Former Congressman Rev. Bob Edgar Dies at 69

— by Rabbi Arthur Waskow

This is a letter I never imagined writing, and am deeply grief-stricken to be writing. Rev. Bob Edgar, a great public servant and my friend, died last Tuesday.

I last saw him on Jan. 15, when he spoke at a gathering at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church near the White House, sponsored by Interfaith Moral Action on Climate, to protest Presidential inaction on the climate crisis.

He recalled the moment when as a seminary student he sat young and awe-struck in the balcony of that church, and heard Dr. Martin Luther King preach the need for a movement of the Spirit to heal America.

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From that moment on, Bob dedicated his religious life to the public good. He served as Congressman from Pennsylvania for six terms, and later was general secretary of the National Council of Churches, constantly urging it to work for social justice. Most recently, he was head of Common Cause, working to end the flood of corporate and super-rich money to buy elections and office-holders.

And for me, Bob was the person who could call me on a hot day two summers ago and ask if I would join the very next day with him and other religious leaders to pray — and risk arrest — in the US Capitol Rotunda, praying for the Congress to create a Federal budget that would meet the needs of the poor and of the Earth. Because it was Bob, I broke other appointments and said Yes. And then ten of us were indeed arrested. For God’s sake, joyfully. For America’s sake, sadly — for we knew the Congress would not listen to the God we prayed to.

On that phone call, and indeed whenever we came together to plan some action for justice and for peace, Bob would smile as we decided what to do, and say, “You are my rabbi!” And I would answer, “Okay, you are my leader!”

I spoke that night with his wife Merle. She said he went jogging in the morning, came home, but then did not come upstairs as he usually did. She went down to find him lying still. She tried to revive him, and called 911. The medics tried, but all too late. He was only 69.

In our generation no one that I have known has matched the passion and compassion, the generosity and commitment, that he drew from God to work for the common good.

Over and over, in that speech in January and when The Shalom Center honored him years ago as one of the Prophetic Voices of our generation, and in every time I heard him speak, he would say, and call us all to repeat it aloud with him:

We are the leaders we have been waiting for!

We are, and he was. May his life inspire us to become what he was, and what he called us to.  

Sen. Arlen Specter’s funeral a tribute to his life of service


Arlen Specter and his wife, former City Councilwoman Joan Specter, enjoyed the Barnes Foundation opening gala this past May a few months before Specter learned his cancer had returned for the third and final bout. Photo: Bonnie Squires


Barack Obama and Joe Biden attend a press conference welcoming Arlen Specter to the Democratic Party at the White House April 29, 2009. Photo: Ron Sachs-Pool/Getty Images.


Sen. Arlen Specter and Gov. Ed Rendell during Specter campaign rally in Philadelphia, May 15, 2010. Photo: AP.


Sen. Arlen Specter was carried in a flag-bedecked limousine from Temple Har Zion to his eternal resting place at his family’s plot in Shalom Memorial Park. Photo: Daniel Loeb.

— by Bonnie Squires

Har Zion Temple was the site of the funeral for Senator Arlen Specter, and the thousands of people who poured into the main sanctuary, which had to be opened up to include the ballroom behind it, represented a cross-section of America.

Judges and lawyers and U.S.  Attorneys and academics and heads of charities and former Specter staffers by the score populated the seats at Specter’s funeral.  Candidates and former candidates from both sides of the aisle came to pay tribute to a mover and shaker who according to every speaker, did the right thing, the fair thing, even when voting for President Obama’s stimulus package would cost him his seat in the Senate.

Specter’s influence crossed political boundaries, racial differences, and economic backgrounds, as evidenced by the huge diversity of those in attendance to pay their respects to Joan Specter and her family.

Federal officials, past and present, like Senator Bob Casey, former Senators Ted Kauffman and Harris Wofford, and former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies; state officers, including Governor Tom Corbett; federal and state judges; leaders of academia; and hundreds and hundreds of other notables, like Gwen Goodman, former executive director of the National Museum of American Jewish History, and Lee Ducat, founder of the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.  Ducat nodded as each speaker mentioned Specter’s passionate defense of funding for cancer research and stem cell research, even when various Presidents decided to cut funidng of the National Institutes of Health.

Chief among the notables, however, was Vice President Joe Biden, who teared up as he spoke about Arlen Specter, his dear friend, who always was there for him, especially in times of personal crisis.

Biden and Specter seved in the U.S. Senate, and Biden said in his remarks that he knew he had spent more time with Specter than anyone else in the sanctuary, sitting with him in the Senate and especially in the Judiciary Committee meetings and hearings.

Biden also let people know that he had foregone campaign stops in two critical swing states, Colorado and Nevada, to pay tribute to his dear friend at Har Zion Temple.

President Obama that very morning had ordered all American flags to be flown at half-staff on all government properties, military bases, embassies, etc., in the nation and around the world, to salute Senator Arlen Specter on the day of his funeral.

But the people asked to speak by Joan Specter were close personal friends, like Biden.  Like Ed Rendell.  Like Flora Becker, widow of Judge Ed Becker.  Like Judge Jan DuBois.  Like Steve Harmelin, Esq.  Like Shanin Specter’s long-time law partner, Tom Kline.  Like Shanin Specter, the Senator’s son, and two of Arlen’s four grand-daughters.

Perhaps most remarkable, in all of their praise of Specter’s fairness and acumen, was the telling of how, less than two weeks before his demise, Specter insisted on teaching his class on the Constitution at Penn Law School.   I guess that was why Penn President Amy Gutmann was also in attendance.

Probably half the people in the throng owed their careers to Arlen Specter, either through having been hired by him when he was either District Attorney, or having been appointed by him when he chaired the Judiciary committee.

Although each of the speakers, including life-long friends Flora Becker, Judge Jan DuBois, attorney Steve Harmelin, Governor Ed Rendell, Specter’s son Shanin, and Vice President Biden shared wonderful anecdotes and memories of Specter, going back to Penn undergraduate and Yale Law School days, it was two of Specter’s granddaughters who made the greatest impact.  Sylvie Specter, by the way, is a friend and classmate at Penn of Biden’s own granddaughter.

Sylvie and Perri Specter told us that their grandfather had spent two weeks before his passing, working on yet another book – one that was a memoir with photographs from his amazing collection.  They announced that the family plans to complete the book and have it published, joining the array of Senator Specter’s other remarkable books.

Rabbi Kieffer, Rabbi Knopf and Cantor Vogel of Har Zion contributed to the testimonials, making this a remarkable send-off for a remarkable man.

Losing my Seventh Grade Teacher: Stan Diamond (z’l)

Stan Diamond taught me about Civil Rights, Cuba and how to think for myself.

— by David Bedein (Akiba class of 1968)

This past Shabbat, when our family held its perennial discussion about our  apprehensions about  Iran, and the possibility of a nuclear threat, I told my cantankerous seventh grader, Ruchama about what it was like to be a seventh grader during the Cuban missile crisis, exactly fifty years ago  I talked to Ruchama about our Core class at Akiba, and about our seventh grade teacher, Mr. Stan Diamond, who taught us in the seventh grade about how to think for ourselves.

I distinctly remember the discussion in Mr. Diamond’s Core class like it was yesterday, almost verbatim, fifty years later.

I now know, from my work with people in traumatic situations, that you often remember the intimate details of traumas as they took place, especially when you experience such events at an impressionable age.

We were all frightened of what might happen.

I was already, at 12, following the news with great interest

Mr. Diamond asked us what we thought was going on.

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I stood up in class to say that  President Kennedy was fighting to stop Cuba’s Castro from violating international agreements – to which Mr. Diamond asked: “which international agreements?”, to which I
responded: “The Monroe Doctrine”, to which Mr. Diamond asked; “And who signed on to the Monroe Doctrine”, to which I responded: that the US declared the Monroe Doctrine to stop foreign powers from invading Latin America,  to which Mr. Diamond responded with a question: “So was there really an international agreement with another country that the US was responding to”, which made us realize that the US was acting on its own, for better or worse.

From that moment on, I was skeptical about the use of US power.

And throughout that year, as the Cuban Missile Crisis resolved itself, Mr. Diamond guided our class through the nascent civil rights movement.

Mr. Diamond introduced us to CORE, the Congress for Racial Equality, where he was active.

Mr. Diamond stressed, over and over, that civil rights was important because of the “dignity” that everyone deserved.

After Shabbat, I sent a letter to Mr. Diamond, asking if he remembered our lively discussion during the Cuban Missile Crisis exactly fifty years ago this week, and to thank Mr. Diamond, half a century later, for having the patience to inspire me and other  youngsters to develop an independent mind, and to rely on facts, not on assumptions, to understand what is going on around us.

Indeed, one of Mr. Diamond’s trademarks was to get us to write facts on 3 by 5 cards, with the fact on one side and the source on the other side.

One could easily say that Mr. Diamond planted in me the seeds to be the social worker and investigative reporter that I am today.

To this day, when I oversee students of investigative journalism, I invoke Mr. Diamond’s “fact card method” although no one would know what a 3 by 5 card looks like today.

But placing the fact next to the source represents the  basis of journalistic integrity

On Monday night, I helped an Ethiopian Israeli named Aleli Admasu, who was sworn in at the Knesset with a speech on the subject of “affirmative action” for Ethiopian Israelis, to give Ethiopians the
dignity that they deserve in Israeli society.

I was thinking of Stan Diamond at the Knesset.

And when I got back to the office, the first e-mail waiting there was a message from my sister, who learned at Akiba two years after me that Stan Diamond had died.

It was if Stan Diamond had visited my home, the Knesset, and my office, while en route to heaven.

At a funeral, a person’s body is buried. That person’s soul and legacy live on.

And so it will be with Stan Diamond, who will always be my seventh grade teacher, the man who taught us about Cuba, civil rights, dignity…and the importance of checking your sources.

Stan Diamond inspired young people to think for themselves.

That will be his legacy.

Israel Behind The News
Funds Needed to Continue Proactive News Investigations

  • Dangers of Further US Aid to the PLO Army
  • Threat of Planned PLO Army Deployment in Hebron and Jerusalem
  • UNRWA and PA for War Curriculum, financed by US and the West
  • Conflicts of Interests of Israeli businesses invested in the Palestinian Authority

Memories of Senator Arlen Specter (1930-2012)

— President Barack Obama

Arlen Specter was always a fighter.  From his days stamping out corruption as a prosecutor in Philadelphia to his three decades of service in the Senate, Arlen was fiercely independent – never putting party or ideology ahead of the people he was chosen to serve.  He brought that same toughness and determination to his personal struggles, using his own story to inspire others.  When he announced that his cancer had returned in 2005, Arlen said, “I have beaten a brain tumor, bypass heart surgery and many tough political opponents and I’m going to beat this, too.”  Arlen fought that battle for seven more years with the same resolve he used to fight for stem-cell research funding, veterans health, and countless other issues that will continue to change lives for years to come.  Michelle and I send our thoughts and prayers to Joan and the rest of the Specter family.

— Marc R. Stanley and David A. Harris

We extend our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of former Senator Arlen Specter. Senator Specter sat in the Republican Party for most of his career, and he was a consummate public servant whom we respected greatly as he advocated for Pennsylvanians — and a crucial voice of moderation. When he joined the Democratic Party later in his career, we were proud to welcome him as a Jewish Democrat — and his votes were crucial to helping President Obama during the first year of his presidency. Senator Specter has left behind a proud legacy of public service that will hopefully guide future generations of public servants, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice had the honor to interview Senator Specter in our August 2009 edition.

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— Vice-President Joe Biden

Jill and I are deeply saddened. Arlen Specter was a great Senator who lived his life the way he died, with dignity and courage. He was my friend and I admired him a great deal.

For over three decades, I watched his political courage accomplish great feats and was awed by his physical courage to never give up.  Arlen never walked away from his principles and was at his best when they were challenged.

Jill and I are thinking of Joan at the moment – she was an incredible partner through his life journey. Our hearts go out to Shanin and Stephen and all who were deeply touched by his life.