Mussar: A Contemporary Path to a Spiritual Judaism

— by Miki Young

For many spiritual seekers, the complaint about Judaism is that it doesn’t seem like it has what it takes to be a springboard for a life of meaningful relevance. The lack of easily accessible contemporary theology seems to create a great divide between honoring the ancient and finding a way to appreciate the practice of Judaism as an integral part of everyday life. Other traditions and practices such as Buddhism, meditation and mindfulness seem to give both solace and a sense of growing personal empowerment that many Jewish practitioners seek in a harried time.

More after the jump.
Mussar, a daily spiritual practice based on an ethical concern for others does, in fact, tether that bridge between Jewish spirituality and religion.  Developed in 18th century Eastern Europe, Mussar which literally means “discipline” offers practitioners a way of looking at the world which transforms everyday actions into moments of holiness.

“I wanted to feel more spiritual about my life,” said Phyllis Jacobs, a student of Mussar Leadership, a program of Beth Zion Beth Israel in Philadelphia for the last four years. “But as a Jew I didn’t really know exactly what that meant. With Mussar, I’ve discovered a Jewish spiritual discipline with guideposts and reminders that help me to look at what’s important to me in the world, how I treat people. Mussar helps me to see something everyday that makes me feel like I am connected to something bigger than myself. In many ways, Mussar helps me to navigate my everyday life in a way that makes me more the person I really want to be.”

The pursuit of spirituality, defined as living a life that seems to offer a sense of something “bigger than oneself,” is a commonly expressed sentiment by those who attend the Mussar Leadership groups, held throughout the area and via videoconference in different parts of the country.  The tenuous connection often raised is how does practicing Judaism as an individual or even in a minyan really set the groundwork for that spiritual connection?

“Mussar is an incredible impactful practice for all of us who are living in an ethically, spiritually bankrupt society,” said Rabbi Ira Stone, who is considered one of the few contemporary Mussar theologians and authors in North America. The daily practice creates a very centered sense of mindfulness with regard to how we impact each other and the responsibility we must take for our own behavior and for each other. “Mussar is not the end but the beginning of a spiritual path,” he added. “It is a compelling reason for people to reengage in classical Jewish text and practice in a way that is often missing in the non-orthodox world.  And, I think through that engagement, we could actually save the world.”

The practice of Mussar is “catching on.” Synagogues of many different denominations have lectures, workshops and ongoing classes. At Mussar Leadership those classes are offered at synagogues and independent groups that are identified as Conservative, Jewish Renewal, Reconstructionist, Reform and unaffiliated.  Currently there is also a group of Rabbis in LA who are studying Mussar for their personal and communal development as well as training to be facilitators of the practice.

Many group participants said that their connection to Judaism has deepened as a result of attending Mussar groups.  “As part of this group, my level of study and interest in Judaism has certainly increased,” said Carol Daniels, who is training to be a Mussar madrich or group leader.  “I now study Torah and have a daily reflection of gratitude that has allowed me to use my own religion as a guide in my life that wasn’t available to me before.”

In addition to the benefit of becoming much more mindful about the responsibility a person has to society as a whole and to the individuals around him or her, participants say that the experience has given them a much deeper connection of community.

For Martin Jacobs who participates in a Mussar Leadership group at Or Hadash in Ft. Washington, what has been most valuable is finding connections with others and opening himself up to share the experiences of day-to-day life in a very safe, supportive environment.  “The insights others are able to give me about how I choose to live and act give me a very different viewpoint than I have by myself,” he said. His fellow group member Marianne Adler agrees.  “The group is key,” she said. “When I miss it I don’t like it.  Being part of the group is essential because I get to listen to everybody else and everybody has different things to work on and everybody brings something different to the group.”

Mussar Leadership groups are held at Beth Zion Beth Israel in center city and around the area.  For more information, email [email protected] or call 215-735-5148.

Additionally, Reclaiming Judaism is offering distance-learning certification programs for Jewish Educators that incorporate training in Mussar title 3 Mmm: Maggid, Mitzvah and Mussar.  

The Food Network’s Ninth Casting Season Begins In Philadelphia!

The Food Network is looking for those with a captivating personality who believe they’re at the top of the culinary game and want to inspire a Food Network audience through their passion for food and cooking!

Please find the details of our event below:

Philadelphia Open Casting Call
Date: November 8th, 2012
Time: 10am-2pm
Location: Loews Philadelphia Hotel
1200 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107

Please go online to apply and for more information on casting events!

32nd Annual Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival Nov. 3-18

Many of us are still without power after Hurricane Sandy, so why not make the best of the situation and enjoy a great movie.

For the 32nd consecutive year, the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival is treating our community to dozen exciting films sure to please over the next two weeks (November 3-18).

PJFF Fall Festival

Click on links above for summaries and trailers of all of the Fall films.

A second series of films “PJFF Documentaries and Dialog” is scheduled for this winter, and we are looking forward to the PJFF New Filmmakers Weekend, April 20-21, 2013. Stay tuned for details!

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.”

National Liberty Museum Honors Collectors


Honorees Bob and Shelby Ford are joined by Gwen Borowsky and Arlene Silver at the National Liberty Museum awards reception and dinner., where the Fords were honored for their devotion to glass sculpture and their support of the museum and its mission. Photo: Bonnie Squires

— by Bonnie Squires

What do you do when your world-class glass scupture collection outgrows your residence?  If your name is Irv Borowsky, you buy an historic former bank building in Philadelphia and transform it into the National Liberty Museum.  You commission Dale Chihuly to create a four-story glass chandelier which indicates the flame of revolution and the fragility of freedom.  And then you hold an annual Glass Art Weekend & Auction Gala, and you honor supporters of the museum who are themselves connoisseurs of glass sculpture.  This year’s awards reception and dinner honored Shelby and Bob Ford and Inna and Alex Friedman.  Artist Therman Statom, who does unique things with glass, was also honored.

More after the jump.


Irv Borowsky, founder of the National Liberty Museum, and his wife Laurie Wagman greeted guests at the awards reception at the museum. Photo: Bonnie Squires


Patrons of the National Liberty Museum, including Herb and Phyllis Victor, and  Rhea and Dr. Morton Mandell, came to pay tribute to their friends who were the evening’s honorees. Photo: Bonnie Squires

The Museum houses one of the world’s most important collections of contemporary glass art to make the point that freedom is beautiful and strong, like glass, but also extremely fragile.  Through this unique metaphor, students learn that it is their responsibility to protect our nation’s heritage of freedom by making good and productive choices in their everyday lives.

Over 400,000 young people from the Philadelphia region and beyond have visited the Museum since it opened its doors in the year 2000.  Building on that success, the Museum created character education outreach initiatives that bring its message directly to area middle schools.  One such program, the highly successful “Young Heroes Outreach Program,” is funded by the proceeds of the National Liberty Museum‘s Glass Art Weekend & Auction Gala.  The money raised provides staffing, computers, lesson plans and classroom materials.  It also goes to forming a “Young Heroes Club” at each school, which empowers the students to identify and solve real-life problems they face in their school and community.

The National Liberty Museum is grateful to the many collectors and artists who recognize their connection to the Museum’s mission by generously donating and purchasing work at the auction.  The glass art community has been a major supporter of the Museum from the very beginning and will certainly continue to be a factor in the Museum’s success in the years to come.

The National Liberty Museum is located in historic Philadelphia at 321 Chestnut St.  It is open 10am to 5pm Tuesday through Saturday and 12-6 pm on Sunday.  Hours extend to 7 days a week during the summer months.  The facility is fully wheelchair accessible.  

Rodin Museum Gala Attracts 350 Patrons


Chair of the Philadelphia Museum of Art trustees, the Honorable Constance Williams, joins His Excellency François Delattre, the French ambassador to the U.S., and Michael Scullin, Esq., Honorary French Consul in Philadelphia. Photo: Bonnie Squires.

— by Bonnie Squires

Jules Mastbaum, the Jewish philanthropist who, in the early 20th century, created and donated to the City of Philadelphia his fabulous collection of Rodin sculptures and the “jewel box” of a museum to house it, would have been very pleased with the number of Jewish philanthropists who turned out on September 15 for the Rodin Gala and fundraiser.

Mastbaum, who made his fortune as a movie theater mogul, spared no expense in having his “jewel box” of a Beaux Arts museum designed and built to house his collection.

More after the jump.  


Daniele Cohen, her husband Jerry Grossman, and her French-born friend Michele Rosen, who served on the Rodin Gala Committee. Photo: Bonnie Squires.


Committee members Hope Cohen (left) and Richard Green (middle), of Firstrust Bank, join Marina Kats, Esq. (right). Photo: Bonnie Squires.


(Left to right) Roberta and Carl Dranoff join  Constance Williams at the gala. Photo: Bonnie Squires.


(Left to right) Sheldon Margolis, committee members Jeanette and Joe Neubauer, and Marsha and Dr. Richard Rothman. Photo: Bonnie Squires.


Joyce and Dr. Herbert Kean. Photo: Bonnie Squires.


(Left to right) Lyn Ross and Leslie Anne Miller, Esq. Photo: Bonnie Squires


In the Balzac room at the Rodin Museum, Joe Rishel, of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rodin Museum, welcomes (right) Iris Cantor, of the Iris and G. Bernard Cantor Foundation, and  (left) Iris’ friend Pamela Hoefflin. Photo: Bonnie Squires

The four-year restoration of the Rodin Museum on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway was guided by the original blueprints and now sparkles as it did when it first opened in the 1920s. Joe Rishel, the Art Museum’s curator of the Rodin Museum, escorted Iris Cantor, Chairman and President of the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Foundation, to the gala. Her foundation, a major collector of Rodin sculptures, has loaned the massive “The Three Shades” to the museum, and it sits in the rejuvenated Rodin Museum gardens.

You could not walk two steps without bumping into either a patron of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which also runs the Rodin Museum, or a genuine Francophile.  In fact, the French Ambassador to the U.S., the Honorable François Delattre, was in cheerful attendance, along with Catherine Chevillot, Director of the Musée Rodin in Paris, and Michael Scullin, Esq., the Honorary French Consul in Philadelphia and Wilmington..

Among the 350 guests who paid a lot of money to attend the gala and to support the Rodin Museum at 22nd and the Parkway were many leaders of the Jewish community.  Many of them are also major donors at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and other arts and culture institutions in the region, including Lynne and Harold Honickman, Richard Green and Hope Cohen, Lyn Ross, and the chair of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Honorable Constance Williams.

After hors d’oeuvres and cocktails in the fabulous gardens, as well as remarks inside the totally restored museum, guests were treated to a gourmet dinner in a tent on the grounds of the museum.  Going from day to night, the sculptures and gardens glowed, first in sunlight, and then in artificial lights after sunset.





Admiring the sculptures are Judge Arlin Adams and his wife Neysa.
Photo: Bonnie Squires.



(Left to right) Alison Perelman, her mother Marsha Perelman, and friend Maya Capellan.
Photo: Bonnie Squires.



(Left to right) Lynne Honickman and Joyce deBoton
Photo: Bonnie Squires.

Republican Jewish Coalition Mobilizes in Philly, Boca & Cleveland

The Republican Jewish Coalition flew and bused volunteers to campaign yesterday Sunday, September 9 and today Monday, September 10 in three metropolitan areas:

  • Philadelphia and Montgomery County, Pennsylvania
  • South-Eastern Florida, and
  • Cleveland, Ohio.

Ron Kampeas reports that this is part of a $6,500,000 microtargeting campaign funded in part by gambling tycoon Sheldon Adelson (pictured right at the RJC “Friends of Israel” reception at the Republican National Convention).

Ohio (1.3% Jewish) and Florida (3.4% Jewish) are once again battleground states and are being hotly contested by the Romney and Obama campaigns. Pennsylvania (2.3% Jewish) has traditionally been a swing state, but lately it has been considered fairly safe for the Democrats, and accordingly Mitt Romney, Karl Rove and the Koch brothers’ Super-PACs “Restore Our Future”, “Crossroads GPS” and “Americans for Prosperity” all announced last week that they were pulling out of Pennsylvania and Michigan and concentrating their ad buys on more competitive states. We asked the RJC why they were skipping Nevada which is a very competitive state with a 2.8% Jewish population the most of any swing-state other than Florida, but Stu Sandler and Bill Wanger had no comment. (See comment posted below.)

The RJC invited us to observe their outreach effort in work in our area. Local members of the RJC were joined by supporters bused in from Bethesda, Maryland and the New York area. Some volunteers flew in from as far away as California.  In all about 400 Republicans were assembled at the Radisson Valley Forge Casino Resort.

During the breakfast, RJC leaders and volunteers were all eager to share the views with us. One deplored a “certain strain of the Jewish community that cares more about the Democratic party than about Israel.” I asked if she was referring to extreme elements of the grassroots or about any particular elected officials, and she cited Rep. Alysson Schwartz as an example saying

Allyson Schwartz will be a Democrat [sic] believer until the day she dies even if they start wearing brown shirts

(a reference to the color of the uniforms of the Strumabteilung which played a key role in Adolf Hitler’s rise to power). Other members of the crowd echoed Lynne’s contempt for the Democratic Congresswomen and cited DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, Former Rep. Robert Wexler, Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach, and Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro as “traitor to their faith.”

I discussed the Democratic and Republican party platforms with Lynne Lechter, Republican Committeewoman in Lower Merion and former candidate for the Pennsylvania Assembly (shown right at the National Women’s Committee of the RJC at the Green Valley County Club in 2009). Asked about the Republican platform which echoes Rep. Todd Akin’s support for a blanket ban on abortions without any exception for rape or incest, Ms. Lechter said that to her “platforms are not relevent. People don’t always agree with everything in the platform.” However, she felt that the original Democratic platform “underscored the hatred of Democrats for religion and Israel.”

More after the jump.

The volunteers were assembled into teams some for phone banking, literature drops and strategic sign waving.

  • Vans brought the RJC volunteers to various neighborhoods. Media from the Philadelphia Jewish Voice, the Jewish Exponent, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and the New Jersey Jewish News were taken to an affluent Jewish neighborhood in Gladwynne where we watched as a pair of volunteers left campaign brochures at the front door of each targeted home. They were instructed not to knock  or interact with voters, but simply to leave their literature and move on. The RJC began canvassing neighborhoods for the first time during the 2008 election. However, Stu Sandler said this outreach effort is larger and better targeted than their 2008 canvassing.
  • Other volunteers were assigned to “strategic sign waving.” For example, a pair of RJC volunteers was stationed outside the Obama for America office at 1 E. Lancaster Avenue in Ardmore, PA waving signs reading “Oy vay, Obama.” (See photo below of a billboard in Southern Florida with a similar message.) OFA Field Director Jediah Grobstein asked them to not block the entrance, but other than that there was little interaction observed between the Democratic and Republican supporters.
  • A conference room at the Radisson was devoted to phone banking. The RJC used the same predictive dialing technology which Organizing for America used during the New York special elections of 2009. Volunteer phone bankers could stay on the phone as a computer connected them with one voter after another.

After the day of canvassing, the volunteers were treated to a private discussion with Congressmen Pat Meehan (R-PA7) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA8), and former Republican State Senator Bruce Mark, followed by Sunday Night Football as the Denver Broncos defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-19.

Photo of Republican Jewish Coalition billboard in South Florida

Philadelphia Teachers Grill Mitt Romney on Class Sizes

When Mitt Romney went to a charter school in Philadelphia today, it’s safe to say he didn’t get the reception he hoped for.

Counter to all logic and evidence Romney claimed in his book No Apology that larger class sizes will improve education.

In The United States, then, the effort to reduce classroom size may actually hurt education more than it helps. [page 216]

However, the Philadelphia teachers in attendance today offered him a reality check, questioning how exactly he could believe that to be the truth. Media coverage of his event centered on this exchange: MSNBC,  WBOB Philadelphia, ABC, The Hill, AP, LA Times, Politico, CNN, CBS

Transcript follows the jump.
TRANSCRIPT OF EXCHANGE:

MR. MORRIS:  I would like to bring up two concerns, in terms of the way you opened your introduction. These are things that I think about as a teacher in the classroom all the time, like one is class size, and the other is testing. I think, kind of like when I was driving to school today, I heard your position on class size and testing, and apparently it’s a platform, and education is a topic right now. You know, I can’t think of any teacher in the whole time I’ve been teaching, over ten years, thirteen years, who would say that they would love – more students would benefit them.

ROMNEY:  Right, right, of course.

MR. MORRIS:  I can’t think of a parent that would say, “I would like my teacher to be in a room with a lot of kids and only one teacher.” So, I’m kind of wondering where this research comes from, it’s like, and another thing, researchers, you’re looking at the test scores. You’re saying big class sizes doesn’t affect the test scores.

[…]

It concerns me, the testing, and it concerns me, you know, the class size. I can’t think of any teacher – Mr. Bennett, would you want more kids in your classroom?

BENNETT: No, it’s large enough. It’s actually too large.

ROMNEY: How many students do you have?

BENNETT: It varies between classes, but anywhere from 23 to 28, somewhere in there. You can give more of a personalized – more personalized attention to each student if you have a smaller class size. I would have to agree with Mr. Morris, and I teach technology over here.

Jewish Heritage Night with the Philadelphia Soul


You are invited to join the Philadelphia Jewish Voice and the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community at the Wells Fargo Center for an exciting, family-friendly evening of arena football as the Philadelphia Soul take on the Pittsburgh Power during the Soul’s Jewish Heritage Night, Sunday, June 24 at 6:05 pm. In addition to the non-stop action that arena football brings, the evening will also feature kosher food and Jewish themed entertainment.





Each ticket costs $28.

Ticket prices have been reduced to $19!

Tickets can be used for Jewish Heritage night or for any 2012 Philadelphia Soul regular season home game. A portion of the proceeds will support the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Contact [email protected] if you have any questions.

See you on June 24th!

“The Road We’ve Traveled” premiere in Philadelphia

This Thursday, you’re invited to the premiere of Academy Award-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim’s documentary about President Obama’s first three years in office and the tough calls he made to get our country back on track.

Check out the trailer (if you recognize the narrator’s voice — that’s Tom Hanks) and join a screening in Philadelphia this Thursday, March 15th. RSVP now to save your seat.

  • Where: Independent Charter School, 1600 Lombard Street, Philadelphia, PA
  • When: 7pm, Thursday, March 15, 2012
  • Cost: Free!

More after the jump.
Be the first to see it — and make sure others do, too.

If you know anyone who needs to know about the progress we’ve made under President Obama, this is the film that they need to see.

When President Obama took office, our economy was in crisis, with 750,000 people losing their jobs every month, the auto industry near failure, and the markets close to collapse.

The Road We’ve Traveled follows the tough decisions the President made to bring our nation back from the brink and fight for the security of the middle class, from reining in Wall Street to ending the war in Iraq, reforming health care, and getting millions of Americans back to work.

The story’s told by the people who watched it unfold — like the First Lady, Vice President Biden, President Bill Clinton, and Elizabeth Warren.

Between now and November, this film will be one of the many tools we have to bring others into this campaign and get folks out to vote for the President.

Because you’re a part of this campaign already, you should see it first, then share it with everyone you know who’s been asking questions about the President’s record or needs to get more engaged around this election.

Why not invite them to come see it with you on Thursday?