Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism collide at Chicago Dyke March

By Shelley A. Sackett

JOURNAL CORRESPONDENT

 

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From left: Marlene Copland Dodinval, Co-Chair of the A Wider Bridge Metro Council, Laurie Grauer, and Donna Fishman, past President of the Chicago Northshore NCJW Chapter.

 

An ill wind blew across Lake Michigan at the June 24 Chicago Dyke March when three women carrying Jewish Pride flags — a rainbow flag with a Star of David in the center — were asked to leave the rally by its pro-Palestinian organizers who claimed their flags were an unwelcome “trigger.”

 

Laurel Grauer, one of those ejected, told the Journal by phone, “one of the Dyke March Collective’s representatives told me this was an explicitly anti-Zionist march, and my flag was making people feel unsafe.”

 

Grauer has carried the same flag, which is from her congregation and celebrates her “queer, Jewish identity”, for over a decade. “The only difference this year is I was asked to leave,” she said.

 

The hint of trouble started before the march when Grauer noticed anti-Zionist comments on the Dyke March Collective’s social media pages and contacted Alex Martinez, its core organizer, to let her know she intended to march with her flag as she always had.

 

Martinez assured her that the march was not anti-Jewish and that there shouldn’t be an issue.

 

All was fine until the march concluded at a nearby park, where the rally continued with a bar-b-q and other activities.

 

Grauer stepped off the march and onto the green still holding her flag. “That’s when I was approached by several people telling me I had to put away my flag or leave,” she said.

 

“This is a community I care a great deal about,” Grauer said. “The way I had demonstrated my Jewish and gay pride for so long was being silenced because of some people’s conceptions of Israel.”

 

The annual Dyke March attracted some 1,500 people this year. It is billed as a more inclusive event than the larger Chicago Pride Parade, held days later.

 

In its official statement issued three days later, the Dyke March Collective reasserted its anti-Zionist platform.

 

“Zionism is an inherently white-supremacist ideology. We welcome and include people of all identities, but not all ideologies…We welcome Jewish allies and marchers who are as invested in liberation as we are,” the statement said.

 

“The Chicago Dyke March Collective is explicitly not anti-Semitic, we are anti-Zionist,” the statement continued. “The Chicago Dyke March Collective supports the liberation of Palestine and oppressed people everywhere.

 

“From Palestine to Mexico, border walls have to go!!”

 

Reaction from the local, national and international Jewish communities was swift and united, labeling the Dyke March’s action as anti-Semitic.

 

Locally, Robert Trestan, the Anti-Defamation League’s New England regional director, decried what he saw as a political litmus test designed to exclude Jews from what is supposed to be an inclusive event.

 

“They’re creating their own definition of Zionism to fit their political purposes,” he said.

 

Although disheartened by the experience, Grauer sees a silver lining. “People see there is more than one way to perceive a term or an identity, whether it be pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian, Zionist or anti-Zionist. I think it’s a touch point for a new conversation that needed to happen and maybe that’s why this story was picked up, and continues to be covered, by so many communities.

 

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Jew(ish) Tribe for Pride, of the North Shore, participated in the Salem pride march on June 24.

 

In stark contrast to the stormy Chicago march, a kinder, gentler ocean breeze wafted over the June 24 Salem Gay Pride March, where members of Beverly’s Temple B’nai Abraham and a new group, Jew(ish) Tribe for Pride, were among the over 10,000 participants.

 

Temple B'nai Abraham Pride Parade 2016

 

Those interviewed had nothing but praise and gratitude towards North Shore Pride, the six-year-old nonprofit that sponsors the parade.

 

“What happened at the Chicago Dyke March is unsettling and I believe anti-Semitic and it demands our attention, but it is not what happens here,” said Temple B’nai Abraham Rabbi Alison Adler.

 

This is the third year the temple has marched as a Jewish organization and the second year members wore labels with the same rainbow Jewish star that has long been a symbol of LBGTQ Jewish identity and pride. No one has said anything about it except, ‘thank you,’” Rabbi Adler said.

 

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The sticker worn and handed out by members of Temple B’nai Abraham which resembles the flag Laurie Grauer was not allowed to carry at the Chicago Dyke March.

 

 

Sandy Freiberg, a Beverly resident and Temple B’nai Abraham vice president, marched for the first time this year and found the experience encouraging and powerful, “in large part due to the fact that I was simultaneously celebrating my gay and Jewish identities,” he said.

 

 

All of which is music to North Shore Pride president and founder Hope Watt-Bucci’s ears.

 

“The premise of our organization is really building community with pride, so we’re all about inclusivity,” she said. She started North Shore Pride six years ago as a result of hate crimes against members of the LGBTQ community.

 

North Shore Pride is purposefully apolitical. “We are all about unity,” Watt-Bucci said.

 

Rabbi Adler seconds that. “North Shore Pride’s theme this year was ‘Stronger Together’ — and they live by it,” she said.

 

289 Derby final design a triumph for community engagement

By Shelley A. Sackett, correspondent

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The 289 Derby final collective schematic plan shows a balance of green space and paved surfaces with an amphitheater-like area, lawn with shade, a multi-use stage and a variety of areas for meetings, play and chance encounters.

 

289 Derby Street is a half-acre parking lot that directly borders the South River. The site hosts a pop-up carnival during Halloween each year and little else.

 

All that is about to change.

 

Salem acquired the parcel in 2016 and, with a recent $750,000 state grant for construction, the City hired CBA Landscape Architects to design the new public space that will connect downtown Salem to its waterfront.

 

CBA Landscape Architects engaged Claudia Paraschiv as a consultant for this placemaking phase. She is a public artist, urbanist, and registered architect in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and owner of Studioful -Architecture, Community Art, and Neighborhood Design.

 

She founded the Salem Public Space Project to facilitate these placemaking meetings and engaged John Andrews, of Creative Salem, to co-facilitate. He built the 289 Derby St. website that included the public input surveys that were crucial to the information gathering process.

 

After a series of four 289 Derby Community Design Events, the permanent park design was unveiled at the fifth and final June 21 event, and it is a curvy beauty.

 

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Participants of one of the four 289 Derby Community Design placemaking events.

 

The whole process took a mere five weeks and involved the participation of community members in an exciting and innovative approach to collaborative public space planning called placemaking.

 

First coined in 2010, the term describes a hands-on approach for improving a neighborhood, city, or region by inspiring people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of their community. Typically, placemaking involves a series of collaborative, inclusive meetings among stakeholders, municipal and professional representatives, and facilitators.

 

The goal for the 289 Derby Street public space project, according to Deputy Director of the Department of Planning and Community Development Kathleen M. Winn, is to have a place that is both beautiful year-round and flexible enough to accommodate different types of programming.

 

Unique to this project, however, was the process used to achieve that goal. Rather than engaging in the traditional top-down practice of having CBA Landscape Architects design the space first and then ask the public to retrofit it to specific use, the community meetings were used to hear from residents and other stakeholders what they wanted to use the space for before they designed it.

 

Anyone interested would be invited to join the conversation and have a say and a vote in how the 289 Derby space would be used and what it would look like.

 

 

“The idea is to bring the project to the people who will use the space and then have it designed to fit their desires,” Paraschiv explained.

 

Members of the Salem community were invited to help design the city’s public space at the vacant 289 Derby Street lot during four community events that took place on site from May 24 to June 14.

 

Each 289 Derby meeting gave participants a hands-on opportunity to experience the different activities the space might sponsor, such as music, yoga, gardening, games, outdoor movies and even paddle-boarding on the South River.

 

“The space was transformed to show people literally, ‘look how cool this could be!’” Paraschiv said.

 

The first event, “Dance & Design”, featured performances by local dance groups and a chalkboard wall where attendees were invited to write their favorite activities.

 

“Meet & Share” offered the opportunity to share personal visions of the public space’s character, programming, meaning and culture; games and activities were the focus of “Plan & Play.”

 

Both Paraschiv and Andrews couldn’t be more pleased with the process and its outcome.

 

“This was a grassroots effort to design and construct an otherwise empty lot. The idea is to try to bring it to the people who will use the space and then have it designed to fit those needs,” said Paraschiv,

 

“One thing we learned during placemaking is what a powerful tool the community and the municipality has with this process under the right direction,” Andrew said.

 

At the fourth meeting on June 14, approximately 200 residents local food and the opportunity to review and comment on the final two design options, one straight and one curvy.

 

By a margin of 70 to 18, the curvy plan was the overwhelming favorite.

 

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Participants chose the “curvy” plan at right over the straight plan at left by a          70 to 18 margin.

 

 

The final collective schematic plan shows a balance green space and paved surfaces with an amphitheater-like area, lawn with shade, a multi-use stage and a variety of areas for meetings, play and chance encounters.

 

Some of the possible green space uses include botanical gardens and a labyrinth that could double as a space for group exercise and a small skating rink in the winter.

 

“It’s hard to believe that just five weeks ago we had our first listening session with ‘Dance & Design,’” said Paraschiv.

 

CBA Landscape Architects is continuing the design work and developing cost estimates. Permitting is underway and the City expects to have documents ready for late August, according to Winn.

 

Because the lot is the site of October’s Derby Street Carnival, construction could not begin before November.

 

In her summary report, Paraschiv credits local support for helping the Community Engagement achieve its three objectives of: designing a schematic plan direction with strong public support; creating simulated events of feasible, actual use; and inspiring local stewardship of some key elements of the park and programming for 289 Derby.

 

“This permanent park design is a collaborative collection process by the people who came to the meetings and the architects,” Paraschiv said with obvious pride.

 

Andrews believes that those vested in the 289 Derby collaborative process might likewise influence the larger long-term project of creating a connection between downtown Salem and the waterfront.

 

“One thing is certain,” added Andrews, “It really drives home the emphasis on making a harbor walk a feasible and existing part of Salem’s future.”

 

For more information, visit salempublicspaceproject.com and CreativeSalem.com/289Derby.

 

Swampscott cantor hits it out of the park with new CD release

Shelley A. Sackett, correspondent

 

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Cantor Elana Rozenfeld loves her job at Congregation Shirat Hayam (CSH) and last Sunday, her congregation gave her a big “back atcha” with a “Song of the Sea Soirée” that honored her six years as their cantor and celebrated the release of her new CD, “Hallelu!”

 

The sold-out crowd of over 260 guests was treated to an elegant evening of food, camaraderie and — most importantly — music as Cantor Elana and her six-piece band performed a repertoire that included several songs from the new CD and ranged in genre from Yiddish theater to a popular Israeli radio hit song to liturgical music.

 

Rabbi Michael Ragozin introduced her as the “biggest engine and vehicle” that has strengthened the temple’s ability to forge life long, meaningful relationships. “Her music brings us together in powerful ways that I haven’t experienced anywhere else,” he said. “This is the space where I want to be and it is all because of our cantor.”

 

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“I’m an artist. That’s what fills me up, it’s what gives me something to give. If I take away the giving part of what I do, I’m not happy,” she said.

 

That generosity of spirit and artistry were on full display during the 70-minute concert and fundraiser that brought the audience to their feet for two standing ovations and had many wiping away a tear after her soulful encore rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

 

Each of the 14 songs took on a special meaning after Cantor Elana’s informative and anecdotal introductions. The musicianship of her band (violin: Yaeko Miranda Elmaleh; guitar: Lautaro Mantilla; percussion: Jeremiah Klarman; bass: Simón Willson; back vocals: Sarah Nissenbaum; piano: David Sparr) added special texture, color and professionalism to the evening.

 

In the audience, 17-year-old Rachel Nissenbaum and her parents, Lilly and Jerry, were thrilled that Berklee vocal student and Rachel’s sister, Sarah, was sharing the stage with Cantor Elana as back up singer. “It’s so nice to see so many people here supporting the cantor. It’s very beautiful,” Rachel said.

 

“I’m so excited! I can’t wait!” added Lilly.

 

“Oy Mame,” a Yiddish love song, had the crowd clapping along to Cantor Elana’s exaggerated theatrical gestures and tapping their toes to Elmaleh’s klezmer-like violin accompaniment.

 

“Shavim,” a popular Israeli song about equality and inclusion, was dedicated to CSH and its “tireless effort to support all people in our spiritual home.” The cantor underscored her point by signing the words as she sang them.

 

Other songs urged listeners to look inward during these challenging times. “History Has Its Eye On You/Oseh Shalom,” a “mash up” of a song from the musical “Hamilton” and a Hebrew prayer for peace, is about life, regrets, mistakes and hope for a better future. “It should remind us that it’s up to each of us to make a change and to make peace,” she said.

 

“Seven Years,” a female rewrite of Lukas Graham’s top 40 hit, considers what kind of legacy we want to leave for our children. “I want to make the world a better place. Isn’t that the point of art? Isn’t that the point of music?” she said earlier in the week during an interview.

 

Cantor Elana is known as much for her love of teaching children as she is for her exquisite voice. The Chai Notes, CSH’s all-girl teen choir, is her pride and joy.

 

They performed Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” at the soirée fresh on the heels of their June 13 performance of “Star-Spangled Banner” at Fenway for Jewish Heritage Night.

 

How they got to Fenway is inextricably related to the CD celebrated at the soirée.

 

The girls recorded the song “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem, for Cantor Elana’s new CD. While working with them on that track, she became aware of Fenway’s upcoming Jewish Heritage Night and a light bulb went off in her head. “I thought, ‘We need to do Fenway’” she said.

 

Congregant and choir mom Amanda Clayman contacted the Red Sox and found out how they selected singers and what The Chai Notes would need to submit for consideration. Since they already had studio time for the CD, they were able to quickly record the requisite “The Star Spangled Banner” in three-part harmony and then send it in.

 

“They responded immediately, ‘Yes. We want you.’” Cantor Elana said. “And then we practiced. A LOT.”

 

Although her impressive resume includes NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and cantorial posts at Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford, N.J. and Park Avenue’s eminent Park Avenue Synagogue, her reasons for wanting to make a CD have nothing to do with personal gain or fame. They are all about promoting the synagogue she calls home.

 

“People are starting to know me in the Jewish world and to know Shirat Hayam. We’re this hidden gem and I want us to be less hidden,” she said. “No one would know that a shul (synagogue) like this would exist in Swampscott,” Cantor Elana said.

 

The CD also allows CSH to put their liturgical music on their website. “This is a fraction of the musical legacy of CSH,” she said, adding she hopes people will hear the music and say, “Yeah. I want to go there.”

 

All the money earned by the CD goes to CSH for music programming. Although she owns the copyright to her own music, Cantor Elana does not reap any personal financial benefit from sales.

 

She hopes that people will buy CDs for themselves and for “100 of their closest friends” to support the work she is trying to do.

 

“We say it supports music at Shirat Hayam, but music IS Shirat Hayam. If someone gives money to the Hebrew School or preschool, there’s music programming in both of those. Everything we do is around music,” she said.

 

Rabbi Michael is especially pleased that the CD contains most of the musical prayers which comprise the Friday evening and Saturday morning Shabbat services, giving CSH the ability to reach beyond the weekly live prayer/performance experience and give others access to these same connections any time they want.

 

“Many of the things we do are aimed at increasing accessibility and giving someone this CD also gives them tremendous accessibility to what we’re doing here at Shirat Hayam,” he said.

 

For more information or to buy the CD “Hallelu!”, visit https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/cantorelanarozenfeld.

North Shore day camps serve up Jewish summer fun

Shelley A. Sackett, Journal correspondent

 

Happy campers in the pool

JCCNS Campers

 

After a chillier and wetter spring than usual, parents and their school aged children are especially anxious for the warmer days of summer vacation and the welcoming start of the summer camp season.

 

Families on the North Shore are lucky to have a choice of three Jewish day camps: the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore’s “Summer at the J” in Marblehead; Chabad of the North Shore’s “Camp Gan Israel of the North Shore” in Swampscott; and North Suburban Jewish Community Center’s “Summer Play” in Peabody.

 

The JCCNS has offered the Camp Simchah summer camp experience for over 70 years, starting in Lynn Beach and moving to its current 11-acre campus “on the hill” after over four decades at its former Middleton location.

 

Fine and Performing Arts- Day one

 

Summer at the J Camps covers all age groups from 2 years 9 months through those entering 10th grade. With nine one-week sessions, camp starts on June 26 and ends August 25. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with extended care available.

 

All campers have instructional morning swim led by the Aquatics department at the outdoor pool located on the JCCNS campus, and use of lower fields, tennis courts, and gym.

 

KinderCamp features daily schedules of music and movement, sports and games, instructional swim and more for those between 2 years 9 months and entering kindergarten.

 

Campers entering grades 1 and 2 attend Simchah Classic Junior and those entering grades 3 to 6 attend Simchah Classic, both with rotating schedules of drawing, science, arts and crafts, sports and instructional swim. The two groups also have a weekly choice of electives, among them science, engineering, SCRATCH!, robotics, drama, cooking, ropes course, dance and more.

 

Older campers entering grades 6-8 have the opportunity to attend Simchah Travel Camp, with weekly 2-3 night overnight trips and daily trips that may include kayaking, canoeing, indoor/outdoor rock climbing, museum visits, amusement parks and beaches. Day trip destinations may include Crane’s Beach, Canobie Lake Park, Salem Willow, and Water Country. Overnight trips may be to Caratunk, Maine and North Conway, New Hampshire.

 

The Simchah Counselor-in-Training (CIT) Program partners with the North Shore Teen Initiative (NSTI) to provide campers entering grades 9 and 10 with two-week sessions which incorporate counselor training, leadership workshops, social justice field trips, volunteer projects and fun social trips.. For more information and to register, visit JCCNS.org or call 781-631-8330.

 

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Chabad of the Norhshore Camp Gan Israel buddies

 

Chabad of the North Shore’s Camp Gan Israel has been in operation for almost 20 years, with Rabbi Shmaya and Aliza Friedman entering their seventh year as camp directors.

 

Aliza has directed Jewish day camps across the world, including in Dublin, Ireland, Helsinki, Finland and Boca Raton, Florida. She spearheads staff training and has extensive experience with preschoolers through teenagers. Rabbi Shmaya heads up Chabad’s youth programming, including Jew Crew and Chai Five.

 

All campers get a hot kosher lunch every day and extended before and after care options are available for those who need more hours than provided by the regular 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. schedule. Camp runs from June 26 to August 4.

 

Mini Gan Izzy for boys and girls ages 3-4 takes place at Chabad at 44 Burrill Street in Swampscott, where campers participate in sports and outdoor adventures, art and music and swimming.

 

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Camp Gan Israel field trip

 

The Junior (entering grades K-2), Sabra (entering grades 3-5) and Pioneer (entering grades 6-8) programs take place at Chabad’s second campus at 151 Ocean Street in Lynn.

 

“It’s like an everything camp in one,” Aliza explained, describing the various activities all campers experience, from swimming at the Marblehead YMCA and Salem Forest River Park to the many specialties offered each week to the Friday Shabbat party with a specialty show that may be magic, puppets, the “bubble guy”, animal people or a mad carnival.

 

Every Wednesday, the entire camp goes on a field trip to destinations like Legoland, Canobie Lake and Water Country. The older two divisions have additional trips on Mondays that may be bowling, skating, golfing or laser tag. They also have a choice of electives that include photography, horseback riding, boating, Adventure camp, computer lab, art and baseball clinic.

 

Camp Gan Israel’s flexible sign up policy allows parents to craft their own schedule, whether by the week, for a few days here and there or for the entire summer. The Friedmans’s “low maintenance and user friendly” approach to scheduling recognizes that many families plan summer vacations and may need childcare on an irregular basis.

For more information and to register, visit nsjewishcamp.com.

 

For the wee ones from 6 weeks to 5 years old, NSJCC in Peabody offers a state-of-the-art childcare facility and “Summer Play” camp activities for toddlers and pre-kindergarten aged children from June 26 to August 18. With flexible 2-3-4 or 5-day options and summer theme days and water play, children enjoy gardening, exploring bugs, having camping adventures and exploring edible science. For more information or to register, visit nsjcc.org.

JCCNS Inclusion Camp champions diversity

Shelley A. Sackett, Journal correspondent

 

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When Marty Schneer arrived in Marblehead in 2013 to take over as executive director of the JCCNS, one of the first people he met was Marcy Yellin, whose 32-year-old son, Jacob, has special needs and was employed at the JCCNS.

 

She told Schneer that the community lacked an inclusion camp. He asked her what she would like to see. Within months, Schneer formed a committee with Yellin and a few others, including Special Education teacher Melissa Caplan. By the following summer, the JCCNS Inclusion Camp was up and running with 20 campers and Caplan at the helm as director.

 

This year the Inclusion Camp has 40 campers, a staff of 25, and a long waiting list. Specially trained staff work with children to integrate them into Kindercamp, Simchah classic camps and the Simchah CIT program.

 

There are no criteria for admission. “We take inclusion pretty seriously, so how could we make criteria that excludes some?” Caplan asked. The only reason a camper might not receive support is if that individual already tried camp and the staff knows it is unable to keep that child of their peers safe.

 

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Special needs campers participate in the same activities as their chronological peers, including aquatics and sports. “The goal of the camp is not only to provide services to a population who until now was not included, but also to break down the boundaries that often exist when people are not exposed to differences at an early age,” Caplan said.

 

Campers range in age from 2.9 months to teenagers. Staff includes teens and young adults who themselves have disabilities, filling an additional community need. “These individuals come to work and receive a paycheck just like their non-disabled peers,” Caplan said.

 

Inclusion campers and staff cope with a variety of disabilities that include developmental delays, intellectual impairments, autism, cerebral palsy, blindness, social/emotional disabilities, muscular dystrophy, down syndrome, seizure disorder and many more.

 

Most require on-on-one aids, which is expensive, and which is covered partially through private donations and organized fundraising. “We pride ourselves that the cost to attend camp is the same for all, whether you need a one-on-one aid or not,” Schneer said. “The underlying philosophical approach is that this is good for entire community of campers.”

 

“Marty believes in the need to support a neuro-diverse population, even though it costs the JCCNS a great deal,” Caplan added.

 

The term “neuro-diverse” means normal, natural variation in human cognition. It embodies the idea that those who are non-neuro typical can live their lives as they are with accommodations and modifications instead of being forced to conform to “normal.”

 

Caplan’s educational background includes a bachelor’s degree in multiple disabilities and a Masters degree in Early Intervention. She has worked in Roxbury, Newton and Marblehead and currently teaches special education at the Clarke School in Swampscott. “I believe wholeheartedly in the spirit of inclusion. It is a passion of mine,” she said.

 

During the rest of the year, the JCCNS runs adaptive/inclusion programs. Caplan works “very part time” in the year-round Inclusion Program, which last year added inclusive basketball and lacrosse clinics, Sunday family drumming circle and an IEP (individual educational program) support clinic for families. The program already has adaptive swim and gym programs.

 

Next year, Caplan would love to expand the sports clinics and start a lacrosse league and a Special Olympics swim team. “We have tons of great ideas and committed staff and eager participants. The only setback is funding,” she said.

 

In the meantime, Yellin sees the fruits of her vision every Friday as she walks down the hill to the JCCNS where she plays music. “I see wheelchairs amongst kids playing and all kinds of people in one space. It’s a beautiful sight,” she said.

It’s a Family Affair: “Days of Atonement” Is an Emotional Roller Coaster

 

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(L-R): Ramona Alexander,as Fanny, Dana Stern, as Amira, and Jackie Davis, as Malka,​ and Dana Stern (behind as Amira) reunite at last in “Days of Atonement.” (Courtesy Paul Marotta/Israeli Sta​ge)​

 

By Shelley A. Sackett, Journal Correspondent

 

“Days of Atonement”, Mizrachi (Arab-Jewish) Israeli playwright Hanna Azoulay Hasfari’s lean, emotionally-charged drama, explores the thorny and complex landscape of family dynamics against the backdrop of preparing for Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, when only after woman has sought forgiveness from her fellow woman is she permitted to seek forgiveness from God.

 

In this case, the women who will atone and repent are three half-Moroccan, half-Israeli sisters who return to their childhood home in the Israeli city of Netivot — established by Moroccan and Tunisian immigrants in the 1950s —after their youngest sister Amira (Dana Stern) summons them to help locate their mother, who has disappeared. Estranged for decades, their reconnection will be fraught with friction.

 

The four Ohana sisters are a pallette of religious, ethnic and generational identities. The only Sabra, Amira is in her early 20s and attends film school in Tel Aviv. She sashays about in the stifling summer heat in spandex underwear, to the shock of older sister Evelyn, 44, (Adrianne Krstansky), who in turn is ultra-Orthodox from her dress to her life-threatening ninth pregnancy.

 

Fanny (Ramona Lisa Alexander), late 30s, is an assimilated, feisty, successful realtor whose teenage pregnancy got her thrown out of the house. The oldest, Malka (Jackie Davis) is a miserable busybody homemaker who was forced into an arranged marriage after Fanny shamed the family name.

 

Amira suffers panic attacks and is in danger of flunking out of school. Evelyn’s identity is so wrapped up in motherhood that she refuses the abortion that may save her life. Fanny tries to fill the hole left by the son she gave up for adoption by buying a Vietnamese baby and Malka obsesses over her husband’s imagined infidelities, mirroring their mother’s toxic behavior towards their father.

 

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​Jackie Davis, ​left ​as Malka, and Dana Stern, as Amira. share a quiet, calm moment. (Courtesy Paul Marotta/Israeli Sta​ge)

 

If it’s hard to believe they grew up under the same roof with the same parents, that is precisely the point Azoulay Hasfari is trying to make. Driving it home with a reunion triggered by a search for the mother each experienced through different multi-cultural lenses makes for brilliant theater.

 

Over the course of the day, the four sisters take turns laying bare their souls. “It’s Yom Kippur. No time for games,” Malka says without a hint of irony. As they inventory their transgressions and expose the hidden pain they silently cope with, the sisters ride an emotional roller coaster, lurching from hostility to love, from shame to humor.

 

We hear four sides to every childhood event, all (except Amira’s) also stories of immigrants and the hardships they faced as outsiders. Ultimately, though, politics are irrelevant to the sisters’ universal story of family and the female perspective.

 

The production is theater at its finest. Guy Ben-Aharon’s direction is minimalist; he wisely lets Azoulay Hasfari’s crisp script carry the load. Even props are token: all except three benches and a camcorder are mimed. The acting across the board is stellar, each sister unique, consistent and believable.

 

Highly recommended.

 

“Days of Atonement” is at the Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont Street through June 25. For more information or to buy tickets, visit israelistage.com/

Walnut Street Shul Preserves the Future

Rabbi Kagedan proudly stands at the Walnut Street Synagogue bimah.

Unbeknown to the ten Chelsea families who founded the Orthodox Congregation Agudath Shalom in 1897, they had erected their synagogue in a city that in their lifetimes would become home to the largest percentage of Jews of any other city in the United States except New York.

 

In 1890, 82 Jews lived in Chelsea; by 1910, that number swelled to 11,000, one of every three residents. By 1930, almost half of Chelsea was Jewish, earning it the moniker, “Yerushalayim d’America.” If it seemed like there was a synagogue on almost every corner, that’s because there was: in its 1.8 square miles, Chelsea housed 18 synagogues.

 

When tragedy struck and the Great Chelsea Fire of 1908 reduced most of the city, including Agudath Shalom, to ashes, the shul’s immigrant founders were undaunted. They rolled up their sleeves and in 1909 rebuilt the synagogue on Walnut Street, which inspired the new building’s nickname, the Walnut Street Shul.

 

Designed by architect Harry Justin Joll, the magnificent building boasts ceiling frescoes painted by immigrant artists and an awe-inspiring ark by Sam Katz, the renowned master woodworker from the Ukraine who made Chelsea his home in the 1920’s.

 

Fast forward to 2017, and most everything about Chelsea has changed.

 

Gone are the kosher butchers, bakeries and religious and cultural institutions. Yiddish and Hebrew have been replaced by the mother tongues of recent immigrants from Central America, Asia, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean. According to the most recent Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies survey, Chelsea’s Jewish population has shrunk to statistical insignificance.

 

Of the 18 synagogues, two remain: Temple Emmanuel and the Walnut Street Synagogue.

 

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The Walnut Street Synagogues’s congregants are determined to revitalize their synagogue and, while they’re at it, to blaze a new trail for Orthodox Judaism. Last September, they hired Rabbi Lila Kagedan, the first female clergy member in the United States to preside in an Orthodox synagogue using the title “Rabbi.”

 

Within the world of Orthodox Jewry, this is a big deal.

 

Rabbi Kagedan attended Yeshivat Maharat, the Orthodox women’s religious training program founded by Rabbi Avi Weiss in the Bronx, New York. Because rabbi is a masculine word, Rabbi Weiss allows his graduates to adopt whatever title they want.

 

Some choose rabba (a feminized version of rabbi) or maharat (a Hebrew acronym Rabbi Weiss invented that translates as female leader in Torah, spirituality and religious law). When Rabbi Kagedan and her two female classmates graduated in 2015, she alone chose the title rabbi.

 

“It was the title that most accurately described the work that I trained to do. Like calling a doctor ‘Doctor,’” she said. “People did try to discourage me because it hasn’t been a typical choice in Orthodoxy, but I always wanted to serve the community and use my training and knowledge to support the Jewish community with pastoral and halachik needs.”

 

The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), which represents over a thousand Orthodox rabbis across the United States, saw the matter differently. It adopted a policy in the fall after Rabbi Kagedan’s graduation prohibiting the ordination or hiring of women rabbis.

 

 

“Should it be allowed? Who’s going to make it illegal?” asked Jonathan Sarna, the prominent author, historian and Brandeis University professor who has written extensively about American Judaism. “In America, the congregants make their own decisions. We don’t have a Chief Rabbi. We don’t have a Ministry of Religion. Every congregation is, in a sense, a law unto itself,” he said by phone from Jerusalem.

 

None of these religious politics mattered to Board Secretary Richard Zabot, whose grandparents arrived in Chelsea in 1905 from Russia and helped found the Walnut Street Synagogue. In Rabbi Kagedan, he saw a perfect fit. “She showed a willingness to work with the unknown in order to achieve our goal: the rejuvenation of our synagogue,” he said.

 

Fellow Board member Eddie Medros, who grew up in Chelsea in the 1950s and attended the Elm Street Synagogue, agrees. “She is infectious with her drive and enthusiasm. She brings warmth, passion, inclusiveness and a love of Judaism,” he said, noting she has already reached out to the local community in a meaningful way.

 

The attraction was mutual. “The shul presents a challenge, which I am always up for. I also feel committed to keeping a shul that has existed for so many years going. Continuity is powerful,” she said.

 

Devra Zabot, Richard’s daughter and events chair of the shul’s museum, described the extensive vetting process Rabbi Kagedan received before the synagogue board offered the ultimate vote of confidence. “Given that the board members are all over the age of 70 and mostly male, this was a heavily discussed decision,” she said.

 

In the ten months she has been at the spiritual helm, Rabbi Kagedan has been busy learning the ropes and making connections with the greater Jewish and local Chelsea communities. Almost immediately upon arrival, she led the High Holiday services and organized a Chanukah celebration with a klezmer band that attracted over 150 people, including Zahava Stern, a new young member.

 

“I met a lot of people who grew up in Chelsea and were bar or bat mitzvah-ed in this shul, but have since moved out to Sharon or Brookline. They were so excited to come back and see an active community in a place they hold so dear to their heart,” she said.

 

Stern also noted that Chelsea’s location attracts families from the North Shore, East Boston, Cambridge and Somerville. “It’s a secret gem right in the middle of the action,” she said.

 

The Walnut Street Synagogue offers monthly Shabbat and holiday services, classes on a variety of Jewish topics and holidays, and pastoral counseling and services. Rabbi Kagedan is the founding member of the Chelsea Interfaith Council and has met with the City Manager and other non-profit organizations about partnerships and integrating the shul with the Chelsea community.

 

The shul is supported by its board and members and by the Chelsea community at large, including citizens, city councilors and non-profit organizations. There are 120 members, and it operates as a fully Orthodox shul, with a mechitza on Shabbat and during high holidays services. The Jewish Chelsea Home generously opens its doors to the Rabbi and her family and guests to stay over on Shabbat.

 

Somehow, Rabbi Kagedan also finds time to serve on several professional and religious boards. “My peers have been largely supportive and open. Once people meet me and get to know me and see or experience the work I am doing, there is less anxiety and hype about being a woman Orthodox rabbi and people see me as just simply an Orthodox rabbi,” she said.

 

For now, Chelsea and the Walnut Street Synagogue are her prime focus. “Chelsea was at one time a real center of Jewish life in the region. My priority is to get Chelsea back on the radar of Jews in Massachusetts and to let people know the Walnut Street Synagogue is operational,” she said.

 

This is music to Richard Zabot’s ears. He remembers as a child when all 1,109 seats would be occupied during the High Holidays. “The shul hasn’t lost any of its charm or awe. We’re inviting 900 new people to join us this Yom Tov and be part of the preservation of the future,” he said.

North Shore Jews Pray with their Feet in Salem’s Pride Parade

 

By Shelley A. Sackett, Journal correspondent

 

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(L-R): Laura Shulman Bronstein and Rabbi Jillian Cameron with their “totes gay” tote bags.

 

The sixth annual North Shore Pride Parade and Festival will wind its way through Salem on Saturday, June 24, and for the first time, there will be an official Jewish North Shore group participating.

 

Even though the parade takes place on Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest on which observant Jews refrain from various forms of labor, 30 people have committed to marching under a banner that identifies the group as “Jew(ish) Tribe for Pride” and includes the logos of its sponsors, InterfaithFamily and Cohen Hillel Academy. 40 more have expressed interest.

 

It all started at last year’s parade, in which Laura Shulman Brochstein, Rabbi Jillian Cameron and Liz Polay-Wettengel marched with their families. They were chatting on Salem Common, where the parade ends, lamenting the lack visibility from the Jewish community, despite what they knew to be a welcoming Jewish community for LGBT individuals and families.

 

They figured the likely reason was that the event took place on Shabbat.

 

Liz with Sign

​Liz Polay-Wettengel holds an equality sign at last year’s North Shore Pride Parade.​

 

“Because of our collective professional experience working for Jewish organizations over the years, we knew that for many, this was the barrier for participation,” said Polay-Wettengel, who lives in Salem and is National Director of Marketing and Communications at InterfaithFamily.

 

Brochstein is a social worker from Marblehead and the North Shore Outreach Manager for Jewish Family and Children’s Service; Rabbi Jillian Cameron, of Salem, is the director of InterfaithFamily/Boston.

 

“We thought, ‘What if we marched as individuals and not as an organization?’” Polay-Wettengel continued. Over lunch one day, the three decided that, as Jews in the North Shore community, they wanted their LGBTQ friends to know that the Jewish community supported them.

 

The three women organized an independent Jewish group, called Jew(ish) Tribe for Pride, creating an opportunity for North Shore Jews to march together, regardless of institutional or rabbinical support or opinions.

 

As a Jew, a rabbi and a member of the LGBT community, Rabbi Cameron can’t think of a better way to spend Shabbat on June 24 than marching with her North Shore community. “For me, this is a sacred act, an act of prayer, a way to seek out greater connection with my fellow human beings and with God,” she said.

 

Although Beverly’s Temple B’nai Abraham members will participate in the Pride Parade for the third consecutive year, they march with the Beverly Multi-faith Coalition. After their Shabbat morning services in the TBA chapel have ended, “We will pray with our feet (as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel described his experience marching for civil rights),” said TBA’s Rabbi Alison Adler.

 

“ I don’t see walking in a parade in support of equality and inclusion as a violation of Shabbat – just the opposite,” she said. “Shabbat is supposed to give us a taste of the kind of world we want our children and grandchildren to inherit, a world of equality, free of hatred. I am thrilled that there will be more of a Jewish presence this year under the Tribe for Pride banner.”

 

Rabbi Adler was instrumental in getting the North Shore Pride Board to change the night of the interfaith service preceding the march from Friday to Thursday. As a result, most North Shore rabbis and cantors will attend this year, leading a song together as part of the service.

 

Rabbi Michael Ragozin, of Conservative Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, applauds Rabbi Adler’s success and will attend and publicize the Thursday night event. However, he cannot do the same for Saturday’s parade.

 

“Shabbat and support for the LGBTQ community are two values that I hold dearly. Unfortunately, the North Shore Pride parade conflicts with Shabbat, and I will not publicize events that conflict with Shabbat,” he explained.

 

Rabbi David Meyer of Marblehead’s Reform Temple Emanu-el supports any of his congregants who wish to attend and participate in the parade, although he thinks it would be in poor judgment to have the Temple play an official role in a secular event that takes place on Shabbat.

 

“Although certainly not a traditional approach to Shabbat observance, sharing in the work of increasing civil rights, justice and peace in our community, nation and world is very much in keeping with Reform Jewish principles,” he said.

 

Rabbi Cameron welcomes everyone to march under the new Jew(ish) Tribe for Pride banner. “In life, there aren’t many parades, aren’t that many times we get the opportunity to show up and physically express the things which are important, which makes us who we are,” she said.

 

For more information, email northshorejews@gmail.com. or visit salem.org/event/north-shore-pride-parade/. To RSVP, go to bit.ly/NorthShorePride.

PEM hires neuroscientist to enrich visitor experience

Tedi Asher

Dr. Tedi Asher

Groundbreaking initiative first in the museum world

By Shelley A. Sackett, correspondent

 

By his own admission, Dan Monroe is “afflicted with intense curiosity.” The Peabody Essex Museum executive director and CEO relaxes by intensely investigating fields unrelated to art and appreciation, such as quantum physics.

 

A few years ago, neuroscience caught his attention. After reading roughly 150 books and publications, it became clear to him that neuroscience has a direct role to play at PEM.

 

“What we essentially do is to create experiences of art and culture. We call them exhibitions and programs, but we are really creating experiences,” he said.

 

Since research shows that all experiences are created in our brains, he reasoned, if PEM wanted to remain at the forefront of designing meaningful, relevant and impactful art experiences, it would be a good idea to better understand how brains work.

 

Essentially, he thought that by getting inside visitors’ heads and figuring out how they felt, how they saw, what caught their attention and what they remembered, PEM could enrich their visits.

 

Plus, it would make the museum a more fun experience.

 

His team began experimenting with this new approach, adding innovative multi-sensorial elements to select exhibits. Professional dancers greeted visitors in the “Rodin: Transforming Sculpture” galleries, their movements and poses reflecting those of the sculptural works. “Asia in Amsterdam” showcased fragrant spices, a soundtrack conveying 17-th century Dutch life, storytelling and striking graphics.

 

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

 

“The dancers created a new kind of attention and a new avenue for people to appreciate and see sculpture,” he said, noting that the traditional way museums transmit information — through written labels — is not working. “If people read them at all, they spend an average of 2.5 seconds, even at the oversized introductory panels,” he said. He wanted a more transformative experience for the PEM guest and, based on visitor surveys, so did the public.

 

After the success of the Rodin and Asia shows, Monroe and his team decided to expand their reach. They applied for and received a $130,000 grant from the Barr Foundation, a Boston-based philanthropic organization, to launch the neuroscience initiative and delve deeper into using neuroscience research to enhance the way PEM designs exhibits.

 

The initiative enabled PEM to hire Dr. Tedi Asher, a neuroscientist who earned her Ph.D. from Harvard Medical School’s Biological and Biomedical Sciences program 2016, and joined PEM as its full-time Neuroscience Researcher in April. “To our knowledge, this is the first art museum in the world to hire a neuroscientist and put them on staff,” Monroe said.

 

Asher is thrilled with her first job outside the academic arena. “Where else but at art museums can one witness such breadth and depth of emotional experience?” she asked.

 

She was looking for a position that would allow her to creatively communicate neuroscience to non-scientists in a non-traditional teaching environment that would reach beyond academia and benefit the public at large.

 

“I came across PEM’s job ad and it seemed to fit that bill,” she said.

 

Asher’s primary academic focus has been studying emotion, starting as an undergraduate at Swarthmore College, where she studied learning and memory in the common fruit fly. Her doctoral work in neuroscience investigated aggressive behavior in mice.

 

At PEM, she will step out of the laboratory and explore how PEM can enhance and enrich the visitor experience by designing exhibits that will evoke human emotions, thereby leaving lasting impressions.

 

“Teri has a keen interest in using neuroscience to make the world a better place. She’s learning a great deal about art and culture and how museums work at the same time she’s teaching us about neuroscience and how brains work,” Monroe said.

 

Asher’s tasks are threefold. She will investigate how human brains are wired to appreciate art and how that information can be used to design exhibits that resonate on a personal level. She will then work with PEM staff, teaching them basic concepts that are relevant to their work as exhibition and program designers, such as how visual and attention systems work and how they relate to emotion. Finally, she will also pen a small publication to explain the concept behind the neuroscience initiative and its applicability to museums.

 

The skills she honed during schooling — particularly her ability to “mine the literature in an efficient and effective way” — will be key to her position. Specifically, she will be looking at the structure of the visual system and how that influences visual perception, asking questions such as, “What neurostructures allow us to regulate attention? What characterizes how we allocate attention with an experience like a museum visit?”

 

It will be then be up to PEM exhibit designers and staff to translate and incorporate that information into the museum’s installations.

 

The timing of Asher’s hire couldn’t be more perfect. PEM continues to undergo a comprehensive renovation and expansion project, featuring a 40,000 square-foot new wing of galleries, which will open in 2019. At the same time, Monroe explained, PEM is also in the process of refreshing its permanent collections, creating new installations of virtually all of them.

 

“The entire experience at PEM will be new, based on ideas we’re deriving from neuroscience and other fields,” he said. Asher will assist in this overhaul too.

 

Since 2003, PEM has used The Morey Group to measure overall visitor satisfaction through a standardized survey tool used within the museum industry. Among the 80 museums tracked by Morey, PEM is head and shoulders above the rest, ranking number one every year since 2003.

 

“We’ve long been pursuing innovative approaches,” Monroe explained modestly, adding, “but the neuroscience initiative is a distinctive one.”

 

Monroe credits the neuroscience initiative with motivating PEM to shift gears away from written text and towards better and more storytelling. “Stories are the glue that holds us together as social animals. Good stories elicit emotion and emotion is really critical,” he said.

Creating intergenerational bonds the old fashioned way: by writing letters

by Shelley A. Sackett

 

 

Stanley Elementary School fourth grader Drew Hause couldn’t wait to go to school last Wednesday, June 7. Since October, he and 21 other students in Mrs. Sami Lawler’s class have corresponded with pen pals from the Swampscott Senior Center and today was the day they would finally meet them face-to-face.

 

The seniors were just as excited. For many who live far away from their own grandchildren, gaining a peek through the keyhole of a nine-year-old’s life over the course of the school year was a welcome treat during the long slog of the New England winter. Meeting them in person would be icing on the cake.

 

The intergenerational program was started years ago by Marilyn Cassidy as a way to connect seniors and young school children. For the first few years it was at Hadley Elementary School, then Clarke Elementary School, and this year its home base was Stanley.

 

 

Hause and Sackett

Pen pals Drew Hause and Shelley Sackett get ready to try their luck at bingo.

 

 

“The kids loved writing. They poured their heart and soul into their letters and I learned things while I was proofreading with them that I would otherwise not have known,” Lawler said, adding, “It was pretty special.”

 

 

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Mrs. Ami Lawler (second from left) and fourth grade class mom chaperones at the Swampscott Senior Center pen pal lunch.

 

 

Norma Freedman, of Swampscott, chaired this year’s Senior Center pen pal program. She has had a pen pal for many years, and even wrote to one girl throughout the summer while she was away at camp.

 

“It’s a lot of fun and it’s good for the kids. They know there’s someone in the world besides their immediate family that cares for them,” she said.

 

The biggest challenge for her? “They draw a lot on the envelopes. I’m not an artist and I don’t draw, but I tried to, to keep it interesting for them too.”

 

The students arrived at the Senior Center by van (courtesy of the Senior Center) clutching handmade decorated envelopes, presents and lunch. Their senior pen pals were already there, and squeals of delight filled the lunchroom as hugs, presents and — of course — letters were exchanged.

 

Thomas Mello presented his pen pal, retired social worker Bill Foley, with a last letter in an envelope covered with colorful drawings of his pets, a guinea pig and an aquarium full of fish. Unsurprisingly, his favorite part of the pen pal project was “drawing on the cards.”

 

Mello-Foley-Jaeger-Kerr

From left: Thomas Mello, Bill Foley and Caleb Jaeger-Kerr get to know each other over lunch.

 

 

After lunch, seniors and fourth graders played four rounds of bingo, bonding even more over lessons in frustration and good sportsmanship. Freedman reminisced how her pen pal won one game last year and hugged and kissed her. “He was so happy. It was like I gave him the world,” she said with a smile.

 

Holly Mello, Thomas’s mother and one of the class chaperones, touted the scholastic benefits of teaching kids to communicate the old fashioned way — through letters. “It’s a great way for the kids to have an applied experience to practice their writing during the school year. They have grandparents, but they see and talk to them often on the phone,” she said.

 

Even though he didn’t win at bingo, Drew Hause had a big smile on his face as he hugged his pen pal goodbye and enthusiastically invited her to continue the correspondence after school lets out for the summer.

 

He offered parting words of advice to incoming Stanley fourth grade students. “When you guys are in Mrs. Lawler’s class, and she asks if you want a pen pal, you should say yes. You’ll be so happy because then you’ll meet them and it will be so much fun!”