The Reverend Paul Adler, installed just last summer as rector at the Episcopal Church of Saint Alban in Roxborough, Philadelphia prays for people who come across him seated and collared in the nearby Starbucks coffee shop. An occasional customer is drawn to his table by the license plate size "FREE PRAYER" sign atop it. When he's not engaged in an impromptu prayer session, he will address email correspondence or work on sermons. A medical student seeks God's help with medical exams about to begin. A young woman who has a newborn child and also a very ill, hospitalized mother-in-law seeks prayer for her family. Adler believes that prayer is a way of spending time with God and spending time with God is worthwhile, even if prayer doesn't always work in the ways supplicants are expecting. Watch video here.
Minister Betty Jones Alston was paralyzed from the waist down this January due to multiple sclerosis which she was diagnosed with in 1990. She had begun dropping things and attributed it to being very busy and worn down directing a food ministry and prison ministry, but it was not so.
But she is walking again and on a recent chilly spring day, she was methodically making her way down the steep entrance steps of the J.S. Jenks School after a meeting about her grandson, a student. She placed her three-footed aluminum cane on the step below her before taking each step.
Also afflicted with lupus, Minister Alston credits her faith, positive attitude and taking control of her body for enabling her to continue to lead an active life. She also sings gospel but due to a recent illness, was not able to sing in the accompanying video.
It appeared that Rabbi Yitzchok Gurevitz’s faith in the accuracy of the weather forecast was rewarded last evening. Skies cleared just before the public lighting of a large Hanukah menorah at 6:30 pm on a grassy area beside Chestnut Hill Plaza at the bottom Germantown Avenue above Cresheim Drive.
Twenty some people such as Norm and Leah Schwartz of Mount Airy who brought their granddaughter, braved the near freezing temperatures and driving winds which had blown out the afternoon’s rain and sleet, to celebrate the first night of Hanukah. As Gurevitz, leader of Chabad-Lubavitch of Northwest Philadelphia, lit an oil wick candle, they sang prayers to mark the beginning of the eight-day Jewish holiday that commemorates the successful revolt of the Jews against the Syrian king Antiochus in 165 BCE in Judea and the rededication of the Temple that had been desecrated at his orders.
Hanukah is a special holiday, Gurevitz explained, because Jews are called upon to observe it not just in the home but outside with the community at large. (In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court got involved in the national Chabad movement practice of lighting menorahs in public places made controversial by the constitutional mandate of separation of church and state, when it allowed a public display in Fountain Square, Cincinnati)
Referring to the case, Gurevitz emphasized the menorah as a symbol of freedom for all people and interprets the freedom message at a personal level- “the freedom to be the best that we can be, the freedom to be the most we can be.”
At the conclusion of the ceremony, a celebrant placed a large boom box atop his car parked in the adjoining driveway and broadcast festive Chanukah music as those gathered huddled against the cold, schmoozed, and enjoyed latkes (traditional potato pancakes) with hot cider.
For the next week, one additional electric candle will be lit every day in reenactment of the Chanukah story that oil found in the reclaimed Temple, sufficient for only one day, miraculously lasted eight days. Electric current is coming courtesy of Yu Hsiang Garden restaurant next door.
“When certain events take place like this festival of Hidden City or different things like that. I don’t know if you’re part of Occupy but it tends to bring people out of the woodwork and put them in a certain space where they can share their talents and creativity. And my experience with these types of things is that it lends itself to a tremendous new and refreshing hope for mankind, for the state of affairs in the world. Because the tendency is to think we are all alone in our own head and even if we do come up with some positive ideas on what to do we feel pretty helpless because what can I do by myself.
When different things happen and people come together, we stand to get a tremendous new inspiration. And actually, ‘I can do something, I do count and there’s other people that think the same as I do.’ If we put our talents and our efforts together we can really make some difference.
I’m a yoga instructor. I teach yoga meditation and music is a big part of what I do. Because music and something that’s called Kirtan, sankirtan which means the congregation and glorification of the supreme joy of life. So basically, just like your drumming circle, same type of principal. People come together and they selflessly express themselves in such a way that the overall effect is that everyone feels a tremendous upliftment the environment becomes uplifted the community, neighborhood, like that. Just imagine if we could have this on a worldwide scale, every day then the whole planet the whole, the karmic pattern of the whole planet earth will be changed, will be uplifted.
It is possible. We don’t have to simply go down into the muck of gross materialism.”
Andy Autrey, a resident of the Hill House in Chestnut Hill, has long been in professional sales – cars, life insurance – and now is pitching subscriptions to the Philadelphia Inquirer. His engaging approach at the Flourtown Walgreen’s won your correspondent over to re-upping with a subscription. An on-the-spot Walgreen’s gift card and the fact that disadvantaged youth will be treated to a Phillies game as part of the promotion clinched the deal. Autrey considers his sales work part of his mission as an associate minister involved with youth programs at the Embracing Truth Church in West Philadelphia. Watch video here.
A passerby sat down and engaged in a long conversation with Dwija Mani, a Brahmacari monk of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, who was camped with a display near the Chestnut Hill news stand. Mani is visiting Philadelphia for a couple weeks from the Rupanga Vedic College in Kansas City, Missouri. He related that the passerby, with whom he conversed in Arabic, was from Afghanistan but now lived nearby and, after talking, expressed an interest in bringing his mother to the Hare Krishna Center on Allens Lane in Mount Airy. Mani was just a child during the eighties when scandals rocked the Krishna movement and believes the religious order has now matured. He says he intends to devote his life to his faith. And who could deny his easy smile and the happiness he professes? Watch video here.
Rashid Abdul/Majid, a practicing Muslim, turns to his Arabic language books during breaks in his substitute-teaching class schedule on a recent day at Parkway Northwest High School in Mount Airy. He is currently studying Arabic, taking one class on the Arabic language- grammar and sentence structure, and another, called Tajweed, on how to recite from the Koran. A recently retired driver of 38 years with SEPTA who has been simultaneously substituting for many years, he loves to travel around the world and has visited China and many countries in Africa. During the upcoming March spring break, with his wife and son, he is taking a return trip to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Watch video interview here.
In Bethlehem, because there was no room at the inn, in a barn Mary had just given birth to a baby boy named Jesus, weighing in at 8 pounds 2 ounces. Wise men guided by the north star brought gifts of gold incense and myrrh. Baby Jesus was wrapped in white linen and in this reenactment of the nativity scene by members of the Conshohocken PA Methodist Church, wore earmuffs because of the cold. Watch video here.
The West Philadelphia Orchestra entertained an enthusiastic and dancing crowd of youngsters and oldsters for a Chanukah celebration at the Philadelphia Museum of Art on a December Friday night as part of the museum’s “Art After 5” program. The West Philadelphia Klezmer Orchestra, an offshoot of the band, played primarily Klezmer, East European celebration music, for the occasion. What began on a West Philadelphia porch in 2006 as a mostly string ensemble playing Macedonian tunes, Romanian ballads and Jewish folk songs has evolved over the years into brass instrument Balkan band playing Serbian and Gypsy melodies and its own versions of these genres. Watch video here.
Bishop McDevitt High School Admissions Director Christopher Seifert smiles recalling the memory of former schoolmate Daniel Sweeney. The young Philadelphia firefighter died from injuries suffered battling a blaze in a vacant building in the city's Kensington section. Sweeney, a junior when Seifert was a senior, was so quiet around school, that Seifert was surprised when Sweeney assumed the lead role of Prince Charming in the musical Cinderella they were both acting in. Sweeney's mother still teaches at the school and his youngest sister just graduated. There will be a memorial service at the school with the family in the next month. Wyncote, PA. Watch video interview here.