more about me as an Arab-American woman.  It’s coming out next year.

How did you come to write the play, Palestine?

NS: Part of the impulse to write Palestine was my feeling limited by roles for Arab women both in theatre and in Hollywood.  I wanted to show people I have other identities.  An actor should be a blank slate, and it’s difficult for me, because I’m always, Edward Said’s daughter.  It turns everything into a political event.  In Hollywood casting people would say, ‘Funny, you don’t look Arabic.’

Ms. Said performs the play at various high schools around the country.  When she performed Palestine at a private high school on the Upper East Side, to a predominantly Jewish group of boys and girls, the students loved the play.  

NS:  After the performance, a young woman told me that her grandmother told her she was anti-semitic because she didn’t approve of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. When I grew up on the Upper West Side, my Jewish friends’ grandparents were Holocaust survivors.  But now, these young people today, are more removed from the Holocaust and their main identity might not be Jewish. Or,  they may be so secure in their Jewish identity that they can criticize Israel without losing their strong sense of being Jewish.    

King Lear of a Role: Tovah Feldshuh in Bristol Riverside’s Gypsy


Broadway veteran and four time Tony nominee Tovah Feldshuh will star as Momma Rose in the Julie Styne-Sondheim-Arthur Laurents musical Gypsy at the Bristol Riverside Theatre December 6, 2011—January 15, 2012.    I had the chance to interview Ms. Feldshuh about the upcoming show and her life as a performer.  

Gypsy opens on December 8, which is a good omen, as Tovah noted it’s the yahrzeit (anniversary) of Golda Meir’s passing as well as the date of her own Bat Mitzvah.    Tovah performed Golda’s Balcony, the longest running one-woman show on Broadway, at the Bristol Riverside in 2010.  

Tovah was not always called Tovah: “I was named after my Aunt Tilley who died in her 30s from tuberculosis.  The Sue comes from my Great Grandmother.”  After she changed her name from Terry Sue to Tovah, her Hebrew name, and began her performance career Tovah said that “it changed the landscape of my life.”  She starred in Yentl on Broadway and in Golda’s Balcony on Broadway, the longest running one-woman show.  But interestingly, she has worked hard not to let her notable Jewish name typecast her: “I’ve played all kinds of roles from Diana Vreeland to judge Danielle Melnick in Law & Order and now, Rose in Gypsy.  What’s in a name? Everything.”

Gypsy is loosely based on the 1957 memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous striptease artist, and focuses on her mother, Rose, whose name has become synonymous with “the ultimate show business mother.”  Following the dreams and efforts of Rose to raise two daughters to perform onstage, the musical contains many popular standards, including

Interview follows the jump.

LG:   When I look at the all the things you do between Law and Order and your one-woman shows, films, and now Gypsy, I wonder how you do it all.  Would you consider yourself a driven person?

TF:  I’m at the prime of my faculties as an artist.   I’ve worked hard for my achievements.  As I get older, the process slows down, but the wisdom increases

LG: Gypsy is a play about a lot of things, but at its heart, it explores the mother-daughter relationship.   How has being a mother and a daughter shaped your life?

TF:  Gypsy is a King Lear role for a woman.  I’m trying not to be derivative in my performance.  Rose is a woman of flesh and blood and guts, not a beast.   She’s driven.  I think the abandonment of her mother is the key to her character.   From the moment you have children, they come first.  So you necessarily have to slow down.   But I think my husband and I did ok – as Amanda’s at MIT studying physics and Brandon is at Harvard studying economics.  

Tovah began to sing some lines from the song, Rose’s Turn for me.    

LG: Did you encourage your own daughter, Amanda, to become an actress?

TF:  I discouraged my own children from going into show business.  

LG:  Why?

TF:  I’m very bourgeois.  

LG: What would you have been, if not an actress?

TF: I came into the theatre after I was wait-listed at Harvard Law School.   My Father went to Harvard Law, and it just so happens so did my husband, who I adore.  You don’t need Freud to figure out how this work!.   It was my brother, (David Feldshuh a Pulitzer price nominated playwright for Miss Evers’ Boy) who encouraged me to apply for the McKnight Fellowship, which I received, and this launched my career.

LG: You have worked in show business for 37 years.    You have done film, television, musical theater, drama – how does this fit into your bourgeois bias?

TF:  I’ve been on my own since I was 21.  I had to live life on a budget and worry whether I had enough money for cab fare in NYC.  At 23, when I was starring in Yentl on Broadway, I decided I didn’t want to be poor.    I was committed to making enough money so I could have some freedom.   I have always tried to balance more commercial jobs with more artistic projects.   I also married a Harvard trained lawyer, which helps!

LG:  Do you have stage fright?

TF:  No, I’m at home on the stage.    Being on the stage is like a warm bath.  I let the gold dust settle where it settles.  I try to remain very loose on the stage and let the truth of the character bubble up.  I hope audiences will see my full skill set in action in this performance of Gypsy at the Bristol.  

LG:  What are you currently reading?

TF:  I’m listening to the book American Rose about Gypsy Lee Rose’s life.  I’m also listening to my voice teacher on an Ipod, as I have to stay focused on my singing.  

Tovah sang a few more bars of Rose’s Turn for me and had to return to rehearsal.  

Tovah Feldshuh stars in Gypsy at Bristol Riverside Theatre as part of its 25th Anniversary Season on December 6-January 15.  With music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by Arthur Laurents, the production is directed by Keith Baker and also features Robert Newman, Amanda Rose, Brittney Lee Hamilton, Joe Grandy, Bethe B. Austin, Kathryn Kendall, and Demetria Joyce Bailey.

Previews begin Tuesday, December 6 with opening night on Thursday, December 8.  Performances run Tuesday through Sunday until January 15.  Tickets start at $40, with discounts for students and groups.  Tickets are available online or by phone at 215-785-0100.  Bristol Riverside Theatre is located at 120 Radcliffe Street in Bristol, PA.

HIAS Chronicle: An Interview with Jeremiah Alexander


Jeremiah AlexanderJeremiah Alexander retired last week as Refugee Resettlement Case Manager at HIAS. He was interviewed by Hannah Lee.

Do you remember your first meeting with a refugee family at the Philly Airport?

I’ll never forget the first family that I met at the airport.  It was actually my first day at work!  They were a Burmese Chin family who came from India and were being reunited with their father who had immigrated to the states many years prior.  Though he was dying from cancer, there was an intense joy that radiated from him knowing that he was going to spend the rest of his days with his family.  I remember feeling extremely privileged to be a part of such an amazing moment.  Two of those arrivals later went on to work for HIAS.  Esther worked as a Case Aide before being hired as a translator for the Philadelphia School District.  She was replaced at HIAS by her amazing brother Gin who currently accompanies many of our Burmese and Bhutanese clients to their necessary appointments.  

More after the jump.
What is your educational background?

I attended Eastern University in St. Davids, PA.  I earned a B.A. in Political Science in 2004 and an M.A. in International Development in 2008.

What aspect of your background motivated you to work with refugees?

At an early age, I became interested in working on international social justice issues alongside people from diverse cultural backgrounds.  I originally thought that would involve moving overseas or at the very least moving to DC to work for a US-based NGO (non-governmental organization) with an international focus.  However, while in my master’s program at Eastern, I did an internship with the American Friends Service Committee that changed my trajectory a bit.  I worked under Roberta Spivek, the director of the National Economic Justice Program.  While working on many broad issues, such as the Cost of War Campaign and lobbying for health care coverage for the uninsured,  I found that I was becoming increasingly fascinated with how U.S. national and international policies were affecting people right here in Philadelphia, particularly the under-paid and marginalized populations that tend to be overlooked by most policy-makers.

After my internship, I took a position with my church, Circle of Hope, as the Director of our non-profit arm, which at the time was called Circle Venture.  I worked to help facilitate compassionate service opportunities through our various mission teams.  The teams were diverse and included a counseling center and an “intentional community” in West Philadelphia devoted entirely to pro-active peace-making.  It was a great position that gave me a real sense of our city as a whole.  In particular, with an office based at Broad and Washington, I quickly started learning more about South Philadelphia.  I began to get a feel for the newly arriving immigrant populations that were moving to South Philly and began to take interest in how they were acclimating to the city.  When I saw the posting for the Refugee Resettlement Case Manager position at HIAS, it seemed like all my interests were consolidated into a single position.  So I applied!    

What is a highlight from your tenure?

The highlight of working for HIAS has been both my co-workers and my daily interactions with clients.  My co-workers all come from such different backgrounds but the level of respect, professionalism, and personal care that I received from them was universal.  This family-like atmosphere will definitely be impossible to replace.  In addition, being able to get to know Bhutanese, Iraqi, Eritrean, and Burmese clients on a personal level has been the opportunity of a lifetime.  Through it all, the most striking reality that was etched in my mind over and over again was how similar we all really are.

What was a disappointment?

My biggest disappointment was the lack of resources afforded to refugees at the federal and state levels.  Though the amount of federal Reception and Placement money doubled from $450 to $900 per refugee during my tenure– a huge boost, for sure– truly adequate financial support is still lacking.  At the state-level, cash assistance from the Department of Public Welfare is also woefully insufficient, particularly for people who are literally trying to build a life from scratch.  The myth that a family can live off welfare alone couldn’t be further from the truth.  Nobody can survive on that small amount of money without other income to supplement it.  I think we need to re-visit the process of resettlement at a national level– something not possible in the current economic climate– and re-adjust to the reality that we are dealing with people from much different backgrounds than we were in the past.  Resettlement isn’t a three-month process anymore. I really admire everyone on our Refugee Team for working so hard to make up for these realities at the federal and state levels, truly working tirelessly to help clients acclimate the best they can.

What do you treasure from this position at HIAS?  What would you miss?  Not miss?

One thing I will miss, other than my clients and my co-workers, was how diverse each day was. As a case manager you have to be prepared, on any day, to be at a meeting one minute and on your way to the hospital with a client the next. Or, you might start the day thinking you’re going to work on administrative tasks only to come to find out that there are a hundred mattresses that need to be moved!  I will miss having such unpredictable days.  What I won’t miss is the unpredictability when it carries over into the middle of the night!  That I’ll leave for those who are even younger than me!  

What thoughts do you have about your future?

The future is a little up in the air but I’m becoming more and more interested in the public health field.  This will all come further into focus over the next month and I’ll have many more details then!