News Briefs: Birthright Founder Flips Bird, Society Hill Playhouse Founder Dies, and More


JCRC and ADL Make Lobbying Trip to Harrisburg

Staff and board members of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) visited Harrisburg on April 17 to work in partnership with the Anti-Defamation League to rally support for Jewish values in the state legislature, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia Public Relations Manager Laura Frank said.

The contingent discussed legislation it supported (and legislation it opposed) on topics including hate crimes, gun violence, the budget and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)/Medicaid.

Frank deemed the day a success, as participants were able to meet with legislators and staff from across party lines and representing various committees. The legislators were receptive, asked many questions and were curious to hear the group’s opinions on certain bills on the docket.

“We greatly enjoyed working in coordination with the ADL on our advocacy day in Harrisburg. It’s always better to have more groups coming together to make a stronger impact,” JCRC Assistant Director Abbey Frank said. “We appreciated the time the legislators gave us to discuss our priorities and we’re grateful that the work of the Pennsylvania Jewish coalition is strong.”

The JCRC’s goal is to have a Washington, D.C., advocacy day each fall with a Harrisburg advocacy day each spring.

Wedding, Bar/Bat Mitzvah Singer Gerrie Dean Dies at 92

Longtime singer Gerrie Keller — known professionally as Gerrie Dean — died April 9. She was 92.

Gerrie Dean was a longtime singer. | Photo provided

The singing career of the former Geraldine Smigel began during World War II at the Naval Depot. In the years after the war through the 1980s, Gerrie Dean (sometimes billed as Geri Dean) served as singer, director and bandleader for weddings, fundraisers and Bar and Bat Mitzvahs throughout the tri-state area.

As a vocalist, she featured a diverse repertoire of mambo, pop, French and klezmer. She often appeared with the Jules Helzner Band.

Keller was active in her synagogue, the former Congregation Beth Emeth, where she directed numerous fundraisers and also served as a mentor and talent scout for area youth.

Society Hill Playhouse Founder Deen Kogan Dies at 87

Deen Kogan, who founded the Society Hill Playhouse in 1959 with her husband, Jay, died March 28.

Deen Kogan founded the Society Hill Playhouse | Photo provided

Kogan was the theater’s managing director 1959 through 1993 and also assumed the role of artistic director through 2016. She was a performer and a producer at the theater as well.

Kogan also established Philadelphia’s First Street Theater, which featured the city’s first integrated casts in 1968 through 1970. Productions were brought to neighborhoods throughout the city via a flatbed truck that served as a stage.

In her career, she worked with numerous actors, including Kevin Bacon, Richard Roundtree, Sherman Hemsley and playwright Albert Innaurato.

Temple Suspends AEPi Fraternity

Temple University announced April 20 that it suspended Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity in the wake of several allegations, including sexual assault.

“The university has received multiple credible reports from various sources alleging underage drinking, the excessive use of alcohol, possibly drugs and sexual misconduct, including sexual assault, during social activities at Alpha Epsilon Pi,” according to the university’s police department.

The rights and privileges of the fraternity (known as AEPi) were suspended pending investigations by both the university and Philadelphia police.

Temple also said it has increased the police presence “in various areas including the 2000 block of Broad Street” during the investigation.

AEPi said it would cooperate with the investigation.

“We are aware of the rumors and the nature of the investigation by Temple University Police and the local authorities and continue to cooperate fully with both,” said Jonathan Pierce, a past international president of AEPi and the fraternity’s media spokesman. “The university has asked us not to conduct our own investigation and, to date, we have received no other official notice from the university. We are, obviously, very concerned about these allegations as they have no place in Alpha Epsilon Pi.

“We suspended all activities of our Temple University group nearly three weeks ago and have directed that no non-members of the fraternity are allowed in the fraternity house pending the outcome of these investigations. Alpha Epsilon Pi is a fraternity based in Jewish values and anyone associated with such alleged behavior has no place in our fraternity and will be removed immediately.”

Settlement Music School to Honor Real Estate Developer Leonard Mellman

Settlement Music School will honor three generations of alumni at its 110th Anniversary Gala, including Philadelphia-area real estate developer Leonard Mellman.

Mellman, 94, is a 1939 Settlement alumnus and current member of the School’s Central Board of Trustees. He studied theater at Settlement every Friday night at the age of 15.

“Settlement is like another home to me. It is a world so special that everyone should know it,” he said. “I have seen [Settlement] as a model for what my life should be like. It has made an unbelievable difference in my life.”

In addition to Mellman, Settlement will honor guitarist Kevin Eubanks, the former music director of The Tonight Show band with Jay Leno, and Harriet Go, a Settlement alumna from the 1990s, who is a special education teacher at Richmond Elementary School in Port Richmond.

SC Passes Anti-Semitic Protection Legislation for Students

South Carolina will protect students from anti-Semitic acts by passing protective legislation, reported.

The state Senate approved the legislation in a 37-4 vote on April 12 as part of a larger spending package; the State House of Representatives in March approved the measure the previous month and Gov. Henry McMaster is expected to sign it into law.

The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under the Law said the bill will provide “educators and administrators with a clear and uniform definition to recognize anti-Jewish bigotry.”

That definition is comparable to the one used by both the State Department and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism adopted by 31 countries.

Birthright Founder Gives Middle Finger to Anti-Israel Protesters

When Birthright Israel co-founder Michael Steinhardt was verbally confronted by protesters April 15 as he arrived at a New York City dinner celebrating the organization’s 18th birthday, he let them know what he thought: He flipped “the bird,” reported.

A campaign calling itself “Return the Birthright,” which asks young Jews to boycott Birthright and support Palestinian claims to the land, led the protests. Those protesters wore Jewish prayer shawls, read the names of Palestinian villages prior to Israel’s independence and also recited the names of 32 Gaza Palestinians recently killed in Gaza border riots — many of whom were identified terror organization operatives.

Since its inception, Birthright has brought more than 600,000 Jewish young adults to Israel for free 10-day visits.



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