Maister-Leon

Susan and Alan Flexner of Horsham, Eric Maister of Philadelphia, and Florence and Michael Leon of Southampton announce the engagement of their children, Ashley Jill Maister and Stefan Robert Leon.

Ashley graduated from West Chester University with a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmaceutical product development and received her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Jefferson College of Pharmacy. She is a pharmacy practice resident at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.

Stefan graduated from West Chester University with Bachelor of Science degrees in economics and finance. He is a sales consultant with Paychex.

Ashley is the granddaughter of Marlene Epstein and the late Allen Freed, Rhoda Maister, Stanley and Brenda Weiss, and Sidney and Annette Flexner, and the great-granddaughter of the late Viola Adler. Stefan is the grandson of Gunther and Ilsa Kirschheimer and the late Elwood and Adele Leon.

Sharing in the couple’s happiness are Ashley’s sisters, Shayne Maister and Melanie Flexner, and Stefan’s brother, Benjamin Leon.

The couple lives in Philadelphia. A fall 2020 wedding is planned.

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Former DelVal President Feldstein Dies at 97

Joshua and Miriam Feldstein

Joshua Feldstein, the former Delaware Valley University president who helped admit the first female student in the school’s history, died June 19 at age 97.

Feldstein earned an undergraduate degree in horticulture from DelVal in 1942 and never left. He received another bachelor’s degree from the university in 1952, before serving as a professor, chair of the horticulture department and dean of the college. He became the college’s seventh president in 1975, holding the position for 12 years.

“Up to the day he died, honest to goodness, he was DelVal. For 75 years, he represented DelVal. It was his life,” said Maria Gallo, the university’s first female president, who started in July 2016. “He was giving back to an institution that was so important to him.”

An immigrant born in Belarus and raised in Lithuania, Feldstein’s family sent him to the United States when he was 17 years old to escape the rise of Hitler and the Nazi movement. He arrived at DelVal, then known as the National Farm School, with $40 in his pocket. He never heard from his family, and eventually learned they had been killed during the Holocaust.

Feldstein found solace in bettering the DelVal community. As president he pushed for more female faculty members and orchestrated the construction of new academic and athletic facilities, like the Kenneth W. and Helen H. Gemmill Center for Animal Husbandry and James Work Memorial Stadium.

He was designated DelVal’s president emeritus and appointed a member of the board of trustees after retiring. But his work on campus was hardly finished. He twice served as interim president, jumping in to serve the institution he kept close to his heart. He even documented the university’s history in a two-volume book, Evolution of a Unique Institution.

Old age couldn’t keep him away. Even in his later years he attended campus events, rolling around in his wheelchair. He made it to home football games for more than 70 years, in recent years sitting beside Jerry Fritz, a 1988 graduate and board of trustees member.

“He was my buddy,” Fritz said of Feldstein.

For Feldstein’s 97th birthday, Fritz, Gallo, board members and other high-ranking university officials met at Feldstein’s assisted-living facility. They sang him happy birthday in English and in Hebrew.

“Seeing his face and his smiles and seeing all his friends there was very memorable. He was crying,” Fritz said. “I have a video of him when he was blowing out the candles. He knew he was loved.”

Majid Alsayegh, chair of the board of trustees, said he felt a kinship toward Feldstein because of their similar backgrounds. An immigrant from Iraq, Alsayegh admired Feldstein’s rise through the ranks and his devotion to promoting campus diversity.

“It seemed like he was here forever, and it seemed like he would be here forever,” Alsayegh said. “His legacy will continue in the many students who graduated under his leadership and the many people who were touched by his good work.

“We will honor him at this university and make sure his story is told.”

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Antoine Guyton Re-Arrested for Israeli Flag Defacement

Antoine Guyton mugshot

Antoine Guyton was re-arrested on June 16 for the defacement of the Israeli flag on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The Philadelphia Police Department originally arrested the 26-year-old soon after the flag was sprayed with a red substance on May 15. When police arrived at the flag’s location, employees of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia who had witnessed the incident pointed Guyton out to the police when he returned to the scene of the crime.

Guyton was charged with institutional vandalism, criminal mischief and related offenses.

But two days later, on May 17, the charges against Guyton were dismissed when a video surfaced of someone else spraying the flag.

“We initially dismissed charges against the first defendant when the video surfaced,” said Benjamin Waxman, director of communications for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. “However, further investigation found that he had some role in what occurred and that’s why the charges were re-issued.”

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Citing ‘Chronic Bias Against Israel,’ the US Quits the UN Human Rights Council

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley addresses the 10th emergency special session of the General Assembly on: “Illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Credit: U.N. Photo/Evan Schneider.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced on Tuesday that the United States is pulling out of the U.N. Human Rights Council, citing the world body’s “chronic” bias against Israel as one of the primary factors for the withdrawal.

“For too long, the human-rights council has been a protector of human-rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias,” Haley said in announcing the withdrawal. “Regrettably, it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded.”

Haley added that the council has a “chronic bias against Israel,” while also decrying that countries like China, Cuba and Venezuela, who all have poor human-rights records, are members of the council.

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon welcomed the decision by Haley, saying that the United States “has proven, yet again, its commitment to truth and justice and their unwillingness to allow the blind hatred of Israel in international institutions to stand unchallenged.”

“The Human Rights Council has long been the foe of those who truly care about human rights around the world,” Danon said in a statement following Haley’s announcement. “We thank President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador Nikki Haley for their leadership and call on the moral majority at the U.N. to hold all of its institutions accountable.”

Israel is the only country with a dedicated item at the UNHRC, known as Agenda Item 7, which mandates a discussion of Israel’s conduct with the Palestinians at every session. Agenda Item 7 is currently set for debate beginning on July 2.

During its last session in March, the UNHRC passed five resolutions condemning Israel. The UNHRC has also mandated the compiling of a “blacklist” of companies that do business with Israeli entities over the pre-1967 lines.

Ahead of the announcement, U.S. officials said that the Trump administration had concluded that efforts to institute reform in the UNHRC had failed, and that withdrawal was the only option to demonstration its seriousness.

Currently, there are 47 countries in the UNHRC, which was elected by the U.N. General Assembly with a specific number of seats for its region. The U.S. term on the UNHRC was scheduled to end next year when it was slated to go back to being an observer country. As an observer, the United States can speak out on human-rights abuses, but cannot vote.

Israel, which has an ambassador the presides over U.N. bodies in Geneva, has never been one of the 47 members of the council.

Israel’s Deputy Minister for Diplomacy and former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren also welcomed Americas decision.

“This is a welcomed response to a body that condemned Israel more than all other countries combined. The U.S. now signals its refusal to lend legitimacy to U.N. bias against Israel and Jews,” Oren wrote on Twitter.

The U.S. isn’t the only world power to express concern over Israel’s treatment. On Monday, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called on the UNHRC to reform.

“We share the view that the dedicated Agenda Item 7 focused solely on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is disproportionate and damaging to the cause of peace, and unless things change, we shall vote next year against all resolutions introduced under Item 7,” Johnson told the council at the beginning of its three-week session.

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Talking ’Bout My Generation

By Rabbi Kevin Bernstein

Parshat Chukat

This week’s Torah portion, Chukat, begins with an explanation of a chok, a law. Laws are one of the ways our Torah teaches us how to behave. Another is by example of the behavior of our ancestors. Between the lines of this parshah, we find a third, more subtle, way that we learn.

Chukat begins two years after the exit from Egypt and ends as the Israelites are poised to enter the Promised Land. We are reminded that the entire generation of Israelites who experienced slavery will not enter the land of Israel, Moses included.

The seemingly harsh decree forbidding Moses’ entry into the Promised Land appears less harsh when one considers that God’s plan was to allow entry into the land only to those Israelites who had not experienced or witnessed slavery in Egypt.

Even though the Israelites had not experienced slavery for the 40 previous years, God felt it necessary to allow the Jewish people to “detoxify.” This was not punishment (God forbid), but rather a desire to begin anew with those who had not been “poisoned” by the slavery experience. The first pioneers in the land of Israel would be a generation free from this emotional oppression.

This is a unique strategy that God uses to mold or engineer the behavior of an entire, new generation. God’s strategy points out how we change communally through emotional evolution — collective growth over time. This is most apparent looking back on the past.

For example …

As a 40-year-old parent in the early 2000s, I expended much parental energy educating and raising my children in such a way that they would not be homophobic. My wife and I actively supported gay and lesbian rights, and did our child-rearing best to avoid hinting or suggesting with which gender our kids should partner.

In light of those efforts, it was a revelation for me to see the natural ease with which my children’s generation accepted gay rights — in fact, often expressed by them as a “duh!” or “so what?” moment. In this case, a new generation (theirs) was liberated, by “parental shield,” from much of the homophobia that had oppressed an older generation (mine). This new generation needed mostly this liberation and, perhaps less so, our active teaching — telling them what was right or wrong.

The speed with which our society embraced marriage equality and gay and lesbian rights shows how powerful the effect of God’s strategy can be. Greater freedom from the oppression of homophobia had a more powerful effect on this new generation than all of my active teaching.

Not that I would do anything differently. It is important to remember that active teaching, and generational evolutionary change, do not replace one another — rather they are synergistic.

Though Parshat Chukat is named for the laws, which are certainly active teaching, between the lines of the parshah, we are reminded of God’s other pedagogic strategy — waiting for a generation to mature, or turn over. Communities of human beings grow through both processes. Here are two present/future challenges, for which we will need both processes.
The active learning and teaching around the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements is at unprecedented high levels, with many courageous woman telling (and too few courageous men admitting) their stories, emphasizing what many of us have known for a long time about the frequency of sexual harassment in our society and, indeed, in our own community.

However, there is still a generation (me included) who grew up before only “yes means yes,” which was after “yes means yes,” which was after “no means no.” My generation was raised with too much TV and too many movies that justified and normalized behaviors that we now understand as somewhere between criminal and contemptible.
While my generation’s attitudes are certainly an obstacle, God’s strategy should remind us that “detoxification” of our society will take time. And perhaps, like God’s strategy, we will only greatly improve when, well, when my generation is gone, and a new generation continues, more completely liberated from these attitudes in their hearts and minds.
Finally, something very close to home and my heart as a Zionist and proud citizen of the state of Israel, is another evolutionary change that Jews on both sides of the Atlantic will need to undergo. Call it the liberation of Zionism.

My and previous generations of Jews need to become less oppressed by our fear that the entire world is out to kill us (albeit understandably learned, and never to be completely forgotten) and less oppressed by our fear of admitting that as great things were done by and for ourselves (creating, building and defending Israel), unfair consequential things happened to others.

Perhaps liberation from these oppressive fears will give us greater courage to move forward to create an even more democratic Jewish state.

May the lessons we learn from our Torah and heritage, both directly from what we find in our texts, and indirectly from what lies between the lines, help us to make our lives more meaningful, and the world more just. Shabbat Shalom. 

Rabbi Kevin Bernstein is the education director at Beth David Reform Congregation in Gladwyne, a Baal Tefilah for Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu-El in Elkins Park and a mohel in our community. The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia is proud to provide the Torah commentary for the Jewish Exponent.

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Sports Broadcaster Al Meltzer Dies at 89

Al Meltzer | Photo provided

Al Meltzer, the the legendary broadcaster whose voice was synonymous with Philadelphia sports for decades, died June 12. He was 89.

Known as “Big Al,” Meltzer stood 6 feet, 4 inches tall, and his presence in Philadelphia matched his stature. He most memorably served as the sports anchor on NBC10 for 20 years, but he also did play-by-play for the 76ers, Eagles, Phillies and Big 5 basketball.

“He had a booming voice,” said Vai Sikahema, Meltzer’s former colleague at NBC10. “When he walked into a room, you knew Al Meltzer was in the room.”

A native of Syracuse, N.Y., Meltzer initially planned on becoming a dentist before happening on sports broadcasting as an undergraduate at St. Lawrence University. It proved a fortuitous career shift  for Meltzer, sports fans and people with toothaches.

“I would have been a terrible dentist!” Meltzer told the Exponent in November 2011.  

Meltzer’s broadcasting career was documented in his 2011 biography, Big Al: 50 Years of Adventures in Sports Broadcasting, which he co-authored with Bob Lyons.

One particularly amusing anecdote featured Meltzer finding himself alone in a room with the Stanley Cup in 1975, after the Flyers had won the championship.

“I was somehow left alone in the room with the Stanley Cup. Just me and the Cup. And it still had some champagne in it. I thought, ‘Why not?’ … So I took a sip out of the Stanley Cup,” he said.

It was hardly his only brush with the big stage. He broadcast Wilt Chamberlain’s first NBA title in 1967, when the 76ers defeated the San Francisco Warriors, and years later conducted the final on-camera interview with Chamberlain before the legend’s death in 1999.

Lou Scheinfeld, former president of the 76ers, said that when Chamberlain came to the team office for an interview with Meltzer, the former center insisted that he was shorter than his billed height of 7 feet 3 inches. Some critics said Chamberlain’s dominance was mostly a product of his height.

So Meltzer obtained a tape measure. Chamberlain stretched out on the boardroom table. He was 7 feet tall.

“That was a fun day,” Scheinfeld said. “Al had a sense of humor. He didn’t take himself too seriously.”

It was his adept people skills and disarming nature that endeared him to the athletes he covered, Sikahema said. Before Sikahema joined Meltzer at NBC10, he enjoyed an eight-year NFL career that ended with the Eagles in 1993 and got a front row seat observing Meltzer work a locker room.

“He was not just one of the guys who sat at a TV station and waited for the press release or for someone to send him information,” Scheinfeld said “He went out to every practice, every event, every game. He was a working reporter.

“We didn’t call other broadcasters ‘reporters.’ But he was a reporter.”

Some days Meltzer was more smooth than others. Sikahema recalled Meltzer approaching a player for a live shot after a game, slapping him on the back, booming: “Hey, welcome!” The player crumbled to the ground.

Perhaps Meltzer had forgotten the player had just been diagnosed with a separated shoulder. The press corps erupted in laughter.

When Sikahema joined the NBC10 staff as a colleague of Meltzer’s in the sports department, he was struck by Meltzer’s humility and generosity. The newsroom was invited when Meltzer’s daughter celebrated her Bat Mitzvah.

“Al’s got family and tons of friends, and his Jewish synagogue. They all could have celebrated, but no — he reached out to Christians like me in the work community to celebrate with him,” Sikahema said. “I felt thrilled and honored he invited me and my family to come be a part of it.”

Meltzer retired from full-time broadcasting in 1998 but stayed involved in the local sports community and did some work for the early Comcast SportsNet.

His legacy was honored with inductions into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame, the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia Hall of Fame and the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. Stephen Frishberg, chairman of the Philadelphia Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, said Meltzer was so popular because he resonated with listeners without talking down to them.

“He had a powerful voice. He seemed bigger than life,” Frishberg said. “At the same time, he connected to the everyday sports person.” 

[email protected]; 215-832-0737

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Protecting Yourself, Your Assets and Your Heirs

By Joe Bonfanti

After a lifetime of planning and saving for retirement, the big moment has finally arrived — the day you can start doing all of the things you’ve wanted to do.

And because you had the foresight to tuck money away in IRAs, annuities, 401(k) and other retirement savings plans, you’re feeling pretty good about your overall financial situation.

That’s great. But you’re not done yet.

Now that you’ve reached retirement, you want to ensure that the funds you’ve set aside will not only last for the rest of your life, but that, at your death, whatever amounts remain unspent will be passed on to your heirs quickly, privately, and as tax efficiently as possible. In other words, now that you’ve been successful in saving for retirement, you’ll want to develop and implement a successful retirement distribution strategy.

A carefully thought out strategy will not only help ensure that you don’t outlive your assets, but it will help you avoid paying unnecessary taxes and/or penalties in the event that you don’t get around to spending them. There are a number of regulations governing when you can (or must) begin taking distributions from your qualified retirement accounts; failure to abide by these regulations can result in hefty tax penalties.

As you put together a retirement distribution strategy, there are many things to consider. What will your ongoing expenses be? How will inflation affect your spending power? Will you be able to afford ever-increasing property taxes and home maintenance costs? What about potential health-related or long-term care expenses? And finally, what about leaving something behind for your heirs or providing for a favorite charity?

Of course, there’s no way of knowing what will happen with the economy, with your personal health or how long you will live, but it is nevertheless important that these factors be incorporated into your strategy.

A good place to start is to calculate your anticipated income from sources other than savings (such as Social Security, a company pension, etc.), then determine your anticipated expenses. If you’re like many successful people, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that you’ll require little, or even zero, access to your qualified retirement accounts.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you can just leave them as they are to continue enjoying tax-deferred growth. Under current tax law, once you reach age 70½, you must begin taking distributions from your qualified retirement accounts even if you don’t need (or want) them. Such distributions are generally referred to as required minimum distributions (RMDs).

An RMD is the minimum amount of money that you must withdraw from your qualified retirement accounts each year. Your first RMD must be taken by April 1 of the year after you reach age 70½, and subsequent RMDs must be taken every year thereafter by Dec. 31. Failure to take an RMD in any given year will result in a 50 percent excise tax on the amount not taken — a fairly severe penalty.

One solution to this problem is a special product known as a stretch IRA. Stretch IRAs are designed for successful individuals who do not anticipate needing their qualified retirement assets, and who would rather pass them on to their children or grandchildren. With a stretch IRA, you can not only spread the distribution of your qualified assets over many years, but you can control who receives your assets and you can continue enjoying tax-deferred growth for as long as possible.

Here’s how the concept works: First, you consolidate your qualified assets into an IRA. Second, you name a young person — a grandchild for example — as your primary beneficiary. When you reach age 70½, your initial RMD would be based on your life expectancy as determined by the Internal Revenue Service’s Uniform RMD Table.

At your death, however, the RMD would be recalculated based on your beneficiary’s life expectancy. Depending upon his or her age then, it is possible that the tax-deferred growth generated by your IRA assets could outpace his or her RMD for quite a number of years. The end result: Your IRA assets continue to grow even as your beneficiary draws a lifetime income.

Another option would be to name your spouse as your primary beneficiary and your grandchild as contingent beneficiary. At your death, if he/she needed the income, your spouse could opt to inherit your IRA and begin taking RMDs based on his/her life expectancy. If he/she didn’t need the income, however, he/she could disclaim the inheritance, in which case the IRA would pass to your contingent beneficiary. Your spouse would have until Sept. 30 of the year following your death to make that decision.

There is a catch: While a stretch IRA can extend both the growth and distribution of your assets over many years, those same assets, if they’re left at death to an individual other than your spouse, may be subject to both income and estate taxation. But there’s a potential solution to this problem — life insurance.

If you’re taking RMDs because you have to — because you’ve reached age 70½ and the government is requiring it — and if you don’t have a need for the income those distributions are providing, you could use those dollars to buy a life insurance policy.

At your death, the proceeds could be paid to your spouse, replacing the value of the IRA assets you are passing to your children or grandchildren, or they could be paid to your children or grandchildren for the purpose of satisfying any estate taxes which come due following your death. This strategy essentially allows you to pass on your IRA assets intact to heirs other than your spouse.

If your big day has finally arrived — congratulations. You’re about to embark on what could be the finest years of your life.

But remember, maintaining your financial security doesn’t happen by accident. It requires examining your current circumstances; identifying your goals and objectives; developing a plan to achieve those goals and objectives; and taking action to implement your plan. l

Joe Bonfanti, CFA, is part of the 1847 Private Client Group, a registered representative of, and whose securities and investment advisory services are offered through Hornor, Townsend & Kent, Inc. (HTK), Registered Investment Advisor, Member FINRA/SIPC – Eight Tower Bridge, 161 Washington St., Suite 700, Conshohocken, Pa., 19428 610-771-0800. 1847Financial and HTK are independent and unaffiliated with each other.

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News Briefs: Farrakhan Loses Verified Status, Anne Frank Center Honors Parkland Teacher, and More

Jewish Baseball Players Set HR Record

Five Jewish baseball players combined for six home runs on June 8, the most in a single day in Major League Baseball history, according to JTA.

Two of those home runs were hit by Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ryan Braun — nicknamed The Hebrew Hammer — in a 12-4 rout of the Phillies.

Also hitting home runs on June 8 were Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Kevin Pillar, Houston Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim second baseman Ian Kinsler and Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson.

The best single-day output for a Jewish player still belongs to former Dodgers outfielder Shawn Green, who hit four home runs, a double and a single in a 2002 game.

Farrakhan Loses Verified Status on Twitter After Issuing ‘Satanic Jew’ Tweet

A tweet about the “Satanic Jew and the Synagogue of Satan” by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan prompted Twitter to revoke his account’s verified status, JNS.org reported.

A video from Farrakhan’s May 27 sermon blamed Jews for advocating “Satanic” same-sex marriage, imposing undue influence on former President Barack Obama and using sex to get parts in Hollywood movies.

“Whenever you read that God has told the Jews to hear and obey, and they say, ‘I hear and I disobey,’ that’s Satan. … [The Jews] are openly disobeying God,” Farrakhan said. “He [a Jew] will take down the whole world with him.”

Verified status — which is seen as a blue check mark badge on a Twitter user’s account — is used to showcase noteworthy or popular accounts.

Parkland Teacher Honored by Anne Frank Center

The Anne Frank Center named Ivy Schamis, who was teaching a history of the Holocaust class when a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., its teacher of the year, according to JTA.

She was recognized June 12 at the center’s 22nd annual gala as one of several “worthy role models who uphold Anne Frank’s ideals of hope, justice, and equality.” Schamis had created her school’s Holocaust education program.

Schamis was teaching on Feb. 14 when the suspect, former student Nikolas Cruz, shot up the classroom, killing two students and injuring four. In all, 17 students and teachers were killed before Cruz was apprehended.

“How can this happen, of all places, in a classroom where students were learning how to combat hate? The lessons of the Holocaust were coming alive right there in room 1214,” Schamis said in a statement. “Since that fateful day, the fourth-period students have become a symbol of all Anne Frank stood for — loss of innocence coupled with unfailing optimism.”

Roman Abramovich the Richest Israeli Resident

Russian-Jewish oligarch Roman Abramovich is the richest person in Israel, according to Haaretz.

The owner of the English soccer club Chelsea has an estimated net worth of $12 billion, according to Forbes. He recently made aliyah.

Real estate investor Eyal Ofer, who controls the Royal Caribbean cruise line, ranked second at $9.3 billion.

Israeli has 106 billionaires, with an average worth of $1.07 billion.

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Rabbi Meets Jews Where They Are Today

Sandra Lawson (left) at the graduation ceremony of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College | Jordan Cassway

Sandra Lawson is many things.

She is Jewish. She is black. She is a lesbian. She is a vegan.

And now, she’s a rabbi.

But don’t expect her say that any of these qualities is more important or anything than the other, even if it has a title.

“I’ve had people over the years — and not just Jews, but other people — [ask] well, which identity is more important to you? And I’m like it doesn’t work like that,” she said. “It doesn’t. There’s no hierarchy, I can’t separate them out.”

She joined the latest cohort of rabbis who graduated from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical

College last weekend, adding another step in her Jewish journey, which began in the early 2000s in Atlanta.

Rabbi Joshua Lesser of Reconstructionist Congregation Bet Haverim had hired Lawson as his personal trainer, seeking to compete as a bodybuilder. Instead, it led to Lawson flexing new muscles.

At one point, he invited her to his synagogue — and she fell in love with the community.

“As I learned more about Judaism, I learned more about being in the community and what does that mean, and I liked them and I wanted to be a part of it,” Lawson reflected.

“I knew that to be a part of that community, full membership meant converting,” she added, which she did in 2004.

She held leadership positions at the congregation before moving to the Philadelphia area for school, from board member to vice president, and began getting invited to interfaith gatherings with black and queer clergy where she often found herself one of the only Jews in the room.

These experiences led her to go to rabbinical school.

“At that time, Jews in Atlanta weren’t that interested in social justice,” she said. “Now, it’s like everybody is.”

Getting the Jewish community involved in LGBTQ causes or social issues like public housing or interfaith work was difficult initiallyh, she noted.

“I realized if I wanted to really make significant change, or at least be part of these conversations, then that meant going to rabbinical school,” she said.

Of course, things have since changed. Many synagogues today have social justice-oriented affinity groups and support different societal causes.

“It’s kind of funny because now social justice is cool. I don’t even know that that’s what we called it; it was like, doing the right thing,” she said. “Now, you see Jews protesting all the time and that wasn’t what happened in the South, I can’t speak for up here.”

She hopes it signifies a change in the Jewish community, which she noticed has seemingly become more outspoken, particularly in progressive areas like Philadelphia.

As a rabbi, she hopes to help Judaism continue on its current path, even if — or rather, especially because — it is changing, including in the shift in what Jews today look like.

Lawson is up front about who she is. Her graduation bio explains she is a St. Louis native who grew up in a military family and graduated from Saint Leo University and got a master’s from Clark Atlanta University.

She’s served in the Army, owned a personal training business and worked as an investigative researcher for the Anti-Defamation League.

She thanked a list of mentors, family and friends for support during her journey and gave a shoutout to her wife, Susan.

Past articles written about her include the pieces of her identity right in the headlines, like a bluntly titled 2016 JTA profile “Sandra Lawson, black lesbian vegan rabbinical student, hopes to redefine where Judaism happens.”

“I have spent a good chunk of my time putting myself out there, so that if people Googled me or started Googling ‘Jews’ or ‘progressive Jews’ or whatever,

they would see other faces,” she said, “so that I wouldn’t constantly be doing this dance about ‘How are you Jewish?’ — whatever it is that people say to me, all that is sort of out there.”

As a rabbi, she hopes to join that shift and bring Judaism to people in a way that suits their needs in 2018. She’s already been doing that; she led services inside of vegan and raw food cafe Arnold’s Way through a grant she received in school.  

She hopes others — particularly older generations — can believe that the “future of Judaism is in great hands.”

“Judaism is changing, and it wouldn’t be the first time it’s changed, but it’s changing, and a decade from now, 20 years from now, the next generation, it might be completely unrecognizable to how we see it today and that’s kind of scary for people,” she said.

“It used to be if you built a synagogue, people came. If you built a JCC, people came,” she added. “I feel like it’s our job as rabbis to meet people where they are. … And don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to get rid of synagogues. Synagogues are needed. But we’re just going to have sort of reinvent how we do things.”

She will soon join the next generation as an associate chaplain at Elon University in North Carolina. She will work with students and faculty as they navigate their own Jewish identities.

While she’s enjoyed living in Roxborough, she’s ready to return to her roots, family and consistently warm weather.

She was excited to share her graduation with her parents, who instilled in her from an early age the idea that she could do anything and watched her lead services for the first time over graduation weekend.

“If you set your mind to it, you can do anything,” she said. “I came to Judaism from no understanding of Judaism and not a lot of understanding of religion because I wasn’t raised Christian or anything, and I just decided I was going to do this.” 

[email protected]; 215-832-0740

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Golf Outing Raises Scholarship Money

1 of 5

Tim Levy, Greg Marks, Ken Dash and Brad Sokol enjoy an afternoon on the golf course.
David Kay, Jeff Fishman, Richard L. Cohen and Keith Joffe enjoy a round of golf.
Club President Ken Dash, Israeli journalist Alon Ben-David and Chair of GVCC Day Jeff Bartos
Alon Ben-David lectures on current events in the Middle East.
Guests thoroughly enjoyed the evening meal and program.

On June 7, the Jewish Federation hosted the annual Jewish Community Day at Green Valley Country Club. Attendees turned out to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Israel and their local Jewish communities with a round of golf, a delicious dinner and an engaging briefing from Israeli journalist Alon Ben-David about current events in the Middle East. This year’s special project was the Atidim Cadets for Transportation program, and through the money raised at this event, seven students will receive a four-year scholarship, living stipend, academic support and a laptop if accepted to the Faculty of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Despite their incredible potential, these students come from low socioeconomic backgrounds and many would not be able to study without the support of Atidim.

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