Izzi Abrams becomes President at JCCNS

JCC-Izzi-COmmNewsSummer2018

Izzi Abrams at the JCCNS Annual Meeting, where she was inaugurated as President for the 2018-2020 term. “I’ve come full circle,” she said.

Shelley A. Sackett

Rabbi Michael Ragozin, of Congregation Shirat Hayam, began the opening invocation at the June 3 Annual Meeting of the The Jewish Community Center of the North Shore on a personal note, remarking how much the JCCNS had become even more of a blessing to him after he tore his ACL.

 

He noticed the subtle nuances during his many months of recovery. “This is not just a place to rehab or workout. It’s about the people. The JCC is a promoter of relationships and community,” he said to a crowd of more than 115, many of whom nodded their heads in agreement.

JCC-Ragozin (SAS)

Rabbi Michael Ragozin gave the invocation.

 

President John Gilberg, who handed over the reins to Izzi Abrams, reflected on his 2-year term. “I grew up in this building. I went to nursery school here, so for me being president was especially rewarding,” he said.

 

John and Marty

Marty Schneer, JCCNS Executive Director, presents outgoing President John Gilberg with a framed print of L’dor v’dor (“from generation to generation”).

 

Two of the biggest challenges he faced were balancing the needs of the many different groups that use the JCC — it is a school, workout center, summer camp, senior center and community source of Jewish programming — and keeping its financial boat afloat.

 

“I give kudos to Executive Director Marty Schneer, who manages all the J’s facets expertly,” Gilberg said. He credits CFO Tom Cheatham with anchoring the financial information and providing numbers “like we never had before.” This allows management to act quickly, adjusting programming that isn’t meeting expectations.

 

Annual revenue and net surplus both increased in 2017, and the endowment grew by $1.5 million, creeping closer to its $5 million goal. “My happiest moment will be when we hit that $5 million,” Gilberg said.

 

Schneer drew laughter introducing the new board and officer installation ceremony as “part of peaceful transition of leadership,” handing over the microphone to Barbara Schneider, Jewish Journal Publisher Emerita and JCCNS life-board member and past President, to do the honors.

 

She introduced Abrams as “our community’s cultural guru” and advised her, above all, to “have fun and do good.”

 

Abrams spoke of growing up in Worcester, where her father, Rabbi Abraham Kazis, served as her role model for taking leadership roles in the Jewish community. “He was a humble leader, a man of the people,” she said. “I hope to emulate him in engaging new members.”

 

Over the years, Abrams has been President of the local chapter of ORT (a non-profit global organization that provides education and skills training for needy Jewish communities); Chairs of the Holocaust Center and Youth to Israel Program; President of the Jewish Journal and Chair of the JCCNS International Jewish Film Festival.

 

When Abrams, an early childhood educator, first arrived on the North Shore, she was approached by Bea Paul to join the JCC as an afternoon kindergarten enrichment teacher. Over the next 10 years, she continued to work at the JCC in various areas, including teen and adult services, eventually becoming Director of the Preschool. She retired in 1994 and now is Co-Head of Children’s Services at the Swampscott Public Library.

 

Of becoming JCCNS President, she said,” I’ve come full circle.”

 

She stressed that the JCC is welcoming for all who want to be involved in giving back to an agency that has done so much for this community. “I invite you to join me on this journey,” she said to a standing ovation.

 

Bea Paul then presented Jason Garry, JCCNS Director of Facilities, with the Bea Paul Professional Staff Award and JCCNS Life Board Member Michael Eschelbacher presented Virginia Dodge, longtime JCCNS supporter and member, with the Samuel S. Stahl Community Service Award.

 

New JCCNS Board of Directors members, whose 2-year terms will expire in 2020, are: John Gilberg, Betsy Rooks, Shari Cashman, Anthony Chamay, Daniel Gelb, Peter Short, MD, Susan Syversen, Courtney Weisman, Sara Winer and Joseph Zang.

 

Joining President Abrams as officers are Vice Presidents Randall Patkin MD and Adam Forman, Treasurer Michael Goldstein MD and Secretary Kate Clayman.

 

After Abrams’ family said the Hamotzei, a sumptuous brunch was served, including a table of irresistible desserts prepared by Sara Winer’s “Sara’s Baked Goods and Specialties.”

Sara's goodies

While attendees sat at tables enjoying their food, the lobby was abuzz with people coming from and going to classes. Former JCCNS Executive Director Sandy Sheckman commented, “Isn’t it amazing how, while all this is going on in here, the JCC is still alive with activity out there.”

Advertisements

Texting not allowed — senior and fourth grade pen pals keep alive the old fashioned tradition of writing letters

 

Paul Calsimitto and Bill Hyde, Sr

Hadley fourth grader Paul Calsimitto and his senior pen pal, Bill Hyde, Sr

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

To the casual observer, last Wednesday looked like just another noontime at the Swampscott Senior. The lunch tables were set, the bingo spinning wheel was in place, and the alluring aroma of pizza wafted from the kitchen.

 

But at 12 o’clock sharp, the Senior Center van pulled up to the front door with a surprise. When its doors opened, out poured a throng of excited and agile Hadley fourth grade students, ready to meet their senior pen pals for the first time.

 

Since last October, Julie O’Brien’s class has corresponded with volunteer seniors from Swampscott the old fashioned way: by writing letters. “This experience was wonderful. I wish the seniors had a chance to see the look on the kids’ faces when they opened their letters. It was amazing to see the joy as they discovered new things about their new friends,” O’Brien said.

 

The intergenerational program was started 6 years ago by Marilyn Cassidy as a way to connect seniors and young children. Gina Bush, whose son William is in O’Brien’s class, chaired the program this year.

Chairperson Gina Bush serves pizza to Noah Murphy

Chairperson Gina Bush serves pizza to Noah Murphy

 

“The best part is the connection the seniors made with the class,” she said as she looked around the dining room. “It’s fun to see how well some of them are getting along and to see them meet face-to-face for the first time.”

 

The exercise is not just for fun, however; there is also a pedagogic and life skills component. The students learned to write a formal letter, how to address an envelope and how to share personal information with someone they had never met.

 

When the class received mail from the senior center, all the students would open their letters and read them at their desks. Then they would all meet “on the rug” to share something new they had learned about their new friend, O’Brien said.

Hadley fouorth grade teacher Julie O'Brien

Hadley fourth grade teacher Julie O’Brien

 

Some pen pals were uncannily well matched. Student Paul Calsimitto’s father is a fireman in Revere. His pen pal, Bill Hyde, Sr. was a Swampscott fireman for over two decades, including a period as Fire Chief. “My dad was very surprised,” Calsimitto said. “He thought it was kind of funny.”

 

For Hyde, who has been part of the program since its first year and has kept in contact with several of his former pen pals, it’s not just about getting to know a fourth grader. “It’s an opportunity to learn about their parents, their brothers, sisters. It’s almost like I have another family,” he said.

 

First time pen pal Rick Pierro, who retired from his advertising agency, Designer’s Eye, has always wanted to be a big brother, but hasn’t gotten around to it yet. Although he has lots of nieces and nephews, he has no children and loved having a pen this year. “My only complaint is it takes too long between letters,” he said with a chuckle.

Noah Murphy and Rick Pierro

Noah Murphy and Rick Pierro

 

His pen pal, Noah Murphy, really liked learning about Pierro through their correspondence. What amazed him the most? “I was surprised he wants to be a champion chef and enter in the Julia Child competition,” Murphy said as Pierro grinned.

 

After lunch, seniors and fourth graders teamed up to play four rounds of bingo, bonding even more in lessons of frustration, good sportsmanship and gracious winning.

Norma Freedman and Talia Pagliaro

Norma Freedman and Talia Pagliaro

 

Norma Freedman, who chaired the program last year, was happy to just relax this year. She enjoyed her Italian ice with her pen pal, Talia Pagliaro, who was surprised to learn Freedman’s children attended Hadley and said she couldn’t have asked for a better pen pal. “Whenever she talked about something, she put a lot of thought into it,” Pagliaro said with a big smile.

Shelley Sackett and Caden Ross

Shelley Sackett and Caden Ross

 

Last but hardly least, each pen pal received a card and envelope. They addressed the envelope to themselves and exchanged them, with the intent of keeping the correspondence going over the summer. After all, as Caden Ross enthusiastically put it, “It’s fun!”

Salem Garden Club celebrates its 90th anniversary

Church Stroll

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

On January 7, 1928, 20 men and women met at the home of Mr. Wilis H. Ropes. Bound by a love of gardening, the mostly married couples had decided to form the Salem Garden Club, a Salem mainstay that celebrated its longevity on May 20 with a 90th Anniversary Tea and Social at the First Church.

 

Mayor Kim Driscoll was on hand to express Salem’s appreciation. “It was an honor to recognize the club’s 90 years of dedicated service beautifying our city, sharing horticultural knowledge and providing social enterprise to members young and old,” she posted on her Facebook page.

 

Co-pres.

Co-Presidents Meg McMahon and Tracy Rubin at the 90th Anniversary Tea and Social.

On display were artifacts from years gone by, including old program books, photos, certificates of recognition, handwritten thank you notes from the people of Britain for seeds sent in the 1950’s and a slide show of special moments over the last nine decades. “Some members wore hats, which added to the festive atmosphere,” said SGC 2017-2019 Co-president Meg McMahon.

 

Following its 1928 establishment, the club’s first decades of existence were marked by much activity. It joined the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts in 1929 and participated in the annual spring Flower Show in Boston that same year.

 

Members

Members Eleanor Soucy, Rosemary Mroz, Mimi Ballou, Jane Koza, and Judy Giunta at the 90th Anniversary Tea and Social held on May 20, 2018.

 

At the suggestion of local architect Philip Horton Smith, members rebuilt the garden at the Brookhouse Home on Derby Street. For a few years in the 1930’s, SGC sponsored a garden contest for children involved in the Salem summer playground program. With cash prizes for the best home gardens, the event was a summer favorite.

 

To celebrate the club’s 10th anniversary in 1938, the ambitious membership sponsored the city’s first garden tour, opening to the public ten gardens on Federal and Chestnut Streets and others along the Salem Common. Called “Open Garden Day,” the event drew over 600 people at $1.00 each, and the club raised enough money to hold its own horticultural show in historic Hamilton Hall on Chestnut Street the next year.

 

The club sponsored a second, smaller garden tour in 1941 to celebrate the opening of the Gardener-Pingree House on Essex Street, designed by Salem architect Samuel McIntire. As one of its missions, SGC had taken on the responsibility for replanting the gardens at this magnificent Federal mansion.

 

Library

Spring arrangement at the Salem Public Library.

 

Over the next decade, WWII interfered with the club’s many activities, although conservation chairperson Mrs. Willis Ropes advised citizens on how to plant their own war gardens. Never ones to remain idle, members began diaries with interesting facts and entertaining anecdotes about their own gardens. “Old Salem Gardens,” a compilation of these entries, was published in 1946 and remains available for purchase 72 years later.

 

McMahon, who has been a club member since 1999, described the SGC’s early years, when meetings took place in members’ homes. “Some records indicate that there may have been Saturday night meetings and sherry drinking with lovely flower arrangements set up by one’s maid or butler,” she said.

 

Today, with over 100 active, associate, sustaining and honorary members — all women —, the meetings take place in many venues that can accommodate the club’s growing numbers. Tracy Rubin, who has been a SGC member since 2013, is its co-president.

 

City Hall

Large group of members after winter planting of urns on Washington Street.

 

Another difference is that membership in SGC is “very hands on. Today’s members dig in their own dirt and enjoy refreshments that the hostess committee provides,” McMahon said. Programs typically include presentations by experts in landscape and floral design, environmental studies, local farming and native plants, among many others. Open to the public, the meetings are held on the first Thursday of the month from September through December and from March through June.

 

Although the style and membership of the club has evolved in the last 90 years, McMahon stressed that its traditions, missions and objectives remain unchanged: the advancement of gardening; the development of home grounds; civic beautification, and aiding in the protection of forests, wild flowers and birds.

 

Committed to the beautification of Salem, the club has worked on the Town House Square, planted shrubs and annuals in Lappin Park, donated and planted trees in Salem Common and maintained the gardens at Brookhouse and Emmerton House.

 

Today, SGC’s civic involvement can be spotted in the celebrated large urns on Washington Street, the City Hall window boxes, and the Blue Star Marker on Hawthorne Boulevard. The club also provides monthly floral arrangements to the Salem Public Library and helps judge the window box and traffic island contest during Heritage Days. Each year, one lucky qualifying student receives a generous $1,000 scholarship, courtesy of club members.

 

Blue Star

Blue Star Memorial Marker on Hawthorne Boulevard honoring all Veterans.

 

The club is hardly idle during the winter months. Since the Christmas House Tour began in 1984, SGC members have participated by decorating one of the homes in the annual event. Starting in 1999, the club expanded its involvement to include the Christmas Boutique, where members sell handmade wreaths, swags, boxwood trees and arrangements to raise funds for its activities.

 

In 2017, the club’s biennial Garden Stroll, which highlights gardens in different neighborhoods, featured 15 private gardens in the McIntire District. The club is already busy planning its 2019 Garden Stroll.

 

McMahon has enjoyed her almost 20 years of SGC membership, with its monthly meetings where she has learned much from the many presenters and from fellow members. “Most of all, I’ve loved being a part of a dynamic organization and having the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people,” she said.

 

For more information, visit salemgardenclub.com or its Facebook page.

In Salem, NSCDC, United Way forge ‘win-win’ partnership

105Congress-1

North Shore Community Development Coalition redeveloped the Congress Street residences, an 8-building 64-unit complex, after buying the property in 2014.

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

The North Shore Community Development Coalition will host an evening on June 6 to spotlight the local impact the Community Investment Tax Credit (CITC) is having in Salem, where the funds have created affordable housing, neighborhood development, vital community services and vibrant urban mural art.

United Way of Massachusetts Bay and its partner, FHLBank Boston, are co-sponsoring the event to show investors how they have helped revitalize the North Shore community.

“We thought a donor appreciation event would be of interest to ‘spread the news’ while showing off the wonderful work they do with a walking tour,” said Senior Executive Director of the North Shore Region Bill Weihs.

This is the first North Shore CDC partnership with United Way to help market its Community Investment Tax Credits, and Weihs thinks it’s a win-win association.

“It was tremendously attractive to the donors that I cultivate and steward throughout the North Shore, since they want their donations to remain local. In previous years, they only had Boston-based CDCs to chose from,” he said.

United Way partners with a couple of dozen CDCs throughout the eastern MA region to administer a CITC strategy as they try to sell their tax credits to individual investors.

NSCDC could do this itself, but Weihs explained many CDCS choose to go through an agency like United Way because “often they are not selling out their credits. They are looking for another way to market these excess credits.”

Like most CDCs, the North Shore CDC has a particular niche — youth homelessness and vibrant urban mural art — that Weihs called “particularly unique. I don’t know of that many CDCs that focus on youth homelessness,” he said.

NSCDC Chief Executive Officer Mickey Northcutt said the nonprofit concentrates primarily on housing development projects that will have a “triple-bottom-line impact” — they create meaningful affordable housing units; they create highly sustainable, cutting-edge energy efficient housing which serves as a model for sustainable development, and they have a transformative economic development impact on the neighborhood in which they are located.

One example of a finished project is the Congress Street Residences, an 8-building, 64-unit Salem development. NSCDC acquired the buildings in 2014 because they were “some of the most distressed assets in the city. People were living in unsafe conditions,” Northcutt said.

After a $26 million rehab, the space has turned around for tenants and neighbors and includes a sculpture garden on Dow Street and a 2,000 square foot community center, called Espacio, on Congress Street.

Another finished project is Harbor & Lafayette Homes, a 2-building 100 percent affordable Salem development project that will be completed in early 2019. Of the 27 units, 16 will be prioritized for formerly homeless young people aged 16-24.

“They will have access to many services to help them with job training, support services, etc. to help them get back on track,” said Machel Piper, NSCDC director of development.

That project will have a live-in manager and additional case management services as well as a public art installation.

Future projects which have already been designed and permitted and await funding are The Lighthouse, a 2-building 46-unit mixed-income new construction in Salem, and Harbor Village, a 30-unit mixed-use 100 percent affordable project on Main Street in downtown Gloucester. This will revitalize a long-closed, blighted commercial property and when completed, will reconnect Gloucester’s west and east ends.

“We work only in low-income neighborhoods throughout our footprint on the North Shore, choosing environmentally challenged and distressed properties that are in dire need of renovation,” said Piper. “Many times this is a property that, once renovated, has the capacity to completely revitalize an area that will, in turn, transform a neighborhood.”

Both Northcutt and Piper point to CITCs, passed by MA in 2015, as helping NSCDC tap into the fundraising world and enabling it to become a strong partner with United Way and its excellent fundraising capacity. “We both have the mission that whatever is raised locally, stays local,” said Piper.

For more information or to attend, contact Bill Weihs at bweihs@supportunitedway.org or call 978-922-3966 x2005.

Davening to a different drummer: Meet Cantor Alty Weinreb

 

Aty Weinreb1

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

When Alty Weinreb answered the ad Congregation Shirat Hayam placed for a new cantor, it was because he was attracted to its name. “I love music (shirat) and the ocean (hayam), so I thought it might be interesting,” he said from his New York City home. After he experienced Shirat’s Shabbat Renewal Service during a weekend at the Swampscott synagogue as one of three candidates invited for live auditions, he was convinced it was more than an attraction to a name that led him to the Swampcott synagogue — it was bashert (meant to be).

It all goes back to Weinreb’s childhood. Raised in a very observant Flushing, New York Orthodox home, he would wait all week to go to shul (synagogue) to hear the cantor sing. “His voice became my refuge and inspiration,” he explained.

 

In addition to attending services, his family would head back to shul on Friday evenings after prayers and dinner for a group sing-along called Oneg Shabbos (Joy of Shabbos). “Here I was, a child surrounded by mostly grown men singing with full-throated joy and deep feeling. When everyone sang together, I was transported to a magical place,” he said.

 

Shirat’s Shabbat Renewal services, where congregants are invited to enter a meditative spiritual place through prayer and music, brought Weinreb back to those magical moments of his youth. It also reminded him of a funny story.

 

One Shabbat, he remembers the cantor was “wailing from his soul and it flew into my soul. I became lost in a davening (praying) ocean, swimming in deep waters, transfixed,” he said. Without thinking, he began hand drumming on the table in front of him.

 

Alty Weinreb2

 

His beat was getting louder and louder. Suddenly, the cantor stopped singing. “Then the Rabbi turned around and looked at me and screamed, ‘Alty, STOP! There’s no drumming in shul, young man. You are in a lot of trouble,” Weinreb continued.

 

He was mortified, but did not understand what the problem was. Fast forward to the adult Alty, recently walking into Shirat for the first time and seeing a collection of drums next to the bima (Torah ark). “Then the Rabbi invited me to play the drums during prayers,” he said, pausing for dramatic effect. “Hallelujah! Poetic justice!”

 

Weinreb began his cantorial studies because he loves Jewish prayer music. “It makes me feel alive when I sing it. It allows me to connect with people of all ages and maybe inspire in others what I first felt as a child,” he said. He holds a BA from St. Louis Rabbinical College and studied at Yeshiva University Belz School of Jewish Music in New York, where he trained in both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions.

 

“I started out taking Ashkenazi cantor training and then fell in love with the Sephardic melodies,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to have studied with two of the greatest living cantors — Cantor Joseph Malovany (Ashkenazi) and Hazzan Moshe Tessone (Sephardic).”

 

Since 2000, Weinreb has been a cantor during High Holidays and at nursing homes and hospitals. He has also taught drum and percussion and performed with a number of musical groups, including the Judeo Flamenco group, the Simcha All Stars Klezmer Band and the Cuban Jewish All Star Klezmer Band.

 

Shirat is his first residential synagogue cantor position. Weinreb feels it is the right time in his life to contribute to building a community, especially one that is such a perfect fit. “I love Shirat’s desire to rethink basic assumptions about ritual and spiritual practice,” he said. “I hope to continue on the great path that Cantor Elana Rozenfeld blazed” during her seven years at Shirat.

 

He also hopes to add some new items to Shirat’s Shabbat Synaplex™ menu, such as “Storahtelling,” a Torah service that creatively fuses traditional chanting with English translation, dramatized commentary and audience interaction that brings text to life. “I have been energized by Storahtelling,” he said.

 

Although he counts among his “most fun gigs” playing drums for Shlomo Carlebach at a Purim show and performing with his Judeo Flamenco group for 1,000 singing and dancing concertgoers at NYC’s World Music Pier 70 Concert Series, he is excited to settle into his new apartment in Salem with his wife, Elizabeth, and begin his new job on July 1.

 

So is Shirat Board President Renée Sidman. “I cannot wait to see what he will bring on a weekly basis!” she said.

 

To listen to some of Cantor Alty Weinreb’s music, visit cantoraltyshul.com/about/

Rare genetic mutation sends family on an unexpected journey

Luke-proudly-shows-Jessica-Brown-his-speech-therapist-the-picture-he-drew-1024x768

Luke Heller proudly shows a drawing to his speech therapist, Jessica Brown. / Photos by Shelley A. Sackett

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

SWAMPSCOTT—Jody and Noah Heller brought their newborn son, Luke, home to Swampscott in December 2013. Although he was a “sweet baby with an infectious laugh,” by nine months they noticed he was not hitting the same developmental milestones his older sister Lucy had by that age.

 

The Hellers knew something was off. Luke wasn’t able to sit up independently or crawl and never tried to put anything to his mouth. “If you picked him up, his body felt a little floppy,” Jody said.

 

Their pediatrician said Luke had low muscle tone and recommended an early intervention program. He also sent them to a neurologist. “Kids his age usually put everything in their mouths,” Jody said. “He was concerned.”

 

Luke began receiving physical, occupational and developmental services at Aspire Early Intervention in Lynn, but as he got older there were more delays.

 

He didn’t crawl until he was18 months and didn’t walk until he was 2. No one really knew what was wrong. His diagnosis was the umbrella term “globally delayed.”

 

Later, Luke was diagnosed with apraxia of speech, a condition where the brain has difficulty sending signals to the mouth to create speech. Luke knew what he wanted to say, but he didn’t know how to form the words to say it.

 

Luke-Noah-and-Jody-Heller-at-the-Swampscott-home-300x225

Luke, Noah and Jody Heller at their Swampscott home.

 

The Hellers were determined to dig deeper, and visited the Genetics Department at Boston Children’s Hospital. Genetic tests in 2015, when Luke was 18 months old, were inconclusive, but the doctors urged them to keep trying. “They said, ‘we’re learning so much about genetics every day,’ and recommended we come back in two years,” Jody said.

 

When Luke turned 3 and aged out of Aspire, the Hellers enrolled him at Northeast Arc, a not-for-profit organization that helps children and adults with disabilities. It was perfect timing, because Luke would often get frustrated at not being able to express himself, which was causing behavior issues.

 

Through Northeast Arc, behavioral and speech therapists work with Luke at his home. Jessica Brown, his speech and language pathologist, also goes to Luke’s Chabad pre-school with him, where she helps him use a special iPad speech device that gives Luke a voice he otherwise doesn’t have, enabling him to “talk” to his classmates.

 

“Northeast Arc allows us to communicate with our son. He has made so much progress,” Noah said.

 

Still, the Hellers wanted to do more than just treat Luke’s symptoms—they wanted to know what was causing all these delays. Last July, they returned to Boston Children’s Hospital, ready for Luke to take a genetic sequencing test that identifies every protein-coding gene in the body.

 

This time, just before Luke turned 4 years old, they received definitive information. “The geneticists told us that he had a mutation on the TECPR2 gene, but that there wasn’t a lot of information on the disease. It was extremely rare,” Noah said. Only eight children in the world had the same mutation, most of them living in Israel, where the mutation was first discovered in 2012 by an Israeli neurologist.

 

Both Jody and Noah, who are of Ashkenazi descent, tested negative for the Ashkenazi Panel screening test, which assesses the risk of having a child with any of 11 disorders, including Tay-Sachs disease. TECPR2 is not on the panel, but can be prenatally tested by request.

 

The Hellers asked for the Israeli doctor’s name and contacted her immediately. “That started a whole new journey for us,” Jody said.

 

The Hellers hope to get the TECPR2 mutation added to the Ashkenazi Panel in the near future. Jody started a Facebook page for TECPR2 families, and several families are now following the page and sharing stories.

 

“There are definitely others with this genetic syndrome out there, but they have been misdiagnosed as something else,” Jody said. “That’s why we’re really trying to bring awareness to this newly discovered syndrome.”

 

The Hellers and their families are also attacking the disease on the medical front. They started the Luke Heller TECPR2 Foundation, a privately funded entity with the goal of finding a cure for Luke’s mutation. The Boston-based foundation has enlisted scientists from around the globe.

 

In the meantime, Luke continues to work hard and to charm those he encounters with a quick hug and a ready smile. “Luke is smart and determined. We are so grateful to the Northeast Arc,” Jody said.

 

Noah acknowledges that reconciling what happened to Luke has not been easy. “We have a strong, loving family that has really helped us. Jody has done a lot of work to keep our family together and everybody happy. She is the center and strength of our family,” he said.

 

Scratching below the surface of the notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg

download

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

While Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik’s 2015 book, “Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” arguably branded Justice Ginsburg as a pop-cultural phenomenon, the recently released documentary, “RBG” leaves no room to mistake this woman for a fluffy contemporary trend. The diminutive 84-year-old intellectual powerhouse is fierce, uncompromising and a diplomatic champion of women’s rights. After 25 years on the Supreme Court, she remains a force to be reckoned with.

 

Ginsburg’s determination, courage and steadfast ability to drill down on overwhelming numbers of details are the weft in the fabric of her remarkable life. Even her personal trainer, Bryant Johnson, calls her a “cyborg.”

 

Directors Betsy West and Julie Cohen have crafted an unabashed valentine to the second woman and sixth Jew appointed to the US Supreme Court, peppering their film with interviews, public appearances, archival material and even a Trump tweet. In less than two hours, they cover a lot of ground.

 

Born to impoverished working-class immigrants, Ginsburg’s intellectual prowess was evident at a young age. She credits her mother in particular with encouraging her to reach her full potential.

 

Central to the film and to Ginsburg’s life is the story of her marriage to Marty Ginsburg, one year her senior, whom she met during her undergraduate days at Cornell. “He was the first boy I ever knew who cared that I had a brain,” she says. A gifted tax attorney, Marty was also his wife’s biggest supporter, holding down the domestic front while she made history and greasing the wheels behind the scene to ensure her name was on President Clinton’s list of candidates when Byron White retired from the Supreme Court.

 

Justice Ginsburg’s days at Harvard Law School planted the seed for her trailblazing fight for the rights of women and other marginalized groups. As one of only nine women in a class of 500, she recalls — with neither resentment nor belligerence — the dean asking her why she thought she deserved a seat that belonged to a man.

 

When her husband graduated a year ahead of her and took a job in New York, she transferred to Columbia Law School, where she graduated at the top of her class with distinction. Nonetheless, no firm would hire her. “Being a woman was an impediment,” she says.

 

Determined to remove that obstruction for others, she co-founded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project while on the faculty at Rutgers University Law School and wrote the first legal casebook on gender-based discrimination. She also formulated a slow but steady legal strategy to end sex discrimination fashioned after Thurgood Marshall’s success at ending the US official policy of segregation.

 

She argued six cases before the Supreme Court (winning five), reasoning that the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment barred treating women differently than men, just as it barred racial discrimination. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg quite literally changed the way the world is for women,” NPR’s Nina Totenberg says during an on-screen interview.

 

Nowhere is that more evident than during Ginsburg’s Supreme Court Senate confirmation hearings, when she at times seems to play the role of patient professor lecturing the judiciary panel. “RBG” paints a memorable portrait of an extraordinarily hard-working woman, but it is also at its heart a primer in constitutional law.

 

Overall, despite its passion and solemnity, the film has a light touch, never diving deeply into the grit and controversy that must have swirled behind those hallowed judicial chambers. Ginsburg may be brainy and indomitable, but she is also charming and approachable.

 

That accessibility may explain why Teen Vogue, the e-magazine geared to teenage girls, touts an unlikely pair of stories on its recent home page. One features un-retouched photos of Rihanna’s new lingerie line. The other is “7 Essential Ruth Bader Ginsburg Supreme Rulings to Know About.”

Filmmakers plan to bring Mass Hysteria to Salem

 

Mass Hysteria Still 2

By Shelley A. Sackett

Salem residents are used to mass hysteria in their seaside city during the month-long Halloween season, but a group of local filmmakers plan to extend the spell into the summer months when they begin shooting their comedy-thriller, “Mass Hysteria,” on the streets of Salem.

 

Set over the course of Halloween Eve, the films centers around a group of historical re-enactors who are falsely accused of witchcraft when a tourist dies on Halloween Night in Salem. The wrongly accused heroes flee as another tourist dies, then another…making it clear this is not just a random accident.

 

“Halloween in Salem is an experience of a lifetime, and we wanted to recreate a modern witch hunt surrounding this annual event. The majority of tourists come to Salem in October with no idea of what actually happened in 1692. Our goal is to make a thriller/comedy that is truthful and entertaining, but also shares the dangers of the effects of a modern-day witch hunt,” said Matt Peruse, producer of First-Names Films.

 

Mass Hysteria Still 1

Production stills from the test shoot for “Mass Hysteria,” shot on-location in Salem last October. Pictured from left: Matt Perusse and co-director/producer Jeffrey Ryan.

 

The film is set to begin production on the North Shore as early as mid-July and wrap by mid-August. The cast has not been disclosed, but Perusse promises “a great ensemble of new and veteran actors.”

 

Co-directed by First-Names producer Arielle Cimino, “Mass Hysteria” unites three former Salem residents on a project dear to their hearts. “We love the juxtaposition of Salem’s rich, historical past colliding with the reality of today’s Salem through the conduit of the millions of visitors to the city each year,” said First-Names Films co-director and producer Jeffrey Ryan in a statement.

 

First-Name Films started as an idea to create a production company that would operate as a collective of like-minded producers who strive to create independent films on a regular basis. “We aim to involve the communities around us in order to help these smaller films reach a massive audience,” Perusse said.

 

Cimino, Perusse and Ryan collaborated on “YouthMin,” First-Names Film’s last feature film, which was produced in Beverly and won the Boston Independent Film Festival’s Audience Award. The film pre-premiered at CinemaSalem to a nearly sold-out audience. With “Mass Hysteria,” the producing team aims to once again engage the town in production of the Halloween comedy/thriller through community involvement and corporate sponsorship.

 

Cimino and Ryan first met at college, where they performed together on the improv comedy team. “We discovered through improv that we not only had similar goals for our film careers, but also a strikingly similar sense of humor that would lend itself to writing and creating comedies together,” Cimino said. After graduation, they started working together on short films and TV pilots to gain experience for their eventual goal of producing and directing independent feature-length films.

 

Perusse met Ryan after returning to Massachusetts a few years after working for a time in Los Angeles as an actor. A mutual professor introduced them with the purpose of discussing how to be a working actor in New England. The two struck up a friendship, which led to an eventual collaborative relationship. “YouthMin” was their first feature-length film.

 

As filmmakers, the three share a common goal of engaging, inspiring and entertaining their audience. With “Mass Hysteria,” they aim to take the audience on a thrilling and comical journey through one of the most exciting nights of the year — Halloween in Salem. “As a result, our audiences will not only appreciate Salem’s rich historical past, but also gain an appreciation for Salem’s standing as a modern, creative and vibrant 21st century city,” said Perusse.

 

For more information, visit firstnamesfilms.com

SalemRecycles celebrates a decade of making Salem greener

 

Salem Recycles

SalemRecycles committee members received special commendations for the committee’s ten years of helping to make Salem one the North Shore’s greenest cities. Pictured from back row: Sharon Kishida, DEP; Rep. Tucker; Hannah, from Sen. Lovely’s office; Shelby Hypes (new member); Liz Vago; Penny Neal (Emeritus); Carol Hautau; Julie Rose; Susan Yochelson and Mayor Kim Driscoll. Front row: Jennifer Percy (Emeritus); Nancy Gilberg; Melynn Nuite; Erin Huggard and Lynn Murray. Current members missing from photo: Tony Keck, John Roberts and Beth Gillette. (Emeritus-members who have been active for over 5 years and who now choose to staff events, etc. and are not obligated to come to meetings.)

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

In 2008, Julie Rose had been at her job in the Salem City Engineering Department for about a year when Mayor Kim Driscoll decided that her department would manage the city’s recently negotiated trash contract, which included new recycling guidelines.

 

Rose realized the engineering department had a lot of work ahead of it to educate the community about the importance of recycling. “We didn’t have a lot of staff, but I had heard about volunteer recycling committees in other communities,” said Rose, currently Business Manager of the City of Salem Engineering Department. She wanted to start one in Salem.

 

She worked with Jason Silva, then Mayor Driscoll’s Chief of Staff, and Sharon Kashida, the Northeast District 2 Regional and Solid Waste Coordinator for the Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection. They looked at various recycling committees throughout the North Shore.

 

By talking to other communities, they learned they would need volunteers from various fields such as graphic design, communications, the law, and others. “We needed a committee with strong and diverse skill sets to help us pull off what we wanted to do,” Rose said.

 

Collaboratively, Rose, Silva and Kashida came up with the structure for Salem’s recycling committee. SalemRecycles would be a 12-member committee that is charged with developing ways to increase recycling throughout the city and promote other green efforts. Members’ backgrounds would include environmental studies, graphic and fine arts, business, law, public health, communications and education.

 

Mayor Driscoll appointed the inaugural SalemRecycles committee in 2008 and ten years later, Rose, the committee’s only paid employee, proudly points out that of the current 12 members, 3 have been involved since the beginning and 3 more have served for 8 years or more.

 

Last month, SalemRecycles celebrated its 10th birthday, and Mayor Driscoll presented its members with special commendations for a decade of work.

 

“The Salem Recycling Committee has been such a wonderful driver of positive change in our community. Their dedication and passion for sustainability has been instrumental in so many highly successful projects, events, and initiatives in Salem over the last decade, making our city more green and more livable for all. The volunteers who devote their time to the committee and its many efforts are committed to Salem and to our planet,” Mayor Driscoll said.

 

Since 2008, Salem has become a recycling leader on the North Shore, improving recycling rates by 3 times, holding 20 events per year and pioneering many initiatives. The recipient of many grants, awards and special recognition, SalemRecycles was the winner of the 2017 Mass Municipal Award for Innovation.

 

Kashida, as municipal recycling coordinator for 39 communities north and northwest of Boston — including Salem — is in a position to compare SalemRecycles to other communities she serves, and she gives Salem high marks. “I have been able to see how Salem Recycles has enabled the City to accomplish so much more. This is not your standard volunteer committee,” she said.

 

“Under Mayor Driscoll’s continued support and Julie Rose’s aegis, the committee is empowered to work with the City to help it achieve its waste reduction and recycling goals and be on the cutting edge,” she added.

 

Among the Salem programs Kashida cites are: trash limits; dual stream recycling education campaign with the former Newark industries; E-waste collections; book swaps; an annual textile drive; an annual swap and drop; a newsletter and blog, and the recently enacted plastic bag ban.

 

Two initiatives, the food waste collection pilot and the twice-yearly Repair Café, are firsts in her district. “SalemRecycles has served as a role model for other communities to replicate, so its impact goes beyond Salem,” Kashida said. “The SalemRecycles Facebook page is considered the “go-to” source for up-to-date vetted information.”

 

Seven or eight years ago, when she first joined SalemRecycles, Nancy Gilberg took on the primary administrative role for the Facebook page. She grew it from several hundred followers to about 1,850.

 

“I enjoy writing, editing, and building positive community. I create and promote the FB events, and draw from dozens of other recycling pages and everyday life experiences to create and share content,” she said. While the committee’s primary goal is to educate and to provide recycling and diversion opportunities, “we also want it to be fun and easy.”

 

Lynn Murray has been a member since the committee’s inception and served as its Chair for a year and a half. She remembers how its initial emphasis was to educate Salem residents about the then new recycling initiative. While education remains a prime focus, social media now makes the job easier and more far reaching.

 

SalemRecycles has a Trash and Recycling page on the City website (Salem.com/trashandrecycling), the GreenSalem website (GreenSalem.com), the SalemRecycles Facebook site, videos, an e-newsletter, occasional articles in local newspapers, appearances on SATV, door hangers, flyers and more.

 

The committee’s efforts to help residents think more broadly about recycling efforts make Murray especially proud. A twice yearly book swap (attended by up to 850 people at each event), an annual Textile Drive (where 7 tons of textiles were collected last November), and the Spring Swap and Drop are examples of recycling’s reach beyond just curbside collection.

 

Murray has loved her decade serving on SalemRecycles. “The committee is made up of volunteers who represent nearly all wards of the City, are passionate about what they do, yet have a lot of fun carrying out the various initiatives. Because the volunteers are from all over the City, we serve as emissaries to neighborhood groups encouraging participation in events and answering questions,” she said.

 

Murray credits the Mayor and Rose for the committee members’ commitment and longevity. “The Mayor has given us a lot of latitude, which has allowed for the expression of creativity and the development of initiatives beyond the scope of the City-mandated recycling programs,” she explained.

 

Rose’s management style and leadership have also been crucial to SalemRecycles’ success. “She delegates work effectively, empowers committee members to come up with new initiatives and always gives credit to and focuses on the accomplishments of committee members,” Murray added.

 

Past chair and current committee member Anthony Keck is no less passionate about SalemRecycles and its mission. He pointed out how Salem’s status as a tourist destination is a mixed blessing. “Hundreds of thousands of visitors arrive in the city each year. They bring tourist dollars with them, and they also bring and create trash from their single use items,” he said. SalemRecycles is attacking this problem on several fronts.

 

Visible recycling bins are now placed throughout the City. SalemRecycles became involved with charitable walk and run sponsors and found ways to reduce trash and to recycle, “saving the City by reducing trash tonnage.” The committee introduced cigarette butt recycling bins and placed them around the city.

 

“Feedback from visitors has been encouraging and many have commented with gratitude for encouraging and providing recycling collection to them,” Keck said.

 

He considers launching the Repair Café, which teaches how items can be repaired and reused rather instead of being tossed in the trash and replaced, one of SalemRecycle’s most significant initiatives.

 

“Raising the consciousness of all residents and stakeholders to the importance of reducing trash continues to influence how people purchase products,” Keck said. “Everyone can find ways to reduce, repurpose, reuse, repair and lastly recycle.”

 

SalemRecycles holds regular meetings, open to the public, the first Tuesday of the month on the 1st floor of 90 Washington Street at 6:30 pm. For more information, visit salem.com/recycling-and-trash, greensalem.com or Salem Ma Recycles on Facebook.

 

 

Israeli Stage presents blistering, sensual drama ‘The Last Act’

 

Guy Ben-Aharon, c:o the director, photographer Esra Rotthoff

Director Guy Ben-Aharon

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict seems to be an unavoidable topic of discussion: in the news, in the gym, even in the produce aisle. From May 18 through June 1, the conversation will move from side bar to center stage when the Israeli Stage presents the world premiere production of award-winning playwright Joshua Sobol’s latest play, “The Last Act” at Martin Hall in the Calderwood Pavilion.

 

Known for controversial work that challenges and provokes, Sobol’s newest work boldly addresses a difficult question: once society legitimizes branding and treating a group as the “other,” is there any hope the two sides can ever see each other as anything other than an enemy?

 

Playwright Joshua Sobol

 

Crafted as a play-within-a-play, the blistering and sensual drama centers on Gilly, a Jewish-Israeli unemployed actress leading a dull, settled life, and Djul, a Palestinian actor. The two share a passion to put on theater that is risky and matters. They mount an adaptation of August Strindberg’s “Miss Julie,” a play about an aristocratic woman and a senior servant, Jean, whose mutual attraction leads to tragedy.

 

Like the characters they play, Gilly and Djul feel a magnetic pull towards each other despite the cultural, political and social barriers that separate them. The plot thickens when Gilly’s husband, Ethan, a Jewish-Israeli intelligence officer, receives a surveillance assignment that involves spying on his wife and her Palestinian co-star, whom Ethan’s boss falsely assumes is a Hamas operative.

 

New York-based actress Annelise Lawson is just getting to know her character, Gilly, and she likes what she is discovering. “Her genius is her intuition; she picks up on everything. She is unabashedly assertive in pursuing her loves and doesn’t suffer fools gladly,” she said. “I’m a little envious of how she navigates her world.”

 

At one point, Gilly growls, “Theatre should be dangerous, or else it should not be!” Lawson agrees. “To get along in our daily lives, we have to edit ourselves constantly, making sure we express our opinions in just the right way. Theatre is one of the few places where we can drop the social mask and take the temperature of our culture. The act of telling the truth is dangerous.”

 

Sobol sees many parallels between “Miss Julie,” with its irrational and rigid focus on impenetrable social class barriers, and the situation in Israel. “The Israeli-Palestinian ‘mess’ has long abandoned the territory of sound reason,” he said, pointing out that the mutual prosperity Palestinians and Jews have experienced should have convinced the two communities they can only gain from a peaceful acceptance of each other. “But instead of thriving together in peace, the Hosseini belligerent leadership of the Palestinian community opted for a forceful showdown.”

 

The Israeli Stage’s mission is to share the diversity and vitality of Israeli theatre, and Director and Producing Artistic Director Guy Ben-Ahron considers “The Last Act” a perfect fit. “While the play is inherently Israeli, it is utterly universal. The peril of the surveillance state is a global phenomenon. The option for society to choose fear or hope is one that faces all Americans today,” he said.

 

Artistically, he appreciates that the play-within-a-play structure distorts the lines of reality, inviting the audience to tune into two realities simultaneously. “It blurs the lines of comedy and tragedy- it’s funny, it’s sharp and it’s poignant. I love the playfulness of the script,” he said.

 

Nightly dialogues will follow each performance, providing an opportunity for communal reflection. “Our vision is to create an opportunity to listen, inquire and reflect deeply at a time when our world suffers mightily from divisions and distrust. We’re not trying to change hearts and minds as much as we’re trying to open them. Just a little bit,” Ben-Ahron said.

 

For more information or to buy tickets, visit israelistage.com or call (617) 933-8600.