By Joseph Fisch
On May third thirteen hardy souls from Northeastern Pennsylvania traveled by bus to the state capitol on an adventure designed by the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition in cooperation with the Jewish Federation on Northeast Pennsylvania. The purpose of the Mission was threefold: to attend the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 2011 Civic Commemoration of the Holocaust, to spend a day on the hill and to tour the Capitol.
The NEPA group was a congenial mix, young and mature of varied backgrounds and political persuasion. It was a learning experience.
Civic Commemoration of the Holocaust.
The Holocaust Commemoration, a collaboration of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, took place at 11:30 a.m. at the Main Capitol in the Governor’s Reception Room. The venue was magnificent and the program was impressive.
Rabbi Ron Muroff of Chisuk Emuna Congregation, Harrisburg recounted the life of a survivor who recently passed away setting forth the lessons he learned from the ordeal he had endured and demonstrated how it guided his charitable and socially conscious conduct during the balance of his existence.
We heard from our new Governor Tom Corbett whose heartfelt words made it clear he understands the reasons we must commemorate the Holocaust.
We were impressed by the quality of vocalist Susan Levitan’s a cappella rendition of Yiddish partisan songs and joined with her in singing Zog Nit Keynmol with an emphasis on mir zaynen do! (We are here!)
Senator Michael Stack and Representative Babette Josephs presented the Senate and House Commemoration Resolutions respectively.
President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, Joseph B. Scarnati III, and Speaker of the House, Samuel H. Smith addressed the assembled with thoughtful messages as did the Reverend
Sandra L. Strauss, Director of Public Advocacy of the Council of Churches who delivered the Interfaith Message.
The dual highlights of the program was the lighting of the candles by Holocaust survivors Freeda Lederer, Fira Kaganovsky, Rose Mantelmacher, Kurt Moses, our Sam Rosen, Samuel Sherron, and Sandy Sternberg as well as the reading of the winning Schwab Holocaust Essay by young Samuel Rosen who attends the Susquehanna Twp Middle School.
Many of us are aware of the amazing story of privation, tragedy and survival our Sam experienced and no doubt each of the other candle lighters have equally compelling narratives. It was an honor to be in their presence.
All speakers stressed that we can never forget what happened in the Holocaust to
Jews simply because they were Jews and to others because they opposed the Nazi Regime or because they did not conform to the racial criteria it espoused. A lesson of the Holocaust directs us to oppose genocide in all forms whenever and wherever it occurs.
It was particularly gratifying to listen to young Samuel Rosen read his essay and recognize his grasp of history and its present day relevance. It was also interesting that he bears a similar name to a survivor (our Sam Rosen) and underscores the fact that not only are we here now but will be here in the future. Mir zaynen do!
Day on the Hill
The day on the hill allowed us face time with an impressive array of persons from the legislative and executive branches of our state’s government. They were articulate, and demonstrated they are seriously considering the daunting issues facing the state, the most prominent of which is the fiscal crisis. It appears that ultimate goals are similar but the means to the end differ reflecting the philosophical differences of the majority and minority. The point was made on a number of occasions that the commonalities are greater than divisions and there are opportunities to work together if the rhetoric can be softened and demonization of the opposition can be avoided.
The morning session was devoted to the Legislature. It began with a Welcome by Senator John Blake (22nd District). Senator Blake is an impressive newly elected Democrat representing the Scranton area. Lieutenant Governor James Cawley followed him. The obvious collegiality across the aisle evidenced by these two individuals was impressive boding well for cooperation.
We then heard from Rep. Dan Frankel, Chairman of the House Minority Caucus (a former chair of the PJC) and Democrat Rep. Josh Shapiro providing a reality check.
The afternoon Session was devoted to the Executive Branch. We met with Secretary Duke of the Department on Aging, Martin Raniowski, Deputy Secretary, Department of Health, Amy Morton, Executive Deputy Secretary, Department of Education, and Todd Shamash, Governor Tom Corbett’s Deputy Chief of Staff. Todd’s provenance includes ancestor flight from Iran and Europe with Ashkenazi and Sephardi antecedents.
The speakers all set forth their goals and invited questions and comments from our group and provided attentive responses to our queries.
This was an opportune time for our visit. The current administration had been in office approximately 100 days. Those in new positions in the executive branch and newly elected in the legislative branch appear to value collegiality and constituent contact. If that is the case we should not be shy in making a case to them regarding issues of importance to us while understanding the constraints of a significant deficit. They listened to the public to get where they are and public input likely will not be ignored.
Kyle Mullins, the personable legislative director for Senator John P. Blake, stewarded the mission at the Capitol. We traveled to the 4th floor of the Main Capitol and arrived at the House of Representative Minority Caucus Room for the morning session with Legislators. We then were led to the Governor’s Reception Room for the Holocaust Commemoration Ceremony on the 2nd floor of the Main Capitol. Thereafter we went to Room 14 in the East Wing of the Capitol for the afternoon session with the Cabinet representatives.
After the sessions we were led to the Senate Chamber in which we were allowed to wander the floor (the Senate not being in session at that particular moment) and then we entered the Rotunda. Adjectives fail to do justice to the magnificence of the Capitol Complex, which we observed moving from place to place. One could only conclude that the Capitol’s reputation as the most beautiful state capitol in the U.S. is well deserved.
This trip provided an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of our State Capitol and to underscore the understanding and openness of our elected officials to the concerns of the Jewish Community (which are in fact concerns of the community at large). Our access in large part is a result of the work of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition and its Executive Director Hank Butler in educating our State Officials regarding our issues.
When the Federation schedules another Mission to Harrisburg it should not be missed.