Jewish Tours of Greater Philadelphia
ABOUT AJC HISTORIC TOURS
Did you know that many of the familiar stops on a Philadelphia sightseeing tour have a Jewish connection? AJC tours have been exploring these links, entertaining groups of children and adults since 1976. Filled with information, humor and a little exercise, our tours can be customized for everyone's taste. We can design a tour for your time frame and age group, ranging in length from 2 hours to 2 days. Individual travelers, small groups, or larger groups are all welcome.
Below you can find descriptions of two of our popular 2-hour walking tours. Longer bus tours and all-day outings also available.
To book a tour or to request further information, please contact us at: AJCHistoricTours@googlegroups.com
We look forward to hearing from you!
I: "The City Grows North"
In the mid-nineteenth century, thousands of Jewish immigrants began to join the great European migration to the United States, and many made Philadelphia their new home. These German speaking Jews created a world along North Broad Street that included synagogues, schools, social clubs and more. As newer, Yiddish-speaking immigrants arrived the German Jews began moving further north, bringing their institutions with them. The masses of Americanizing children of Russian Jewish immigrants created neighborhoods a trolley ride away from their South Philadelphia roots in Strawberry Mansion, Logan, West Oak Lane, and the Northeast. Customizable bus tours can include the nineteenth and early twentieth century sites of North Broad Street including the historic Congregation Rodeph Shalom, the oldest Ashkenazic congregation in the Western Hemisphere, and former and current synagogues and Jewish neighborhoods in the northern sections of the city. For a mid-twentieth century experience, tours can include the Jewish suburb of Elkins Park and a tour of national historic landmark Beth Sholom, architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s only synagogue building.
II: “Jews in Penn's City”: Colonists to Citizens of a New Nation
Meet the earliest Jewish Philadelphians. William Penn's “Holy Experiment” welcomed immigrants of diverse religious faiths, and soon a small but vibrant Jewish community established itself in the “City of Brotherly Love.” It included men like Barnard Jacobs, the horseback-riding mohel, whose surviving journal listed names of circumcised infants and contained detailed drawings of his implements, and women like Rachel Phillips, an indentured servant who was once found crying while scrubbing the streets because she was forced to work on the Sabbath. Their stories and many others are highlighted as we walk the Historic District and follow the journey of the community as it strives for prosperity, respect, and full political rights, while trying to preserve Jewish identity and wrestling with assimilation. Also explored are relationships between Philadelphia Jews and prominent founding fathers like Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and Benjamin Rush, as well as the response of the community to dramatic events like the American Revolution and the writing of the Constitution. And learn why on one never-forgotten day in 1788, the lawn in front of famous Bush Hill mansion was filled with tables of food for the Philadelphia public – including one with a kosher buffet.
Sites visited include the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Franklin Court, Elfreth's Alley (where homes still stand once occupied by multiple 18th C Jewish households) and the Mikveh Israel Synagogue, the city's oldest Jewish congregation, dating back to 1740.
III -“The Jewish Quarter”
From the 1880's through the 1920's the area between Spruce and Christian Street and 2nd and 6th was the Philadelphia equivalent of New York's famous Lower East Side. With South Street as its main business artery, into this neighborhood poured the Eastern European Jewish immigrants of the era. Here Yiddish Theater flourished, as did literary societies, newspapers, and Jewish-owned businesses. This walk begins at the Mikveh Israel Cemetery with an introduction to early Jewish life in the Philadelphia, and then continues to explore the rest of the “Jewish Quarter”, pointing out sites of former bathhouses, shuls, newspapers, theaters, stores, social service buildings, union halls, banks and hospitals, as well as visiting the still-active Society Hill Synagogue and Congregation Bnai Abraham. Discover oft-overlooked gems like the Rebecca Gratz Club, a four-story Italianate limestone structure originally built as a home for poor immigrant women, now converted into modern apartments. Hear about the dramatic Kosher butcher strike of 1911, the ongoing debate over the origin of the first hot-dog roll, and which short-lived local newspaper used to publish articles by Sholom Aleichem.
Simmi Hurwitz is a former Philadelphia school teacher who has been leading Jewish historic tours since 1976. She has a long association with both the National Museum of American Jewish History and Mikveh Israel Synagogue. Her love of history is surpassed only by the love of her family. It has been a lifelong passion and the learning has never stopped. Every tour is a new opportunity to convey knowledge and excitement about our history.
Joella Clamen is a certified member of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides. She has served as a docent at the Physick House, Powel House, Christ Church, and Christ Church Burial Ground. Currently she works as a tour guide at Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, home of the oldest prison-synagogue in the United States. In her spare time, she leads walking seminars of Philadelphia's Historic District for Context Travel in addition to AJC historic tours. Joella has blogged about early Philadelphia Jewish history for the “Times of Israel” and has contributed biographical sketches to an education resource chronicling the lives of New Jersey citizens affected by the American, Revolution.
Jerry Silverman is a certified member of the Association of Philadelphia Tour Guides. He has a Masters Degree in Jewish Education, and has taught Hebrew and Judaica at numerous institutions including Gratz College. Jerry served as the High School principal of Temple Beth Sholom in Cherry Hill, NJ, as well as the Educational Director of Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel. Since 2009, Jerry has been giving tours as part of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, including developing a special Jewish-themed tour. He is a founding member of the Museum of American Jewish History and is on the boards of The Little Shul and Congregation Rodeph Shalom.
Dr. Michael Schatz is a career Jewish educator, having taught and led schools in both synagogue and community settings, taught graduate students in Jewish education, and served as national president of the Jewish Educators Assembly. He holds an undergraduate degree in Jewish Studies from Vassar College, two Masters degrees, in Elementary Education from Arcadia University and in Jewish Education from Gratz College, as well as a doctoral degree in Jewish Education, also from Gratz. A fifth-generation Philadelphian, Michael traces his interest in local Jewish history to the stories from his family and loves to share the story of our community with learners of all ages.