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News and Op/Ed

Daylin Leach: Minyan Maker In Harrisburg
Proposed new Pennsylvania license plate design. (Photo: Flaura Winston.)

by Rep. Daylin Leach (Pennsylvania's 149th Legislative District)

When I was elected in 2002, I became the tenth Jewish legislator in
Pennsylvania. Thus, because of me, we now had a minion in Harrisburg. We could theoretically get together to daven three times each day. And although we never actually have (I said "theoretically") it was empowering to know that we could.

Flush with this newfound sense of power, we set about to make state government more overtly Jewish. Of course, when I say "we", I should note that the other nine Jewish members were not actually with me on this. In fact, some of them actually formed a committee to find a non-Jew to convert, so that they could have a minion that never meets which did notinclude me. Nonetheless, I lifted my head high, started humming "I am Jewish, Hear me Roar" and set about changing the world. 

I considered a number of different proposals to launch my Make-Harrisburg-Jewish ("MHJ") initiative. I introduced a resolution declaring that the official state cookie be the hamentash. Sadly however, in what I considered to be a slap in the face, the House chose the Chocolate-Chunk Ham Cookie instead. I next tried to introduce a resolution honoring Esther's father Mordecai. But there was some confusion because of a previous resolution I had introduced honoring my Uncle Mordecai for teaching me how to cook smelts.

I also tried to inject a little of my heritage into the work-a-day world of the legislature. For example, whenever a lobbyist for the hazardous sludge industry would buy me dinner, I would say the
Motse. Also, I would go light on the lobster. I also tried to use Yiddish in some of my floor debate. Although I learned fairly quickly that the Speaker of the House did not take well to being referred to as "Meshuggana

Finally, I settled on the idea of trying to get at least one Jewish holiday recognized as an official state holiday, like all of the major Christian holidays are. This seemed only fair. But which one? Yom Kippur was too somber, and legislators are not big on either fasting or atonement. For a while I was big on having Pennsylvania recognize Tu B'Shevat. When some representative from Cambria or Pike County would ask what Tu B'Shevat was, I would simply reply "It's the Rosh HaShanah for trees, silly". 

I even organized a huge rally in the capitol rotunda for my Tu B'Shevat bill, although admittedly having the rally under the 60 foot high Christmas tree did distract from the message. But that did not really matter because no one actually showed up at the press conference except for a writer from Sushi! Magazine who misunderstood the press release. 

But I persevered. After equally unsuccessful attempts to gain state recognition for Rosh Chodesh Sivan, The Month of Av, and "Beer Day" (I briefly went in a different direction), I settled on the joyous holiday of Purim. What better day to make an official holiday? The schools and banks would close. Appliance stores would hold big sales, and families would gather in public parks to play with noisemakers, boo Haman and listen to a P.Diddy concert. 

Unfortunately, I have not yet been successful. In fact I learned quickly how many impediments there are to good things becoming law in Harrisburg. First, the Chairman of the "Minority Religions and other Pagan Groups" Committee refused to support the bill. Then the "Sons of Haman" weighed in, and they have a lot of clout in Harrisburg (who knew?) Soon thereafter, the chemical lobby came out against my bill because it failed to adequately promote the use of any dangerous toxins whatsoever. Finally, the entire Republican Party accused me of being a Democrat and said they could never support any legislation under those circumstances. 

Although Purim is still not an official holiday, some good did come of my efforts. First, I did manage to get Uncle Morty's Smelt Bill passed. Also, my Purim bill has become a very effective "poison pill". When anyone wants to kill any major proposal on gambling or property taxes, they just slip in the Purim Amendment and the bill dies. Finally, I learned a lot about how Harrisburg really works, and I will use that knowledge to get my latest proposal to change put "Pennsylvania, the Simchas Torah State" on all automobile license plates by the end of the year. Happy Purim