Local Year in Review: A Time of Firsts and Worsts

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From disheartening lows to jubilant highs, here are just a sampling of the events that shaped and formed the year for Greater Philadelphia's Jewish community in 5774.

This past year was one of the most trying in recent history for the Jewish people. From the bloody Gaza war between Israel and Hamas to the eruption of virulent — and often violent — anti-Semitism across the globe, we were buffeted on all sides. Adding to the external threats was the stark reminder in the form of the Pew study on American Jewry that we face internal challenges to our Jewish future as well. Despite all the doom and gloom, there were moments of victory and celebration — both personal and collective —as our community came together to support Israel, pass historic legislation and find meaning in our Jewish lives.

Here are the local events that stood out:


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A Labor Dispute and new arrivals

A controversial labor dispute erupted at the Perelman Jewish Day School when the elementary school’s board unilaterally chose to no longer recognize the teachers’ union. Impassioned meetings with the American Federation of Teachers, signed petitions and lectures on Jewish civil law followed on behalf of the teachers. Ultimately, legal efforts by the teachers and their union came to naught when the National Labor Relations Board ruled that it had no jurisdiction in the quarrel and charges against the school were dropped*. Other developments on the educational front included the arrival of Rabbi Avraham Steinberg (left) to head the brand new Mesivta High School of Greater Philadelphia. Leadership changes came to other Jewish day schools as well, including at Perelman, where Judy Groner began her first year as head of school; at Kohelet Yeshiva High School, where basketball enthusiast Rabbi Gil Perl took over the reins; and at Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia, where Rabbi Isaac Entin began his tenure.

*Correction: The Perelman Jewish Day School Faculty Association has filed an appeal of the NLRB's regional division ruling in its case to reinstate the union.

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A Banner YEar For Women in leadership roles

Jewish women capped a very successful year by breaking down barriers and taking on many key leadership roles in Philadelphia’s Jewish community. Naomi Adler (top), an attorney who left the practice of law to pursue a career in nonprofit fundraising and management, became the first female CEO at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia in May. Rabbi Beth Kalisch (bottom left) spent a year as Beth David Reform Congregation’s interim rabbi before being appointed to the position permanently. At least two other women also took the top clergy position at local synagogues: Rachel Kobrin at Congregation Adath Jeshurun, a Conservative shul in Elkins Park; and Michelle Pearlman at Beth Chaim Reform Congregation in Malvern. Meanwhile, Rabbi Deborah Waxman (bottom right), became president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

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mideast Conflict Comes to Campus

Fallout from the ongoing Middle East conflict seeped into local college campuses this year starting with Swarthmore College. The school’s 13-member Hillel board unanimously chose to ignore Hillel International's guidelines on Israel, which bar its campus organizations from hosting speakers who do not abide by certain principles related to Israel. The move sparked a national debate about what happens when student members disagree with Hillel’s guidelines and decide to become an “Open Hillel.” Temple University experienced its own conflict when 22-year-old Abdel Aziz Jalil, a pro-Palestinian student, allegedly punched a Jewish student during move-in day in late August. Following an internal investigation and numerous meetings led by campus administrators like university president Neal Theobald (left), the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office charged Jalil with simple assault and recklessly endangering another person but did not label the incident a hate crime, igniting outrage from some in the local Jewish community. Earlier in the year, dozens of cars outside a Jewish fraternity house at Penn State were vandalized with swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans.

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a mayoral visit to the jewish homeland

In November, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter visited Israel, where he perused baked goods on a street in Jerusalem’s Old City and wore a kipah he’d purchased to honor his late grandmother. During the four-day mission, he also met with Shimon Peres, Israel’s president at the time, and foreign ministry officials as part of an ultimately successful campaign to keep the Philadelphia Israeli consulate open.

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 Keystone State Greenlights same-sex marriage

Jewish couple Ruthellen Landau (left) and Kerry Smith of West Philadelphia made history in May by becoming the first same-sex couple to obtain a marriage license in Philadelphia. There were several Jews on the legal team and among advocacy groups that made the decision possible, and many local rabbis and synagogues came out in support of Jewish same-sex weddings both before and in the wake of the decision.

 

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