Are Jewish Kids Responsible for Keeping the Santa Secret?

Dear Miriam,

The question of whether Jewish kids are responsible for keeping the Santa secret from their non-Jewish friends has been making the rounds on social media this year. What’s your take?


Secret Santa

Dear Secret,

Jewish kids are not responsible for keeping the “Santa secret,” and yet it’s nice if they can do it anyway. I know it seems like a lot to ask of Jewish kids: Don’t ask for a tree, don’t be jealous that all your favorite TV shows have Christmas episodes and don’t ruin your friend’s childhood. But, you can ask it of your kids and then be totally understanding when it doesn’t go as planned.

Jewish parents should be telling their Jewish kids, “I know that you know the truth about Santa. But it’s up to your friends’ parents to tell them about Santa, not you.” In fact, you could substitute a lot of things for “Santa” in that formula, and you could have a really solid basis for parenting kids in a diverse world. Also, kids learn from each other, and it is completely unrealistic to think that kids aren’t going to tell each other about all kinds of things. Santa is only the beginning.

The entire experience of Christmas is all part of one lesson for Jewish kids this time of year: It’s not our holiday. That means we can enjoy the parts we can enjoy (festive decorations, candy cane-flavored everything, days off from school), and ignore, or at least not actively engage in, the rest. We can even enjoy these things in other people’s homes (or, for some interfaith families, in our own homes) while still understanding the difference between their traditions and ours.

I do find it interesting that I haven’t heard a single discussion, not this year, and not ever, that centers on the concern that Jewish kids might tell Christian kids that they don’t believe in Jesus. Santa is clearly a more fragile belief because, at some point, everyone agrees that he isn’t real. For actual theological discussions, either no one expects kids to have serious opinions, or no one expects them to have an impact on anyone else.

It’s probably just as likely for a Christian kid to break the news to a fellow Christian as it is for a Jewish kid to ruin the secret, though it somehow feels worse if it comes from someone Jewish. But insomuch as we’re all responsible for respecting each other, let’s teach that lesson, whether it’s about Santa or anything else.

And since, despite sometimes feeling otherwise, Santa is pretty low stakes, it’s a good test case for many other challenges and tensions your kids will experience in their lives, and how you discuss and handle them together.

Be well, and happy Chanukah!


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Trump Touts Jerusalem Move, Excludes Jewish Democrats at Hanukkah Celebration

President Donald Trump. Credit: Department of Labor/Shawn T. Moore.

President Donald Trump on Dec. 7 held his first White House Hanukkah celebration, where he touted his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Trump reportedly did not invite Jewish Democrats and liberal Jewish organizations who have been highly critical of the president to the reception.

“The miracle of Hanukkah is the miracle of Israel. The descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob have endured unthinkable persecution and oppression, but no force has ever crushed your spirit and now evil has ever extinguished your faith,” Trump said in the White House’s East Room, adding that the Jewish people “shine as a light to all nations.”

Regarding the Jerusalem recognition, Trump said, “I know for a fact there are a lot of happy people in this room … this one will go down as especially special.”

In addition to Trump’s family — including his Jewish daughter Ivanka and her husband, senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner — the Hanukkah reception was attended by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, and Reps. David Kustoff (Tenn.) and Lee Zeldin (N.Y.), the only two Jewish Republicans in Congress.

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, a leading Orthodox rabbi, said at the event, “For the first time since the founding of the state of Israel, an American president has courageously declared what we have always proclaimed, which is that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”

Congressional Jewish Democrats were notably absent from the Hanukkah affair.

“It’s deeply unfortunate that the White House Hanukkah party — a bipartisan event bringing together Jewish and non-Jewish leaders alike to celebrate the Festival of Lights since 2001 — has turned into a partisan affair under this administration,” Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) told The New York Times.

Trump also did not invite leaders of the Reform movement and the left-wing Jewish lobby group J Street, who have both been critical of Trump and opposed his policy change on Jerusalem.

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, attended the Hanukkah event and told The New York Times that Trump “did not invite people who have been hostile to him.” Klein was not invited to President Barack Obama’s first White House Hanukkah celebration in 2009 after condemning the former president.

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White House: Palestinians ‘Walking Away’ from Peace Talks by Snubbing Pence

Vice President Mike Pence. Credit: White House/D. Myles Cullen.

The Trump administration said Sunday that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is “walking away” from peace talks after PA President Mahmoud Abbas declined to meet with Vice President Mike Pence during his upcoming Middle East visit this month.

“It’s unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region,” stated Jarrod Agen, Pence’s deputy chief of staff.

The Trump administration “remains undeterred in its efforts to help achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians and our peace team remains hard at work putting together a plan,” Agen said.

The PA’s move came in response to President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as well as his expression of plans to move the U.S. embassy to that city.

Abbas’s meeting with Pence was cancelled “because the U.S. has crossed red lines” on Jerusalem, Abbas’s diplomatic adviser Majdi Khaldi said last Saturday.

In his announcement of the U.S. policy changes last week, Trump emphasized that he was not defining the borders of Jerusalem nor altering the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

During his visit to the region, Pence will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in Cairo.

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Barry and Hilarie Weiss of Warrington announce the engagement of their son, Matt Weiss, to Liz Rosenthal, daughter of Joy Rosenthal of Wynnewood and the late Brian Rosenthal.
Matt received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in finance and accounting from Bentley University. He also earned his CPA and works in corporate finance at GlaxoSmithKline in Philadelphia.
Liz received her bachelor’s degree in marketing from Penn State University. She went on to receive her elementary education certification from West Chester University and English as a second language certification from Arcadia University. She has been an educator in the Philadelphia School District for the past eight years.
Sharing in the couple’s happiness are Liz’s stepmother Amy Rosenthal; brothers Adam and Alex; sisters-in-law Nicole and Dana; nephew Ethan; Matt’s brother Scott; sister-in-law Liz; nieces Nola and Emme; and grandmothers Evelyn Weiss and Elaine Smiler.
The couple lives in Philadelphia and is planning a July 2018 wedding.

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Mayah Elyse Berman

Kimberly (née Kanoff) and Jarett Berman and big brother Lenny announce the birth of their daughter and sister, Mayah Elyse Berman (Esther Zahava), born on Nov. 13.

Sharing in their joy are grandparents Janice and Joel Kanoff of Hollywood, Fla. (formerly of Huntingdon Valley), Sondra Berman of Miami, and Gene and Enid Berman of Santa Rosa, Calif., as well as great-grandfather Morris S. Smallow.

Joining in welcoming baby Mayah are Aunt Heather, Uncle Todd and cousins Haley and Justin Navon; Uncle Jonathan Kanoff; Great-Aunt Bonnie Berman; and Great-Aunt Karen and Uncle Stanley Goldstein.

Mayah Elyse is named in loving memory of her maternal great-grandmother Esther Kanoff, her maternal great-aunt Shirley Small, her paternal great-grandfather Melvin Daum, and her paternal great-grandmother Elizabeth Berman.

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Simply Perfect French Fries

If you read the print version of the Exponent, you know that I’m currently on a potato jag. And as popular as potatoes are in most any form, the most ubiquitously and unanimously loved version is undoubtedly the French fry. In general, fries are something that we tend to enjoy in restaurants; the production of deep-frying can be difficult to replicate in home kitchens, and the results often fall short. Until now.

Some time ago, I heard a snippet of an interview on NPR in which a cook was describing a “cold oil” method of cooking fries. I never did learn the identity of the chap or what his culinary credentials were, but to this day I feel indebted to him when I make these spectacular frites.

Starting the potatoes in oil that has not yet been heated enables them to poach first, eliminate their water content, absorb less oil and therefore take on less fat. This method also reduces splatter and lessens the chances of the cook (even a clumsy one like myself) getting burned. Oh, and did I mention, the result is delicious?

Here’s the technique:

Fool Proof French Fries

Serves 4

6 cups oil (canola, vegetable or peanut)

6 medium potatoes (about 2 ½ lbs)

Lots of salt

Cut potatoes in strips, approximately 1/4 -1/2 inch wide. (Peel if you must; I do not).

Place potatoes and oil in a large Dutch oven, cover, and heat over medium.

Allow the potatoes to boil gently in the oil for about 30 minutes. Check them occasionally and gently scrape the bottom to prevent sticking.

When potatoes are done to a golden crispness, remove them from the oil, drain on paper towels or brown paper, douse them generously with salt and enjoy.

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Embracing Humanity, On and Off the Field

In the aftermath of his team’s pitiful performance against the Seattle Seahawks — a loss aided and, some would say, enabled by his own disastrous fumble inches from the end zone — Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz posted on his Instagram account a picture of himself congratulating the one man other than Wentz who made Seattle’s win possible: Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

I’m sure quite a few people back home in Wentzlvania were aghast at such a gesture, but I for one appreciated it as a mark of good sportsmanship.

Much respect to that dude, @dangerusswilson … he’s a heck of a competitor and a great brother in Christ. Tough one for us last night, but we will bounce back just fine. On to the next! #flyeaglesfly

A post shared by Carson Wentz (@cj_wentz11) on

Contrast the postgame butt slap — part of a long tradition of coaches greeting each other on the field at the end of the game — with New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski’s gratuitous late hit Sunday on Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White. Gronkowski has been suspended by the National Football League for one game for the display of unsportsmanlike conduct, a personal foul so egregious that it was denounced by none other than Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

This is as it should be. Despite the general behavior of Philadelphia fans and of the legions of soccer moms and dads across the country, we, as a nation, tend to value good sportsmanship.

We encourage our children to line up and shake the hands of opposing players after a game, we penalize academic cheating and we reward in the office place those coworkers who maintain positive demeanors no matter the difficulties.

Unfortunately, when it comes to politics, all bets are off.

Yes, it was President Trump who as a candidate — and then as the commander-in-chief — perfected the art of campaigning like a schoolyard bully by attaching epithets and insults to every mention of an opponent. There was “low-energy Jeb,” “little Marco” and “crooked Hillary.” Those gave way to the president’s preferred handle when tweeting about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un: “Rocket Man.”

But when a host of people found out in the last couple of weeks that despite having attended before, they had not been invited to the annual White House Chanukah party, some of them — Interfaith Alliance executive director Rabbi Jack Moline, for example — told associates and at least one reporter that had they been invited, they would have declined out of principle.

That’s a bit like saying two days before the prom with no date in sight that you wouldn’t go even if you were asked. In high school, it comes across as petty and mean-spirited. All the more so when you’re talking about the White House.

For the record, I will not be attending this year’s bash, scheduled for Dec. 7. Much to my chagrin, I was not invited, and so will be missing the fall-off-the-bone baby lamb chops that I devoured from a corner of the State Dining Room back in 2015, when my wife and I attended one of two Chanukah parties hosted by President Obama that year. Despite being no fan of the current president’s rhetoric or much of his actions, had we been invited, we would have gone to this year’s party as well.

Back when the White House held the first Chanukah party, during the administration of President George W. Bush, the celebration was noteworthy for being a distinctly Jewish moment in an executive mansion whose many halls were decked with tributes to a distinctly non-Jewish holiday season. In keeping with the message of Chanukah, it came to be seen by many in the Jewish community as symbolic of the victory of light over darkness, a sign of the permanence of Judaism in whichever corner Jews find themselves.

Through the years, that message continued, although as the party got larger, the apparent guest list seemed to reflect certain presidential political leanings more than the breadth of the American Jewish community. Judging by the reactions of some of those not invited, this year’s party may prove to be the most political of them all.

That’s a shame, and both the president and the “sore losers” among us are to blame. In an exceedingly divisive society, we need safe spaces in which to practice civility and good will now more than ever.

Two weeks ago in advance of Thanksgiving, several news outlets posted articles about how to handle political disagreements at the dinner table; at least one even advised to not invite the crazy uncle with the Make America Great Again hat.

As we all look to the first night of Chanukah next week, I hope we find a way to infuse even our disagreements with light so that we can put them in their proper context.

That crazy uncle is no more an enemy than Russell Wilson. In between elections, we all have to figure out a way to share the playing field. 

Joshua Runyan is the editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected]

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Gershman Y Latkepalooza Celebrating 15 Years With Lots and Lots of Latkes

Plates of latkes from a previous Latkepalooza | Photo by Mario Manzoni

Nancy L. Hohns remembers the distinct smell of grease wafting in the air of the Gershman Y in 2002.

It was the first Latkepalooza, a now-annual event and staple of the holiday season that features a slew of Philly restaurants that fry up their own creative takes on the Chanukah staple. The 15th iteration of the fried potato pancake extravaganza takes place Dec. 10 starting at 2 p.m.

The inaugural event reminded Hohns of a backyard barbecue.

“There was a lot of laughter,” she recalled. “It was like a happy chaos that I recall the first year, but everybody left smiling and laughing … and as the years went on, the event really became so much more sophisticated.”

It began as a way to spread the message of the organization and showcase its programming to a broader and more diverse audience, noted Hohns, who was then a board member and chair of the marketing committee.

“After giving it a lot of thought and thinking, ‘The holidays are soon to be upon us,’ I realized there wasn’t a lot going on with a Jewish flavor during the holiday season,” she said, adding with a laugh after a brief pause, “I guess that was a pun I didn’t really mean to make.”

She brainstormed ideas and came up with lollapalooza, and took it a step further with a Chanukah twinge: Latkepalooza.

“It came to me, Latkepalooza, and I thought, ‘Yes, we could do this!’” she said. “I thought it was a food item that would be readily available, not costly and that’s how we came up with the original idea, which is still really what the event is all about today: The best restaurants in Philadelphia making their particular gourmet creation of the latke.”

This year’s lineup includes restaurants that bring more than 300 latkes each, including Jones, Sabrina’s Cafe, Estia, Tria Taproom, Mission Taqueria, Kanella, Whetstone Tavern and Aldine. In the past, other Philadelphia culinary institutions like the former Bookbinder’s have joined in, Hohns noted.

Hohns looks forward each year to standing by the entrance and greeting the hundreds of guests who show up and seeing how the event has grown.

“Every Latkepalooza has developed its own personality,” she said. “Each one is slightly different than the one that has taken place the year before.”

This year will see its own set of changes, particularly with how people will get to try the creations from (hopefully) all the different restaurants.

Whereas in the past, guests were given a sheet of tickets to use at any vendor, this year, the tickets will be individualized so that people won’t be able to take a bunch of latkes from one place at a time and leave none for those who come to the event later.

For instance, Mission Taqueria could only give latkes to those using a green ticket and Jones could only give to those using a blue ticket.

It’s sort of like a tasting menu format, said Bill Chenevert, Gershman Y director of public relations and marketing.

For him, the annual festivity remains popular because it invites a certain sense of nostalgia for Chanukahs past and family latkes, but also, of course, because of one key ingredient.

“In a way, Latkepalooza has succeeded for so long because at this point we’ve arrived on a formula that makes sense in terms of the formatting and processing, but what it really boils down to, though, is potatoes,” he laughed.

“The reason, of course, everybody comes back year after year or the reason why ears perk up at the phrase ‘Latkepalooza’ is people who can figure it out realize that it’s gonna be a blowout of potato pancakes. And who would say no to that?”

And if the latkes themselves somehow aren’t enough of an enticement, the event could also be a way to meet a special someone.

In a recent article, national women’s site Bustle named Latkepalooza a promising place to meet someone special this holiday season.

“I never thought about it until I started to,” Chenevert laughed, “and I thought there’s a lot of things you could spark up a conversation with a stranger about,” citing questions like “Which latke did you like?” “Did you grow up making them?” “Do you prefer applesauce or sour cream?”

Hohns even recalled an older couple who met at a previous ’palooza.

“Every year they’ve come to the event with matching buttons that say ‘I met my beshert at Latkepalooza in 2003,’” she said.

But hey, if you don’t meet your own beshert, there will still be another something sweet for you: sufganiyot, courtesy of Federal Donuts.

The event will also include plenty of activities for the young ‘uns, too, including DJ Patty Pat, who will serve up some tunes, and Fishtown’s Portside Arts Center, which will bring crafts and facepainting.

For Hohns, she hopes the event continues to become a Chanukah tradition for those in the community and beyond (she’s met people who have come to Latkepalooza all the way from California).

“The energy and the enthusiasm and interest and excitement for Latkepalooza is never not there,” Chenevert said, noting it’s unique in the city. “People bring a lot of expectations and a lot of hunger and a lot of enthusiasm, and we just want to meet it.”

For tickets, visit or call 215-545-4400. 

[email protected]; 215-832-0740

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War on Christmas — and Israel?

Nothing Wrong With Holiday Cheer

In all the schools that I attended years ago, I was the only girl who played the saxophone (“Jewish Saxophonist Spreads Holiday Cheer with Christmas Tour,” Nov. 30). When we would give a concert around holiday time, I was obligated to practice all the songs at home. But in those days, because my grandmother lived with us, it was forbidden to play Christmas carols.

I had no choice. I was part of various orchestras and had to rehearse, no matter the origin of the music I was playing. So when a performance drew near, I made sure that my grandmother was not in the house so that I could practice the Christmas repertoire. The songs were both melodic and fun to play.  

Like Dave Koz, I am glad that the songs are enjoyed by all races and religions.

Gloria Gelman | Bustleton

Defining an Israeli Victory

Jonathan Tobin asserts that Arabs in the Middle East must recognize that Israel won the conflict years ago, although he does not discuss the implications of this victory (“Time for a Peace Process Paradigm Change,” Nov. 23).

It means that everyone in the region, including the Palestinians, must recognize that Israel is here to stay. This means no more teaching children that they should aim for control of the land “from the Jordan [River] to the sea.” It means displaying Israel on official maps, an end to incitement and no more intifadas, terrorist attacks, building tunnels and stockpiling weapons.

Once the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world recognize that Israel is here to stay, then we can build a prosperous Middle East for the benefit of everyone. Several Arab states have already reached that conclusion — Egypt, Jordan and even Saudi Arabia. It is now up to the Palestinians to reject being manipulated by outside powers that show little interest in the welfare of the Palestinians.

Edith M. Cord | Columbia, Md.

Professor Says, ‘Speak Up!’

Daniel B. Markind decries Jewish American academics failing to stand up when Israel is unjustifiably attacked on their campuses (“The Cowardice of American Jewish Academia,” Nov. 16). As someone who was a professor at Temple University for 40 years, I agree with his assessment.

In 2008, I wrote an article in the Faculty Herald supporting Temple’s administration for not acting on an offer from the International Institute of Islamic Thought to create an endowed chair of Islamic Studies within the Department of Religion. As reported in the Jewish Exponent, the institute was under federal investigation for supporting terror groups and had published a book by Yusuf al-Qaradawi that called for suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. The institute later withdrew its offer.

Predictably, I was lambasted by the faculty in the Department of Religion, which was well-represented by Jewish professors, in the next issue of the Herald. But for the remainder of my tenure at Temple, no one mentioned the article to me. Instead, the faculty treated me as it did before I wrote the article, typically in a collegial and friendly manner.

I was consistently given appropriate teaching assignments and fair merit-based pay assessments. With the support of the faculty, I was given the benefits of a buyout, even though I had submitted my retirement letter two weeks earlier and had no claim on this largesse. When I retired four years later, I was given a send-off that still warms my heart.

I have a suggestion for tenured faculty who believe that Israel is treated unfairly on their campuses: Speak up. The purpose of tenure is to protect unpopular ideas, not to provide job security and personal comfort.

Saul Axelrod | Elkins Park

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House Committee Examines Anti-Semitism with Local Panel

From left: State Reps. Marty Flynn, Ryan Bizzarro, Kevin Boyle, Jared Solomon, Dom Costa and Pat Harkins attended the House Democratic Policy Committee public hearing. | Photo provided

State Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-District 172) hosted a House Democratic Policy Committee public hearing Nov. 28 to discuss how to combat the rise in anti-Semitic events in the Philadelphia area as well as raise awareness for other legislators.

Boyle planned the hearing in response to three high-profile acts of apparent anti-Semitism within the Greater Philadelphia area: desecrated tombstones at Mount Carmel Cemetery, rocks thrown through windows and other vandalism at Temple Menorah Keneseth Chai and an assailant who urinated on Congregation Beth Solomon.

Seventeen members of the state House Democratic Caucus attended the event from across Pennsylvania, joined by Policy Committee Chairman Mike Sturla (D-District 96) of Lancaster County.

“We had a real cross-section of the Democratic representatives in the state House in attendance, and it speaks to the focus and the concern of so many people, particularly elected representatives as it pertains to the national climate when it comes to discrimination and hatred,” Boyle said.

The panel discussion, which took place at Congregations of Shaare Shamayim with about 40 people in attendance, included Jeremy Bannett, associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League; Naomi Adler, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia; Michele Foster, president-elect of Hadassah Greater Philadelphia; and Chuck Feldman, president of the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center.

Panelists spoke about the increase of anti-Semitic attacks throughout the commonwealth, with testimonies from their respective local Jewish organizations.

“There’s been a lot of discussion nationally about hatred and an increase in discriminatory attacks, and there has not enough focus specifically on anti-Semitism,” Boyle noted. “We need to focus on rectifying and preventing future attacks.”

Bannett explained to the legislators a broad perspective of anti-Semitism in Pennsylvania, noting specific incidents to give a face to the statistics.

“We offered policy recommendations to encourage Pennsylvania lawmakers to create a comprehensive to anti-Semitism in all forms of bigotry,” Bannett added, because when it comes to bigotry across the country, anti-Semitism is “often the canary in the coal mine.”

“It’s an indicator of the health of society as a whole, so everybody should be concerned about rising anti-Semitism.”

Some of the ADL’s policy recommendations include creating legislation modeled off of Act 70, which encourages anti-bias education in schools across the state; starting a Hate Crimes Prevention Task Force, made up of elected officials, law enforcement, advocates and other stakeholders to research hate crimes in Pennsylvania and more effectively investigate and respond to anti-Semitic and biased crime; encouraging mayors to sign on to the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Compact to Combat Hate, an initiative to fight extremism and denounce all forms of hate; and modernizing harassment laws to include cyber harassment.

Bannett said the increase in anti-Semitic events stems from the emboldened words anti-Semites and white supremacists are spewing — citing the election and presidency of Donald Trump as an empowering moment for them.

“You can see the direct result of this on the ground,” he said. When Trump deemed blame on “both sides” after Charlottesville, the ADL reported the largest spike of anti-Semitic incidents — 221 of the 306 nationwide incidents during the third quarter occured after Charlottesville.

Feldman noted to the legislators, who came from as far as Erie and Scranton, that the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center provides Skype-in programs with Holocaust survivors for schools to share Holocaust education in their districts.

“We need to let young people know, especially, about the history of what hatred and intolerance and bigotry can create,” he said, “and to encourage the students not only to gain the knowledge but to share the knowledge with their friends and family — to be upstanders, not bystanders.”

Feldman applauded Boyle and his brother, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-District 13), who often support issues affecting the Jewish community, like sponsoring Holocaust and genocide education across the state.

Even while explaining what HAMEC does and sharing short video testimonials from survivors, Feldman noticed a parallel between the legislators and young students.

“Their response was to watch it silently transfixed,” he said. “They gave the same response that the thousands of students give when they’re sitting in classrooms and auditoriums.”

More often than not, students bombard the survivors after their talks with admiration and hugs as if they’re rock stars, Feldman said, but teachers have emphasized to him how it has continued to impact their lives year after year.

He hopes the legislators walked away with the same feeling.

“This is a vitally important issue, and they should do whatever they can do to legislate against hate crimes,” he said. “The fact that people came from all over the state to participate in this panel and to hear from organizations that are very active in the Jewish community is a very positive sign.” 

[email protected]; 215-832-0737

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