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Jewish Life in the Lehigh Valley

Imagining Jews: New Lecture Series Kicks Off at Muhlenberg

Following the success of its adult education series on “Jews, Money and Capitalism,” the Jewish Studies Program at Muhlenberg College will present a new series of public lectures and events in 2014.


Funded by a grant from the Legacy Heritage Jewish Studies Project and directed by the Association for Jewish Studies, these programs are free and open to the public.


The theme of the new series – spearheaded by Muhlenberg professors Jessica Cooperman and Hartley Lachter -- is “Imagining Jews: From the Ancient World to the American Present.” Drawing on a wide range of topics and scholarly expertise, the series will explore how Jews have understood themselves, and been understood by others, in diverse historical settings.


“We thought it would be a topic that is interesting to people in the community and that would let us work with some really dynamic departments at the college, particularly the theater and dance program and media and communications,” Cooperman said. “They were programs we hadn’t worked with in the past series and we wanted to tap into the exciting things and exciting work that people were doing in those departments.”


The first talk in the series, on Thursday, Jan. 30, at Muhlenberg will be led by Professor William Gruen, chair of the Religion Studies Department. Gruen, a scholar of early Christianity, will discuss “The Image of the Jew as Anti-Imperial Rebel in the Ancient Roman World.”


The second event will take place in February at the JCC, where Dr. Daniel Leisawitz, an expert in Italian studies in the Languages, Literatures and Cultures Department at Muhlenberg, will present, “Imagining the Vanishing World of the Roman Ghetto.”


On March 20, Ruth Knafo Setton, writer-in-residence at the Berman Center for Jewish Studies at Lehigh University, will speak in Easton on “Living Between Question Marks,” based on her forthcoming novel, “Darktown Blues. “


In the first week of April, Professor Henry Bial of the American Studies and Theater Departments at the University of Kansas, and author of “Acting Jewish: Negotiating Ethnicity on the American Stage and Screen,” will give a talk entitled, “Jew Media: Performance and Technology for the 58th Century” at Muhlenberg. 


The first half of the series will culminate with a special lecture by Dr. Jeffrey Shandler of Rutgers University. Shandler, a scholar of modern Jewish culture specializing in Yiddish culture, and the president of the Association for Jewish Studies, will give a talk entitled “Tchotchkes: Collecting Yiddish Popular Culture” at Muhlenberg. Anyone who owns an interesting Yiddish “tchotchke” is invited to bring it in to be displayed before the talk.  Shandler may even select some of the tchotchkes for discussion.


Six additional talks are scheduled for the fall of 2014, so there’s plenty more to come. The series is co-sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley. Learn more about upcoming programs, including exact times and locations, at

Posted by: lvadmin (December 24, 2013 at 11:30 AM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

From Newtown, Beth El Lego City Rises

Temple Beth El

What was your response when you heard about the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School one year ago? While many felt helpless upon hearing of the violent end of 26 innocent lives, the Goldman Family Foundation, a supporting foundation of the Lehigh Valley Jewish Federation, responded by performing 26 acts of kindness.

One of these acts was a generous donation to Temple Beth El. The religious school director, Alicia Zahn, put this donation towards a special program.

“It was important that this donation be used for the children,” she said. “I wanted something that was special and memorable, because it was in the wake of something so terrible. This program was one that the school originally thought was financially out of reach.”

This is how Temple Beth El was able to bring in the Building Blocks Workshop on Oct. 20. On the morning of the workshop, architect Stephen Schwartz of SWS Architects of Livingston, N.J., directed over 80 participants in building a scale model of the Old City of Jerusalem using almost 60,000 Legos.

There was learning, there was cooperation, there was fun as the children got busy constructing the walls, the gates, the Kotel, the Beit Hamikdosh, David’s Tower, the Montifiore windmill and many other buildings on the 400-square-foot scale map.

When talking about the Building Blocks Workshop event, the children said it best. “It’s a
lot of fun, we are playing with Legos, and it isn’t what we are used to doing,” said Matthew Zager, 12, as he built the Montifiore Windmill with his peers.

Meanwhile, Bayley Ahdieh, 13, worked with a group of her peers on the wall of the city. “It is actually more challenging than I expected,” she said. “Connecting the blocks properly, so they aren’t stacked but [instead] linked together, is hard. But I am still having a good time.”

“It is kind of hectic but it is fun,” agreed Jennifer Schubach, 10. “There are a lot of Legos everywhere so we need to watch where we step, but I like how we can be creative and use imagination.”

Classroom aide David Zahn called it, “My favorite day ever at Hebrew school!” More than a few around the project nodded their heads in agreement.

Zahn said that the event could not have been so successful without the participation of parents and the guidance of teachers. Eleise Teichman attended the event with her 7-year-old son Joshua and 5-year-old daughter Alexis.

“It is something different, it’s a way to learn about Jerusalem in a fun way,” Teichman said as her kids built an intricate multicolored Lego house.

Third grade teacher Levana Berlin said, “It is a great event, it’s very creative and it makes the kids understand Jerusalem and the different quarters, and why they are where they are.”

After all the building was complete, architect Schwartz led the students through an educational tour of the city and each child saw how his or her part fit with the rest. Many who had never been to Israel could now visualize where everything was.

The program ended with Cantor Kevin Wartell leading Hatikvah, as everyone stood around the virtual homeland. The whole event was over in two hours, but the memories will last a long time.

Written in memory of the 26 who died one year ago in Newtown, Conn. May we only build and not destroy.

Posted by: lvadmin (November 26, 2013 at 2:49 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

5-Year-Old's Golf Rap Video Goes Viral

By Stephanie Smartschan
JFLV Director of Marketing

When Justin Corsa asked his son Caleb, 5, what he likes about golf, he answered, “It’s fun.”


Then he asked Caleb what rhymes with “fun” and he said, “Hole in one.” 

A golf rap was born.


The Allentown pair began making up more and more rhymes … which led to a dance … which led to friends and family performing said dance … which led to six months of shooting video scenes and producing the “I Love Golf” video with rapper Caleb C. … which led to calls from national media outlets and 24,000 YouTube hits in the first week.


“We would write the lines and try to find a fun place to shoot it,” said Corsa, noting that most of the scenes were recorded at the Allentown Municipal Golf Course, where Caleb humbly putted with his younger brother, Sammy, as he posed for more pictures and answered this reporter’s questions.


His favorite part of the video?  His “trick shot” off the clubhouse, which his dad admits it took a few takes to get right.


It all began when Caleb got a set of golf clubs from his grandma for his 5th birthday last September. He started playing around in the backyard and, ultimately, on the golf course.


He is now taking golf lessons, but isn’t giving up on other interests. It turns out this was his second rap video; his first, “My Truck,” told the story of his Power Wheels Ford F-150. That video got 75,000 views on YouTube, according to his dad. Caleb says his next video will be about Nintendo’s Mario and his gaming adventures.


Caleb, who will be entering kindergarten at the Jewish Day School of the Lehigh Valley in the fall, said he is glad that everybody is watching and he wants more kids to play golf. And they can rap, “if they want to.”


To watch the video in its entirety, visit As the video instructs, leave comments for Caleb on Twitter at #ILoveGolfVideo.

Posted by: lvadmin (August 06, 2013 at 8:55 AM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

Local Rabbi Home Safe After Boston Marathon

By Ginny Cohen


Rabbi Seth Phillips, spiritual leader of Congregation Keneseth Israel, is an accomplished runner, having completed 53 marathons. An enthusiastic participant in this year’s Boston Marathon, he crossed the finish line about two minutes before two explosions shook Boylston Street. Phillips heard the loud boom, saw the smoke, but said he was unaware of the true danger until he heard a news report in the taxicab that he was taking to Logan Airport.


Shocked and saddened by the news, Phillips said in a recent interview, “We don’t have the power to prevent tragedy, but we do not have to live through this alone. After the explosions, a number of strangers became united as a community, caring for each other and helping each other. We can focus on the understandable: that people were kind and compassionate.”


On the day of the marathon, after crossing the finish line, Phillips was funneled into a several-block area full of volunteers who offered Mylar blankets, water, bananas, medical assistance and emotional support. He was winded and shaking from having completed the marathon, and a volunteer stopped to give him comfort and support. The volunteer was wearing a U.S. Army combat uniform.


Phillips recounted, “We talked, and I found out he was a physician’s assistant in the Army, nearing retirement. I told him that I had retired from the U.S. Navy. We also discovered that we were both Jewish, and then we exchanged emails so that we could keep in touch.”


When Phillips returned to Allentown, he received an email from this new friend. The email included a photo attachment of his fellow serviceman carrying a stretcher and helping people who had been injured in the blasts. The photo gave the rabbi great pause as he internalized that the man who had provided him so much comfort at the finish line continued to help others who, many of whom were injured in the blasts.


Since coming home to the Lehigh Valley, Phillips has been touched by the concern that the community has shown for his peace and well-being.


“The outpouring of kindness here reminds me that we are all part of a team,” Phillips said. He attended a KI Board of Trustees meeting soon after his return and felt firsthand the power of people’s prayers. At the meeting, he recited the Birkat HaGomel with a prayer response from the KI Board. The Birkat HaGomel is a Hebrew blessing that thanks G-d for graciousness and deliverance. It is recited upon emerging in good health after a serious or dangerous incident.


“Saying the prayer in front of my friends and colleagues was so comforting,” Phillips said. “So much energy comes from prayer.”


Elsewhere in the Valley, Rabbi Daniel Stein of Bnai Abraham Synagogue in Easton joined ten religious leaders in an interfaith service held in Easton’s Centre Square days after the events in Boston. Co-sponsored by the city of Easton, the aim of the service was to honor the victims of the bombings, and express prayers for peace and healing.


“The blasts reminded me of the times I spent in Israel after terror attacks,” Stein said. “It is so jarring, and everyone feels the emotional need to connect and be with each other.


“From the Jewish perspective,” he said, “it is important to reach out, acknowledge and care for each other.”


“In a chaotic universe,” Phillips concluded, “we can look for the kindness in community and for the kindness in strangers. We can turn to G-d as a source of comfort and continuity.”

Posted by: lvadmin (April 25, 2013 at 1:25 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

Lehigh Valley Takes Israel's Birthday Celebration to the Streets

Sixty five years ago, Israel was a barren country with little water and no natural resources. Half of its land mass was desert. Today, it has become an oasis of innovation, technology and culture.


To celebrate Israel’s 65th birthday, the Afikim Foundation, in conjunction with the World Zionist Organization and the Israel Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, is organizing a global event to “walk the land.”


On Tuesday, April 16, the Lehigh Valley Jewish community will join with Jews from The Netherlands to Australia to Suriname by bringing Israel to the streets, in this case, of Allentown.


Synagogue congregations will be out in full force with banners and flags. Jewish Day School students will lead the procession along with a “lone soldier” from Israel, Yoona Kolfina, who is serving in the Israel Defense Forces though her family lives in Russia.


The walk from the Jewish Day School to the Jewish Community Center will culminate in a giant birthday party at the JCC.


There will be singing and dancing, along with a big birthday cake for everyone to share.


Seeds from Israeli plants will be distributed to participants, and hundreds of thousands of seeds will ultimately be planted worldwide, symbolizing the preciousness of life. 


Shuttles will run from the JCC to the JDS, starting at 3:45 p.m. The “Walk the Land” celebration will kick off at 4 p.m. at the JDS with games and activities. At 4:30 p.m., the walkers will head out, and the party at the JCC will run until 5:30 p.m.


The celebration is sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley, Jewish Community Center of Allentown and Jewish Day School of the Lehigh Valley, in partnership with area synagogues and business partner Palram. To learn more, visit

Posted by: lvadmin (April 03, 2013 at 1:21 PM) | Comments (0) | Permalink

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