...the Airplane Interview - Philadelphia to Rome
by Andrea Tornielli
"We received some news a few weeks ago that we can share with you today. As announced by the Vatican early this morning, Philadelphia has been confirmed by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, as the host city for the Eighth World Meeting of Families. The official dates set for this gathering are September 22 - September 27, 2015. This marks the first time an American city has hosted the World Meeting of Families and we're deeply grateful that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has been selected for this honor.
I'll also be working closely with two public leaders who represent our City and our Commonwealth with distinction. It's my pleasure to announce that Governor Tom Corbett and Mayor Michael Nutter have kindly accepted my invitation to serve as the Honorary Co-Chairs of the 2015 World Meeting of Families. Philadelphia's Catholic community is very, very grateful for their support. I look forward to traveling with both the Governor and the Mayor to Rome in the next several months, after the election of the new Pope, for briefing sessions with the Pontifical Council for The Family. I'm also very pleased that Mayor Nutter could be with us today despite his very busy schedule.
I'm happy to answer questions in a bit, but now I'd now like to introduce the Mayor of our wonderful City of Philadelphia and an Honorary Co-Chair of the 2015 World Meeting of Families, Michael Nutter."
"Too often in the past we have lived like a branch which denies its root. The Christian faith is rooted in the Jewish people. In turning away from them, in persecuting G-ds chosen people down through the centuries, in ignoring or cooperating in violence against Jews especially during this century, too many Christians - including Catholics, and most shamefully, even some ordained to do G-ds ministry within the Church - have betrayed the Gospel and been a countersign to its message of redemption and love.”
"On this last evening of Hanukkah [feast of lights], I greet the Jewish community ". in humility and with the love of a younger brother in faith."
In 2005 I served on the official U.S. delegation to the Cordoba conference on combating anti-Semitism in Europe. This was sponsored by the OSCE – the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. During the conference, I worked with the ADL to offer a session on American Catholic efforts to teach our young people about the Holocaust. I’ve also been part of an annual dialogue between European Catholic bishops and American Orthodox Jewish leaders through Yeshiva University in New York. So my experience with the Jewish community over many years has been a blessing.
...For Catholics, Nostra Aetate was revolutionary. It opened the possibility of a dialogue of equals; a dialogue of mutual respect. One of the vital things Vatican II did for Jewish-Catholic affairs was to point Catholics back to their own origins. It's impossible to pray over the Word of God in Scripture and ignore the Jewish roots of the Catholic faith. The more deeply a Catholic encounters Scripture, the more contradictory anti-Judaism becomes.
Nostra Aetate bore good fruit. When John Paul II traveled to Yad Vashem 13 years ago and expressed his sorrow for "the hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place," he did it for two reasons.
First, it's the truth, and justice requires that the truth be spoken. Only in speaking the truth, can the sinner become free. Second, by his witness, Pope John Paul gave an example to the entire Church about how to live the Christian vocation, not just in relationship to the Jewish people, but to the whole world.
My point here is that the Church since Vatican II genuinely desires to renew the spiritual life of her people—and that can't be done without real repentance and conversion. So I believe we really are living a new and unique moment in Catholic-Jewish relations. And Catholics will never be able to go back to the kind of systemic prejudice that marked the past.
...As unaware as many Catholics are about the Jewish roots of their faith, I suspect that at least some Jews would be happy just to have the Catholic Church go away and leave them alone. And that flows both from painful historical memories, and from Jewish apprehensions about the Church as a kind of religious corporation with institutional power.
For believing Catholics, the institutional side of the Church is probably the least important part of their faith. The institutions are necessary in the way a skeleton is necessary to support the muscle and organs of the body. But that's not where the soul resides.
The Catholic soul resides in prayer and worship, in service to others, and in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I'm not sure Jews always see that, or even try to see that, in their understanding of the Church.
…But in our dialogue with the Jewish community Catholics soon discover that being Jewish—depending on the Jewish dialogue partner—can have a religious definition, or a cultural or ethnic definition, or some combination of all of three. And being genuinely Jewish may or may not include a belief in God.
...Aside from the obvious fact of rejecting anti-Semitism, Vatican II has two legacies crucial for our time together today. The first is the Catholic recognition that God’s covenant with the Jewish people is unique, permanent and fruitful in its own right. It can't be rendered null by any other religious claim or revelation. The second is that all people have a right to freedom of conscience as persons created by God—and that freedom implies the right to be free from being forced into accepting what they don't believe to be true.
Mayor Michael Nutter is set to touch down in Israel Nov. 7, and many in the local Jewish and business communities are hoping the visit takes the relationship between the City of Brotherly Love and the Jewish state to the next level.
Nutter, who left the country late last week to stop first in the United Kingdom, said in an official statement: “In a competitive global environment, cities cannot afford to sit back and wait for companies and investment to find them.
“Mayors must be aggressive,” he added, “in going out and finding opportunities, championing their cities, and that’s exactly what I intend to do in the United Kingdom and Israel. I am particularly excited about the opportunities created for the Philadelphia companies that are part of this delegation.”
The trip will include meetings with Israeli entrepreneurs and political leaders such as President Shimon Peres and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. The itinerary was put together by the Philadelphia Commerce Department with input from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the Israeli Consulate and the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce.
Nutter’s visit comes amid reports that Israel’s foreign ministry is debating closing down the Philadelphia consulate, which has made bolstering economic ties with Israel and Philly a major priority.
While visiting the Jewish state has been seen as part of the job description for recent New York City mayors — the Big Apple has long been home to the country’s largest Jewish population — a sitting Philadelphia mayor hasn't visited Israel since Mayor Wilson Goode went in the 1980s.
From the time he was elected in 2007 after winning a hard-fought five-way primary, Nutter, an African-American, has expressed an interest in visiting Israel. Behind the scenes, Jewish and business leaders have leaned on him to do so, and he has often replied he was waiting for the right moment.
“For six years, he has been hearing this from me,” joked Robin Schatz, Federation’s director of government affairs and a participant on the mission. “We are hoping he is going to go back as a private citizen or even as mayor again. We are hoping to showcase Israel and its achievements.”
A spate of financial crises and other issues — most recently the enormous deficit faced by the school district of Philadelphia — have made it a potential political risk to stray too far from home.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last month that some politicos were criticizing Nutter for going abroad while facing so many challenges at home.
Some tax dollars are indirectly being used to fund the trip. Select Greater Philadelphia, an economic development and marketing organization that receives a little less than 10 percent of its $3 million annual budget from the city, is covering travel costs for Nutter and the other city officials.
Everyone else on the trip is covering the expenses privately.
Street, the former mayor, told the Inquirer, “These missions seemed to be more the purview of the state and required an awful lot of follow up, which was not practical for local governments in my judgment. I was more bothered that they would ultimately amount to little more than ‘junkets’ with no direct measurable benefit to the local tax-paying public.”
But David Hyman, a local American Jewish Committee board member who this past summer traveled to Israel on a trip led by State Sen. Anthony Williams, and also included City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, said, “Elected officials are always subject to this sort of criticism.”
Hyman, who is returning to Israel with Nutter’s delegation, said, “No one can question that the mayor’s priorities are the issues before him here at home. But the world is getting smaller and building ties among friends across the globe” is part of a mayor’s job.
“It doesn’t have a short-term or tangible benefit like filling a pothole or getting trash removed,” Hyman said of mayoral trips abroad. “It is important that our leaders have visions that go beyond that and beyond the mayor’s own term.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia will host Nutter for a Shabbat dinner at the Renaissance Hotel in Tel Aviv and lead him on a tour of the Old City in Jerusalem, as well as Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial. He is also slated to attend a VIP reception with the Jewish Federations of North America, which is holding its annual General Assembly in Jerusalem at the same time. He is also slated to visit the grave of Michael Levin, the Bucks County native who died in the 2006 war with Lebanon.
The mission will be split between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which for decades has had a sister-city relationship with Philadelphia.
According to Schatz, Marwan Kreidie, who is the founder of the Philadelphia Arab-American Community Development Corporation and a political science professor at Villanova University, is not part of the delegation but he is slated to join Nutter on a tour of Bethlehem. Nutter is expected to meet with Bethlehem’s mayor, Vera Babou, as well as Palestinians with ties to the Philadelphia area.
Schatz said the Arab-Israeli conflict will invariably come up, but the goal is to keep discussion of the conflict to a minimum on a trip that is first and foremost about business.
Leaders of Drexel University and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia are also part of the mayor’s delegation and are expected to take part in an announcement of a joint endeavor with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
While it is not clear how many business deals will get inked on the short trip, participants said the visit will lay the groundwork for more economic cooperation.
“Clearly, the mayor’s visit sends the right signal that Philadelphia is open to the Israeli business community,” said Randy Schultz, who is taking part in the trip and is the founder of America-Israel Business Lab, a company that helps Israeli firms commercialize their technology in Philadelphia.
Josh Cline, who heads a strategic marketing firm with offices in Philadelphia and Tel Aviv, said the trip “is going to raise Philadelphia’s profile in Israel.”
Cline, an executive board member of the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, added, “Israel has amazing entrepreneurs. The challenge for a lot of Israeli companies is coming to the United States.”
More than 30 city officials and business and civic leaders will be part of Mayor Michael Nutter’s delegation in Israel.
Participants include: Nancy Gilboy, president of the International Visitor’s Center; Seth Vogelman, trade representative for Pennsylvania; Brian Said, director of tourism for the Philadelphia Convention and Visitor’s Bureau; Alice Solomon of Select Greater Philadelphia; Drexel University’s president, John Fry, and vice president, Julie Mostov; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia president Steve Altschuler and CHOP’s vice president of government affairs Peter Grolman.
The businesses leaders are: Steven Bradley of the African American Chamber; Josh Cline of the Cline Group, a marketing firm; Cliff Goldstein of the Amidex Mutual Fund; Michael Maher of Benjamin’s Desk, a shared workspace; Steven Nitchberger of ControlRad Systems, a biomedical firm; Michael Brown of Environmental Construction Services; Bruce Brownstein from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School; Randy Schultz of the America-Israel Business Lab; Michael Kelsen of MIRO Capital Partners, a private equity firm; Manish Ingle of NovaProbe, a medical equipment manufacturer; Mark Pinsley of Robin Hood, an investor group; and Wayne Kimmel of 76 Capital.
Other civic leaders participating in the mission or parts of it include Robin Schatz, who directs government affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia; Gail Norry, a Federation lay leader; John Saler, who chairs the Philadelphia International Airport Advisory Board; Beth Cohen, past president of the Philadelphia-Israel Chamber of Commerce; David Hyman, who is deeply involved in city politics and has long served on the board of the American Jewish Committee local chapter; and Rabbi Lynnda Targin, a rabbi who lives in Philadelphia.
In addition to Nutter, the city officials slated to attend are: Alan Greenberger, deputy mayor for economic development; Rina Cutler, deputy mayor for transportation and utilities; Luke Butler, Greenberger’s chief of staff; Desiree Pterkin-Bell, director of communication; Shinjoo Cho, director of international investment; Lauren Walker, a mayoral aid; and Kaitlin Privitera.
I had the opportunity to hear the mayor of Philadelphia speak about his recent trip to Israel today. He went as a part of a partnership between Philadelphia based venture capitalists and those in our sister city of Tel Aviv. But for him this was more than a business trip.
He told his "Jewish Story." He was raised a Catholic. His family was the first black family to move into the North Philly neighborhood in which he was raised. By the time he was seven, there were only three white families left, one of whom was the neighborhood pharmacist -- a nice Jewish man -- for whom he worked all throughout high school and even into his freshman year of college. While he was working at the pharmacy his grandmother was working at the deli. Between the pharmacy and deli Mayor Nutter learned everything he need to know about being Jewish and in his own way, he connected.
He was very close to his grandmother(who worked the Deli). Despite being in all other ways fierce, she was deathly afraid to fly, but she always told him that if she had a chance to fly to the Holy Land she would do it because G-d would not let her die on the way to the Holy Land. She must have told him that 1000 times and he never forgot it. He promised himself that if he ever got the chance to go to Israel he would go for his grandmother. When the opportunity was presented to him earlier this year, with his grandmother's voice still in his head he said "yes."
The Mayor only spent a few days in Israel, but they were packed with sights and networking and meetings with politicians and entrepreneurs and everyone in between. On his last day he went to the Kotel, the western, or wailing, wall. Still hearing his grandmother's voice, he took out his business card and wrote a note for for his beloved grandmother, and put the note in the wall, as is the custom. At that deeply personal, sacred moment, a man walked up to him and tied a red string around his wrist telling him that the red string would protect him from "evil and bad things." (The red string comes from the practice of Jewish mysticism drawn from the Kabbalah. A decade or so ago. the practice of Kabbalah and red strings became very popular with the Hollywood set, the most vocal of whom was Madonna- the pop star.)
The Mayor lifted his arm and to show us that he was still, weeks after his trip, wearing the red string and then went on to tell us that as he was he was leaving the Kotel he saw a man selling yamulkes. He stopped long enough to notice there was only one maroon colored yamulke --his grandmother's favorite color -- and he bought it. And so our black mayor now wears a read string on his wrist and has a maroon yumulke in his car "because 'you never know when you'll need a yamulke."
‘The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision on marriage is not a surprise. The surprise will come as ordinary people begin to experience, firsthand and painfully, the impact of today’s action on everything they thought they knew about marriage, family life, our laws and our social institutions. The mistakes of the court change nothing about the nature of men and women, and the truth of God’s Word. The task now for believers is to form our own families even more deeply in the love of God, and to rebuild a healthy marriage culture, one marriage at a time, from the debris of today’s decision.’
Philadelphia, April 8, 2015 – Mayor Michael A. Nutter issued the following statement regarding his support of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered rights and against the passage of “Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA)” laws across the country:
“In recent weeks, we have been reminded time and time again that not all men and women are treated equally in the United States. A report by the Human Rights Campaign issued last month showed that across the country, more than 85 anti-LGBT bills have been introduced in state legislatures. Of those bills, two Religious Freedom and Restoration Acts have passed: one in Arkansas and one in Indiana. These bills, which have been the focus of much debate and media attention, hide prejudice behind claims of religious freedom and endorse discrimination rather than support the rights of all Americans.
I look forward to a day when mayors no longer need to take individual action to protect the rights of citizens, but until that day we must continue to take action. Cities cannot allow the rights of its residents to be trampled by the wishes of a few close-minded individuals. I want to encourage mayors and citizens to stand together against this kind of discrimination and work together to ensure that all men and women are treated equally.
Philadelphia is a city founded on the tenets of acceptance, diversity, tolerance and religious freedom. We have, for hundreds of years, worked to ensure every citizen and visitor experiences a welcoming city, the true embodiment of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.
And over the last 30 years, our city has built a tradition of equality for all, no matter a person’s religion, race or orientation, amassing strong policies and protections for our LGBT community, like trans-inclusive healthcare and life-partner recognition. For our commitment to fairness and support of LGBT rights, the Human Rights Campaign ranked us the number one city for LGBT equality two years in a row. We are proof positive that cities can support, embrace and protect LGBT rights even when its state does not.”
“The Fourth of July is typically a day of celebration, barbecues and fireworks, but it should also be a day of contemplation of our great nation’s democratic values like freedom, justice and equality for all —which will provide the perfect backdrop to reflect upon the gains made by the LGBT community since the very beginning.”
Yesterday evening, Mayor Michael Nutter officiated the wedding of Elad Strohmayer, deputy consul general of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region, and his fiancé, Oren Ben-Yosef, in a ceremony in the Mayor’s Reception Room at City Hall.
Nutter conducted the one-hour service with the help of Rabbi Michael Beals of Congregation Beth Shalom in Wilmington, and shared a rather poignant remark about how far we've come on the marriage equality front:
Today would not have happened if the laws in Pennsylvania had not changed just last year. ... Today we are more in line with William Penn’s thinking 330 years ago. Pennsylvania was established as the only place in the world where people could worship any religion freely. The fundamental principles of human rights, tolerance and understanding were definitely on his mind. Clearly, Philadelphia and Tel Aviv share these principles. For that reason, I am so very honored to co-officiate this ceremony and bring our two sister cities, Philadelphia and Tel-Aviv, together. Even though it’s taken about a hundred years, I am happy our society values inclusiveness and true love so these two men, and any two people, can truly love each other freely.Beals offered an equally touching sentiment:
Conducting this ceremony means the world to me. ... Not only because Elad, and his bat shert Oren, are such lovely people. But also because of what it symbolizes for the state of Israel: the fact that Israel is a safe place for gay people is an important message at this time of such international intolerance. The fact we can do so many great things in one ceremony is great! I feel terribly honored to have conducted this service today.The ceremony was described in a release from the Mayor's office as being a "uniquely intertwined Jewish-civil service that nodded to the rich history of Judaism alongside more modern customs of a LGBT wedding." The grooms read their vows to one another, which I hear included several references to their love of Disney World.
"On Monday, Dec. 16th, 1929 (exactly 85 years ago to the day), a Philadelphia Yiddish Newspaper reported that a day before – on Sun, December 15th, 1929 at 12:45pm – there were cries of “baruch haba” from a crowd of 3,000 strong who were gathered at 30th Street train station to greet Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneershon, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rabbis and dignitaries, along with Mr. Thather, Mayor W. Freeland Kendrick’s assistant secretary, greeted the Rebbe and invited him to in the name of Philadelphia to visit Independence Hall. There, from President Washington’s chair, he was invited to bestow his blessing to the American Republic.
The Rebbe later related in his diary many details of this trip; regarding the parade to Independence Hall he wrote: “A few hundred other cars followed us. All the streets were closed and we traveled with a police honor guard (unlike in the past, the one that brought me to Spalerna [prison in the USSR]).
...After the Rebbe’s remarks, he placed a wreath of flowers beneath the liberty bell. Before placing it, the Rebbe aid, “Liberty based on faith is the most proper and the strongest.”"
"It was only 41 years ago, in 1973, when under the Rebbe’s direction the world’s first public menorah was displayed in Philadelphia across from Independence Hall. From the Rebbe spread the practice to all corners of the earth. Today, Menorahs are displayed and lit from Red Square to Martin Place in Sydney [this year it was cancelled], from the White house with Vice President Joe Biden to Philadelphia with its current Mayor, Michael Nutter."