Gubernatorial Forum at Gershman Y

— by John Oliver Mason

Candidates for Governor of Pennsylvania were asked questions as a community forum held in the Elaine C. Levitt Auditorium of the Gershman Y on Sunday, March 23, 2014. The participants were:

Governor Tom Corbett and Democratic candidate Tom Wolff were invited but did not attend.

Synopsis after the jump.
Introductions

Gloria Gilman, Chair of Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks and Co-Coordinator of the Philadelphia Council of MoveOn, greeted the audience, saying,    

The coalition’s goal is to help educate voters (about) the upcoming primary, to be held May 20th-remember that date-and to recognize the importance of the role the Governor (of Pennsylvania) plays in our lives. We came together to look at the issues upon which the governor has influence that effect the grassroots of this city. We’re posing questions on issues that really matter to us, in which the candidates have not necessarily committed to their positions, or where we think it might be possible to differentiate their perspectives.

Tracy Gordon, Deputy City Commissioner of Philadelphia, spoke of a new effort of the City Commissioners’ office (which oversees voting in the city) for assuring voter turnout in the May primary.  Gordon read a letter from City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, who was in Harrisburg at the time:

While many Philadelphians vote in presidential elections, many fewer vote in midterm elections. This low turnout has far-reaching consequences. One in every eight registered voters in Pennsylvania (live in) Philadelphia. But candidates for statewide office spend less than one-eighth of their time campaigning in Philadelphia. They favor the counties with higher voter turnout, and who can blame them?

The result is statewide officials, such as governors, who don’t understand us or respond to our needs as well as they would if (voters) turned out to vote in large numbers…Every vote you cast is a vote not only for a candidate, but also for your neighborhood, and for your demographic group. Every vote you cast supports the work of local leaders who represent you. Every vote you cast  makes Philadelphia strong.

Gordon displayed a new handbook from Singer’s office for voters with questions about election procedures, and she directed voters to Singer’s office’s new website for more information. The book, said Gordon, explained how to vote by absentee ballot, how to write in a vote, and deadlines for registering to vote.

The moderators for the forum were Daniel Denvir, writer for Philadelphia City Paper, and Holly Otterbein, correspondent for WHYY-FM. “The gubernatorial election is in November,” started Denvir, “and there’s a lot at stake for our schools, the environment, and the welfare of our city’s people.” Otterbein described the format of the forum, saying, “We’re going to give each candidate one minute and thirty seconds to respond to each question.” The candidates gave brief introductory statements.

On Pennsylvania’s Refusal to Expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act

On health insurance, Otterbein said that Pennsylvania has not expanded its Medicaid rolls under the Affordable Care Act; Governor Corbett has asked for federal funds to pay for private coverage for residents.

Katie McGinty said,

You always have to look at a person’s track record… This is a governor who, as attorney general, fought tooth and nail to stop the availability of health care coverage. He’s not changed his stripes. This is a governor who has presided over ninety-seven thousand people being dropped from our health care and medical assistance rolls.

McGinty said the Corbett plan was a “voucher-izing” of  Medicaid, which means

there would be fewer people covered, it will cost more, and coverage will be less effective…We want to expand Medicaid, we want to say yes to the forty-billion dollars that should come to Pennsylvania as five hundred thousand people get that health care.

Allyson Schwartz said that the Medicaid plan the Corbett administration submitted to the federal government

creates obstacles, reduces benefits, and it hurts people who are on Medicaid or should be…As governor, one of the first things I would do is accept that Medicaid money…and we use it for our Pennsylvania residents.

Jack Wagner said,

I oppose Governor Corbett’s proposal, and I believe we need to (enroll) the five hundred thousand Pennsylvanians that need better health care…Even the very conservative governors across the country have adopted this proposal. It is federal tax dollars, that all of you have paid to the federal government, that will finance this proposal one hundred percent for several years…We are denying our own resources coming back to serve our own people.

Rob McCord called the governor’s health care proposal

immoral and inefficient… We’re depriving five hundred thousand people of coverage that’s already been paid for, with your taxpayer dollars…Medicaid is more efficient, not less efficient, than the short-term-oriented-profit-maximalizing firms in providing care to those who are currently not covered.

On Pennsylvania’s Ban of Abortion Coverage under the Affordable Care Act

The next health question was about the Pennsylvania’s ban on abortion coverage in the health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act. McCord said,

We need to make private, personal health care decisions that women and men make private. I’m as profoundly pro-choice as anybody in the country.” McCord called it “absurd that we are subsidizing the consumption of Viagra, and making it difficult for women to make their own procreative choices.

McGinty said she opposed such restrictions, adding,

I would aggressively and determinedly to overturn it.” The Corbett administration would suggest, she added, “that this is about taxpayer-funded abortions…This is about whether individuals, and women in particular, have the right to shop for and choose  the health care that is best for them. This is about private companies offering that health care that women want to choose and select.

Schwartz reminded the audience of her work in Congress

during the whole debate on the Affordable Care Act to make sure that women have access to the full range of reproductive health services that we need to use…Many of you know I am not new to this issue,

and she mentioned her work in establishing the Elizabeth Blackwell Health Center in Philadelphia.

Wagner said,

I believe that a woman should have access to safe health care under the law…But I will be very frank with everyone, I’m a pro-life Democrat, I believe that a woman should have access to abortion for rape, incest, and (to save) the life of the mother.

On Restoring the State’s Social Safety Net

Daniel Denvir asked questions about taxes and economic issues. Denvir pointed out cuts to poor people in state cash assistance, and cuts by Congress in the Food Stamp program; he asked if elected governor, would they reinstate these programs, and what would they do to strengthen the state’s social safety net.

McGinty said this approach was “wrong headed, (and) as the leader of the Commonwealth you want to lift people up and give them the ability to prosper, and this has been the opposite direction.” She called the cuts in Food Stamps “terribly wrong, and I would have opposed them,” and the federal Food Stamp cuts came along with the governor cutting state food assistance, adding “those dollars need to be restored.” McGinty added that Pennsylvania is fourth in the country in states with a long-term unemployed population.; with “job training, apprenticeships, job assistance, I will invest in people.”

Schwartz spoke of her time in the Pennsylvania Senate when Governor Tom Ridge cut people from general assistance; “It’s been going on for a while,” she said, “and I opposed those cuts…it hurt a lot of people, and it made it harder for them to be successful.” Noting her work in the Senate to extend long-term unemployment, “To make sure people can get back on their feet,” Schwartz added, “we do need to make sure that people can support them selves and their families, and that they have support during tough times.”

Wagner said,

Food assistance is as basic and as important as any (other social) program…As Auditor-General I looked at a wide variety of programs within (the welfare system), and quite frankly fraud, waste and abuse exist. But we never found that in the food assistance program,” which he called “one in which we should strongly support. We can actually save money in certain programs if we do a good job managing it, and provide more of those resources that we save into food assistance.

McCord said, “Yes, of course, I will restore general assistance for those who need it…This is really personal for me,” and he recalled his mother attending college and graduate school, and said, “I never would have thought, looking back at that beginning, that she would ever suffer from economic insecurity, but she did, and that motivates me.” Noting that “good, hard-working people often touch the edge of poverty,” McCord said, “It’s important not to blame the victim.”  

The forum was organized by Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks and the Philadelphia Council of MoveOn.org. Several groups in coalition co-sponsored the event, including the Jewish Labor Committee, AFSCME District Council 47, the AIDS Law Project, Americans for Democratic Action, the Arab-American Community Development Corporation, Ceasefire PA, Coalition of Labor Union Women Philadelphia Chapter, Bread and Roses Community Fund, Decarcerate PA, Education Voters of PA, Friends of Farmworkers, National Lawyers Guild, Liberty City Democratic Club, Media Mobilizing Project, Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus, Philadelphia Jobs With Justice, PhillyCAM, and others. These sponsoring organizations submitted questions for the candidates to be asked.

Americans for Democratic Action: Southeast Pennsylvania

ADA Founders Hubert Humphrey & Eleanor Roosevelt
Americans for Democratic Action founders Hubert Humphrey (left) and Eleanor Roosevelt (center) with Adlai Stevenson (right).

— by John Oliver Mason

The Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) held its membership meeting in First Unitarian Church.

Guenevive Norton, chapter President, greeted the members and introduced Don Kusler, National Executive Director of ADA, “a voice for our causes in Washington.” Horton listed ADA’s recent activities, such as the campaign for earned sick leave, coalition work around voter ID legislation, merit selection of judicial candidates, endorsements for candidates in general and primary elections, and school funding and closing.

Don Kusler, National Director of ADA, spoke to the group, saying, “This is a sizeable group of people, dedicated to a single mission. You can get a lot done, and it’s so important that we do this with our chapters and expand our chapter base.” Pointing out that ADA members come from several backgrounds and deal with a variety of issues, Kusler said of the themes the members stood for, “one was equality, we talked about equality of education, equality of representation, equality when it comes to (ending) bias, I think that’s the underlying theme where all interested in.”

More after the jump.
Another theme Kusler found was creating an environment where voters are voting more along the line of their interests…

Many of the other issues that we talk about are aided if you move forward on equality and fix some of the electoral issues we have…There are certain things we’re interested in at ADA nationally, but the most critical thing-the direction we’re heading in in our operations-is that Washington, unfortunately, is not currently a place where we can get much achieved.

(Our politics) are so polarized, and our own voting records show this,” added Kusler. Referring to the “Liberal Quotient” score system of Congress-members, he said, “We’ve been doing it for sixty-five years, higher scores are liberal, lower scores are conservative. Over time, the parties, up until and in through the late ‘eighties and early ‘nineties, there was a lot of diversity in the scores; the Democratic caucus average was in the seventies, the Republican caucus average was in the thirties. They were solidly where you would think they would be.

With the election of Congress in 1994, Kusler added, “The scores go wide, and we were so divided, and it just gets worse and worse with the Tea Party infiltration.” Also, said Kusler, “We’ve become so obsessed with the sound-bite world we live in, trying to get Washington to do something it’s just not going to do, and we’re forgetting our local roots.”

Kusler called for a greater emphasis by ADA on strengthening the chapters and working on more localized campaigns,

and that’s where (ADA’s) chapters come in. It’s so important that you (the members) find out what it is that grew (the chapter), what is it that’s your strength, what it is that you provide to the larger Progressive and Liberal community here is the Philadelphia area, that you can get behind, whether it’s an issue, or a couple of issues, or whether it’s a particular function of advocacy or information, I think it will strengthen both your membership, your contribution to the community, if you can do that as a group. That’s going to really provide an identity when we’re doing coalition work.

State Senator Daylin Leach spoke about state level politics, saying,

The Pennsylvania legislature is going to do what the Pennsylvania legislature likes to do most, which is tell women how to live their lives. We have Senate Bill 3 coming up, which says that women cannot, if they buy health insurance through the exchange (set up under the Obama healthcare plan), buy (insurance) policies that cover abortion, even  with their own money…I debated the chief sponsor of this on television, a guy named Don White, a pleasant enough guy, and  he kept saying, ‘We don’t want taxpayer money going to abortions.’ That’s already the law. This does not do that, this goes a step further.

Think about what the bill does. At the end of the day, it requires people who want coverage for abortions to buy a health policy through the exchange, and then go outside the exchange and buy a second health care policy that mostly covers abortion. What insurance company is going to offer a policy that totally covers abortion? Putting the issue of abortion aside,  that’s how insurance works, spreading the risk over a large group of people for a variety of things. It’s like saying, ‘I’d like to buy an insurance policy that covers kidney stones,’ who’s going to do that? …Even if there was such a policy, what woman is going to go in and say, ‘I need to buy some abortion coverage.’ Most people don’t believe they’ll need that coverage, that’s why we don’t have individual insurance policies for individual things that can’t predict they’re going to have. It’s a crazy idea, and that’s what the Pennsylvania legislature loves doing.

Another bill coming up in the legislature, said Leach, is the contraception bill,

what I call the ‘ask your boss bill.’ This bill says that bosses can opt out of providing their employees, if it violates their conscience, with contraception coverage. If you’re a woman, and you want contraception coverage, you have to ask your boss’s permission. Think about the discussions that are going to result from that.

One bill Leach introduced, he said,

which would provide mandatory paid family leave, for men and women. If you have a newborn, you can get twelve weeks of paid leave. This (kind of) bill is already law in almost all of the industrialized world. This is already a standard benefit of employment. This is already something that employers in Europe, Canada, and Mexico, and most of the world have figured out how to provide…It’s really good for everybody; it’s good for the kids, the rate of child mortality, (and) the rate of impoverishment all go down when you have that twelve weeks of bonding.

 

Southeastern Pennsylvania ADA Honors Three Progressive Women

The Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter of the Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) awarded three veteran progressive women activists at a ceremony held in the home of Bruce and Carol Caswell in West Mount Airy, Philadelphia, on Saturday, October 13, 2012.

The honorees were State Representative Babette Josephs, City Council member Marion Tasco, and Shelly Yanoff, Director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth.

More after the jump.
Attending the event were such local political figures as State Representatives Cherelle Brown, Mark Cohen, and Vanessa Brown; City Controller Alan Butkovitz; City Commissioners Chair Stephanie Singer and Commissioner Al Schmidt; and City Council members Maria Quinones-Sanchez and Bill Greenlee.

Glenavieve Norton, Chair of Southeastern Pennsylvania ADA, opened the program, saying that the honorees “have had significant roles to play in relation to ADA over their storied careers.” ADA, said Norton, was “founded in 1947 by Eleanor Roosevelt, John Kenneth Galbraith, Walter Reuther, Arthur Schlesinger, and others. National ADA has played a prominent role in the advancement of Civil Rights, Labor Rights, education reform, anti-poverty efforts, and Wall Street deregulation, among other things.”

The Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter, added Norton, “has played an equally prominent role in the establishment of our City Charter, in the Rizzo Recall movement, the election of W. Wilson Goode as our city’s first Black mayor, the Casey Five campaign to elect reform judges to Commonwealth Court, and the successful campaign to prevent the takeover of public schools by a for-profit company, among other things.

“Today the values of ADA,” said Norton, “dedication to democratic principles and good government, and the advancement of social and economic justice, are under serious attack. We take this mater very seriously. We have participated, both as an organization and individually in the voter ID coalition and are championing ethics issues in education reform. We are continuing our work, and will continue our work, on redistricting (City Council districts). We are the only organization that specifically has as a goal addressing good government concerns; we do so as they arise, and as we observe them, in our work and in our lives.”

Israel Featured Nation at Equality Forum


Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren

Israel was the featured nation at the Equality Forum, a worldwide LGBT rights conference based in Philadelphia, in May 3-6, 2012.

The forum began with a VIP kickoff reception held at the Gershman Y, Broad and Pine streets. In the lobby of the Gershman, the works of Israeli photographer David Adika were displayed, as part of the 13th Annual Gay and Lesbian Art Exhibit. Titled Equator, Adika’s photographs were displayed on the north, east south, and west sides of the lobby, representing similar regions in Israel.

More after the jump.


Left to right: Equality Forum Executive Director Malcolm Lazin, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, and Houston Mayor Annise Parker

Of his photography, Adika said, “It’s about the place I come from, and I wanted to give a record from Israel.” Asked whether his sexuality affects his work, Adika says, “Yes, but it’s not my agenda. My sexuality is not my agenda, it’s part of my identity. Of course it reflects (in his works), but it’s not very particular, it’s in it, but it’s not talking about it.”    

Explaining the exhibit on the walls of the lobby, Adika said, “Here there are four walls, the south wall, the north wall, the east wall, and the west wall. Each wall are related to their (equivalents) in Israel.” The south wall, he said, shows the Dead Sea, which is in the south of Israel; “I want to show in this work,” he added, “two (opposing) forces, the one that sinks, like this, it’s a sinkhole, and the one that floats, when you’re in the Dead Sea, you float.” The opposite forces at work, added Adika, were “sinking and floating, with all the metaphor you can think of.”

Debra Blair, Chair of the Board of the Equality Forum, said of Israel as a featured nation, “We’ve had several key countries from around the world, that are in stages of Gay liberation. I think to look at Israel, amongst the number of countries we’ve looked at, it’s just timely. There’s quite a bit of controversy around  having Israel, and that’s all the better for us, because that means we’re pushing the envelope for folks to be seen in terms of what they’re trying to do to get in a better place for equality for LGBT citizens.”

Elaborating on the controversy around Israel, Blair added, “With any particular country that has extenuating issues, that may or may not even deal with the LGBT movement, there will always be folks that, when you decide to honor or feature a particular country, they look for things to say, ‘Oh, they’re doing this, they’re doing that wrong.’ We’re simply focusing on the issues of LGBT civil rights around the world. When you have folks coming in to talk about what Israel may or may not be doing in terms of their political positions, or things of that nature, that’s where we put the stops on.” The focus, said Blair is “what (Israel is) doing to move the LGBT citizen to a different place of visibility.”

What has Israel done towards LGBT equality? “They have a number of initiatives,” replied Blair, who is an Assistant Professor in the School of Tourism and Hospitality Management of Temple University. “One of things we look at are those countries that are looking at (the LGBT) market as a potential tourism market. They, like many other countries around the world, are looking at the LGBT market and saying, ‘Come to Israel, we are a great destination.'” Israel, said Blair, has “challenges like every other place around the world around freedoms, but (Israel is) trying to be pro-active, to be welcoming.”

At the start of the kickoff, Malcolm Lazin, Executive Director of Equality Forum, spoke of the history of the Forum, stating that the organizers called it “a civil rights summit,” adding, “People in our own community really didn’t believe us, they thought we were engaging in hyperbola. Back when we said (the Forum) has an international focus, there was a moment in time when people were not focusing internationally, in terms of our national organizations…

“We’re (of Equality Forum) proud of our history,” added Lazin, “As you know, we co-produced (the documentary) Gay Pioneers, at a moment in time when very few in this community knew who Barbara Gittings was.” Gittings, along with Frank Kameny, were, as Lazin put it, “the father and mother of our organized (LGBT) civil-rights movement. We make the film Gay Pioneers with PBS and went out across PBS (stations) and schools across the country.”

Daniel Kuttner, Counsel-General of Israel to Philadelphia, said, “Israel resides in a rough neighborhood…but in spite of the hardship we sometimes bear, Israel is a state (with a) thriving cultural life-music, dance, theater, literature, I could go on,” as Kuttner commended David Adika, “whose photographic art is critically acclaimed throughout the world.” Kuttner gave his thanks to the University of the Arts, the Gershman Y, and Equality Forum for their work in putting together the events of the Forum.

Malcolm Lazin presented the Forum’s Distinguished Service Award to local philanthropist Mel Heifetz. “Many of you know Mel,” added Lazin, “because of his really remarkable philanthropy, there is certainly in the Philadelphia region who has been more philanthropic across the board to the LGBT community.” Heifets, said Lazin, helped to pay off the mortgage for the William Way LGBT Center, located at 13th and Spruce streets, and has donated generously to the AIDS community and to gay-friendly political candidates.  

JEVS Lasko College Prep Program

The Lasko College Prep Program is a program of the Jewish Employment and Vocational Service (JEVS) for Jewish high school juniors preparing to enter college.

As Penny Kardon, Director of Career Strategies for JEVS, explains,

The program is for  current juniors whose families meet a certain income eligibility requirement. This is funded by the Lasko Family Foundation, and it’s in its seventh year. It gives students an opportunity to work three days a week in the Jewish community, at a Jewish organization, and two days a week they come to JEVS Human Services’ Career Strategies Department, in the Youth Services.

More after the jump.

High School juniors, adds Kardon, “get SAT tutoring, college advising, and they have an opportunity to visit two college campuses, and they start writing their essays for the college application. We work with the family on financial aid, we help them get scholarships, and they are matched with a mentor from the Franklin C. Ash program for Jewish college students. These are kids who are already gone through the whole college application procedure, and they help them negotiate the whole college application process.”

This mentoring, says Kardon, entails the “nitty-gritty” issues of “What if you don’t like your room-mate? Or how did they pick their college? Sometimes the mentees visit their mentors in college during the year, and it gives the students a great opportunity to see (how) very successful students negotiate their college application process.”

The Lasko College Prep Program, adds Kardon, is also great for the community because “It places these kids in a Jewish organization three days a week, and they actually do the things that sometimes we don’t have the time to do, (like) data entry, answering phones, filing, working with kids, doing art projects, creating a brochure if the student has some particular graphics talents. So it’s a great opportunity for the community as well.”

“It’s a one-year program,” adds Rhonda Cohen, Coordinator of Community Relations at JEVS, “they start off in the summer, before they enter their senior year. That’s when they spend their three days a week at the Jewish placement, and that’s when they get their SAT tutoring, that’s when they get their mentor from the Franklin C. Ash college program. Once the summer ends the program continues, and they are required to work with our educational counselors until they have successfully get into college, and we work with the parents.

The Lasko program, adds Cohen, “has made the difference for families that don’t have that luxury of spending money on a college consultant or an SAT tutor. This is for low-income families in the Jewish community, and we are very proud to say we have a ninety-nine percent success rate, in seven years, of getting students into college.”

Application is available online.

JEVS Helping Hands Program

Penny Kardon, Director of Career Strategies for the Jewish Employment and Vocational Service (JEVS) in Philadelphia, explains the Helping Hands program as “a program for underemployed or unemployed Jewish individuals up to the age of 65. They are given intense vocational assessment, ongoing career counseling, and opportunities for us to pay for training programs. There’s a free computer program, workshops, lots and lots of support with job placement, (and) it’s a one-year program, it’s of no cost to the participants, and it’s completely funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.”

More after the jump.

The whole goal of Helping Hands, says Kardon, “is to make you more self-sufficient and it’s been working, it’s a wonderful opportunity if you qualify.”

Helping Hands, adds Kardon, helps fifty clients each year, and, she adds, “In general, we’ve (All of JEVS) been very busy.” The poor state of the economy, she adds, “has added clients to us, with Unemployment running out and a tight job market.”

Rhonda Cohen, Coordinator of Community Relations for JEVS Career Strategies, adds, “Our services are not just specifically for Jewish clients, we also take those who are not Jewish into our department, and that’s on a sliding fee scale.”

Helping Hands, says Kardon, is “primarily a career counseling service, we help you do your resume,  and counsel you, but if you want job placement, we have a full-time job developer, and out of those people who wanted job development, we have placed close to seventy percent of those individuals last year, and the year before. So we are placing people, even with the tough market.”  

Immigration “Reform” Discussed at Panel

The impact of racism and fear over immigration on local economics and politics will be the topic of a panel discussion, held at the Liberties Bar, 709 North Second Street, 2nd floor, on Thursday, February 23, 2012, at 7:00 PM.
The panel discussion will be sponsored by the Philadelphia chapter of the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC), the Philadelphia chapter of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), and Philadelphia Jobs with Justice.

More after the jump.
 
The panel will include:

  • State Representative Babette Josephs;
  • Wendell W. Young IV, President United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union Local 1776;
  • immigration attorney David Bennion, Esq.; and
  • immigration activist Jessica Hyejin Lee.

The panel will be moderated by Judi Bernstein-Baker, Executive Director of HIAS Pennsylvania.

See flyer for more details.

JRAid helps people in need

— by John O. Mason

JRAid is a new program of the Jewish Relief Agency (JRA), the food distribution program founded by Rabbi Menachem Schmidt, of the Chabad Hasidim.

JRA Director Amy Krulik describes JRAid as

A brand new program…launched on September 18, 2011. The goal of the program is for our JRA volunteers to provide additional assistance and support to people in the community. It’s a way to go beyond just providing food support, but to help people with everyday tasks, (such as) changing light bulbs, doing minor home repairs, providing rides to the doctor, (making) friendly phone calls or friendly visits to home bound seniors, really trying to fill in the pieces, primarily for people who don’t have family or support networks in the area.

More after the jump.

Krulik adds:

The cool thing about JRAid is that it’s an online marketplace (for volunteers). As a volunteer, you register as a volunteer with JRAid, you tell us what you’re interested in doing, when and where you’re available to do it, and you sit back and wait for the system to come to you. You don’t have to search through endless lists of volunteer opportunities, our system does all the work for you. When a volunteer opportunity that matches your preference comes into the hopper, we send you an e-mail or a phone call, ‘It’s a match,’ and you can see whether or not you’re available to take advantage of the volunteer opportunity.

JRAid has on its list a number of families, adds Krulik, who have been struggling financially;

We’ve worked with a few organizations, and directly with some families, for us to get volunteers, and we’ve mostly brought gifts for the holidays for those families, (such as) winter coats, hats and gloves and pajamas, games and DVDs, things to help the families be able to celebrate the holidays in a meaningful way with each other.

Krulik says that JRAid also has a “snow patrol,” meaning, “There are people who are psyched up to go out to somebody’s house and help them clear their sidewalks and steps.”  

Academy of Music 155th Anniversary Concert and Ball


Major movers and shakers in Philadelphia’s economy were among the 1500 supporters at Saturday night’s 155th Anniversary Academy of Music Concert and Ball, including (left to right) Ron and Rachelle Kaiserman, Robert and Caroline Zuritsky, and Renee and Joe Zuritsky.

— by Bonnie Squires

Philadelphia’s premier white-tie event took place at the historic Academy of Music, preceded by receptions and dinner at the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue.

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s 155th Academy of Music Anniversary Concert and Ball featured the debut on the Academy of Music stage of. Music Director Designate Yannick Nézet-Séguin , with special guests multiple Grammy Award®-winners singer/pianist Diana Krall and cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Tipping its hat once again to the first Academy concert, the program was a mix of popular and classical music, just as the 1857 opening concert was.

Jazz performer Krall surprised the audience by calling back on stage her friend and collaborator, Yo-Yo Ma, to the delight of everyone.

More after the jump.


Terese Casey, wife of Senator Bob Casey, and Felice Wiener

Yannick also had the Philadanco dancers, reflecting the rainbow of colores which lit the stage and columns of the Academy, perform to the strains of the orchestra.  A surprise finish was the appearance of the Society Hill Dancers, dressed in formal attire of the 1850s, doing a waltz.

The Jewish community was among 1500 supporters of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Academy of Music, an historic monument to music, opera and dance. The Gala evening began with a pre-concert dinner. Guests could choose from two exciting offerings this year: the President’s Cocktail Party and Dinner at the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue, or a Dine Around option, which allows patrons to dine at selected restaurants along the Avenue of the Arts, or on their own. In a nod to the Academy’s early years, and in a unique departure from recent history, both the Anniversary Concert and the Academy Ball were held entirely within the Academy of Music. A “symphony in three movements,” this unique evening gave attendees the chance to celebrate the “Grand Old Lady of Locust Street” within her very walls.

Public officials attending the evening included Governor and Mrs. Tom Corbett, Senator and Mrs. Bob Casey, a number of city and state officials, and corporate, cultural, arts organizations and philanthropic foundation leaders.


Christina and John Saler

The gala was co-chaired by Joanna McNeil Lewis, president and CEO of the Academy of Music,  and John R. Saler, chairman of Stradley and Ronon’s Government Affairs Practice Group, who also serves on the board of the Philadelphia Orchestra.


Corbetts greet Richard Worley, chairman of the Philadelphia Orchestra, with Joanna McNeil Lewis and John Saler, co-chairs of the Academy of Music Concert and Ball, in the background.

In the receiving line with the co-chairs and the Corbetts were Richard Worley, chairman of the Philadelphia Orchestra board of trustees, and Allison Vulgamore, CEO of the Orchestra.

The energy of Yannick, the Orchestra, the guest artists and the dancers enthralled the audience.  And the impressive program journal, reflecting the support of various segments of the community, was the parting gift as people finally left the Academy balls, held in various sections of the Grand Old Lady of Broad Street.

Photos credit: Bonnie Squires.


More photos
David and Susan Lipson Ken and Nancy Davis Ron and Marcia RubinHelen and David Pudlin, Esq.
Sandy and David Marshall, with Dianne and Jeff Rotwitt Scott and Lynne Mason with friends Pat and Rob Schaffer Harmelin Group

Saving the Stiffel Center


“Save Our Stiffel” is the name of a newly-formed group dedicated to keeping the Jacob & Esther Stiffel Senior center, 604 Porter Street in South Philadelphia, from closing due to lack of funds.

Programs held at the Stiffel Center include classes in Yiddish; art, poetry and music classes; cultural and travel experiences; health and exercise programs; traditional holiday programs; daily hot kosher lunches; fitness and wellness classes; medial and legal advice; chaplaincy services; and a thrift shop.

Laurel Katz, actor and radio host, is part of the effort; “No one had organized,” she recalls, “a committee to raise the funds that are needed, because we found  out fairly recently that that Stiffel is operating on a $200 thousand annual deficit, and they need $200 thousand by June 30th, and a promise for future funding, because they want to close it.” The Stiffel Center is a branch of the Klein JCC.

More after the jump.
“There were sort of reasons why,” the Stiffel clients were late in being informed of the closing, adds Katz, “It’s a little confusing and unclear, but the way I went into this is to not think about what happened in the past and what brought us here, but what can we do now, immediately, right away, to remedy this problem, to keep the center open, and that’s my sole focus.”

The committee to save the Stiffel, says Katz, has formed very recently, and “We since have a press release, and we are called ‘Save Our Stiffel’, SOS. No one had really organized something, there wasn’t any organized group, and now there is, and the word is out. We are organized, and we had a very encouraging meeting with a lot of very passionate people, and also people that are very plugged into assorted places in the community. We’re in the process of drawing up a packet to present to people who have the ability to write decent checks, because really, $200 thousand is not a lot of money. If someone wants to write a $200 thousand check, we’ll name the auditorium after them.”

The packet, says Katz, will tell the history of the Stiffel Center, “with the immigrants of South Philadelphia, not just Jews, (but including) the Italian community, and we’re going to get that out to whoever we can.” The packet will focus on people who can write big checks. Along with this will be a more grassroots approach, with such ideas as a concert at the center and a silent auction. “It’s going to be like a blitz,” says Katz, “it has to be because of the time issue.”

Stay tuned to the Philadelphia Jewish Voice for further developments as they occur.