A Pennsylvania grand jury investigation is looking into widespread claims of sexual abuse within another religious denomination. On the heels of a 2018 probe into the Catholic Church, this investigation has set its focus on Jehovah’s Witnesses — the often-misunderstood denomination founded in the state in the 1870s.

Also, advocates are asking Gov. Tom Wolf to do for Philadelphia School District students what he did to combat the opioid crisis years ago. They want him to issue a formal disaster declaration over asbestos.

Recently, the existence of a Pennsylvania grand jury investigation into sexual abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses came to light. This week, The Inquirer interviewed five ex-Witnesses who have already testified before the grand jury in an investigation that aims to shatter the wall of silence that has long surrounded the religion’s leaders.

“They are dead serious about going after [the Witnesses’ leaders] in any way they can, similar to the Catholic Church," said Jeffrey Fritz, a Philadelphia attorney who represents several ex-Witnesses. The faith’s stated follower count is about eight million, with more than 7,000 in Philadelphia.

Court documents reveal ex-Witnesses who have detailed horrific sexual assaults suffered as minors and the church’s efforts to keep those stories from becoming public.

So far this school year, nine Philadelphia schools and an early-childhood program have been closed because of asbestos. Now, federal and local officials want Gov. Tom Wolf to issue a formal disaster declaration for the School District.

If Wolf issues the declaration, it would allow authorities to apply for federal disaster funding to expedite the cleanup and reopening of shuttered schools. Jerry Jordan, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers president, said a Philadelphia declaration was necessary “because we need something to happen now."

Wolf last month proposed approving $1 billion in state funding to schools for the remediation of asbestos and lead. But that is still just a proposal and might not find success in the Republican-controlled legislature. This week, Wolf said that Philadelphia’s asbestos problem “has to be addressed quickly.”

Inside their Main Line rug store, the Tehrani brothers are concerned about the drift of American feelings against Iranians — prompting them to remove their name from the shop. But they’re even more fearful of the disastrous trends facing the family business.

Their biggest problem: how to rejuvenate a high-end rug business in a world where buyers are opting for more modern and cheaper designs. The market for fine Persian rugs is not what it used to be. A rug that would have sold at the shop for $100,000 a decade ago might go for $40,000 today if not less.

Despite the struggles in the changing industry, the Tehrani brothers are sticking with it. Their love for the business drives them and it won’t be swept under the rug.

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Davidson Thomas and Crystal Stokowski met at the cafe in 2012 after Benna's owner Nancy Trachtenberg (not pictured) introduced them. (Rachel Wisniewski / For the Inquirer)
RACHEL WISNIEWSKI / For the Inquirer
Davidson Thomas and Crystal Stokowski met at the cafe in 2012 after Benna's owner Nancy Trachtenberg (not pictured) introduced them. (Rachel Wisniewski / For the Inquirer)

Besides keeping patrons well caffeinated and fed, Benna’s Cafe in South Philly has a reputation for helping people find the loves of their lives — perhaps a good stop to make this Valentine’s Day.