Village View: Bill Cosby trial – and tribulations

Bonnie Squires.

This article was originally published in the Main Line Times. 

The Bill Cosby trial was an international fascination, not just a Philadelphia-Montgomery County-Pennsylvania obsession. I even received a request from a French magazine reporter who was in the region, covering the trial for his readers before he returned to Paris. He forwarded to me a column I had written in the Main Line Times about Cosby’s having received the Marian Anderson Award in Philly some years ago. The French reporter thought I might be able to give him contact information for three people whom I mentioned.

I answered him in French, letting him know that one of the people he wanted to speak with had died, one had left town years ago, and the last one, Coach Gavin White Senior, had retired from Temple.

So I have two distinctly different visions of Bill Cosby, who was once an idol of American television viewers. And film buffs. First there is the Bill Cosby in a Temple T-shirt or sweatshirt who raised awareness nationally — and even internationally — about his alma mater, in North Philadelphia.

Cosby never missed a Commencement, drawing cheers from students, professors, family members of the graduates, and media members alike. He would come early to the robing room, pose for photos with everyone, kibbitz, make us all laugh, and guarantee media coverage for the graduates and for Temple U.

I do believe it was the late Temple University President Peter J. Liacouras who reached out to Cosby and asked him to be the public face of Temple. And when Cosby starred in the most popular television series of his time, “The Cosby Show,” we could not even calibrate the value of seeing Cosby in the show sporting a Temple T-shirt!

In 2010, Cosby was the Marian Anderson award-winner, and at the time I wrote this about the Coz: “He is the consummate performer, successful author, humanitarian, philanthropist, advocate, educator, role model and creative genius. And he and his wife maintain scholarships at many universities, including Temple.”

Now I do not dismiss Andrea Costand’s testimony — or the charges of any of the dozens of other women who claim that Cosby plied them with drugs and then used them sexually when they were totally defenseless.

It’s just that this was not the Cosby whom I used to see on campus, whom I worked with to make the Temple recruitment television ads, who created a riot as he had everyone laughing and feeling good about themselves at whatever Commencement or Temple University event he would appear at. And who constantly would talk with the parents of students, praising them for their sacrifices.

There is only one other time when someone whom I liked and admired a lot turned out to be quite a different person at another point in his life And that person is Ira Einhorn. Now I do not by any stretch of the imagination equate Ira’s having murdered his girl friend Holly Maddox and stuffed her in a steamer trunk in the closet of their apartment with Cosby’s being a sexual predator. No comparison.

When Ira and I were undergraduates at Penn, Ira was a founder of Earth Day, he would sit under a tree and recite poetry. He was impressive. I was Miss Goody two-shoes with my saddle shoes, knowing nothing about drugs or alcohol. And then I lost track of him while I was substitute teaching in Lower Merion Schools while raising my children, and Ira just disappeared. Probably in a pot-filled haze, but I didn’t know it at the time.

Cosby would lecture and write books and exhort men to be responsible fathers.

Each time, though, that one of Cosby’s extensive legal team would be quoted on radio and television as saying, “but the sex was consensual,” I cringed! I would yell out loud! I mean — Cosby is married to Camille, an elegant, intelligent, philanthropist in her own right. And she has stood by her husband, even appearing one time in court in Norristown with him.

There are cynics who would retort, “But she’s staying for the money!” I highly doubt that now that Cosby’s reputation and career have been destroyed, that much money is still coming in. Although re-runs of “The Cosby Show” are probably running around the world.

I thought Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele controlled himself and his team admirably, and his comments at his press conference after the judge declared a mistrial were sober and professional.

We will have to endure the worldwide publicity again at some time in the future. I will try to keep in mind the original vision I had of Dr. Bill Cosby.

Bonnie Squires is a communications consultant who writes weekly for Main Line Media News and can be reached at www.bonniesquires.com. She hosts the weekly Bonnie’s Beat TV show at Radnor Studio 21 and Main Line Television which airs Monday nights at 7 p.m.

New Temple Hillel Director Promotes Jewish Diversity

Temple Hillel

Temple Hillel.

The new executive director of Hillel at Temple University, Daniel Levitt, 33, grew up in New Jersey, but has served as director of Hillel and the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) judaic educator at the University of Guelph in Ontario since 2012. Before that he was campus rabbi of Vanderbilt University Hillel. He got his semicha (ordination) Yeshivat Chovevei Torah in 2010 after graduating in 2005 from SUNY Binghamton (BA).

I met Levitt on a bus in Israel, heading south to the desert where we were part of a new campus initiative called Israel Engaged Campus. Temple is one of five schools selected to participate in this pilot program, whose mission is to educate college students about the State of Israel, its culture, history, art, science and technology.

“I don’t want Israel to be the only point of entry for Jewish students,” Levitt said when we talked previously. “In Hillel my job isn’t to sell one option or one way to be Jewish, but to have a broad and diverse marketplace of ideas and opinions.”

It was during his undergraduate years at Binghamton where Levitt claims he began to engage in critical thinking and learned the value of questioning one’s assumptions and deeply held beliefs:

I came to college with a very specific worldview. I felt very strongly about my religious beliefs. I came to realize, after intense study, that no question about belief, about faith, has to be scary.

Levitt sees his role at Hillel as providing a way to “nudge students in a direction of less certainty and more questioning”:

I never thought it was possible to question the existence of God. But college taught me there is equal value in alternative perspectives. If you don’t accept that possibility then you don’t have the ability to learn from others and learn humility.

The word “humility” came up many times during our conversations. Although Levitt identifies as Modern Orthodox, he is exceptionally open to new ideas, new interpretations and new ways to find one’s own way to be Jewish:

Jewishness, that is, Jews considered as a culture, a tradition, a people, is far larger than Judaism, the religion. In fact, the religious aspect of Judaism can often serve as a barrier to students joining Hillel and becoming involved.

Our mission is to develop young Jewish adults to take leadership roles in their communities. Hillel is a community that wants the involvement of Jewish students, no matter their Jewish background. There is no dogma here.

Levitt shared an anecdote about a former student who grew up with a Conservative rabbi and identified as an atheist, but enjoyed the traditions of Judaism like going to synagogue on the High Holidays like Rosh Hashanah. After studying with Levitt and getting to know him at Hillel, the student realized that the rabbi at his hometown was his “parents’ rabbi.” And even though the student was not modern Orthodox or even particularly religious, he embraced Levitt as his rabbi and as a role model.

The IEC Seminar group poses in front of the Susan Dellal Center for Dance and Theater after experiencing a modern art performance by the international dance group BatSheva.

The IEC Seminar group poses in front of the Susan Dellal Center for Dance and Theater after experiencing a modern art performance by the international dance group BatSheva.

It is not surprising. When I first met Levitt I would want to embrace him, or shake his hand, but as a Modern Orthodox Jew, he told me he refrained from such intimacies with women other than his wife, Naomi. However, in conversations we had and at the table of our Israel Engaged Campus meetings, Levitt’s voice was always a moderate, reasonable, but impassioned one. Levitt brings a rich intellectual background to Temple campus, but he also brings a humanistic spirit infused with critical inquiry and marked by humility.

Levitt said, without hesitation, that his parents have been his greatest influences in life: “They modeled an engaged religious Jewish life that prioritized Jewish values along with Jewish observance.”

Levitt also said his wife Naomi, a nurse, has taught him kindness, patience and to try to greet everyone with a smile. The two have three children: Yonah, 5; Leah, 3; and the baby Atira, 1. Another influence is his mentor at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, Rabbi Avi Weiss. Levitt said that unlike himself, Weiss was the master of pithy statements that did not undermine the complexity of Jewish thought.

The famous Jewish religious leader, Hillel, is known for standing on one leg and summarizing all of Judaism to a Roman challenger: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn.”

When I posed this same question to Levitt — stand on one leg and tell me what is Judaism to you — he was characteristically sincere, long-winded, intellectual and moderate: “I don’t have that gift of the sound-bite that my mentor Rabbi Weiss has.”

No matter: Levitt brings his own style, humor and intellect to Temple’s Hillel. It is marked by a thoughtfulness and depth of thought and yes, humility, well beyond his years.

With his new life here in Philadelphia, Levitt sums up his goals:

For me, I want to be the catalyst for students’ own personal growth. I don’t want to hand them Judaism on a silver platter. They should be challenged and supported at Temple Hillel. I want them to feel confident in the choices they’ve made. Students have to remember that Judaism is not monolithic: We’re a diverse, open community.

Anti-Semitism On Campus

Do you wonder how today’s Jewish students’ college experience is different from yours?

In the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s film, “Crossing the Line 2,” the filmmaker takes the viewer along as he walks through the gauntlet of anti-Israel activists at several college campuses. The viewer gets to experience speakers being shouted down, professors assaulting students, and anti-Israel activists openly calling for the destruction of Israel. I am very ashamed that Temple University, my alma mater, is one of the schools featured in this film.

On May 14, a screening of the film will take place at Congregation Or Ami in Lafayette Hill. The film will be followed by a panel discussion between student representatives, guest speakers from U.S. universities, and student organizations.

The New Face of Anti-Semitism on Campus

Do you wonder how today’s Jewish students’ college experience is different from yours?

In the Jerusalem U‘s film, “Crossing the Line 2,” the filmmaker takes the viewer along as he walks through the gauntlet of anti-Israel activists at several college campuses. The viewer gets to experience speakers being shouted down, professors assaulting students, and anti-Israel activists openly calling for the destruction of Israel. I am very ashamed that Temple University, my alma mater, is one of the schools featured in this film.

On May 14, a screening of the film will take place at Congregation Or Ami in Lafayette Hill. The film will be followed by a panel discussion between student representatives, guest speakers from U.S. universities, and student organizations.

Israeli Soldiers Explain Dilemmas of the Conflict

Lital; Ben Brownstein, StandWithUs Mid-Atlantic Campus Coordinator; Elad and Shahar Oz, Director of Education, Society Hill Synagogue.

Lital; Ben Brownstein, StandWithUs Mid-Atlantic Campus Coordinator; Elad and Shahar Oz, Director of Education, Society Hill Synagogue.

— by Ferne Hassan

StandWithUs‘s Israeli Soldiers Tour features reserve duty Israeli soldier-students who travel the United States putting a human face to the IDF uniform. Thanks to our local chapter, two young soldiers — Lital and Elad — were able to share in-front-of-the-lines and behind-the-headlines stories have never been heard before at five venues in our community. Lital and Elad (last names withheld for security purposes) exposed the dilemmas of the conflict, including facing an enemy that hides behind its civilians.

Five Meetings in the Philadelphia Area

Elad and Lital first met with a group of eager-to-learn older students at Society Hill Synagogue. Then Lital spoke to the entire congregation.  The students asked pertinent questions about the recent elections, whether or not the 2-state solution is possible, and about the threat to Israel from ISIS.

Congregation Mikveh Israel attendees were concerned about the American Jews’ continued support of Israel, the average Israeli’s feeling about Iran, and if peace can be achieved when leaders in the Palestinian Authority want terrorists released before they will negotiate.

Temple University students had a chance to meet Lital and Elad thanks to the Temple Israel Political Affairs Committee and Temple Hillel. Lital and Elad also met with local groups at Beth Am Synagogue and Lower Merion High School.

These meetings created a connection between the Israeli soldiers and their Jewish American audience. They hark back to the founding of Israel, when prime minister David Ben Gurion told the American Jewish Community that the creation of the State of Israel was a partnership between the new Israelis and Jews around the world.

Biographies

Lital is a journalist and anchor for a news site in Israel. She was born in Ashkelon, and has a BA is Social Sciences from the Open University. Proud of her service in the IDF, which she believes is falsely portrayed around the world, this is Lital’s fifth participation in SWU’s Israeli Soldiers tour. She considers it an honor to contribute whatever she can to her country, which led her to choose service in the border police unit.  She served in checkpoints, stations aimed at thwarting terrorist attacks, a position usually held by men.

Elad studies economics and management at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. He served as an officer in a little-known unit called COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories). It was established to minimize the effects of the conflict on the civilian population in the West Bank and Gaza. It mediates between the Palestinian Authority, international organizations, and Israel. It handles matters pertaining to security, commerce, health, infrastructure, entry permits to Israeli hospitals, and export and import of goods, among others.

Ferne Hassan is the associate director of StandWithUs Philadelphia.

 

 

 

ZOA Demands Expulsion of Temple U. Student Who Made Anti-Semitic Violent Attack On Jewish Student

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) has written to Temple University President, Neil D. Theobald, condemning the vile anti-Semitic attack on a Temple University Jewish student by a member of or sympathizer with the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group devoted to Israel’s elimination, and calling for SJP at Temple University to be investigated to determine if an immediate suspension of the group is appropriate and for the specific SJP student to be expelled.

Alumni Circle by Pjennings424

Alumni Circle by Pjennings424

Yesterday, Daniel Vessal, a Camera on Campus fellow and a member of the Jewish fraternity  AEPi, was punched in the face by a violent an SJP member at “Templefest,” which is organized for students on campus to gain new information about campus clubs a week before the start of classes. Vessal says that he saw the SJP table on one of the university’s main walkways and went up peacefully to engage in discussion, saying, “When Hamas stops sending the rockets, that’s when there can be peace. That’s when we can start.” This one girl sitting at the end of the table was just laughing and laughing at me … As she was laughing at me, people at the table were calling me a “baby killer.” I said when she stops then maybe we could have a genuinely peaceful conversation. And then this kid [one of the four or five people at the SJP table] just rocks me in the face as hard as he can. My glasses flew off. After a two-second blur I had no clue what had happened. I couldn’t believe the kid actually hit me. When the police came over and were filing the report the kids at the table were screaming, “You Zionist pig, you racist, that’s what you get.”

Vessal’s story has been corroborated by two witnesses, Josh Josephs and Alex Winokur, who added that they heard SJPmembers call Vessal a ‘kike,’ ‘stupid Jew,’ and ‘Zionist’ while he lay on the ground. The police did not detain the assailant and campus police disagreed with the head of student activities on campus that the SJP table needed to be closed. SJP claims the assailant is not a SJP member, merely an acquaintance” of SJP.

ZOA National President Morton A. Klein has written to Temple University President, saying, “Some recent developments on our campuses are simply horrifying, not least this unprovoked physical attack on a Jewish student.

“We see that Israel’s enemies are not content merely to slander her and tell the most outrageous lies about the Jewish state while apologizing for and sanitizing the unreformed, rejectionist Palestinian Arab movement, but are willing to assault Jews and use disgusting anti-Semitic language. Such groups have no place on our university campuses.

“Those who participate in such action need to be held accountable; not sent home by police, as was the case here. This is not appropriate disciplinary action; this is indulgence and appeasement of violent, lawless people.

“I respectfully call upon the University to immediately mount an investigation into SJP’s activities on campus to see if it appropriate to suspend it as a student group in light of their actions. It is also necessary to ascertain why campus police did not arrest the assailant and hold him in custody, but instead sent him home unpunished. If Mr. Vessal’s assailant is a Temple University student, whether or not a member ofSJP, he should be expelled.

“Should it emerge that the assailant is not a Temple University student, the University should use the full weight of the law to prosecute him for assault.”

Why I Love Summer Stage

— by Hannah Lee

It’s been 10 wonderful summers for my girls at Upper Darby’s Summer Stage, the drama camp alma mater of Tina Fey which she reminisced fondly in her memoir, Bossypants.  My girls have taken separate paths, one behind the scenes — handling lights, sound, props, costumes — and one on stage.  Summer Stage has left its mark and they’re the better for it.  It’s now my younger daughter’s final summer and I write to say farewell.  

More after the jump.


Bryn Bookstaver and her buddy Reggie prepare for their roles in Annie, Jr. (Photo by Dan Luner)

Now in its 37th year, Summer Stage continues to delight audiences throughout greater Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley.  Last October, its founder and executive and artistic director, Harry Dietzler, was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Barrymore Awards for excellence in theater.  Who would have foretold in 1975 that a 20-year-old music major at Temple University would change the horizon of musical theater in greater Philadelphia so profoundly?

Each summer, more than 30,000 audience members attend almost 40 performances, consisting of six children’s musicals, one Main Stage musical for adult audiences, a dance troupe, a cabaret, and one-act productions.  It’s still an affordable way to experience live theater — cheaper than the price of movie tickets! — with up to 100 talented teens on stage, singing and dancing up a storm.  Its signature song, “Magic Up Our Sleeve,” gives me goose bumps each time they sing before the lights go down.  Alumni in the audience sing along unabashedly at each performance.

The children’s theater program engages 750 teens, aged 13-17, in learning skills that can sustain them throughout life, not just in specific tasks such as hanging lights and creating costumes, but also lessons in how to work hard, work with others, and project one’s ideas.  Summer Stage was voted “Best Theater Group in Philadelphia” for four consecutive years on the MYPHL17 Hot List, voted by regular Philadelphians.

Seating 1,650, the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center on the campus of Upper Darby High School provides a wonderful, professional-grade venue for these lessons.  It employs 100 professionals to teach and guide the campers.  When I asked Mr. Dietzler about budgetary cuts from the township, he said that the program brings in enough revenue from ticket sales and sponsorship to offset any cuts.

For some years, they experimented with flying apparatus for shows such as Aladdin and Peter Pan, but I’m happy that they’ve returned to earth.  Again this year, a real dog will appear as Sandy in the production of Annie, Jr.  In the recent production of Seussical, Jr., the toddler son of the director, Dawn Morningstar — I love her name! — had a cameo role as the young creature hatched by Horton the Elephant.

A shout-out to Mama Moscotti, Office Manager/Nurse Extraordinaire.  Farewell and my best wishes for a strong season, Summer Stage!

The remaining children’s shows this season are: Annie, Jr., How I Became a Pirate (based on the children’s book of the same name in its local premiere), and A Disney Spectacular featuring princesses, heroes, and villains.  The Main Stage show, Hairspray, features actors aged 17-25.  For show times and tickets, log onto their website.

Bruce Springsteen Exhibit at the National Constitution Center


David Eisner, President and CEO of the National Constitution Center, admires the 1975 simultaneous Springsteen covers of TIME and NEWSWEEK magazines, part of the new exhibit, “From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen.”

— by Bonnie Squires

The National Constitution Center is the only venue to host the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s must-see exhibition, From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen, outside of Cleveland, where the exhibit has been housed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum.  The first major exhibition about the American songwriter will run at the Center from February 17 to September 3, 2012.

The opening reception attracted 1100 friends and supporters of the Center, including the Honorable Joan Specter, who serves as Director of Major Grants for the Center, and her husband, Senator Arlen Specter.  Mayor Bob Johnson, of Asbury Park, New Jersey, was also in attendance and greeted the guests from the bandstand.

The B Street Band entertained party-goers with rousing Springsteen renditions, and the food was typical boardwalk-seashore variety, including hot dogs, pop corn, cotton candy, and hamburgers.

More after the jump.


The Honorable Joan Specter, Director of Major Gifts at the Center, and her husband Senator Arlen Specter, admire some of the extraordinary photos of Springsteen included in the exhibit.

“It is fitting that the Center – the only museum dedicated to America’s constitutional freedoms – is the first and only venue in the nation to host this exhibition from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum,” said National Constitution Center President and CEO David Eisner.  “We are certain that our visitors, from the most devoted Springsteen fans to those experiencing his music for the first time, will be inspired by his commitment to illuminating the struggles and triumphs of `We the People.'”

“I worked very closely with Bruce and his organization to put this exhibit together,” said Jim Henke, vice president of exhibitions and chief curator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.  “It’s a comprehensive look at Bruce’s entire career and contains numerous items that have never been seen by the public.  The exhibit was a huge hit when it was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I am very happy that even more people will be able to see it now that it’s at the National Constitution Center.”

From Asbury Park to the Promised Land takes a comprehensive look at Springsteen’s career and catalog, from such early bands as Child, the Castiles and Steel Mill through his work with the E Street Band and as a solo artist.  Throughout the 5,000-square-foot exhibition, visitors will have the rare opportunity to view more than 150 items, including:


Robin and David Alpher were among the 1100 people enjoying the opening beach party for the Springsteen exhibit, on loan from the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum.

  • Family photos of Springsteen’s childhood in Asbury Park, N.J.
  • Scrapbooks containing newspaper clippings, photos and handbills from Springsteen’s early music endeavors
  • Handwritten lyrics from all phases of Springsteen’s career
  • Saxophone used by the late Clarence Clemons to play the solo in “Jungleland” from Born to Run
  • Springsteen’s 1960 Chevrolet Corvette
  • Springsteen’s Fender Esquire from the cover of Born to Run
  • The outfit Springsteen wore on the cover of Born in the U.S.A.
  • Springsteen’s 1993 Academy Award for Best Original Song for “Streets of Philadelphia”

The exhibition also features several listening stations where visitors can hear never-before-released songs by the Castiles; Springsteen’s successful 1972 audition for Columbia Records; and interviews with Springsteen on topics such as his songwriting process, his first recording session, and some of his best known albums.  Video footage throughout the exhibition includes archival performances, an edited version of Wings for Wheels: The Making of Born to Run, and clips of Springsteen’s appearance on MTV Unplugged in 1992.

To complement the exhibition, the Center’s public programming staff is developing a variety of interactive programs and activities for students, teachers and families about the importance of free expression.  The Center also is planning a series of special events celebrating the music of Bruce Springsteen.


Celia Feinstein (third from the right), director of Temple University’s Institute on Disabilities, brought her colleagues along who love Springsteen’s music.

Admission to From Asbury Park to the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen is $24.50 for adults, $23 for seniors and students and $12 for children ages 4-12.  Group rates also are available.  Admission to the Center’s main exhibition, The Story of We the People, including the award-winning theater production Freedom Rising, is included.  For ticket information, call 215.409.6700 or visit www.constitutioncenter.org.

CBS 3 and The CW Philly are the local media partners for the exhibition.  CBS 3 (KYW-TV) and The CW Philly 57 (WPSG-TV) are part of CBS Television Stations, a division of CBS Corporation.

Photo Credit: Bonnie Squires.


Bob and Sybie Brassler paid tribute to the rock and roll music icon.

Herschel and Betsy Richman enjoy the Asbury Park-like treats at the opening reception, while enjoying the sounds of Springsteen’s rock and roll hits.