Here are a few places you should certainly check out while everyone’s in good spirits.
Philadelphia will be painted red, white and blue — well, really just blue — starting next week when the Democratic National Convention hits the city.
In between searching for the donkeys scattered around town and looking for famous politicians to take selfies with (I’m not saying I’m going to be running around looking for President Obama or Michelle to pose with, but I’m also not saying I’m not going to be running around looking for them), there are plenty of attractions in Philadelphia to check out while you’re in town.
If you’re in the city visiting for the first time or your family members are coming to stay with you to see what all the fuss is about, here are a few places you should certainly check out while everyone’s in good spirits (except for some of your especially vocal high school Facebook friends who seem to think they’re also delegates).
Places to eat:
When you go to any city — for the first time or not — what is the first thing you look for? Food! Well, with local delicacies like hoagies and soft pretzels, Philly is certainly a top-notch culinary destination. And if you hit these spots (just a few of the many), you can get the Jewish flavor of the city.
The classics, of course, are those of acclaimed Israeli restaurateur Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook and their team who have brought you Zahav, Dizengoff and Abe Fisher. Check these out if you’re looking for a nicer dinner. While Zahav is definitely on the pricier side, all are certainly worth a trip, especially for Zahav’s hummus alone. (Another recommendation: While it’s not Jewish food, Solomonov and Cook also own Federal Donuts, which is a Philly classic that features donuts and fried chicken.)
While it’s not exactly what you think of when you think “Jewish food,” another good spot to try is Honey’s Sit ’N Eat. With two locations (one at Fourth and Brown streets and another at 21st and South streets), the BYOB spot is a must for comfort food. It’s some Jewish favorites with a Southern twist, thanks to the influence of its Texas-born owner. There are delicious potato latkes if that’s what you’re craving, but also definitely try the ridiculously good challah French toast.
If you’re looking for some good old-fashioned Jewish deli food, look no further than Famous 4th Street Delicatessen. Come for the matzah ball soup, stay for a corned beef special.
Or, if you’re sticking close to all the hubbub at the Convention Center, take a few steps to Reading Terminal Market. Inside, you’ll find dozens and dozens of food vendors of every stripe.
For traditional Jewish fare, look for Hershel’s East Side Deli. They have typical deli foods, from turkey sandwiches to knishes. Or if you’re inside and find yourself hankering for some hummus or falafel, check out Kamal’s Middle Eastern Specialties.
Synagogues to visit:
It’s obviously fitting that the DNC is being held in Philadelphia, where America was basically born and all that. Even Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda apologized to Philly for excluding the city in his hit musical centered on America’s beginnings. So if you’re in town and are a history buff, you’re certainly in the right place.
Philly is also home to numerous synagogues and congregations whose roots stretch back to even before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Here are just a few of the many you can and should check out:
Mikveh Israel’s history is sure to entice any history lover, as its beginnings date back to the early 1700s. It’s the oldest synagogue in the city and the oldest continuous synagogue in the country. Its accompanying cemetery is the oldest Jewish cemetery and was named a National Historic Shrine in 1956. Surely someone would be willing to talk more about its history if you go pay it a visit for Shabbat services.
Another historically significant synagogue found its home in Philadelphia. Founded in 1795, Congregation Rodeph Shalom was “the first Ashkenazic congregation in the Western Hemisphere” according to its website. Besides its historical importance, it also houses the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art, which celebrates its 40th birthday this year. Check out its special exhibit with “40 works of art which represent highlights of the many shows over 40 years” curated by the rabbi.
Like the others, Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel has historical roots in Philadelphia, as well. The conservative synagogue is the result of three congregations that merged together, with some going as far back as 1840.
The building at S. 18th Street is definitely one to check out, and you’re close enough to the Rittenhouse Square area to walk around and get away from the political masses for a while.
Well, if its name didn’t give it away, Historic Congregation B’nai Abraham also has a deep historical background. Founded in 1874 and formally established in 1882, a full list of its historical feats — like how the second annual Conference of the United Orthodox Rabbis of America was held there in 1903 — are detailed on its website.
Arts and culture:
Art in Philadelphia is as abundant as its cheesesteak shops. While you’re here, check out these arts and culture hubs.
Philadelphia is chock full of museums and historical sites, and nestled right with Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell (and close by the Independence Beer Garden if you want to relax outside with a quick drink) is the National Museum of American Jewish History. With its educational exhibits and collections — and cool artifacts like Irving Berlin’s piano — that showcase the history of Jewish life in America, this spot is definitely worth a visit.
For an art museum experience, stop by the Old City Jewish Art Center. This gallery in — you guessed it — Old City always has cool exhibitions to check out. Just in time for the convention, you can take a look at an exhibit of works by ARTsisters, a group of female artists.
The pieces showcased are part of the exhibit American Dreams, which explores “herstory” and the artists’ interpretations of the American Dream. There will even be an artists’ reception on July 24, just in time for the weeklong convention festivities.
Of course, these are just a smattering of the myriad places to go in Philly that you probably won’t even have time to visit if you’re busy with #politics, but if you do find a moment to explore, these are definitely good places to start.
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