The first surveillance video — some of it in black and white, some in color — shows a young man on the move.
Dressed in a black T-shirt, shorts and a backwards baseball cap, the man, who appears to be in his late teens or early 20s, runs across Tomlinson Road, grabs a large metal menorah off of the front lawn of Congregation Beth Solomon, and runs off with it. Throughout, he’s carrying a flagpole under his arm.
The video was made at 3 a.m. on Aug. 20, and shows a group of people walking in the background as the man perpetrates the theft. The man was apparently part of that group. Northeast Detectives released the video to the public in the hopes that the menorah would be returned.
“It got a lot of media coverage in the last night, I was hoping somebody would come forward,” said the 7th District’s Lt. Dennis Rosenbaum, who speculated that taking the religious symbol was just a drunken prank. “They were stealing stuff all up and down the street,” he said of the group in the video, who also took a bike in addition to the flagpole.
Rabbi Solomon Isaacson, who founded Congregation Beth Solomon, said, “It’s a very emotional thing because it was donated by someone in memory of his mother,” adding that the menorah is an important symbol of Judaism in the neighborhood.
He said he did not believe the theft was an anti-Semitic incident, however.
“There was no malicious intent. It was just kids having a good time,” he said. “Maybe they were high on dope, on marijuana.”
Both Lt. Rosenbaum and Rabbi Isaacson hoped that the media coverage would compel the group of friends to return to the menorah — and that seems to be exactly what happened.
A second surveillance video shows a different young man, his face blurred, returning the menorah in the middle of the night. When the rabbi arrived at 6 a.m. on Sept. 8, he saw it was back.
“We’re very pleased. It’s already being lit, and it’s being used again. Two bulbs were broken probably just in their schlepping it around,” he said, but noted that otherwise it’s in good shape. “We’re overjoyed.”
The police continue to investigate the theft.
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0747
In college, Sara Garonzik went on a date at the Pocket Playhouse, saw three one-act plays and left feeling transformed.
While the date did not lead to a second outing with the boy — whom, Garonzik laughed, she barely remembers other than he was more interested in getting a drink after than discussing the plays — it did lead to a long-lasting relationship with an area she hadn’t really thought about before: theater.
“There was some sea change in me that said theater is not about glitz and Broadway and dancing and singing,” said Garonzik, executive producing director of the Philadelphia Theatre Company, who recently announced her departure after 35 years. “It was about real things, and when you walk out of there you could be somewhat changed and it could stick with you for a really long time. And that’s when the first little plate shifted into place.”
Growing up in Mount Airy and graduating from Girls’ High School, where she was a member of the Jewish sorority Tau Epsilon Chi, and later Temple University, Garonzik was in a graduate program for Spanish at the University of Pennsylvania when she decided on a whim to join a theater company despite no prior experience.
Soon after, she dropped out of graduate school — much to her parents’ chagrin, she chuckled — and trained to be an actress. She then turned to directing and eventually producing. She started working for PTC, becoming its artistic director in 1982, and later became its producing director in 1990.
And now she’s ready for a nice, long vacation.
“Well, it’s 35 years,” she laughed, explaining why she decided to leave now. “The last few years have been kind of tough sledding — although we have triumphed and prevailed. When we got our theater back last September, and we owned it again and repurchased it with the help from [Ralph and Suzanne Roberts and their family] and others, I really viscerally kind of relaxed and I thought, ‘This marks the end of this struggle we’d been having for the last couple of years.’
“I thought, I can finally foresee a time when I would like to still do theater, still make theater, but not have quite the administrative responsibilities for an organization as I had been having these past many years and that it would be OK if I did that.”
Since she joined PTC in 1982, she has seen the company go through its ups and downs, most notably, in 2007 when, after 25 years of being housed at the Plays and Players Theatre by Rittenhouse Square, the company bought the Suzanne Roberts Theatre on Lombard Street — which, despite it being nearly 10 years old, Garonzik still affectionately calls “the new theater” — and was faced with a large mortgage.
The plan had been to pay it off quickly with the help of naming opportunities, which would lead to big gifts, but then the recession in 2008 struck. The opportunities to secure those naming gifts “evaporated.”
After a series of financial struggles, including a foreclosure in 2014, PTC officially repurchased the theater in September 2015.
“It took us three years to clean that up and get the theater back, with tremendous support from principally the Roberts family, we can never thank them enough, ever,” Garonzik said. “With them and also help from other members of the community … now we’re on a level playing field with everyone else.”
But despite the downs, for Garonzik, there are plenty more ups to look back on.
For instance, those include witnessing the growth of the regional theater scene between the 1970s and today, and forging relationships with artists and playwrights like Terrence McNally. He has had multiple premieres at PTC, including the Tony Award-winning Master Class and one of those one-act plays from Garonzik’s date.
And most importantly, the theater has produced new and contemporary American works that have meaning to the community.
“There was always a sense of social purpose to the plays that we do,” Garonzik said. “Not just that we kick up our heels and have a good time, certainly we do work that’s just a lot of fun, but I guess I’ve always felt that I like a little bit of social justice in with my art. If you’re going to spend all this money and time and give your heart and soul to producing work, it has to be meaningful.
“It has to stimulate a conversation that is greater than just what you’re seeing in the theater. It needs to carry over to you and your lives and your community and give you something to think about, so that has always been a real part of what we do.”
Certainly the 2016-2017 season will see this mission through, as it opens Sept. 23 with Rizzo, a play about polarizing ex-Philly mayor Frank Rizzo.
“Art is just a tremendous vehicle for stimulating ideas,” Garonzik continued. “Art is the first responder to what happens in the world socially and politically. So it’s our job to be the radar of what’s going on and to articulate it and put it out there for the world. That’s what art’s job is in a large way.”
In her 35 years, she has seen change in the growth of regional theater in the city as well as the audiences. Amid the sweeping complaints that theater is dying and the audiences are aging out, Garonzik has seen one demographic’s interest grow: millennials.
“In terms of the work, millennials are probably more adventurous than we think,” she noted. “In terms of their tastes. It’s dangerous to write them off as a bunch of tweeting, Snapchatting, Instagram-using 20-year-olds who don’t know what they’re doing — they know exactly what they’re doing, and they’re very mindful of the kind of experience they want to have, which has something to do with relevance and authenticity.”
She has seen big changes in the ways audiences, not just millennials, engage with theater and she’s had to adapt.
So needless to say, PTC has been a valuable learning experience for Garonzik, who will receive the Barrymore Lifetime Achievement Award this year.
“We’ve always moved ahead to exciting new phases, so I have never for one second in time been bored and I’ve never not learned something,” she said.
As she prepares to leave sometime during the 2016-2017 season and do some traveling — “I haven’t taken a vacation longer than one week for about 12 years!” — there is one thing she hopes people understand: She is not retiring.
“I’m getting, like, a zillion emails like, ‘Congratulations on your retirement.’ I just get back to them as fast as I possibly can: ‘I am not — n-o-t, underline, bold, italics — retiring.’ I will do other things, but I am not retiring. I have no desire to retire whatsoever, none,” she laughed.
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0740
President Obama addressed a partisan crowd on Sept. 13 in front of the "Rocky" steps.