Take A Walk Through Philadelphia’s Jewish History

— by Simmi Hurwitz

Enjoy the warmer weather by strolling through Philadelphia’s historic Jewish neighborhoods. If you come from Philadelphia, chances are that you once had a close family member living in the Jewish Quarter. Take a tour of memories when South Street was the center of Jewish life in the trendy part of Philadelphia now called Society Hill.

Professionally, I lead tours of Jewish Historic Philadelphia, and this is what LimmudPhilly hired me to do. As a presenter at the LimmudPhilly held in February, I felt like I learned as much as I taught.

The participants were a varied group in age, gender and knowledge.  Some added their experience, some simply took in each word with relish.

Hired by AJC in 1995 by Murray Friedman, I am the link with “continuity of identity” that is part of the mission of this great organization.  Actually my husband always says my mission is to convince people that everyone in the history of the city is Jewish.  He might have a point.

More after the jump.

We started our walk at the Gershman Y at Broad and Pine Streets, and made our way to the Mikveh Israel Cemetery.  It is a hidden treasure with some notable Philadelphians buried there, including Rebecca Gratz and Haym Saloman, as well as more than twenty war veterans  —  Revolutionary War veterans, that is.

We then headed to the old Jewish Quarter of the city —  a small area which was actually a ghetto without walls within our city from 1892-1920.  We talked in front of the 4 remaining synagogues,  several old businesses that
once flourished, and an old “shvitz” or two for good measure.

As I get older, my religion means more to me.  If we could get this feeling as children, how wonderful our future would look as a people.  Limmud is helping to generate this feeling.  Keep up the good work!

Contact AJC 215 665-2300 for more information.  Tours are by appointment.

Census 2010: Philadelphia Population Changes

Stephen Von Worley looked at 2010 Census data and compared it to the 2000 Census. Here is Philadelphia. Red indicates blocks whose population went down (solid red is complete depopulation), blue indicates blocks whose population increased (solid red indicates a doubling in population), and white indicates areas that did not have population in either census.

Check out other cities at Data Pointed. Philadelphia is unusual in that it does not show the general pattern of a red urban center surrounded by a ring of blue suburbs.

8th District City Council Candidate Howard Treatman Open House Sunday

Howard Treatman his wife Ronit , and their three children, Devorah, David and Hannah at their home in Germantown.

Howard Treatman, the newest candidate for City Council in the 8th District, which encompasses the heart of Northwest Philadelphia, filed his candidacy, turning in more than 2,200 petition signatures. Treatman, who has spent his professional life creating jobs and developing quality housing options, is running to increase jobs and community development in the District. Treatman, who has never run for office before and is a respected community leader, will open his campaign office on Germantown Ave. in Mt. Airy later this week.

“I am running for City Council because for too long, political insiders have been more focused on their elections and not on the needs of our residents.  We can not keep doing things the way we have been if Philadelphia is going to be a place where people want to live and businesses want to grow. I’m going to work very hard to introduce myself to voters and bring new ideas to the debate. With no incumbent in the race and no clear frontrunner, this could be the most competitive race this year.”

Treatman’s real estate firm has created jobs and provided quality homes in cities all over America.  He recently completed a two-year term as president of Germantown Jewish Centre in West Mt. Airy and he sits on the board and real estate committee of Mt. Airy USA. The organization is currently working with developers to build a new mixed use development on the long-blighted corner of Chew Avenue and Washington Lane. Howard lives with his wife Ronit and three kids in Germantown, where the family has resided for 17 years.

“Across the District, the voters I’ve been speaking with have been concerned with bringing development back to our vacant land and our empty storefronts,” Treatman said. “They want safer streets, better schools and more jobs. They’re looking for someone independent in City Hall, someone who will represent their interests, not the same insiders who have stood in the way of progress. I intend to run a very aggressive campaign over the next ten weeks, and I intend to win.”

Writing for Philadelphia Magazine’s Philly Post blog Wednesday, Mt. Airy resident Sam Katz declared Treatman “a dark horse” in the race and predicted a Treatman victory.

“Howard jumped into the race later than the other candidates, but we’re right alongside the frontrunners now in terms of our campaign structure,” campaign manager and 8th District native David Scholnick said. “When we got started, the political insiders didn’t know who he was, but now there’s a lot of interest in the campaign, and our opponents have taken notice.”

The week began with a big final push for petitions, and on Tuesday the campaign turned in more than 2,200 signatures-almost triple the 75o required to be on the ballot. The same day, Alan Tu of Newsworks.org wrote, in the first news story about the campaign, “Howard Treatman is basing his bid for Philadelphia City Council on thinking big.” The media attention continued on Wednesday when Philly Post praised Treatman’s independence in its roundup of the City Council races.

The campaign launched its website, TreatmanforCouncil.com yesterday, and began adding fans on Facebook.

“My campaign is pushing forward and pulling together a lot of support,” Treatman said. “From one end of the district to the other, the people I’ve spoken with are eager for new ideas and a new face in City Council, and that’s exactly what I bring to this race.”

Open House at Campaign Office

This Sunday,  8th District City Council candidate Howard Treatman will host an open house at his new campaign office on Germantown Avenue in Mt. Airy. Voters will have the opportunity to meet the candidate and enjoy light refreshments.

  • Sunday, March 13, 2011, 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm.
  • Treatman for Council Campaign Office,  7151 Germantown Avenue, 2nd floor, Philadelphia, PA 19119.

Howard Treatman is a Philadelphia native who has lived and raised a family in Germantown for the past 17 years. A successful businessman and political newcomer, Howard has always been dedicated to community service and neighborhood improvement in Philadelphia.

Howard has always made community service a priority, and it has been his second career. Howard recently finished a two-year term as President of Germantown Jewish Centre, a congregation dedicated to social action and community partnership. He is a board member of Mt. Airy USA and the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and he is an active member of West Chelten Neighbors.

Howard grew up in Lower Merion and graduated from Friends’ Central School. He couldn’t wait to move into Philadelphia. He majored in Design of the Environment at the University of Pennsylvania and went on to Cornell Law School where he earned his J.D. in 1986. After law school, he moved back to Philadelphia, where he co-founded Harvest Equities, a national real estate development and investment firm.

During his 25-year career, he has made projects happen that have created jobs and improved urban neighborhoods all over the country. He has been involved in major urban redevelopment projects in cities such as Boston, Baltimore, Denver, Washington DC, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, Houston and San Antonio. Through his work with multi-family apartments, he has provided quality housing for thousands.

At Mt. Airy USA, Howard also serves on its Real Estate Committee. Mt, Airy USA has led the way to establishing the Germantown Avenue Streetscape project and the Mt. Airy Business Improvement District. The organization works to target vacant and blighted storefronts for redevelopment and provides housing counseling and foreclosure prevention assistance. Howard, through his work at Mt. Airy USA, is currently developing the Mt. Airy Transit Village, a mixed-use project on a long blighted lot at Chew Ave. and Washington Lane.

As a President and board member of Germantown Jewish Centre, Howard’s proudest accomplishments were building community and moving the Centre to a sustainable financial model. The Centre is active in international social movements, such as the Darfur Relief Coalition, as well as local initiatives such as the Henry School Project and the Philadelphia Interfaith Hospitality Network, which provides temporary housing in the synagogue for homeless families. A cornerstone of the community with a congregation of over 500 families, the Centre was a founding member of the Neighborhood Interfaith Movement.

Howard lives in Germantown with his wife Ronit , and their three children, Devorah, David and Hannah. His commitment to our neighborhoods and his dedication to public service are the values that led Howard to enter the race for City Council. From his experience, he knows what it takes to create investment and jobs. It is this experience and vision that he will take to City Council. Howard will bring integrity, fresh ideas and an indep

Gei Oni, a film review

Gei Oni, directed by Dan Wolman
(2010, 105 minutes, Hebrew, Yiddish, and Arabic with English subtitles)

— Ben Burrows

Gei Oni, a film by Israeli producer-director Dan Wolman, was shown this weekend at Drexel University as part of the Philadelphia Israeli Film Festival. Wolman introduced the film, and took questions afterward. A film of light or darkness, of wide expanses or of tightly enclosed spaces, the cinematography is gorgeous, and focuses the audience on its major characters, Fania and Yechiel, with its deceptively simple visual palette. Fania arrives in Jaffa from late 19th century Russia with her baby daughter in tow, accompanied by Shuvale Mandelstam, who may be her husband, but later claims to be her uncle. They are fleeing the Russian pogrom, which killed Fania’s parents, and which has driven her brother Lolik mad and silenced. They are surprised when their relative in Jerusalem has not come to meet them at the port, and Shuvale travels to Jerusalem — only to find his relative, a newspaper editor, has fallen on hard times — so the new immigrants must rely on the charity of strangers. While Fania waits for Shuvale to return, she meets Yechiel, a recently widowed local farmer with two children from his previous marriage. Yechiel is clearly stricken by Fania’s beauty, although he must know she possesses few household skills, when she causes a small explosion while lighting a lantern near the hotel where she waits for Shuvale to return. A marriage is quickly arranged and celebrated, but there is a dark secret which prevents Fania from consummating the relationship. She tells Yechiel that she still mourns the death of her daughter’s father. Yechiel decides to accept her reluctance for the time being, and accepts responsibility to support her brother Lolik. Shuvale retires from the scene, and the new family returns to Yechiel’s village of Jauni.

More after the jump.
Wolman admitted during questioning to a number of interests in making this movie, from the novel Gei Oni by Shulamit Lapid. He wanted to portray a time when Jews actually purchased land from their Arab neighbors. He was interested in the positive romantic aspects of the novel, and did not include Yechiel’s death from malaria or Fania’s remarriage, as dramatic over-complications. He wanted to portray the different Jewish, Syrian Christian, and Arab Muslim cultures coexisting uncomfortably, with different levels of communication layered by the different practical experiences of male and female experience. As I watched the story unfold, I could not help but see parallels between the story of Fania and Yechiel with the stories of Sarah and Avraham. For so long as they pretended that Sarah was Avraham’s sister, the patriarchal couple brought plague to the land of Egypt, where they were sojourning. For so long as Fania kept her secret shame from Yechiel, one misfortune after another befalls the little settlement of Jauni. The Zionist and Biblical patriarchal couples seem equally distant to the modern eye, and both situations are resolved by a return to the Land, the Divine provision of additional people and resources, and the discovery of their mutual love for one another. By the final scene, Yechiel and Fania have brought new life into the world, and the village has begun to produce wheat from their rocky and difficult terrain.

Gei Oni is celebrated as an early feminist Israeli novel. The Jewish Women’s Archive describes Lapid’s Fania and her place in Israeli literature:

After several collections of short stories, Lapid first gained readers’ attention with her popular novel, … , which was the first Israeli book to be labelled “feminist.” Its feminism is, however, displaced, the action taking place in Palestine of the 1890s, thereby establishing a precedent in Israeli fiction for masking feminist protest by historical distancing. Framed in a narrative about first-settlers struggling with a harsh motherland, in a culture that kept gender roles distinct and separate, Lapid’s heroine, Fania, stands out in her attempt to cross boundaries. She is both mother and merchant, venturing out on the road alone, even defending herself against armed Arab horsemen when attacked.

The author had a life of her own, and made a family with Tommy Lapid, of blessed memory. Tommy Lapid was a member of the Knesset, and a champion of secular Shinui Party, which fought the influence of haredi restrictions into everyday Israeli life. Later in life, Tommy Lapid directed Yad VaShem: Preserving the Past to Ensure the Future.

Gei Oni had a difficult time finding distribution in Israel, despite Wolman’s extensive oeuvre, and his track record at attracting audiences. After being rejected multiple times, Wolman at last found a distributor willing to show his film. When Wolman saw the terms of his contract however, he saw that he might never be paid a cent, after the costs of the distributor (never enumerated) were subtracted off the top. When Wolman asked for a more specific enumeration of costs, or for an estimate of audience head count which might be required to achieve some payback, none was forthcoming. It was then that Wolman decided to arrange for his own private distribution of the film, at theaters who had shown his films in the past. He wrote and emailed everyone he could, and urged his friends to see the film in the first two weeks, explaining his predicament. The guerrilla distribution plan worked, and the film’s success in Israel has brought the film here to Philadelphia.

We Are #1

The Daily Beast ranked American cities according to their yiddishkeit, as determined by their Jewish population, synagogues per capital, and number of Kosher restaurants. New York City took the top honors with 9.6% Jews and 504 Kosher restaurants. However, New York City only ranks #4 in terms of Synagogues per capita.

Who has the most synagogues per capita?


Palace Royal: A Kosher Gem In Philadelphia’s “Little Odessa”

  • 9859 Bustleton Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19115-2611  
  • Mon-Thu,Sun 11am-10pm; Fri 11am-3pm; Sat 8pm-12am
  • http://www.palaceroyalkosher.com/
  • (215) 677-3323
  • Glatt Kosher with supervision by the Orthodox Vaad of Philadelphia

Ronit Treatman

Odessa is a city on the shores of the Black Sea in Ukraine.  Its port made it a gateway to trade between the Russian Empire and the rest of the world.  As a result it was a very diverse city with influences from Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Caucasus.  Philadelphia’s “Little Odessa” is centered on Bustleton Avenue in North East Philadelphia.  Cyrillic writing is everywhere, and there is Russian music playing in the stores.  Tucked away in one of the strip malls along Bustleton Avenue is Palace Royal, a glatt kosher “Russian” restaurant.  I invited my mother to join me there for lunch.

Stepping into the restaurant feels like arriving at a wedding.  The tables are elegantly set, with flowers everywhere.  The restroom is very clean.  There is a small stage set up with all the musical instruments for the restaurant’s band.  In the evenings during the week, there is jazz music.  Over the weekends there is Russian, Israeli, and all sorts of contemporary music.  We were welcomed warmly by our waiter and shown to our table.  The menu reflects the diversity of Odessa.  There are dishes from Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Austria, Persia, Turkey, and Greece among others.  Everything is glatt kosher.

More after the jump.

It wasn’t always this way.  Steve Klipatch came to the U.S. from Odessa in 1992.  He grew up knowing that he was Jewish, but with no observance at all.  “It was safer for me not to participate in Jewish life at the time in Ukraine,” he explained.  A professional musician and chef, he opened a restaurant shortly after arriving in this country.  For ten years, he ran a restaurant that was not kosher.  With time, he developed a longing to learn about his Jewish tradition. Many of his friends and acquaintances who came here from the former USSR were also very interested in learning about their Jewish heritage.  Steve met Rabbi Boruch Shlain from Congregation Beth Solomon Kollel and Community Center.  This Kollel has young Rabbis from the United States, Russia, and Israel.  Its mission is to for these Rabbis to share their knowledge with anyone in the community who is interested, no matter what language they speak.  Steve started learning Torah with Rabbi Shlain, who is originally from Belarus.  As a result of these studies, Steve became observant.  About three years ago, Steve Klipatch had an epiphany.  “I thought to myself, I am feeding other Jews; I should be feeding them kosher food,” he said.  Steve Klipatch decided to transform his restaurant into a glatt kosher establishment.  After he did this, his clients changed.  He used to get more Russians.  Now more Americans and Israelis came to his establishment.  Russians who are becoming more observant are now attracted to Palace Royal as well.  

There is a part of his heritage that Steve Klipatch did get in Odessa and is keeping.  He has the recipes from his grandmothers’ kitchens.  At Palace Royal, the gefilte fish, Challah, Borscht, chicken noodle soup, blintzes, and cakes are cooked from recipes handed down in the family.

We started our meal with a very traditional Ukrainian dish, Blintzes with Salmon roe caviar.  The crepes were paper thin, and the golden orbs of salmon caviar burst with flavor over our tongues.  A Levantine specialty that we could not pass up was the Kubbeh with mushrooms.  This stuffed bulgur croquette arrived at our table perfectly crispy and crunchy, with a deliciously flavorful filling.  We had to try the Assorted Pickled Vegetable Platter, a combination of crunchy half sour cucumbers, half sour cabbage and carrot slaw, and half sour cherry tomatoes.  It was delicious and refreshing! This was followed by a Turkish dish called Ki Kil’ with meat, which is a flat bread filled with spiced minced meat.  It was very flavorful and satisfying.  We concluded our meal with two desserts.  I got the homemade blintzes with pareve ice cream and berries.  My mom got the rugalah with ice cream and fruits.  My blintzes were delicious.  When my mother bit into her chocolate rugalah, she exclaimed, “Wow!”  She told me that in that instance she was transported back to Rishon LeZion, Israel in 1952, to her mother’s kitchen.  This was the exact same cake that her Polish-born mother used to bake for Shabbat.  I saw a tear glistening in the corner of her eye as she told me that she hasn’t tasted a cake like this in twenty-five years.  

I would like to come back with my family on a Saturday or Sunday night, when the room is full and the band is playing.  We can bring our own kosher wine or vodka.  There are so many delicious foods left to taste on the menu.  Maybe I will get to meet Rabbi Shlain.  It is a glatt kosher restaurant, so he can indulge.  And the Rabbi’s favorite dish? Shnitzel.