Tel Aviv’s sister city in the USA

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Tel Aviv’s sister city in the USA

Often overlooked, Philadelphia should be on your must-visit list

William Penn towers above the city of Philadelphia
William Penn towers above the city of Philadelphia

New York, Los Angeles and Orlando may be the US cities we Brits flock to, but somewhat neglected Philadelphia should be right up there too. I arrived there feeling unexpectedly perky. The direct flights from London being full, I had taken my second choice, which involved a brief stopover in Ireland. Dublin is one of the few worldwide hubs that operates US immigration. This meant that on landing I could go straight though the airport, avoiding those notorious stateside queues.

The Liberty Bell

Philly is sister city to Tel Aviv since 1966. Both cities have been sites of declarations — the US Declaration of Independence on 4 July 1776, and the Israeli Declaration of Independence on 14 May 1948. The sixth largest city in the US was founded in 1682 by William Penn, an English Quaker. He was given the land, favourably situated between the Schuylkill  and Delaware Rivers, because the English king owed a debt to his wealthy father. It became really significant in the 18th century as the central meeting place for the nation’s founding fathers. Their plans and actions inspired and resulted in the American Revolution and here, at the second Continental Congress, the Declaration of Independence was signed. Penn’s statue on the top of City Hall looms over the city, and for almost 90 years an unwritten gentleman’s agreement forbade any building from rising above his shiny bronze hat.

A great way for tourists to familiarise themselves with the main sites in this attractively laid- out metropolis is to ride the ‘hop on and off’ Big Bus Tour. One of the 27 stops is Love Park,  home of Robert Indiana’s iconic, eminently instagrammable LOVE statue. Other stops include the Barnes Foundation, which is one of the world’s greatest collections of impressionist, post-impressionist and modern art, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and the Philadelphia Museum of Art whose steps featured in the film Rocky (part of Sylvester Stallone’s training regime was to run up them at speed).

With my head full of new experiences, I grabbed lunch at the Reading Terminal Market which dates from 1893 and offers a convenient way to try a huge range of global cuisines, ranging from Amish stalls that offer fresh foods from nearby Lancaster County to Hershel’s huge matzo balls and hot deli sandwiches, where the meat is carved to order. The queue was long, as befits an eatery such as this in as city with a Jewish population almost double the size of that of London.

Israeli-born chef Michael Solomonov, the famed restaurateur, is the owner of Zahav, one of the most popular restaurants in Philadelphia. I wish I could write a review but to get a table it is necessary to book many weeks in advance  – and sadly I never got there!


The most famous synagogue is in the middle of Independence Park, a position which underlines its historical significance. Mikveh Israel is known as The Synagogue of the Revolution because of the active role played by its many members in the founding of the United States. It is the oldest continuous synagogue in America and dates back to 1740.   During the War of Independence, Jews from New York, Richmond and other cities fled to Philadelphia, seeking refuge from the British.

The Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History started in the synagogue building but since 1976 has had its own grand premises on the Independence Mall.  On the fourth floor is a letter written in 1790 by the first President of the United States, George Washington, replying to a request from Jewish leader Moses Seixas. In the letter Washington confirms that religious liberty in this new country is an inherent national right.  At a time when tolerance was the highest expectation for most Jews, this was a gamechanger. Seeing practical evidence of history makes it come alive and it was also a  privilege to see this original correspondence in a Jewish Museum, as many other places could have housed this important artifact of early American history.

Mural Arts Program

Jane Golden, founder of Mural Art Philadelphia  – a charitable concern – is a well-known Jewish Philly resident. At one time a huge number of walls in this city were covered in graffiti but in a miraculous turnaround instigated by Jane these spaces are now inspiring, vibrant art displays. Specialised tours explain how residents of under-privileged neighbourhoods can blossom by engaging in large visual art projects.

“I think that doing my job has actually put me more in touch with my Jewish faith than almost anything else has,” says Jane. “My involvement is tied to Judaism’s notion of giving back, installed in me by my parents”.

Jane’s organisation provides consulting services all over the world and countless developers have approached her, expressing their gratitude for revitalising their neighbourhoods.  Statistics show that students involved in Mural Arts programs have higher rates of graduation.






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