2017 was a doozy.
We were introduced to a new world of alternative facts, added “fake news” to our daily lexicon and were forced to consume beverages inspired by unicorns (can we let this trend die?).
But in retrospect, the year defined by protests and vocal action brought about more positive change than negative.
Here are some of our most-read stories of 2017.
The Exponent featured a little-known synagogue in 2017: Congregation Temple Beth’El, a predominantly African-American shul in West Oak Lane, which has been active in the community for almost 70 years.
“We don’t fit in anybody’s box,” Rabbi Debra Bowen said. “There’s nothing quite like our community.”
The reason for the synagogue’s consistent retention: Bowen’s mother, Louise Dailey, who was honored with a memorial street sign of her name below Lowber Avenue.
Temple Har Zion in Mount Holly, N.J., also hired Rabbi Tiferet Berenbaum, one of the few female African-American rabbis in the country.
“I am thrilled to be able to welcome people who had felt disconnected and disengaged from Judaism, welcoming in families that felt marginalized by the Jewish community [like] interracial couples with mixed-race children looking to send them to Hebrew school,” she said.
One op-ed by Asaf Romirowsky, executive director of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, detailed the after-effects of the debacle that took place at Friends’ Central School in March.
The Quaker school came under fire for inviting a Palestinian college professor to speak, which upset parents concerned about anti-Israel rhetoric. The speaking engagement was canceled.
The school has been criticized by Jewish parents in the past for financially supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
“Jewish students and parents will thus bear the blame for the cancellation,” Romirowsky wrote. “But the fact is that they fell into a not very clever trap: Either shut up and accept a biased speaker, or protest and take the heat, whether the talk was canceled or not. This is one of the basic tricks of the BDS movement.”
Another popular op-ed was an installment of Exponent Editor-in-Chief Joshua Runyan’s “The View From Here” column. In it, he responded to the shocking revelation that the perpetrator of many of 2017’s JCC bomb threats was an American-Israeli teenager.
“When it comes to the vehemence with which some of us used the JCC threats as a pretense to carry out a political battle in another arena, every single member of the Jewish community today has a bit of egg on his face,” he wrote. “The challenge of today is instead creating an environment that guarantees not only our children’s physical survival, but their spiritual survival as well. Not every toppled tombstone or swastika threatens them, but every pushed off doctor’s appointment, missed meal, denied tuition aid or uninspiring sermon does.”
Probably the most notable moment in Philadelphia’s Jewish community in February was the desecration of hundreds of headstones at Mount Carmel Cemetery, reviving fears of anti-Semitism.
Though it caused a national stir, thousands of dollars were raised, and the cemetery was restored and rededicated by Mayor Jim Kenney in October, alongside officials from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
“Even though we know we’ll never be able to say for sure this was a hate crime, we knew this vandalism was exceedingly destructive to the Jewish community here,” Jewish Federation CEO and President Naomi Adler said. “This kind of desecration equals anti-Semitism and hatred and cannot be allowed to stand.”
Also of note was the firing of Rabbi Daniel Wolpe from Congregations of Shaare Shamayim due to an ethical violation in November.
Though exact details of his violation remain murky, the synagogue took “swift and appropriate action.”
“While it may be hard to reconcile his egregious actions with those of a man who also did much good in our congregation community, the facts are undeniable,” read a letter from congregation President Fran Gabriel.
In contrast, another viral story detailed Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy honoring alumnus Rabbi David Wolpe — brother of Daniel Wolpe — during the school’s 70th anniversary event in March. David Wolpe has become a prominent and influential rabbi across the globe.
Getting Personal — and Sometimes Peculiar
To highlight a few other popular oddities and stories not of the norm: A Springfield resident sued eBay for destroying his historic Holocaust artifact — a yellow armband with a Jewish star — rather than returning it to him.
A Cherry Hill, N.J., couple created their own Jewish experience for area Jews, called Nafshenu, an egalitarian, progressive community. The group consists of about 15 local families who were previously unaffiliated. Nafshenu intends to appeal to people who haven’t felt comfortable in the traditional organized Jewish community.
And in not-so-weird news, beloved Jack’s Delicatessen in Northeast Philadelphia closed after 52 years.
Some of us may be hanging onto the last bit of nostalgia like Jack’s, but we’re also looking forward to what 2018 brings.
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