5776: A Year in Review at the Jewish Exponent

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We pulled some of the best pieces from our archives to rehash the happy, sad and surprising moments.

A lot can happen in a year.
And Philadelphia has definitely taken the forefront with major events: Popemania, the Democratic National Convention, Beyoncé performed twice.
Even at the Exponent, our staff has worked hard during 5776 to share stories full of strength, laughs and the unexpected.
So looking back, we pulled some of the best pieces from our archives to rehash the happy, sad and surprising moments.
DNC
The Democratic National Convention was definitely a big part of our summer, as it was for the rest of the country, which filled the city in a hazy blue.
But between the decorative donkeys and political rallies, it wasn’t exactly the best week of July, and the DNC turned out to be a D-N-dud.
Maneuvering the political circus was an introvert’s nightmare.
“I can only imagine most large-scale nationally broadcasted events like this are difficult to successfully execute, but the overwhelming lack of knowledge — where things were occurring, who was going to be there, when they were going to be there — well, it’s just not what I expected.”
At least now voters are closer to deciding who they will choose for president … right?
Politics
While the big race is obviously the one for the hot seat in the White House, there were other elections that took place back in the April primaries, remember those?
As far as some of the big Pennsylvania elections outside of the presidential race, come November, you’ll be voting for either Sen. Pat Toomey or Katie McGinty (we interviewed her back in March) for the Senate and either Josh Shapiro or John Rafferty for Attorney General.
Outside of the election, in April, Gov. Tom Wolf held possibly the first-ever Passover seder in the Governor’s House in Harrisburg with all the trappings of the holiday, and the Exponent had an exclusive seat at the table. The only noticeable absence was the abundance of relatives asking whether you have a boyfriend yet.
“I think part of it is, part of my family is Jewish, we have very close friends who are Jewish. It seemed part of the fabric of how we share time with family and friends, so it seemed important,” First Lady Frances Wolf said. “It seemed the thing to do.”
Holidays
Last year’s festivities started off with a few questions — plus some added FAQs for both Jews and non-Jews.
Our High Holidays edition outlined how to answer some common questions we may get from our non-Jewish friends, like, “So, how do you pronounce it?”
Which, to be fair, is a pretty solid question.
“A lot of Jews have trouble differing between pronunciations. ‘Rosh Hashanah’ is fairly straightforward, but ‘Yom Kippur’ is a little more challenging. Some say ‘Kipper’ like the fish. Personally, I go with ‘Yom’ (rhymes with ‘home’) ‘Key-poor,’ because I think there’s something too ironic about a day of fasting associated with a herring.”
Then came Chanukah, and it became the Exponent’s most popular article at around 59,000 shares, where we answered other seemingly simple questions like, “How do you spell Chanukah?”
“Two K’s? One N? No H? The phlegmy clear-your-throat ‘ch’ instead of just H?” Honestly, we still don’t know.
National Tragedy 
Of course, not all moments are positive, but this one definitely shook the entire nation in a panic that has yet to cease.
The Orlando mass shootings at Pulse nightclub in June that claimed 49 lives reverberated all the way to Philadelphia. The tragedy broke the news the same day as the Philly Gay Pride Parade.
“There was some fear, but at the same time I won’t let that take away from my pride and my desire to be there for my community and to be myself,” said Phoenix Schneider, director of J.Proud.
Personal Expression
However you may change on the outside doesn’t mean you’re a different person on the inside.
And from these interviewees, that message was certainly clear.
Whether is was dealing with the stigma of tattoos — “I have non-Jewish friends who tease me about not being able to be buried in a Jewish cemetery,” said Michelle Harrison, a woman who got her first tattoo at 50, or Aviva Kaminsky who liked “the idea that our bodies are temples, and tattoos are adornment” — or coming out as transgender, they showed a lot of strength.
“I know that being trans and genderqueer in 2016 is a significant part of who I am,” said Kol Tzedek Rabbi Ari Lev Fornari. “It’s no small thing that I’m a transmasculine white person in this moment, and how different so many experiences are for trans women of color in this moment. In that way, I don’t take the privilege that I’m afforded for granted. … But it’s certainly not all of who I am as a rabbi.”
You Can’t Succeed on Broadway (or TV) if You Don’t Have Any Jews
Philadelphia is always a top destination for arts and culture, and this year was certainly no exception.
To name just a few:
• The inimitable Barbra Streisand made a stop in Philadelphia, and we found her biggest fans going to see the show
• We heard from Dr. Ruth talking about how she’ll never bore of talking about sex
Tovah Feldshuh made her cabaret debut at the RRazz Room at the Prince Theater earlier in September
• TV’s favorite Jewesses Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer made an appearance at the World Cafe Live and talked about weed and body oil
Henry Winkler said “Ayyy” at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s main event last November and talked to the Exponent about his happy days and what’s next for him
• And if you watch The Goldbergs, you might recall an interview with its creator, Adam, who talked about his love for the Flyers.
Back in the ’Burbs
Times have changed, especially back in Northeast Philadelphia. What used to be a popular Jewish neighborhood has now become full of streets with closed-down Jewish businesses.
While some say it has dwindled, others continue to grow parts of their community, looking on the bright side: Synagogues said their memberships have grown, the Russian and Eastern European community has expanded, and the Orthodox Jewish community has no plans to leave any time soon.
Even non-Jews scattered throughout other neighborhoods left an impact on the Jewish community, as explained in the “unexpected faces” of the city.
“None of them are Jewish, yet all play essential roles within the Jewish organizations where they work. They comprise just a small sampling of the non-Jewish employees scattered throughout Jewish agencies across the Delaware Valley. But without them, there’s little question things wouldn’t run quite so smoothly.”
Consulate Closure
Even though some may say the Northeast is thriving, there were some hiccups back in Center City.
The Consulate General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region announced its closure in January and officially vacated its Market Street address in August.
For all your future consulate needs, you’ll have to deal with the one in New York.
“There is a difference between the previous situations where you were an elevator ride away from the consulate, and now you’re a two-hour drive away,” New York Consul General Dani Dayan said. “But we are committed to minimizing that difference. We will visit frequently. We will see and be seen. We will continue giving the Jewish community in Philadelphia the service it merits.”
In Memoriam
Like any retrospective view on the past year, we have to acknowledge some of the Jewish leaders that left us — Elie Wiesel, Shimon Peres, Gene Wilder.
Even those who were not Jewish made a lasting impact on us — Prince, David Bowie, Alan Rickman.
And a decade later, Michael Levin was remembered this past summer on the anniversary of his death in which the 22-year-old American paratrooper in the Israel Defense Forces was killed in the Second Lebanon War.
“I keep thinking of everything he’s missed in the past 10 years,” said his twin sister, Dara. “I’ve gotten married and have two kids, one named for him. My sister Elisa’s gotten married. In some ways, it seems like yesterday. I can remember vividly the day of my last visit with him. But then looking at what’s happened with us and friends, it seems forever ago.
“But mainly I hold onto the memories.”
Bagel Bracket 
When Bon Appétit bestowed Fishtown’s Philly Style Bagels with Best Sandwich of the Year, the Exponent staff scoffed and said, “We could’ve told you that.”
In honor of March Madness, we bit into nearly every bagel in the city and surrounding areas to find the best bagels in our inaugural Bagel Bracket — though, we might need another year or two to recover before revisiting this one. The food comas were real.
After rounds and rounds of taste-testing in search of the perfect bagel (hey, we serve the people), Philly Style Bagels came out on top in the good ol’ plain bagel category, while Delancey Street Bagels took home the win for the everything category.
Shanah Tovah for 5777!
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