The Jewish and Israel support community in Philadelphia is in shock over news of
plans to close the local Israeli consulate in order to open a new consulate in
Ambassador Michael Oren, and every Israeli diplomat, speaks of the
shared values of the US and Israel, and of the US being Israel’s most critical
You can almost hear the Liberty Bell pealing the words of
Leviticus, both the original Bell, proudly standing in Philadelphia, and its
exact copy in Jerusalem: “Proclaim Liberty throughout the Land, and all the
The Philadelphia consulate has been a lifeline to
Jewish leaders in six key mid-Atlantic states, and central to the growth of
relationships and strengthened support from America’s Christian
Fourteen mid-Atlantic region interfaith leaders responded to
the 2007 request of then foreign minister Tzipi Livni to meet under her “Succat
Shalom” in New York City. The “Shelter of Peace” was arranged prior to her
opening address to the UN.
The relationships with those interfaith
leaders have grown.
Continuity and friendships expand with Friends of
Israel Ministries’ Bill Sutter, director emeritus, and new exec. Jim
Israel My Glory, the FOI magazine, broadcasts its support of
Israel to more than a half-million Christian readers around the world.
Pennsylvania Christians United For Israel leaders Pastors Liz and Steve DeFrain
were honored in an annual interfaith program in which Eleanor Hall, a 104 year
old grandmother, was later given a “send-off” for her Church group going to the
An outstanding Philadelphia program called “Word From
Jerusalem” showcases briefings from Israel’s political, academic, military
leadership to executive directors of Jewish and Israel support
Jewish execs meet on “neutral ground” at Israel’s
consulate, conducting other community building connections with their
colleagues. Federation directors Tammy Mitgang from Reading, Pennsylvania, and
Steve Schimmel from Vineland, New Jersey, drive the 90 minutes to learn the
latest from Israel.
Schimmel, youngest Jewish Federation director in the
US, went to Israel on Jerusalem’s Summer MFA Young Leadership Conference. The
“life line” to outlying areas would be completely lost and forgotten if the
portfolio was given to New York or Washington.
In Israel advocacy,
Philadelphia has been a center of Israel support activities. At one “Word from
Jerusalem” briefing, Prof.
Ed Beck, founder of Scholars for Peace in the
Middle East (SPME), announced from the consulate board room the reversal of the
British Teacher’s Union Boycott of Israeli professors and
SPME organized academics around the world who successfully
lobbied for that reversal.
National anti-Israel BDS leaders decided to
twist American values of freedom and liberty for PR purposes by bringing their
2012 BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) national conference to the prestigious
University of Pennsylvania.
They suffered a national embarrassment when
their conference was overshadowed by a Jewish and campus community that came
together 1,000 strong to hear Alan Dershowitz. Campus Hillel used the experience
as a “teachable moment” to connect students to Israel.BDS leaders were ignored
and disgraced in excluding the local Jewish exponent from covering their
Later that Fall, Israel’s Philadelphia diplomat helped Penn’s
Wharton Business School launch its on-line IsraelKnowledge@ Wharton web magazine
reaching millions of viewers, all within the upper echelons of the business and
Israeli experts are regularly provided for Wharton’s
300 campuses in the region are listed as “best colleges” by
US News and World Report. Two of the largest US campuses are Penn State (nearly
100,000) and Ohio State (nearly 60,000), both with student bodies – and future
leadership – with close connections to the Philadelphia consulate.
State is known for the loyalty of its alumni, and regular visits of consulate
staff and programs.
OSU’s state-wide student Israel advocacy conference
has had critical support from Philadelphia.
Co-op directors of the
University of Cincinnati and Drexel University are planning an Israel mission to
expand international co-op opportunities in Israel, and to share their expertise
on cooperative education as a model for Israeli academic, business, and
government leadership to explore.
Drexel’s visionary president, John Fry,
just returned from Israel to promote Philadelphia as an international
entrepreneurial hub, as the site for new development between Washington and New
York markets. As the future of Philadelphia expands, Israel should be taking
advantage of its “start-up nation” status to partner, not
Values of leadership and sacrifice for Israel are evident in
the Israel-US-Philadelphia narrative.
With the 2006 Second Lebanon War
raging, Consulates around the US were arranging support Israel rallies.
Brigadier-General (Ret.) Ephraim Lapid spoke to a Support Israel Rally in
suburban Philadelphia, Bucks County, to more than 1000 Israel
Shir Ami Rabbi Elliot Strom recognized Mark and Harriet
Levine, parents of son Michael, for their personal example of love of Israel, to
a standing ovation.
Tragically, the next day, the parents were informed
by Philadelphia’s Deputy Consul of their son’s sacrifice, and exactly one week
after the first rally of support, Shir Ami hosted a memorial, in which Brig.-
Gen. Lapid offered a salute to Michael before more than 2,000 who came to honor
On Yom Hazikaron in Israel, there is an annual remembrance to
Michael as the American Lone Soldier who fell defending the Jewish state in
One of Michael’s heroes was Yonatan Netanyahu, leader of the IDF
mission to Entebbe, who died saving more than 100 Jewish hostages on July 4,
1976, America’s bicentennial celebration.
On Sunday, November 3, a group
of 90 Israeli and American high school students made a stop in Philadelphia, on
their way from Washington, DC, to New York City.
Like most tourists they
were to see the Liberty Bell and Constitution Hall. I had the honor to enhance
their visit, sharing the Jewish story of US-Israel values of freedom and
democracy in front of the B’nai B’rith “Statue of Religious Freedom” – a gift to
the American people on the celebration the US centennial. The statue sits at the
entrance of the National Museum of American Jewish History, in sight of the
Liberty Bell and Constitution Hall.
We walked to the entrance of historic
congregation Mikveh Israel. I recounted how the Jewish world held its collective
breath for the week leading up to the American bicentennial, fearing tragedy but
praying for a miracle. IDF mission leader and former Philadelphian Yoni
Netanyahu performed that miracle, and we gazed at his memorial in Philadelphia.
As Israeli diplomacy looks to efforts of expanding its message and gaining
support for Israel, it would be short-sighted to abandon
The author is former director of academic affairs of the
Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia, and co-founder of Young Jewish
Leadership Concepts, a non-profit young professionals network creating community
and leadership opportunities for Jewish young adults since 1986.