Holocaust Survivor Dr. John J. Spitzer Dies at 94
Dr. John J. Spitzer of Haverford, a Holocaust survivor who spoke often later in life about his experiences, died on Jan. 20. He was 94.
A native of Baja, Hungary, he became an orphan at 17 in 1944 when the Nazis invaded, and he was selected to work for a traveling SS group performing manual labor. He was liberated the following year.
He met his late wife, Judy, a year later while enrolled in medical school in Budapest, Hungary. She also was a doctor.
Although they were engaged in 1949, she was able to leave and go to the United States because she had family in Philadelphia, but he could not get out of Hungary. Spitzer paid off authorities to illegally take him and other Jews to Vienna, Austria; in transit, he realized the truck was heading back to Budapest, so he and two others crawled to safety, eventually making it to Vienna and, after graduating medical school in Germany, to Canada, where they were reunited in 1951.
After landing a job in Nova Scotia, Spitzer later worked in Tallahassee, Florida.
From 1956 until 1973 the Spitzers worked in Philadelphia, including as professors of physiology at Hahnemann Medical College. Briefs in Jewish Exponent archives mention a $307,448 National Institutes of Health grant in 1967 to study fat metabolism. Two years earlier, he received an unspecified $79,000 grant and was elected president of the Philadelphia Physiological Association.
After leaving Philadelphia, the couple moved to New Orleans, where John Spitzer became the head of the Department of Physiology at LSU Medical Center. While there, he established a drug and alcohol abuse center.
The Spitzers returned to Philadelphia after Hurricane Katrina destroyed their house in 2005. They told acquaintances that the only item they salvaged from their home was an oil-lit menorah they brought with them from Europe.
Over the past 15 years, Spitzer regularly lectured at local high schools about the Holocaust and, more recently, he mentored college students as well.
Spitzer is survived by his son Peter (Wendy), daughter Juliet (Phil Wachs), six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Two Cherry Hill Synagogues to Merge
Two Reform Jewish synagogues in Cherry Hill, New Jersey — Temple Emanuel and Congregation M’kor Shalom — will unify as one new congregation on July 1.
The unification decision was approved by both congregations during meetings on Jan. 24 and comes after nearly 16 months of discussions and planning on both sides.
In early discussions, the synagogues said they discovered many similarities, shared values and complementing strengths and challenges. Both synagogues said they were strong but faced declining membership, creating a need for long-term strategic planning.
The new congregation, which hasn’t been named, will meet in the current Temple Emanuel building at the corner of Springdale and Kresson roads in Cherry Hill, across the street from the Katz JCC.
All clergy from both individual synagogues are being retained by the new synagogue to continue as their spiritual leaders.
Rabbi Jennifer L. Frenkel will be the senior rabbi, Rabbi Jerome P. David will be the rabbi emeritus, Cantor Rhoda J. Harrison will be the senior cantor, Cantor Neil Schnitzer will be the cantor sheini and Cantor Anita Hochman will be the cantor emerita.
Synagogue Supports Israeli Restaurant After Targeted Negative Reviews
Congregations of Shaare Shamayim members bought more than $1,000 worth of food on Jan. 23 from Israeli restaurant Yalla in Teaneck, New Jersey, synagogue Executive Director Jacques Lurie said.
The effort was made in support of the restaurant, which received several 1-star ratings on its Yelp and Google pages from pro-Palestinian reviewers accusing Yalla of being “appropriative” of Palestinian culture, according to Yalla owner Jacob Goldberg. “Yalla” is the Arabic word for “let’s go,” but is commonly used by many non-Arabic speakers, Goldberg said.
Negative reviews of the restaurant increased after a TikTok user posted a video on the app encouraging people to leave negative reviews. United for Israel posted about the incident on Jan. 20, which prompted Lurie to support the restaurant.
Goldberg said that after the United for Israel article, Yalla’s business increased due to community support. The restaurant has a 4.6 rating on Google with 437 reviews.
Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations hosts “Nazis of Copley Square” Webinar
The Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations will host a webinar at 7 p.m. on Feb. 7 detailing “the forgotten history of American terrorists who, in the name of God, conspired to overthrow the government and formed an alliance with Hitler.”
“Nazis of Copley Square: The Forgotten Story of the Christian Front, 1939-1945” will be led by Jesuit scholar Charles Gallagher, an associate professor of history at Boston College.
On July 14, 1939, 200 Philadelphia police and a crowd of 6,000 filled Philadelphia’s Metropolitan Opera House to hear the famed “radio priest” Father Charles E. Coughlin commission John F. Cassidy to lead his new Christian Front organization.
Six months later, FBI agents burst into Cassidy’s home, arrested him and seized military-grade rifles, ammunition and homemade bombs. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover alleged the group was planning to incite a revolution and install a “temporary dictatorship” to stamp out Jewish and communist influence in the United States.
Gallagher’s discussion will include insight into how the Christian Front’s antisemitism was inspired by Sunday sermons and lay leaders openly espousing fascist and Nazi beliefs.
Contact the institute at [email protected] for webinar registration, which is required.
— Compiled by Andy Gotlieb and Sasha Rogelberg