Philadelphia, PA – Kosher Vacation
Philadelphia has quite a few places to visit with the family. My favorites are the Franklin Institute and Please Touch museum. You can spend a day in each. As with many of the posts on this blog, this article is not comprehensive, but merely highlights the places I’ve visited. I welcome readers to add more information in the comments or even contribute your own articles.
The local vaad for kashrus is called the “Keystone K” – you can find their restaurant list here. I don’t have experience at any of the restaurants, but I’ve heard from a friend that some are decent. There are also quite a few shuls in a sizable frum Jewish community in Philadelphia, but, well, you’ll have to look elsewhere for information on this topic. (Philadelphia is more of a day trip place for me.)
Just across the Delaware, the Jewish community of Cherry Hill also has a few kosher restaurants and two litvish shuls and a Chabad with regular minyanim. The vaad is currently called “Cherry K” which has a further list of kosher restaurants in both Cherry Hill and Philadelphia. In Cherry Hill, as far as restaurants go, you’ve got a meat place, a pizza/falafel place, and a bagel place. I’ve been to all three. Let’s just say the bagel place is very good – here’s a link to it on the map.
The other benefit to Cherry Hill are the plethora of hotels just outside of Philadelphia, especially along Route 70, many of which back up onto a nice park. You can get everything from “America’s Best Value Inn” (and worst night’s sleep not in a tent) to the Crowne Plaza … and depending on when you go, the price difference is not that much. I stayed at the Crowne Plaza for about $120/night midweek.
I’ve been going to this place since I was about six years old, thanks to a grandfather who loved science, me who loved sleepovers at my grandparents, and the close proximity to the museum. I’ve gone twice with my own kids and spent a day there without seeing and doing everything. We did not even need to pay for the “extras” like the Omnimax movie and the like.
The full size train in the basement is still there, though it no longer moves. The pendulum spanning three flights of stairs is still there . . . and it still moves with the tilt of the earth. The heart that you can walk through, following the path of blood, is still there. A lot of everything else seems to have been updated, and it does have the obligatory “feel bad you evil human who is destroying the Earth” section that every natural history and science museum seems to require. I can do with less of that. Then there’s are great sections like the human body where they have live dissections, and shows with liquid nitrogen and hydrogen, and the electricity section which is great(, but nothing compares to this section at the Boston Science Museum).
This ‘museum’ can be better be destroyed as a children’s play place on blown up to astronomical proportions. It started out in a two story storefront in downtown Philadelphia right next to the Franklin Institute (which turns out is now an art gallery owned by a Jewish man with four grown kids – make sure your GPS has the updated address, though he did give us kosher chocolate covered almonds, so…). The current location is massive, being the size of a museum. It’s got loads of play places including optical illusions, a fake weight room, instruments, ride on vehicles, a train set … it just goes on. You start in the center and go one direction or the other. At the end of that side, you go down the stairs and across the basement level … then back up to the other side of the first floor. Like the Franklin Institute, your kids are more likely to tire before you can do everything in one day.
My friend, Brian Silvey, wrote a whole article about it over here for this blog. I haven’t been there since I was about 12, but I remember it being a very nice zoo.
Here’s a picture of the Liberty Bell. You’re good. Move on.
Independent Hall … well, they made it look like the painting with the dark green table clothes and high back chairs. If, like me, you watched the movie, 1776 in school when the teacher didn’t feel like teaching that day, you get that, “wait, I’ve seen this somewhere before…” feeling when you see the staircase where Jefferson and Franklin sang their duet over who should draft the Declaration in the movie. Otherwise … here’s a picture, move on.
My children re-enacted Boxer’s rebellion after Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. On that Philadelphia trip, we did not visit the Constitution Museum as planned. We took a carriage around the square. They liked that. (Why was there a war with lots of death over taxation without representation, anyway? That doesn’t seem very just … this idea was put into my head by a R’Avigdor Miller shiur … but seriously, I really do appreciate the United States.)
Now for “The Museum of Jewish History” … from the perspective of … well, the museum took over an old TV station building. in their main gallery, they honor Barbra Streisand and Isaac Meyer Wise, move on. I have not visited and really don’t intend to do so any time soon. A religious friend of mine described it as a museum dedicated to the assimilationist experience, lauding mostly people who happen to have Jewish ancestry, but did nothing with it. Well this is arguably better than the only bigger Jewish museum in the U.S. that I know of, the Holocaust Museum in Washington (which I have visited twice) about how we died, this isn’t exactly a museum about what it means to not only happen to be Jewish, but about why we’re Jews in the first place. For that, we don’t find Judaism in a museum. We live the Torah and make it part of how we live our lives.
There’s an indoor water park in West Berlin, NJ about 20 miles outside of Philadelphia. It’s a place with some smaller slides, lazy river, and that sort of thing. Every Chol HaMoed they have a day split between men’s and women’s hours with a large Sukkah outside (which fills up at meal times). Jews from everywhere between Brooklyn and Baltimore are there, being about a two hour ride for each. I’ve been there twice and had very different experiences. One year, they had washing cups, proper tznious, it was packed, and there were long lines for food. Another year, no washing cups were to be found (but hey, you’re in water park … you can find a kli somewhere), the towels covering the windows weren’t doing such a good job, and the crowd was much, much smaller. One year they enforced no kids in the over-sized hot tub, another year no one said a thing. It’s worth going to at least once in your life.