July 9, 2009


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Book Festival: A promising start

This weekend, Chestnut Hill will embark on an exciting new enterprise: a three-day book festival.

This ambitious undertaking, the first of what organizers hope will be an annual event, will kick off this Friday with a reception at Valley Green Bank before it fills the Avenue with more than 70 authors who will read from their works, sign books for sale and participate in panels on everything from local history to mystery novels. In addition, would-be writers, amateurs and pros can participate in workshops and poetry slams through the weekend.

I’d hesitate to say there’s something for everyone — makes me sound a little too much like a carnival barker — but I think the phrase applies here. There is literally something for every taste and level of interest, so long as that interest is in the written word.

A book festival is a perfect fit for Chestnut Hill. This neighborhood and those next to it — Mt. Airy, Wyndmoor and Lafayette Hill — are populated by many well-educated and well-read residents. If a book fest can’t work here, it’s hard to believe it would work anywhere. What other neighborhood paper could be home to Hugh Gilmore’s “Enemies of Reading,” a column about a life concerned deeply with writing and books.

Another asset of the neighborhood is its roster of resident authors. Nationally known authors in the festival — Buzz Bissinger, Witold Rybzcynski, Elijah Anderson and Tamar Chansky — all live in Chestnut Hill. It’s hard to imagine any other locality with fewer than 10,000 residents boasting so much talent.

Like many sections of Philadelphia, Chestnut HIll is a neighborhood conscious of its history. It is not necessarily “backwards looking,” but it is a neighborhood committed to preservation and tradition.

Like antique Belgian block pavers, Colonial-construction and Victorian furniture, the art of books — the whole industry of publishing — is an antiquity. It is something to be preserved.

A celebration of books is itself an act of preserving tradition.

The Chestnut Hill Business Association and the many others involved in the committee that organized this event deserve a lot of credit for getting this off the ground.

The talent they were able to attract for this first event suggests that this is the start of something truly remarkable.

Pete Mazzaccaro


Independence Day Thoughts:
Support the workers who make this nation great

They have signed on in record numbers. From the Alliance of Baptists and American Baptist Churches USA to the American Friends Service Committee and American Islamic Conference, from the National Baptist Convention to the National Council of Churches, from the Sikh Council on Religion and Education to the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, from the Jewish Labor Committee to the Catholic Labor Network — religious groups one after another have indicated support for the Employee Free Choice Act.

Add to that Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of the Brethren, and United Church of Christ bodies, Episcopalian, Evangelical, and other religious leaders, and you see the kind of broad-based support for labor that decades ago characterized many elements of the faith community, which during the Progressive Era took a leading role in supporting worker rights.  Locally, Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity and the Jewish Labor Committee co-sponsored a meeting of religious leaders to affirm support and urge them to follow up with Senator Specter, an original supporter of the legislation who has recently expressed concern over some of its provisions. To his great credit, he sent representatives to the meeting who spoke of compromises needed to assure passage through a Senate paralyzed by the threat of the filibuster (ah, for the days when the filibuster was used only occasionally and then required speaker after speaker to actually speak, not just threaten to!). Neighborhood Interfaith Movement (NIM) signed on to the Act, and as I sat at the local clergy meeting, I recalled two prayers used in Reform synagogues when I was a child — words that inspired me to pursue social justice in all my professional work:

May we never be tempted to profit by impoverishing and degrading the lives of others. Make us realize the wrong of letting others hunger while we are surfeited with the bounties of nature.How much we owe to the labors of our brothers! Day by day they dig far away from the sun that we may be warm …

The middle class in America today is under siege, not least because of the diminishing number of unionized workers and workplaces. Labor’s weaker condition has made possible the enormous gap in pay between top management and line workers. That gap is symptomatic of the excesses that led to the current economic crisis, especially hard on workers. The Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) would allow workers to decide if they want to form a union, free from fear of reprisal. It would require employers to bargain after the workers obtain a simple majority on duly signed and authenticated union authorization cards and provide real penalties for violations of the law.

Some have expressed concern that the EFCA eliminates a “democratic” aspect of the current law, namely, a “secret ballot.” Current law requires both the signing of union authorization cards and a “secret ballot,” between which some employers intimidate workers, a tactic about which many workers have testified under oath.

The current process is reminiscent of the conditions that have given rise to anti-harassment laws, aimed at redressing the unequal power between those with authority and those without. I am well aware that some reading this column may believe that religious leaders have no right speaking out in favor of (or against) legislation. I also know that opponents of unions have some legitimate concerns about tactics and perspectives.

But this past year certainly reminds us that human nature is such that we must safeguard against abuse of power by those with the means to wield it detrimentally. Millions have been hurt by the excess greed of a few, and while those harmed include upstanding citizens of wealth who gave of themselves and their bounty to others, the vast majority experiencing terrible loss are from the middle and lower economic strata, many with nowhere to turn for help but to underfunded agencies hard put to keep up with increased demand.

Even unionized workers, active and retired, are feeling the crunch, but those without a voice are especially vulnerable. An America celebrating the birth of freedom should be ashamed of the growing number of citizens who are unemployed, uninsured and even unhoused. History proves that organized workers fight to overcome such disabilities.Those with an ear to Scripture will surely recognize these Divine expectations:   

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave …… or the stranger in your settlements …… Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt …… therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:13-15)”You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, but you must pay him his wages on the same day, for he is needy and urgently depends on it.” (Deuteronomy 24:14-15)

To Contact Senator Arlen Specter and indicate your position on the Employee Free Choice Act, use the form at  or send a letter to 600 Arch Street, Suite 9400, Philadelphia, PA 19106. To reach Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr., use the form at  or write to him at 2000 Market Street, Suite 1870, Philadelphia, PA 19103.

Rabbi George Stern is executive director of Neighborhood Interfaith Movement (NIM), a coalition of 60 Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Unitarian congregations and faith institutions dedicated to building a more just and sensitive community through learning, service, and advocacy.


Local columnists possible headliners at Book Festival

“If all the others don’t show up, and you do, you might not do so bad.” — Bubby Dutsie.

Back in February, as I first started seeking an agent for my novel, Local humor writer Jim Harris began quietly assembling a collection of his funniest columns. Shortly after, he invited me, my wife, Local columnist Janet Gilmore, and the “other” Local humor columnist, Mike Todd, to contribute some of our own work to the book. The result of our collaboration is provocatively titled Local Humor. Jim, Janet and I will sign copies at the Chestnut Hill Book Festival this weekend.

We’re really looking forward to meeting all three of our fans, so come on down to the book tent at 8200 Germantown Avenue where McGarrity Ford used to be. That’s right across the street from the Chestnut Hill Hotel, where the Writers Workshops led by Philadelphia Stories will be taking place.

The date: Saturday, July 11 — 12 to 2 p.m.

When Jim first asked me to add my “two cents” to this comedy-book-of-the-century I at first thought I had nothing to contribute. I mean: I’m not funny. Not the way that Jim is. Or Mike. Or Janet. They’re deliberately funny. Their intention is to get laughs. But not mine. That’s not my thing. Sure, I get laughs, but I get them unintentionally. Of the four of us, I’m the serious older brother. Or uncle. Grandfather maybe? I get the Karaoke-type laughs — you know the ones that come when “that guy up there really thinks he can sing.”

Jim decided that the best way to get the job done was to invite everyone to take equal shares in the book. In practical terms that meant each of us coughed up 25% of the fee to sign a contract with the publisher.

“So Jimmy me boy,” I sez, “How much would that be in dollars?”

“Oh, Hughy,” sez he, “a mere $600.00 — but the guy says he’ll let us have the deal for $500.00 if we sign the contract by Monday.” This was on a Thursday.

“But Jimmy,” I sez, “Why’s he in such a hurry? Did ya hear the sound of his motor runnin’ as he tried to sell it ta you outta the back of his van?”

“Tush,” he says, “this is the real deal. He’s serious. I’m all for signin’ and saving the 25 bucks.”

The idea of a deal prevailed and we signed. My household’s share was $250.00. And for that princely sum, we got the right to open our wallets and close our eyes till Simon Says otherwise.

Next, we each had to pick seven of our previously-published columns to include, ones we thought were funny and well-written. That was easy for me, since I’m the funniest banana in the bunch, ha ha.

After that, Jim bugged us each to write a brief bio, a sort of comical self-description. As Señor Wences used to say, “Easy for you. Difficult for me.” Unlike the others, I made some things up.

Other than that, Jim did all the work. I went back to chasing the American Dream of having my novel published and the others returned to being their funny little selves. Then suddenly, the publisher had copies ready for us to purchase.

Purchase? For $500.00 we don’t even get a few free copies?

“No,” sez Jim. “This is a privilege they’re givin’ us...” Etc.

Janet and I, ambitious souls, ordered 54 copies. That cost us $384.00. You do the math. If we keep a few and sell 50 copies at the Chestnut Hill Book Festival at the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price of $13.95, will we make any money on the book?

I know, you’re thinking: If I come to the tent and Jim has brought his pile, trying to recover his costs, and Hugh has brought his pile, trying to recover his costs also, and Janet brings hers, whose book shall I buy?

We all talked it over and we decided you should buy mine. Really. Ask Jim. No, don’t ask Jim. Take it for granted that Jim wants me to feel happier and more successful at the end of the day than he does. Really. He’s that way. Special. He’ll even sign the copy you buy from me. Fortunately, Mike Todd won’t be there or we wouldn’t have a chance. He’s really funny. His fans are legion. I mean Legion, as in devil-worshipping. Just kidding, Mike and his wife Kara just had a baby boy and can’t quite arrange a trip to the festival this year. He just wrote to tell me that on the book moved from 230,058 to 46,393 in “All Books” over the weekend, and up to #93 in the category “Books/Entertainment/Humor/ Parodies.” A notch above Dave Barry!

I guess you want to know what kind of book this is. Here’s the blurb Jim wrote (as it appears on

Product Description

Chestnut Hill Local columnists Mike Todd, Janet Gilmore, Hugh Gilmore, and Jim Harris, have not only survived in the troubled and struggling newspaper business, they have amassed a devoted following of fans who shower them with lavish presents like scrapple, bowling balls, and money from Nigerian bank accounts.

Until recently, their columns were available only to the readers of the Local, but now you, too, can “LOL” as:

Hugh warns of the “Enemies of Reading.”

Janet remembers old friends, old flames and ex-coworkers.

Mike deals with wrens, ferrets, and a pregnant wife in his house.

Jim dispenses dubious advice and rails against the system.

“They each have their own style and shtick, but they share a love of language and an innate ability to find the humor in everyday life. Not since Ben Franklin dined alone at the Mermaid Inn has Chestnut Hill seen such a concentration of comedic talent. Here, from among their hundreds of articles, hand-picked by a rigorous process of “One potato, two potato,” is a rollicking roundup of mirthful monologues for your gracious consideration.”

A book destined to grace bathrooms throughout the land.

If you miss seeing us at the Chestnut Hill Book Festival book tent, Local Humor is available online or by order through Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and, in theory, Borders. We’re currently trying to make it available in bookstores also.

Enjoy the Book Festival.


CHCA is a grassroots organization for the whole community

My vision of your CHCA is of a grassroots community organization wide open to all and listening to all, with bylaws we scrupulously observe, but functioning always insofar as is possible in a facilitative manner, empowering others to act for the benefit of the whole community. That vision is now reality.

We your CHCA own and publish your Local to print news of our community with all responsible opinion freely expressed in our Forum. Through your Community Fund we own your Town Hall on Germantown Avenue. We employ 20 dedicated people, including those skilled men and women who work in producing your Local.

We have additional assets of more than $167,000 and a budget well over $1 million with in addition well over an unrestricted $540,000 in our Community Fund now safeguarded by active qualified trustees held for the improvement here in Chestnut Hill of the quality of life.

We have structure, as we must, but we are never so caught up in structure that we miss the essential fact that we are always a grassroots community organization.

From those grassroots, we have a board of 41 dedicated volunteers, 32 of them directly elected by you the community, with the others chosen by organizations and institutions serving the community. From those grassroots, we have scores of other dedicated volunteers, and we reach out to you to be yet more, serving our community on 30 committees that carry out that many programs for you and our community.

Of all of those programs I shall begin to write on July 23. They include, by the way, the wonderful Pastorius Park Concert Series, a summer delight, drawing more than 500 people, most of them residents, here each Wednesday night, still continuing, to which I invite your family.

I read from Jen Reed in the Forum of our July 2 Local of the second meeting, June 24, of the Chestnut Hill Residents Association (CHRA), in which 15 people gathered to discuss what they could do to help our neighborhood. I am a Chestnut Hill resident who was intending to join CHRA. Searching on the blog, which Jen cited, I see no entries since February, none allowing me to join and none telling of the meetings in May and June.

Searching further under CHNU, I find that to join I should e-mail CHCA board member Susan Pizzano, which I did, thereby joining. I also found nothing on its June 24 gathering of 15, but did find a posting on its May 6 first meeting by a gentleman who is not a resident, which was in no way positive that included diatribe and personal attack and failed to discuss real neighborhood concerns and how to meet them.

I trust that whenever it posts something on its June 24 meeting it may be positive and include real neighborhood concerns and insights into ways to address them. We in CHCA are wide open to all and will take fully into account whatever CHRA may have to suggest.

We are the Chestnut Hill community organization. Because we are now wide open to all and are listening to all, we need to know from all what concerns them and to listen to them about their positive ideas. To be honest with you, although I joined CHRA, I see no need for a separate association of residents. We in CHCA represent, are accountable to and serve you the residents of Chestnut Hill.

However, that is not my call. People have the right to join together for constructive purposes in organizations as they see fit. And we in CHCA have the duty to listen to and to work with them. They are therefore scarcely rivals, but rather groups with which we may cooperate for the benefit of all our community.

  By far the most important event of this month is the inaugural Chestnut Hill Book Fair this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. You can see the superb schedule of events, many involving many respected published authors, on the pages of our Local and updated on .

They include events all around Chestnut Hill, some right on the Avenue, and some for children and young people. This wonderful event speaks not only good of Chestnut Hill but also truth of Chestnut Hill. Many who reside here are, or aspire to be, serious writers.

Others of us in our everyday work labor to write clearly and cogently. I do here, although I can scarcely lay claim that our column be high literature. All of us — readers, writers, and erstwhile writers, and all of our families of all ages — will enjoy this delightful three-day event. Let us all fully support it to make it but the first of many annual Chestnut Hill Book Fairs.

We in CHCA are already planning the December 5 Holiday House Tour of five splendid holiday-decked Chestnut Hill homes. Plan now for it as an event your family will not want to miss.

Your CHCA Budget and Finance Committee will meet at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday evening, July 14, in your Town Hall. Feel free to attend. To that important committee, on June 25, your board confirmed these new members: Tolis Vardakis, Bob Rossman, Cathy Pimpinella, David Mansfield, Dina Hitchcock, and Steve Fillebrown. Your Treasurer Mark Keintz chairs this important CHCA committee.

We, in your CHCA, deeply appreciate the three articles and the editorial touching upon our work that appeared in your July 2 Local. They give but a glimpse, but an important one, of our work.

We move forward, in company with CHBA, on the very important CHBA committee on the health and development of Germantown Avenue from Mermaid Lane all the way up to the Top of the Hill, including commercial storefront vacancies. About this, I wrote in depth last week.

This enterprise was born in our June 25 CHCA board meeting. I completed my 15 appointments as CHCA president to this committee. All are residents. Eleven are members of your CHCA board. Eight are neither commercial lessors nor developers nor realtors nor local business people. Like most of us, they are simply residents, a most significant “public component.

In addition, I have proposed to Greg Welsh, as CHBA president, the following: (1) Not all meetings of this important committee need discuss proprietary information, such as I have publicly explained in detail, although clearly some must. I suggest that some of our meetings be open to the public, with notice seven or more days in advance of such meetings published in our Local. (2) I suggest that this committee issue interim reports to the public on the progress of our work and the direction of our work, those interim reports to be published in our Local. We all understand that the community has every right to learn what we are doing and that our work to be fully effective must involve our whole community.

Contact Walt Sullivan at