Should Philly Host the 2016 Democratic National Convention?

Philadelphia is one of the five locations in contention to host the 2016 Democratic National Convention to nominate the Democratic candidate for president and vice president:

The Democratic National Committee is seeking public input on the site selection process. You can click on the name of one of the cities above to comment on why that city would be a good or poor site for the 2016 convention.

The CEO of the Committee, Amy K. Dacey, said that her team and her “are visiting Philadelphia to meet with city officials and great local Democrats, and to get a feel for the energy.”

Philadelphia last hosted a national political convention in 2000, when the Republican Party nominated George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney.

The Republican National Convention will be held June or July 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Scientists Fêted at 190th Annual Franklin Award Ceremony

Previous Franklin Laureates included:
• 1889, 1899, 1915: Thomas Alva Edison. For the telephone, electricity, phonograph and more inventions.
1894: Nikola Tesla. For high-frequency alternating electrical current.
1909: Marie and Pierre Curie. For the discovery of radium.
1912: Alexander Graham Bell: For the electrical transmission of articulate speech.
1914, 1933: Orville Wright. For the arts and science of aviation.
1918: Guglielmo Marconi. For the application of radio waves to communication.
1935: Albert Einstein. For work on relativity and the photo-electric effect.
1939: Edwin Hubble. For studies of extra-galactic nebulae.
• 1953: Frank Lloyd Wright. For contributions to architecture including Philadelphia’s Beth Shalom Congregation.
• 1970: Jacques Cousteau. For placing man in the sea as a free agent.
• 1981: Stephen Hawking. For contributions to the theory of general relativity and black holes.
• 1999: Noam Chomsky. For contributions to linguistics and computer science, and insight into human thought processes.
• 2003: Jane Goodall. For pioneering studies with chimpanzees.
2008: Judea Pearl (father of Daniel Pearl) for work in computers and cognitive science.


UCLA professor Judea Pearl created the first general algorithms for computing and reasoning with uncertain evidence, allowing computers to uncover associations and causal connections hidden within millions of observations.

Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute has been presenting the Benjamin Franklin Medal to leaders in science and engineering since 1824. It is the longest running science award in the United States; its history eclipses the Nobel Prize which was first awarded in 1901. This year’s distinguished laureates join the ranks of some of the most celebrated scientists and engineers in history who have come to Philadelphia to receive the Franklin Institute Award. (See sidebar on the right.)

As master of ceremonies for the fifth consecutive year, Bob Schieffer pointed out past laureates who were in attendance before the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial at the Franklin Institute. Schieffer is the moderator of CBS’s Face the Nation and has interviewed every US President since Richard Nixon. He enjoyed the chance to return to Philadelphia:

I interview people in Washington. Not much happens there anymore. [But] these [scientists]  are people who get things done…. As Franklin said: “An investment is knowledge pays the best dividends.”

Physics Award

Daniel Kleppner is one of the great Jewish minds at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He designed the precision hydrogen maser clocks which made today’s global positioning system (GPS) possible. He invented these clocks for an entirely different reason — to prove that time is slowed down by gravity as predicted by Franklin Award laureate Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Kleppner also devised techniques to create and manipulate Rydberg atoms. In recent years, Kleppner was indispensable in the creation of the long-sought Bose-Einstein condensate predicted by Einstein nearly a century ago. This is a rare and curious state of matter that is possible only at extremely low temperatures and may be instrumental to work in quantum computing.

Mechanical Engineering Award

Ali Hasan Nayfeh (VPI — Univ. Jordan) had a surprising journey to academic acclaim. He was born to illiterate parents in the Arab village of Tulkarm (טולכרם) during the British mandate of Palestine. (10 miles East of Netanya between Tel Aviv and Haifa). He quipped that if his father had listened to the local wise men he “would have been a camel driver” instead of a leading mechanical engineer. However, his mother encouraged him to study in the United States saying “Go ahead, but do not come back without earning the highest degrees.” He started at San Mateo Community College but followed his mother’s advice, earning his BS, MS and Ph.D. from Stanford University in four and a half years. He returned to the Middle East and founded the engineering school at Yarmouk University in Irbid, Jordan.

In a broad sense, Nayfeh’s specialty is about finding some kind of order and predictability in seeming chaos, whether in the form of vibrations and sounds occurring in jet and rocket engines, the movement of water around ships, or the oscillations of huge structures such as cranes and skyscrapers. Unless well modeled, dangerous consequences may result: A bridge may collapse; a ship may break apart; a building may fall; a plane may crash. Nayfeh’s developed new analytic methods  using multiple time scales in perturbation analysis for the solution of the nonlinear differential equations at the heart of these phenomena.

More biographies and videos follow the jump.
Life Science Award

Joachim Frank was born during World War II in Siegen, Germany. He has vivid memories of staying in bomb shelters during allied bombing raids and wonders whether the uncertainty of war creating a need for order in his mind which led to his scientific investigations. According to Karpas Mossman:

As an 8-year-old boy, Frank was fascinated by science and conducted chemistry experiments under the veranda of his family’s house. Frank, like many scientists of a certain age, entered physics through the portal of amateur AM radio. “When I was 12 or 13,” he recalls, “I bought the first stuff for building radios-very small devices. Later I took old radios apart and reassembled them.”

Frank studied earned his Ph.D. in 1970 under the direction of Walter Hoppe, an X-ray crystallographer, in Munich at the Max Planck Institute für Eiweissund Lederforschung.

One of the professors on the examining board, impressed, nominated him for the prestigious Harkness fellowship. Under the terms of the Harkness, Frank was funded for two years’ work in the United States at any laboratory that would have him, plus a generous stipend for traveling. On arrival in the United States, Frank headed for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA. The JPL might seem to be an odd destination for a specialist in microscopy, but “at the time,” Frank says, “they were the leading people in the world in image processing.” He was able to adopt the JPL software, to which he made his own electron-microscope-specific improvements.

The Franklin Institute’s award committee cited

Joachim Frank for the development of Cryo-Electron Microscopy [and] for using this technology to investigate the structure of large organic molecules at high resolution, and for discoveries regarding the mechanism of protein synthesis in cells.

Much of biology comes down to studying the smaller pieces of the larger whole: the structure and workings of DNA, RNA, the synthesis and folding of the proteins through which all life’s workings are accomplished. But these intricate processes occur at a level of existence that requires sophisticated techniques to capture, study, and ultimately understand. Joachim Frank has dedicated his career to extending the vision of science to previously unseen layers and depths.

Ever since its invention, electron microscopy (EM) has been one of science’s most powerful tools. Using a beam of electrons to probe matter at infinitesimal scales impossible with light microscopy, it has revolutionized the study of both the living and non-living universe. But it has its limitations, particularly in biology, where the radiation and hard vacuum needed for EM are anathema to living cells. Examining biological samples with EM generally means working with dead cells with a somewhat distorted structure unlike those in their native state. While dead cells are useful, their study doesn’t allow in vivo visualization of living processes. Using the techniques of cryo-electron microscopy and single-particle reconstruction, Frank has overcome these difficulties and accomplished unprecedented feats of structural biology, including some of the most detailed images yet seen of the ribosome and its workings.

The ribosome, the complex molecular machine that translates messenger RNA into functional proteins, has been a central touchstone for most of Frank’s work, both as a testing ground for the development of his microscopy and single-particle imaging techniques and as an object of study in its own right. Because the ribosome lacks the convenient crystallographic symmetry of other biological macro-molecules, it has proven notoriously difficult to fully visualize at high resolution. However, Frank made major strides in overcoming that problem. Devising techniques by which 2-D images from various angles (i.e., “single particles”) could be combined and averaged to create 3-D images, Frank the first three-dimensional images of the ribosome. He went on to develop the SPIDER software suite for the single-particle reconstruction of molecular structures, now used by researchers worldwide. In cryo-electron microscopy, a sample is examined after being frozen in vitreous (uncrystallized) ice, allowing biological macromolecules to be examined in their natural state without staining or other artifacts that can obscure structural detail. Frank used his image processing techniques in conjunction with cryo-EM to visualize the ribosome in action, showing protein synthesis as it happens. Perhaps his most notable achievement along these lines has been his discovery of the “ratcheting” motion that moves tRNA and mRNA through different parts of the ribosome during translocation.

Joachim Frank is a professor of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Columbia University in New York City. His lab is located at Columbia University Medical Center. He is married to Carol Saginaw, a Jewish woman from Michigan.

While I was speaking to him at the Franklin Institute, a guest came by to show him a necklace that she was wearing. The pendant on the necklace was a 3-d model of the ribosome structure which Frank had discovered from thousands of images. Indeed, Frank spoke in the institute’s video of the beauty in nature that can only be appreciated through science. Driving through the forest shortly after his discovery of the “ratcheting” motion of the two components of the ribosome he thought to himself how many trees there were, each with thousands of leaves, each with millions of cells, each with thousands of ribosomes constantly dancing in this “ratcheting” motion as they build new proteins and he felt privileged to have made the discovery which allowed him to be able to appreciate these processes which go on around us and inside us all the time.

Chemistry Award

Harvard Professor Christopher T. Walsh revolutionized “the development of antibiotics for the treatment of disease and provided the foundation for the new field of Chemical Biology.”

Earth and Environmental Science Award

Lisa Tauxe (Scripps, University of California San Deigo) developed “observational techniques and theoretical models providing an improved understanding of the behavior of, and variations in intensity of, the Earth’s magnetic field through geologic time.”


Electrical Engineering Award

Until recently magnetic media stored information “longitudinally” as magnetic signals arranged end-to-end on magnetic disks or tapes. However, technology had already approached the theoretical density limit as nearby magnetic dipoles naturally repel each other making further miniaturization impossible without a new paradigm. Instead, Shunichi Iwaski (Tohoku) and Mark Kryder (Carnegie Mellon) arranged the magnetic signals side-by-side, that is perpendicular to the magnetic media, boosting capacity by orders of magnitude. Seagate commercialized the first PRM hard drive in 2006 and now “virtually all hard disk drives operate with PRM principles”.


Bower Science Awards

Additionally since 1990, the Franklin Institute has bestowed the Bower Science Awards made possible by a bequest by the late Philadelphia chemical manufacturer Henry Bower. The Bower Award for Achievement in Science includes a $250,000 prize, one of the most significant scientific prizes in the U.S.

Edmund M. Clark (Harvard) led in “the conception and development of techniques for automatically verifying the correctness of a broad array of computer systems, including those found in transportation, communications, and medicine.”

William H. George (Carnegie Mellon) was honored for “his visionary leadership of Medtronic Corporation, his promotion and writings on corporate social responsibility and leadership, as well as his extraordinary philanthropic contributions to education and health care through The George Family Foundation.”

Theater Review: “Don Juan Comes Home From Iraq” at the Wilma


Kate Czajkowski and Keith J. Conallen. Photo by Alexander Iziliaev.

The drama Don Juan Comes Home From Iraq now playing at the Wilma Theater tells the story of one Marine’s return home from war and discovery that his lover is missing.  

The play, written by Paula Vogel and directed by Blanka Zizka, is inspired by Don Juan Comes Back from the War, written in 1936 by Odon von Horvath. It is grounded in the experiences of recent veterans, who often return from Iraq and Afghanistan to the U.S., where most of the population has little direct connection with war.

The play addresses post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as pervasive sexual assault on women in the military, but as these subjects are covered by the media, the play does not shed any new light on them. The surreal quality of the narrative, which jumps in time from colonial Philadelphia to the Iraq war, is more confusing than effective.  

More after the jump.
We learn that Don Juan repeatedly forces himself on the women under his command. At one point, Juan comments on how powerless he feels around women in ordinary life: “Only with sex can I reverse the power,” he says to his unit. “Only then can I feel the rush that I feel with all of you brothers.”  

While this is all potentially interesting material for a character, the Juan character, in a fine performance by Keith Conallen, never comes to life. We never learn why he behaves the way he does, and we are left without any catharsis when we see the character homeless in the winter streets of Philadelphia.  

Writing in 2011 in The Tablet, David Goldman had illuminating things to say about the origins of  Don Juan, in a review of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni:

Don Juan was the invention of Tirso de Molina, a Spanish monk from a family of converted Jews. Concealed in its puppet-theater plot is a Jewish joke: Don Juan exists to prove by construction that a devout Christian can be a sociopath, and by extension, that the Christian world can be ruled by sociopaths. The Enlightenment’s most insidious attack on Catholic faith, then, came not from atheists like Voltaire, but from a Spanish monk with buried Jewish sensibilities.  

Although one would be hard-pressed to find anything remotely Jewish about Vogel’s Don Juan, following Goldman’s logic, the play certainly provides plenty of evidence to support the pervasive sociopathology of daily life in the U.S.  

By far, the best thing about this play is the set design. Set designer Matt Saunders and lighting designer Thom Weaver created a sleek black platform that tilts during the show, intended to destabilize the action.  

But this does not make up for the surprising lack of substance, story or character development in this two-hour (no intermission) show.  

At the Wilma Theater, 265 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-546-7824, through April 20. Running time: 1 hour 52 minutes.

Israeli Consulate to Remain in Philadelphia

Mayor Michael A. Nutter received a letter from Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, informing him that Israel’s Consulate General in Philadelphia will remain open.  

It had been reported previously that a decision to close the Consulate General was under consideration. The letter was personally delivered to Mayor Nutter by Yaron Sideman, Consul General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region, at a board meeting of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

More after the jump.
Mayor Nutter said:

Today’s announcement by the Minister of Foreign Affairs is tremendously exciting for the City of Philadelphia, our Jewish community, and the Consulate General. I want to thank Minister Liberman for his decision.

The Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia plays a tremendously important role in supporting our Jewish community and the strong business relationships that exist between Israel and Philadelphia.  

Preserving the consulate in Philadelphia was a true team effort involving the Consulate General, the Jewish Federation, Philadelphia-Israeli Chamber of Commerce, American Jewish Committee and elected officials at all levels of government. I would like to thank everyone involved.  

Congratulations to Consul General Yaron Sideman and the Jewish community in Philadelphia.


Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Tel-Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai.

Last month Mayor Nutter traveled to Israel with a delegation of community and business leaders to strengthen ties between the Philadelphia region and the State of Israel. The delegation stayed in Philadelphia’s Sister City of Tel Aviv-Yafo and was hosted by Mayor Ron Huldai.

The potential closure of the consulate was high on the Mayor’s agenda, and he raised concerns about the possibility with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Peres, U.S. Ambassador Shapiro, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mayor Huldai of Tel Aviv and Mayor Birkat of Jerusalem.  

A wide range of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania elected officials also expressed similar concerns to the Israeli government about the impact of the closure of the consulate.

In his letter to Mayor Nutter, Minister Liberman highlighted the success of the Mayor’s trade mission, the strength of the relationship between Philadelphia and Tel Aviv, and the values shared between the Philadelphia region and the State of Israel.

Consul General Yaron Sideman said:

I laud the tireless efforts made by Mayor Nutter and so many others to keep the Consulate open, efforts that bore fruit in the form of this exciting news.

It is now up to all of us to roll up our sleeves and continue with the task of working together to strengthen the ties between Israel and Philadelphia. The many partnerships that have emerged as a result of the recent the Mayor led trip to Israel are a perfect starting point.

Josh Shapiro’s Letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu

Josh Shapiro, chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, is urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to keep the Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia open. Recently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it is considering closing the consulate.

In a letter dated November 26, 2013, Shapiro wrote that the consulate “is critical to the continuance of the longstanding relationship between the people of Israel and our region.” Shapiro went on to say that the consulate “is of vital importance to our respective nations’ common interests and its continued operation will serve to enhance the mutually beneficial economic and business connection between Israel and our region in Southeastern Pennsylvania.”

In the letter, Shapiro references Netanyahu’s upbringing in Montgomery County during which the future Prime Minister graduated from Cheltenham High School. “The Greater Philadelphia region is an economic hub for Israel, processing 25 percent of Israel’s nearly $20 billion in exports to the United States each year,” Shapiro wrote, adding that the presence of the Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia is integral in that process.

Shapiro is active is many Jewish and pro-Israel organizations in the area. He has traveled to Israel six times, and has met Netanyahu twice.

Getting A Better Return On Our Healthcare Investments

The graph on the right shows how the United States stands out in the world of health care; we spend far more on healthcare than any other country but our life expectancy is lower than most advanced nations.

However, now that healthcare.gov is back online, many Americans have turned back their personal cost-curve on health care. Even Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) was embarrassed by his success in signing up for Obamacare during a big show he orchestrated in order to demonstrate the failure of the website. (According to NBC, a DC Health Care exchange representative actually tried to contact Boehner by phone during the enrollment process but was put on hold for 35 minutes.)

Here is a sample success story from the Los Angeles Times:

Judith Silverstein, 49, a Californian who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2007. Her family helps her pay the $750 monthly cost of her existing plan–which she only had because of federal law requiring that insurers who provide employer-based insurance continue to offer coverage if the employer goes out of business, as hers did. Next year she’ll get a subsidy that will get her a good “silver” level plan for $50.

Three local stories follow the jump.

  • In Lackawanna County, after years of denials because of his pre-existing condition, a self-employed contractor now has better health care coverage for less money thanks to Obamacare.
  • According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a man from Pittsburgh’s South Side man has benefited twice from Obamacare — first with high-risk coverage, then with lower-cost coverage through the exchange.
  • In Philadelphia, Obamacare has cut a diabetic small businesswoman’s monthly premiums by $500 – and that’s before she factors in the tax credits.

Hanukkah Comes To Philadelphia (and DC)

Mayor Michael Nutter joined the festivities as enormous Hanukkah Menorahs were lit at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station and on Independence Mall. The Philadelphia Lubavitcher Center says the Menorah on Independence Mall is the largest menorah in the world.

Happy Hanukkah.

Photo of the Mayor Nutter and the 30th Street Station Menorah by Gabrielle Loeb.

Videos of the National Menorah lighting near the White House follow the jump.

Rethinking Plans to Close Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia

— by Rabbi Neil S. Cooper

Among the wonderful aspects of our Jewish community in Philadelphia is the close relationship we have with the State of Israel.  We do not take that relationship for granted.  It comes as the product of hard work, constant communication and, perhaps most importantly, personal contact. The close personal contact we have with Israel in Philadelphia comes from the warm relationship which we have with the Israel Consulate and, specifically, the Consul General.

I was saddened to receive the news that the government in Israel is considering closing our Consulate.  Understanding the financial burdens which weigh on the State of Israel, I am sympathetic to the need to cut costs in many programs.  At the same time, the work of the Consul General and the Consulate creates the close and warm bond which we feel toward Israel, ultimately impacting positively on Israel’s economy through our support.  We benefit from the Consul and his office through his personal presence at so many of our synagogues and Jewish Institutions.  He provides a friendly and knowledgeable voice for the State when he speaks, contributing strong support for Israel when she is attacked, a voice of reason, warmth and encouragement for those of us who work to support Israel.

More after the jump.
If you feel as I do, please read the open letter from the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce and compose your own letter to be sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, The Office of the Prime Minister, 3 Kaplan Street, Jerusalem.

Please click here to view the online petition against the closure.  

If we raise our voices together, I am confident that we will be heard.    

Kosher Locusts and More at Hazon’s Philadelphia Food Festival


Locust: the only kosher insect.

— by Ronit Treatman

Congregation Rodeph Shalom, which boasts one of the most beautiful synagogues in Philadelphia, will be the site of Hazon’s first food festival in Philadelphia on October 20.

Titled “Liberty, Food & Justice For All,” its goal is to bring hundreds of people across the Jewish community together around issues of food, sustainability and Jewish life, as well as to celebrate Philadelphia’s unique Jewish culture. I invite you to join me for my presentation about locusts, the only type of kosher insect. The more intrepid among you will have the opportunity to taste roasted, spiced locusts.

More after the jump.
Hazon is promoting this event for the community to create connection between our food choices and sustainability on one hand and Jewish identity on another.  The star of this first festival will naturally be the local Philadelphia sustainable food scene, which will be showcased through workshops, tastings, and how-to demonstrations led by Philadelphia based Jewish chefs, foodies, and activists. Participants will be taking part in interactive discussions covering food justice, green living, and Jewish food culture. Pickle making, beekeeping, and sustainable cooking using (CSA) community supported agriculture ingredients are just a few of the topics that will be covered during this day-long event. Local products and delicious, healthy food will be available for sampling and for purchase in Hazon’s Shuk, with items ranging from locally made soap to hand-crafted garden tools.

State Senator Daylin Leach (D-PA), a Philadelphia native, will be in attendance to give the keynote address on (GMO) genetically modified organism foods and labeling in Pennsylvania.  Rabbi Mordechai Liebling of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and Rebecca Frimmer, General Manager of Greensgrow Farms will be presenting as well.

The Festival will take place Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013 at Rodeph Shalom. Doors will open at 9:30 AM and activities will begin with morning services and yoga. To register visit the Festival’s website.

Mikveh Israel: “Synagogue of the Revolution”

— by Mark I. Wolfson

Kahal Kadosh Mikveh Israel, “The Hope of Israel,” is the oldest Jewish congregation in the city of Philadelphia, and the second oldest congregation in the United States. It dates its roots back to 1740 when Nathan Levy, upon the death of his child, applied for a grant of land at 9th and Spruce Streets from Thomas Penn, Proprietor of Pennsylvania, to consecrate as a Jewish burial ground.

More after the jump.
At the time of its founding, the only other Jewish congregation in the United States was Kahal Kadosh Shearith Israel in New York City. That congregation was formed by Dutch Sephardic Jews who were descendants of Spanish and Portuguese refugees of the Inquisition. A number of the early founding members of Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia were from prominent Sephardic families in New York, Charleston, Richmond and Savannah, and though another large number were Ashkenazi Jews, there was broad agreement to adopt the Spanish and Portuguese customs and rite that prevailed in the country at the time. The service and customs remain largely unchanged up to the present time.

Mikveh Israel is called “Synagogue of the Revolution” because the early founding members of the congregation were very involved in the activities that led up to the war, with many of them signing the Non-Importation Act of 1765. Many of the members were very active in the war effort itself, either directly fighting on the American side, supplying the army with food, ammunition, equipment, and clothing, or contributing funds that made the war itself possible and ensured an American victory. After the war, members of Mikveh Israel remained in regular contact with Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and the other leaders who wrote the constitution and shaped the country in its earliest days.