Prominent Philly Jewish culture center, The Gershman Y changes name, mission

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The Gershman Y traces its origins back to the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA), originally formed in 1875 to serve as a cultural, educational, and social meeting place for the Jewish community. (Gershman Y)

The Gershman Y traces its origins back to the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA), originally formed in 1875 to serve as a cultural, educational, and social meeting place for the Jewish community. (Gershman Y)

The Gershman Y has occupied the building at Broad and Pine Streets in Philadelphia for 94 years, back when it was called the Young Men’s Hebrew Association. Now, it is moving out of the building and changing its name.

As the newly renamed Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, it will focus solely on movies — doubling-down on its film programming at the exclusion of all other cultural offerings.

The change is immediate. Before today, the Gershman Y had offered many cultural opportunities, including visual arts, music, lunchtime history lectures, klezmer dance lessons, and the popular Latkepalooza – a Hanukkah latke bake-off contest.

Board chair Jacob Cohen says the most popular is the annual Jewish Film Festival.

“In our opinion, we were doing really wonderful programming — visual arts, music — but we felt that the film programming was unique in that we were presenting that on a higher level,” he said, giving particular praise to artistic director Olivia Antsis for elevating the status of the festival.

The newly rebranded Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival will screen international film year-round, with a big push in the late fall when the festival has normally occurred. The Gershman will program ancillary events like panel discussions and talkbacks with authors and scholars about the films’ content.

There are a lot of other Jewish organizations in the city with a range of cultural offerings, and Cohen says the longevity of the Gershman depends on focusing its resources more narrowly.

“Our goal is to sustain the organization and serve the community and city forever,” said Cohen. “We felt that by making this transition, this is the best way to continue to have a long life and serve the community.”

Cohen says the organization has not yet found its new home. The Young Men’s Hebrew Association building at Broad and Pine has been owned by the University of the Arts since 2000, and the Gershman’s lease is up. Cohen does not yet know if the new location — wherever it is — will have room for public events or just office space for coordinating film screenings.

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