In 1876, when B'nai B'rith was only 33 years old, it commemorated America's centennial celebration by commissioning a statue, Religious Liberty, in Philadelphia that represented tolerance and religious freedom.
Nearly 140 years later, some things never change, as the statue remains a landmark in Philadelphia and B'nai B'rith International continues to promote education, religious freedom and tolerance for all groups.
With Pope Francis scheduled to visit Philadelphia this weekend, and address religious freedom in the vicinity of the statue, Religious Liberty was the subject of an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Read excerpts from the paper, below:
A statue representing religious freedom and immigration stands at the site where Pope Francis will deliver a speech on those themes.
It stood in Fairmount Park for more than 100 years before being moved to the grounds of the Jewish history museum in 1986. In 2010, the statue was moved again, down the block to the museum's current location on Fifth Street and Market.
The statue was crafted by prominent Jewish sculptor Moses Jacob Ezekiel, a Confederate soldier during the Civil War. He was the first Jewish cadet to attend the the Virginia Military Institute.
Ezekiel carved the sculpture from Carrara marble - Michelangelo used the same marble for his Pieta.
"The place to go to study was Italy, even [for] Moses, who was the first big American Jewish sculptor," said Cheryl Kempler, B'nai B'rith's archivist.
Immigration is an important topic for both the Pope and B'nai B'rith, according to Daniel Mariaschin, B'nai B'rith international executive vice president.
Mariaschin said B'nai B'rith sent a delegation to the Vatican in June to discuss with the pope religious liberty and the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
"Our organization grew in this country as a result of immigration," Mariaschin said. "The pope's visit, with all this coming together, it is important."
Project H.O.P.E. works with the community family service agencies and local Jewish social services and with B’nai B’rith members and synagogue volunteers. Jewish organizations provide the lists of people who need packages and the facilities for collecting, storing, and packing the food. B’nai B’rith volunteers assemble and deliver the packages. Begun in New York, the program has spread to Boston, Philadelphia, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.
Last year in Philadelphia, 540 families received Passover food.
As a once a year Mitzvah Project, the Sunday before Passover, deliver Kosher for Passover food to our most needy, elderly and isolated Jews in the Philadelphia Region. The Project involves planning, fundraising, and volunteers to ensure success annually.
Murray Shusterman began practicing law in 1936, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House - and he hasn't stopped working since.
Today, at age 101, he travels each day from his Bala Cynwyd home to his Center City office at Fox Rothschild, where his work has focused on corporate and real estate law.
"What? Retire? Sit in a rocking chair and wait to die?" Shusterman said in an interview. "All my life I've been active."
The price of longevity, Shusterman said, is that the people you love disappear. All his oldest, dearest friends are gone. Their spouses too. And his brother and two sisters.
His wife of 65 years, Judith, died in 2005. Choosing her casket was a trauma.
So what keeps him going through the trials of aging and into work each morning?
"Stubbornness," said Philadelphia architect and attorney Robert Shusterman, 72, one of Shusterman's three sons. "He keeps pushing himself as hard as he can, and tries not to complain about things. He has a determination, a will to overcome impediments."
"I did all the good things and all the bad things that a young fellow does," Shusterman said. "Except I had wonderful parents, and they gave me a sense of morality and generosity, and I've always acted accordingly."
Only 54,956 people in the United States are 100 or older, according to Census statistics. That's 0.0002 of the population. By comparison, people 65 and older account for 13 percent of all Americans.
Centenarians as a group are overwhelmingly female (82 percent), usually white (83 percent), and increasingly urban. Their numbers are growing, up two-thirds between 1980 and 2010.
His involvement in Jewish causes ran deep, as chairman of the city chapter of Friends of Ben Gurion University, and in leadership positions at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia and the local affiliate of International B'nai B'rith.
He's journeyed beyond the average 77-year life expectancy of American men. But he doesn't fear death. He's planned his funeral and picked a coffin, not wanting his sons to bear that duty.
Pressed to name the best moment of his life, and the worst, Shusterman declined to do either.
"There's no such thing," he said. "A person has many experiences over time, some good, some bad. . . . The real secret is to be decent, to be fair, and to be forgiving - now and then even a friend will do something that annoys you. And don't take yourself too seriously."
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