2020: Year in Review in Jewish Philadelphia


In January, the Jewish Exponent asked leaders in the Philadelphia Jewish community to share their thoughts and goals for the year ahead.

No one could have anticipated that a global pandemic, social unrest and a contentious presidential election would make the year even more tumultuous than 2019, which featured multiple armed attacks on Jewish communities in the United States and Europe.

This year tested Jewish institutions, families and individuals in ways they have never been tested before. Yet, in keeping with the nearly 4,000-year history of the Jewish people, members of our community met devastation with strength, creativity and resilience.

Here’s a look back at the stories the Exponent covered.

Gov. Tom Wolf Visits Israel
On Jan. 5, Gov. Tom Wolf became the first sitting governor of Pennsylvania since Tom Ridge to visit Israel. Wolf was joined by his wife, as well as leaders of the Jewish communities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. He spent time visiting national landmarks like Yad Vashem and sites of collaboration between Israelis and Pennsylvanians.

Pennsylvania Civil Rights Tour Inspires Debate on Risk
The American Jewish Committee of Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey and the Dialogue Institute hosted a follow-up to the Philadelphia civil rights mission to the South, a pilgrimage to sites where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put his brand of civil disobedience into practice. Jewish participants and congregants at Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Old City gathered to discuss history, advocacy and solidarity.

How the New Coronavirus Has Disrupted Life for Jewish Philly
Our first feature story about the pandemic focused on Jewish schools, nonprofits and senior centers that closed in response to local cases of the novel coronavirus. We also spoke with members of our community who were impacted by travel quarantines, particularly synagogue leaders who had to cancel missions to Israel and students whose semesters abroad were cut short.

Philly’s Passover Plans Change in the Wake of COVID-19
Passover was the first major Jewish holiday that had to be observed in a socially distanced manner during the pandemic. Families planned scaled-down or virtual seders while rabbis offered advice on how to make a new normal feel meaningful. Many recommended paying extra attention to urchatz — washing hands — during the festive meal.

Those We’ve Lost to COVID-19
As COVID-19 cases and deaths rose across the country, the Exponent started a series called “Those We’ve Lost” to pay tribute to victims of a virus that threatened to overwhelm their memory. Some of these people died in Philadelphia, and others died elsewhere, having counted friends and family in the region.

Medical Students Team Up to Supply PPE to Philly Hospitals

Medical Students for Masks, a grassroots fundraising organization created by medical students (many of whom are Jewish), raised $60,999 and bought more than 20,000 personal protective equipment items — including N95 masks, face shields, goggles and gowns — for Philadelphia-area hospitals by May 3.

Local Jewish Community Joins George Floyd Protests
When mass protests rose up in Philadelphia in response to the killing of George Floyd in police custody, Jewish Philadelphians joined the demonstrations and organizations delivered statements decrying systemic racism. Black Jewish Philadelphians spoke about their experiences with racism, particularly during encounters with the police.

Jewish Retailers Navigate Revenue Loss, Reopening Issues
As Jewish businesses reopened during the Green Phase, owners contended with new safety regulations and uncertainty. BYOBs served limited numbers of customers at a time, and clothing retailers let people shop by appointment.

A Day in the Life of Summer Camp During a Pandemic
Day camps like Camp Kef at Kaiserman JCC strove to provide kids with a semblance of normalcy this summer with plenty of sanitizing and social distancing. Gaga and basketball were out, but swimming and soccer were in.

Pandemic Pods on the Rise As Parents, Teachers Face Tough Choices
As the school year approached, parents who wanted to balance their children’s safety with their ability to socialize formed learning “pods”: small groups of students and parents who split the cost of private teachers.

Hebrew Schools Prepare to Reopen Safely
Religious schools planned to welcome students back with hybrid instruction models and stringent classroom cleaning protocols. Classes that met in person would be smaller in size and students would be discouraged from sharing classroom toys and materials.

High Holiday Kits Turn Homes Into Sanctuaries
While some synagogues opted for in-person High Holidays services with masks and social distancing this year, others chose to help people celebrate at home by distributing boxes and kits filled with food, prayer books, candles, recipes and more.

Black Clergy of Philadelphia, Jewish Federation Convene Discussion of Racism and Anti-Semitism
The Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia organized a roundtable on racism and anti-Semitism in response to an anti-Semitic meme posted to Facebook on July 23 by Minister Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia NAACP. Leaders discussed the history of solidarity among their communities and ways to strengthen their relationships in the future.

Weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, Simchas Continue — With Modifications
It was the year of microweddings, scaled-down bar mitzvahs and socially distanced baby namings, but celebrations continued in some form or another. Families got creative to celebrate their special days, often beaming in loved ones on Zoom for ceremonies and rescheduling parties for when it will be safe to gather in person again.

Election Day Mixes New and Familiar
If they hadn’t already voted by mail, Jewish voters got in line to make their voices heard. Polling places in Philadelphia featured signs about social distancing and lots of hand sanitizer. Although there was plenty of anxiety in the air, there was levity as well: At the Commodore John Barry Arts and Cultural Center, one poll worker convinced his family that another poll worker, Rabbi Alan LaPayover, was Bernie Sanders.

There’s Still Plenty to Do for Chanukah This Year in Philadelphia
Jewish organizations celebrated the Festival of Lights with virtual performances, art installations, care packages, cooking classes, socially distanced candle lighting ceremonies, magic shows, trivia games and more.

Health Care Workers Receive First Vaccine Doses
When the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine was granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration, Jewish health care workers shared what it was like to receive this protection while working to save lives on the front lines of the pandemic.

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