The year 2013 was one of upheaval and resolution for what this website calls the Cherry Hill session. Dancing has been resolved but we thought this might be a good time to look at the history of the session. But, before looking at this, the photos dd show the session returning to dancing under the new aegis of Sharon Polsky pictured bottom left{ with an early arrival|restart/restart16}.
Given the changes over 2013, our editors thought it might good time to document how this session came to be. This involves a discussion of three institutions - Beth El, Temple Beth Sholom and the Katz JCC - and three individuals - Naomi, Jody and Don Schillinger. Of course, there is now a seventh name, Sharon Polsky, mentioned above. We've displayed pictures circa 1998-2002 for the six mentioned.
While there apparently were some attempts at Israeli dance sessions before 1999, around that time Don Schillinger decided to establish an Israeli dance class in the Cherry Hill area of Camden County, New Jersey. Don was also at the time trying to establish a weekly Israeli dance class in the near Philadelphia suburb of Bala Cynwyd. He set Mondays for Bala Cynwyd and Tuesday for the Cherry Hill session. We understand there was a first attempt to locate the session at the Katz JCC, at the intersection of Springdale and Kresson, but this failed for several reasons including rugs on the floors of the rooms where the dancing was scheduled. This would have a natural choice given that this JCC had become a hub of activity since its construction in 1997.
Historically, the Katz JCC's origins extend back almost a century to the time of the First World War. ddd you can see the first attempts at this, the creation of the first YMHA in Camden indicated by the article. These clips from the newspapers of the time can be found (and we have copied where necessary) on a very interesting web site,, which chronicles activities on many levels in Camden over the years. The Y indicated here would succumb to financial pressures during the great depression and be revived as a JCC in Camden's Parkside area (south of the Admire Wilson Parkway) in the early 40's before moving to its present location in 1996.
So Don turned to another facility with ties to Camden's Parkside section (We've provided a map of Parkside as found on the Internet) to house his fledging session. This would be the Beth El synagogue. In 1919 this synagogue was organized in the same Parkside area just discussed. By the 60's the synagogue was ready to move east and relocated into Chapel road next to the Jewish Geriatric center on the same block.
The Beth El synagogue is a greatly respected institution. Part of this comes from the activities of one of its Rabbis, Henry Kellman. Rabbi Kellman paid significant attention to the creation of a Hebrew school housed at the synagogue while in the Parkside area. Even before the synagogue moved, (and certainly in the new building as the school moved with the congregation) the school became somewhat independent in 1958 and was designated as the Kellman academy. It now serves children through junior high from its new location in Berlin, NJ under the name, The Kellman Brown academy.
Anyway, it is into this newer building of Beth El, eventually to be known as Beth El West, that Don relocated and held a weekly Tuesday night Israeli dance session until the first week of Febuary, 2002, when he relinquishes the reins. This would be a good place to discuss geography. If you don't know the area, talking about Cherry Hill would seem to indicate the entire township of Cherry Hill. But geographically it is a large area. As Don found out at that point, and others would find out in the future, the Cherry Hill area splits itself up into East and West. This Beth El building is situated in the West and the regular dancers of this session at the time were West oriented. In a few years this would change completely. For those not familiar with this Jersey geography, we've included a map. The top left pointer (white dot) indicates the location of the Beth El West building. The red dotted marker represents the Katz JCC. Can you figure out from this map what would seem to be the unofficial boundary between East and West? It is probably the combined New Jersey Turnpike, US295 super highways.
For the first time, but not the last, changes in responsibility force the leader of this session to look for a replacement. Sometime late in 2001 Don sends out an Email soliciting others to become the session leaders. For two dancers of the Sunday Israeli dance session at the Klein JCC, this seems like a possibility. These two dancers, Naomi and Jody, both PHDs and both involved with educational activities in other areas than Israeli dance, feel that they can manipulate their schedule to take over the class. This becomes effective the first week of February in 2002. For the next 3 years or so, both Jody and Naomi follow a three week on/ two week off schedule that allows them the flexibility that they need. In practical terms, one would teach a new dance for three weeks. On that last week, the other would introduce another new dance which would be the basis of teaching for the next 3 weeks. During this time the session leaders organize a web site and begin to use Yahoo to provide for EMail support in contacting the session dancers.
But Beth El is on the move. We already know of a prior eastward move to the location on Chapel Road. But the Kellman Academy is also expanding. It is decided in the late '90s to create a separate Beth El education center (with no Kellman involvement) and a site is chosen about a mile east of the Katz JCC mentioned above (blue dot on the above map). This location is physically within Voorhees township, east and south of Cherry Hill. Sometime in 2003 the Israeli dance session is moved to this new facility but not before a really unique going away dance party. With no reason to fear negative feedback, the last session in West Cherry Hill explodes into the corridors of the synagogue and even into the pavement on the outside of the facility. The Cherry Hill session leaves the western Beth El facility with a bang.
The next week involves both a change in location and name. The newly designated Voorhees Israeli dance session meets at Beth El east situated in the Mansion complex which is relatively well known in the area. For the next two years or so the same schedule indicated above is followed, three weeks on, two weeks off for each of the leaders. Of course, this is not the only dancing that the leaders do each week. Each continues to attend the Klein JCC session each Sunday night in Northeast Philadelphia not to mention Israeli dance workshops when and where applicable.
Similar to what happened with Don, one of the leaders, Jody, is about to experience changes in her responsibilities. Jody, and her husband, decide to move to Vermont. In September of 2005 Naomi takes the helm of the session. She abandons the web site and moves exclusively to Yahoo groups for communication with her session dancers. And the dancers to some extent have changed. We mentioned above that there really is a difference between the West side of the township and the East Side. In the two years or so that the session has been located in Voorhees, regulars of the other Beth El have left and new regulars residing in the east now appear. These dancers are augmented by several dancers from the Fort Dix area who weekly make the 40 mile drive as well as some dancers from the Philadelphia area also driving anywhere between 20 to 40 miles to make the session.
One of the dancers, Ety, from the Fort Dix area extended an invitation during the end of summer(mid September) of 2005 for the session dancers to congregate around her pool. Naomi was in attendance. And among the other attendees were two sisters, Deena and Debbie and their mother Hildi. As would be natural when Israeli dancers congregate, someone hooked up a MP3 player and the dancers did their thing on the deck above the pool. Hildi was watching this and on an impulse invited the dancers to perform at her senior citizen residence, Brendenwood, not that far from the session's home at Beth El East.
And so started what this web site has dubbed as the "Cherry Hill Field Trips", shortened to CHFT (in fairness Naomi made mentions of field trips in her Emails to her dancers and we extrapolated). And, taking Hildi's suggestion the first site was the aforementioned Brendenwood, just up Evesham Road from Beth El East, in October 2005. For a few weeks prior to the performance, Naomi drilled her dancers in the ten of so dances she had scheduled for the performance. She also picked out the colors for the occasion: white tops and black pants for the show. This montage shows a few pictures taken at Brendenwood during that one Sunday afternoon in October'05.
Naomi's forte and field of work is psychology and this was evident in terms of how she arranged this and the future field trips. For one thing she made sure that everyone involved was aware that a post performance celebratory dinner would be the norm. PJ Chang's restauant, somewhat proximinant to Brendenwood, was chosen for the first field trip's celebratory dinner location. A picture was taken of the attendees as you can see ddd.
For the first 3 years, 2005 through 2007, the CHFTs occurred during the Fall season at the residences of Hildi who in 2007 moved from Brendenwood to Lionsgate. A rhythm was established where Naomi would provide opening remarks and then explain some of the features of each dance. Some of the Cherry Hill session dancers naturally were attracted toward these performances and would relish their hour in the spotlight. Others were spotty as to attendance for these events. And for some it was a major challenge given the difficulties of the locations. In speaking to some of those who participated, the small expense of area for the circle dancing and the rugs on the floor which affected footing are vividly remembered. Of course, several letters of appreciation were sent to Naomi and later read at the weekly sessions and this gave everybody a good feeling of a job well done. In general the same dances were done, although the order that they were performed was changed. The colors changed to white on blue and the celebratory dinners evertually were moved when applicable to the Shangra Li restaurant located in the vicinity of Temple Beth Sholom. We present here the one picture that this website can find of the first performance at Lionsgate.
For the last four years or so from 2003 through 2007, the weekly session met Tuesdays at the Beth El East facility, the educational center for the synagogue's Hebrew school. Most sessions would be in the gym and there would be reminders that this was a school as toys and sports equipment would be out and about many times. At other times the gym was being used and the session would be "packed" into one of the nursery rooms where Kindergarten and Pre-K classes might be held. But things were about to change. Administratively, Beth El and the Kellman academy had already split and the synagogue was making plans to follow the education center. Kellman was going to fully occupy the present site of Beth El west without the synagogue until arrangements could be made to sell the site. By fall 2008 Kellman had made arrangements for new space and continues presently as the Kellman Brown Academy located in the Berlin area. In 2007, building a new addition to Beth El east's facility took effect and the building process would eventually force a relocation of the class. Naomi mentioned this to the session and asked for suggestions as to where to move. Several of the dancers were associated with facilities around the area and when needed a new location was secured as this picture indicates.
Previously, we have discussed the origins of the Katz JCC and Beth El. We can now discuss Temple Beth Sholom where currently the session is situated. In 1940, in Haddon Heights, a new Synagogue was created for the limited number of Jewish families that at that time was in the Haddon Heights area. While the synagogue expanded over the years, it was felt that the area itself limited expansion. During the late 1980's an expanse of land, coincidently almost exactly between the Katz JCC and Beth EL East along Kresson Rd (yellow dot in the map above) was secured and the new Temple Beth Sholom Synagogue was in full function by 1990. The locations of the Katz JCC, Beth El East and Temple Beth Sholom create a line with bookends where all sorts of religious and educational facilities coexist along Kresson Road including the Cherry Hill East public high school. Local news items praised the beauty and architecture of the building. But besides the normal Synagogue functions, TBS hosts a substantial educational wing (the pictures from this montage were taken in the educational wing) giving residents of the area with children multiple options for religious and secular education.
For most of the session it was relatively easy to move to this other site. Either travel further or travel less along Kresson Road. But, for the leader, Naomi, it's not that easy. She had been using a cabinet at Beth El to hold all her equipment, including her computer and speakers, used in the class. How to move this cabinet? An Email went out to the dancers for help. In the end a friend of one of the dancers, John Hopkins, and his truck nicknamed 'Big Red', a 1994 GMC Sierra (a similar model is pictured here), arrived one day in August 2007 at Beth El East to transport Naomi's Cabinet over to its new home at Temple Beth Sholom. The cabinet was put on a kind of stage adjacent to the ballroom where it remains today and the first session of the Tuesday night Israeli dance session in TBS was held at this location. Of course if you danced that evening on the stage it was very clear that another location would have to be secured. The possible injuries of dancing in such a small and cramped location that had an unprotected 3 ft drop to the auditorium floor was too great a risk. As to John, we are told that he was treated to a box of chocolates and was invited to attend one of the Cherry Hill sessions and his visit occurred sometime in 2009 to the delight of many of the women in that session's dance class who enjoyed listening to an expert in Irish wit and humor, qualities normally not present at Israeli dance sessions.
In the subsequent years three rooms have held the Tuesday night dancing. One is the carpeted ballroom which does have a wooden center dance floor. Here we see it being used for a banquet. Another is a large tiled conference room although this is rarely vacant to be used by the dance session. Here we see tables and chairs being unstacked in preparation for some event. The final room, used during the day for Pre-k or Kindergarten, is all the way in the back of the school annex. This is the most interesting room as it has pictures of animals on the wall ready to board a kid friendly ark that sits in the back of the room.
We also would be remiss not to comment on the synagogue itself which is quite beautiful. You already know that the architecture of the synagogue had received acclaim since its construction. But the inside is also well appointed with a scuptured tree of life and multiple pieces of art.
While the session had changed location and township (and now again could be called the Cherry Hill session) the session dancers have tended to get together for lunches and dinners. It's a particularly friendly group. Beyond the dinners after the CHFT perfomances, we have been able to document a dinner late in 2013 in Bala Cynwyd, several lunches in Center City Philadelphia during the summer of 2013, at least one dinner in South Jersey in 2011, several dinners in Northeast Philadelphia over the years and several holiday get togethers at Naomi's residence. Generally these dinners (not the lunches) have included a visit to another Israeli dance session, either Don's or Rob's when he was in control of the Sunday night sessions at the Klein JCC. The pictures on the bottom were taken at Don's Thursday night session in Oct'13 and the pictures above the bottom were taken sometime in 2009 on a Sunday night.
During the period 2008-2009 the CHFTs multiplied and came into their own. Ranging from the City Ave area of Philadelphia to Lakewood NJ, the dancers, generally from the Tuesday night session but augmented by others from the Greater Philadelphia Israeli dance community performed on five Sunday afternoon demonstrations and celebrated afterwards with five dinners. While the number of designated dances of each performance remained essentially the same, the repertoire was expanded with newer and harder entries and audience participation, where applicable, was encouraged. This montage shows pictures from the Harrogate performance in Lakewood NJ.
On a beautiful day in October, 2009 the CHFTs hit a high as far as this web site was concerned. To be fair, the pictures that tried to document these field trips (and the session in general) were very amateurish. This web site always indicates that the pictures, text, editing and scheduling are done by volunteers with little if any such experience in these things in real life. But, one of the participants on the visit to the Brith Sholom house in the Wynnefield Heights section of Philadelphia that October day was and is a professional photographer, Moshe Gordon. Moshe, a regional New York Israeli dancer, drove down from the Jersey suburbs of New York to participate and photograph this performance. We were very lucky that he allowed this website to use his photographs in our script of this performance. We always knew that in person these performances were spectacular and finally, we had the proof in pictures as you can see yourself in this montage. We've included a picture of Moshe (taken by another) at the lower right and it is his set of pictures of this performance that we have set as the bar, unfortunately generally not met, for this website.
Another surprise from this performance, one that became a regular feature for the next few years, was the appearance of the programs given to the audience. One of the dancer's decided to use this event to teach her children the art of pamphlet making using Microsoft Word. This website was given an explanation of how to do duplex printing (both sides of a page) to achieve this but this is way beyond our ability to explain to you, the reader. Let's just say that these programs became a hit when distributed among the older folks as they prepared to watch the performance. We show one of the programs that were distributed over the years
In 2009, somewhat coincident Naomi decided to advance her contacts through Yahoo groups. Working with one of the dancers in her session who had some experience in this, she automated the responses that went to the Cherry Hill yahoo group as you can see here.
Thanks to perhaps the above Yahoo connection or possibly the word of mouth from the CHFT performances or perhaps both, the Cherry Hill session moved into 2010 with renewed vigor and attendance. Coincidentally, Naomi was researching new equipment around this time and would eventually replace both computer and speakers. In addition, for the next three years there would be three to four Cherry Hill field trips a year and the CHFTs would be incorporated into the sessions. A list of dances would be compiled and then voted on. For a few weeks prior to the performance the dance demo would be practiced during the session. From 2010 through 2012, three or four times a year, the group travelled the length and breadth of New Jersey and through the suburbs of Phila. This montage shows pictures from several of the demonstrations over those years. Notice that the group colors had changed to black tops on blue jeans and this is the reason that this script is also using the black on blue color scheme.
These performances are not the work of just one person. There were many dancers who made it to all (or almost all) of the performances whom we highlight and congratulate as we picture them here. Not only were they the core of the CHFTs, but also of the Tuesday night sessions.
Starting in 2010 another tradition was started. The session became the venue for an introduction to Israeli dancing that was recorded by this web site. Every so often a novice would be dropped off at the session on a Tuesday night and joined the dancing. The pictures here show Thaddeus, LaVera (and her daughter Promise) and Britta experiencing, for the first time, this type of dancing.
Another added plus for the session was the involvement of John Frank and his attempt to spread Israeli dancing far and wide. Based on a question John asked another dancer at one Sunday morning Germantown session "Does Cherry Hill do the same dances as Germantown", John decided to find out and he also decided to bring some other dancers over the river (possibly through the woods depending on iternary) for an evening of dinner and dancing. Dinner was scheduled at the Marlton Diner and then the group was to go over to TBS for an evening of dancing. The first time this was tried was Sept 6, 2011 and while almost everything was planned in advance, the one thing that could not be planned was for the remnants of Hurricane Lee to dump 6 inches of rain on the Greater Philadelphia regional area. The limited number of dancers who made it that evening enjoyed themselves but ended up pretty soggy. The next year, a date in May was attempted but it was so hot that the arrangements were postponed to July 31st. The third time was the charm in both weather and turnout as you can see in this montage which shows the dancing and some pictures of dance regulars from other sessions.
Running, teaching and leading any Israeli dance session is not easy. There are new dances to learn and teach, new and old music to acquire besides the normal problems of being a teacher or leader of a session. In Cherry Hill's case, additional responsibilities at that time included running the CHFTs. Additional non Israeli dance responsibilities (let's call it real life) can be noticeable to students as there is only so much time and energy one can expend. It was noticeable that the Cherry Hill leader had other things in her life to worry about as 2013 moved along. There was no CHFTs scheduled and various weeks had unexplained absenses. Eventually Naomi acknowledged a significant change in her life beyond Israeli dance and in June announced that July 24th would be the last class she would lead. Of course, many dancers were disappointed to hear this per the dance class but happy for her in the changes in her life. At that time it was not known whether another Israeli dance class would ever occur at TBS. However, as Naomi was negotiating a possible solution involving another leader (Sharon Polsky), she led one more event for the dancers of the Cherry Hill session, what this web site calls the Cherry Hill reunion of October 2013. The pictures in this montage show the dinner at Qdoba in Bala Cynwyd on a Thursday night before many of the participants went to Don's session that evening (you can see some of the Cherry Hill dancers participating in Don's session somewhere above). If you look closely you will see what significant new addition came into Naomi's life forcing these changes.
And, that takes us full circle. The Tuesday night Cherry Hill Israeli dance class is again in operation under the leadership of Sharon Polsky. It has been decided to split off the CHFTs as a separate operation under the guidance of two of the dancers of the session which we will hopefully announce shortly on this website. If all goes well then possibly we'll see you at the session on some Tuesday night or some Sunday afternoon in front of a group of senior citizens.