Reality Fair Provides Reality Check

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Andrew Wulf, SHS Assistant Principal for Teaching and Learning, SHS seniors Xhoralgo Gjinaj and Vistor Acosta, and Bryan Boppert, SSU AssociateDirector of the Student Navigation Center, pose with the Reality Check wheel of fortune. PHOTO: Shelley A. Sackett

 

Salem High School senior Daniele Alejandro hoped the financial Salem High School Reality Fair, a simulation of the financial challenges adults face, would show him how to be financially stable. After attending last Wednesday’s event, he came away with a better idea of how many obstacles he will face to achieve that goal.

 

“I was surprised at the cost of housing and how expensive it was. We had three people sharing an apartment and it was still difficult to pay for utilities,” he said.

 

Jaileny Pimentel, whose favorite subjects are calculus and statistics and who is interested in a career in business, looked forward to learning “tricks on how to save money.” Some students, like Victor Acosta, already pay all their personal bills, such as food and cell phone. Acosta recognizes he needs to learn to save on a regular basis and hoped the fair would teach him how to better manage money so he could afford to own a car.

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SHS seniors Jaileny Pimental (left) and Daniele Alejandro about to enter the Insurance and Investments booth.

 

Other students, like Xhoralgo Gjinaj, simply welcomed the opportunity to be out of the classroom on a beautiful May day. He anticipated the fair being “fun, interesting and something new.”

 

Since 2015, Salem Public Schools has run the SHS Reality Fair, providing graduating seniors with the opportunity to experience an up close and personal snapshot of what lies ahead of them as financially independent adults. The fair also supplies them with some of the tools they will need to tackle the many obstacles they will encounter along the way.

 

“We are very excited to be partnering with Salem State University (SSU), Salem Five Bank and Cabot Wealth Management. Everyone is committed to making sure our seniors leave high school understanding how to manage money,” said Andrew Wulf, Assistant Principal for Teaching and Learning at Salem High School.

 

The Reality Fair planning team included Mikki Willson from Cabot Wealth Management; Ginny Leblanc, who teaches at Salem High School and handled most of the event coordination; and Adria Leach and Bryan Boppert from SSU. Bertolon School of Business at Salem State University hosted the event.

 

Each student received an individualized packet upon arrival with their name, occupation, and a summary of their hypothetical financial life at age 25, including net income after all taxes are deducted from their salary. Armed with that figure, they visited 16 booths to fill in the blanks on how to survive on that amount of money while also managing student loan debt and saving some money every month. Adult volunteers from the business, non-profit and public sectors staffed the booths, located in classrooms throughout the building.

 

At the end of the three-and-one-half hour fair, each student came away with a realistic monthly budget and the skills necessary to build one for themselves in the future.

 

 

Among the booths were: Career Counseling, Charity, Clothing, Credit/Lending, Credit Counseling, Education, Food, Luxury, Furniture, Housing, Insurance, Investment, Retirement, Savings and Transportation. In the Reality Check booth, a giant wheel similar to the “Wheel of Fortune” greeted visitors. Instead of winning vowels, however, a spin of this wheel yielded those little twists and turns life can unpredictably throw at you. Landing on green meant unexpected gains; red signified a loss.

 

For example, the green slots included a $100 birthday present from your parents or a part time job that yielded $250 a month. Red could mean an $875 expense to attend a wedding or $500 to replace a broken smartphone.

 

“It was really eye opening to see how the real world works,” said Alejandro, who hopes to earn an R.N. degree after graduation.

 

Bryan Boppert, Associate Director of the Student Navigation Center at SSU, greeted each student when they entered the lobby with a handshake and a smile. This was his first year of official involvement in the Reality Fair, but he was aware of it last year.

 

“Students took away the real world benefit of learning that budgeting is a skill learned through practice that requires discipline to maintain. Some students wanted fancy cars and vacations, but in the end they wound up broke,” he said, adding that the real benefit of the Reality Fair is that students can fail in a simulated way instead of trying it in the real world where they could lose their car or hurt their credit score.

 

His office, which counsels SSU students on borrowing responsibly, paying bills on time and managing the complex world of college, would love to replicate the Salem High School Reality Fair for their own students. “I would go so far as to say that the state should mandate financial literacy for all students because it has such a positive effect,” Boppert said.

 

Wulf has received positive feedback from the volunteers and students, who mentioned that the fair gave them a nice dose of reality regarding the complexities of managing their money. He believes that having volunteers from different companies and organizations was key to making the experience more authentic for the students.

 

“We have yet to hear from a student that the fair was not worthwhile,” he said with pride.

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For Two Local Synagogues, Inclusion Is a Priority

 

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Transition to Work graduates.

 

 

Congregation Shirat Hayam (CSH) in Swampscott and Temple Sinai in Marblehead were among the dozens of synagogues that applied for Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project (RISP) grants in 2016. They both were selected and on May 23, they will be among the nine 2017 Cohort of RISP Congregational Partners welcomed and recognized at the annual CJP “Celebrating Inclusion” event.

 

“We are very excited to be working with two synagogues on the North Shore this year and are very interested in regional collaboration,” said Molly Silver, who manages the partnership between the CJP and RISP. “Being inclusive is a sacred and holy imperative of Jews and this project helps synagogues realize their own unique vision of inclusion.”

 

For over a decade, the Ruderman Family Foundation philanthropic mission has emphasized disability advocacy and inclusion. Its newest initiative, RISP, awards $5,000 grants to synagogues in the Greater Boston and North Shore communities to help fund programs that ensure that all people, including those with profound disabilities, are able to participate in congregational activities.

 

RISP started as a pilot program in 2013 with just three Boston synagogues.

 

Sharon Shapiro is the daughter of founder Morton E. Ruderman and a Ruderman Family Foundation trustee. As Community Liaison, she is in charge of all projects in the greater Boston and North Shore areas, including RISP.

 

“There is a group of people who are not coming to synagogue because they feel there’s nothing there for them,” she said. “RISP raises awareness for inclusion in general, but specifically for people with disabilities because that is the focus of our foundation.”

 

Silver was particularly struck by Temple Sinai’s and CSH’s strategic and thoughtful Inclusion Action Plans and ambitious goals. “What stood out about their applications was a deep and profound desire among both communities to be a “kehillah k’dosha”, a holy community that strives to welcome everyone who walks through their doors.

 

Rabbi Michael Ragozin hopes CSH will become fully inclusive of children with disabilities and their families. “It’s heartbreaking to hear the stories of rejection that families, seeking to raise their children in a Jewish community, families whose children will thrive in a Torah environment, have experienced,” he said.

 

Beyond the letter of the grant, he also hopes CSH will become even more inclusive of interfaith families, the LGBTQ community, households with varied incomes, and individuals experiencing mental health issues.

 

“Inclusion is a clarion call to honor the uniqueness of each one of us,” he said.

Temple Sinai’s Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez agrees. “To be able to reach and kiss the mezuzah, to be able to drink water or go to the restroom, to have access to the bimah and the Torah, to be able to read and hear the services are things we might take for granted,” he said, noting many others in the community might not be as fortunate.

 

Both synagogues have formed Inclusion Committees with ambitious and concrete goals and plans for the coming year. Amanda Clayman and Michele Tamaren co-chair CSH’s 14-member “Shir Lanu: One Song – Every Voice” committee. Deborah Shelkan Remis chairs Temple Sinai’s nine-member committee.

 

Remis pointed to the network already operating for congregants who need rides or meals, have hearing assisted devices or need large print siddurim. “This is just the beginning,” she said.

 

AT CSH, Hebrew School director Janice Knight leads Torah study focused on inclusion as a Jewish value and has invited trainers to work with staff and teens through “Gateways: Access to Jewish Education”. CSH greeters have received training on the use of inclusive language. An accessibility handout itemizes available inclusion support.

 

“We believe inclusion is holy, just and divine. Everyone is welcome and must feel welcome at Shirat Hayam,” Clayman said.

 

Ruderman trustee Shapiro remembers about five or six years ago when someone from CSH with an adult son with disabilities was trying desperately to make changes at the synagogue. “I think it took this project and other families coming forward to make the wok really impactful in the synagogue top down and bottom up,” she said.

 

That “someone” is Marcy Yellin, whose 32-year-old son Jacob is a regular at CSH events and services. “I’m thrilled for Shirat Hayam to be included in the Ruderman Foundation grant. I have great respect for all the things the Foundation does. It’s wonderful to see that people are taking disabilities seriously and mobilizing together to support our most vulnerable, especially in the Jewish world,” she said.

 

She paused for a moment and then added with a smile, “we have waited a very long time for this.”

Rosh Hodesh, Mother’s Day and Me

 

 

I am a mommy-in-the-middle: I have a mother and I am a mother. I get a lot of pleasure from both roles, but every year, Mother’s Day falls flat for me. I’m so busy being either mother or daughter that I never feel a personally meaningful or satisfying connection.

 

Yet, I certainly connect to being a mother. I just don’t connect to Mother’s Day.

 

So I decided that this year, rather than accepting and ignoring the hollowness of Mother’s Day, I would dig deeper until I discovered something that resonated with me in the way traditional Mother’s Day was supposed to, but didn’t.

 

Before discarding it out of hand, however, I thought I should learn more about Mother’s Day. It all started in the 1800’s when Ann Reeves Jarvis, an Appalachian social activist and women’s event planner, created “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to help educate women about how to care for their children and keep them healthy. After the war, she organized “Mother’s Friendship Picnics” to encourage Confederate and Union loyalists to ignore their differences and remember their common bond of motherhood.

 

When Ann died, her daughter Anna wanted to celebrate her beloved mother. She organized an honorary event in West Virginia on May 10, which soon spread to a number of states. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson designated the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day, declaring that the holiday offered a chance to “[publicly express] our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”

 

Anna’s idea was that children would spend the day with their mothers in appreciation of all they had sacrificed for them. When the day quickly turned into a retail gold mine, she was so disappointed that she spent the rest of her life fighting to have its holiday status revoked. She failed, and by 2014 Americans spent almost $20 billion on Mother’s Day goods and services.

 

While building personal bonds among mothers was a terrific legacy worth preserving, Anna Jarvis had correctly recognized that her original Mother’s Day had morphed into something commercial and trivial.

 

Many cultures and religions — including Judaism — have other ways for women to gather and pay homage to their unique feminine qualities.

 

We Jewish mothers are lucky to have Rosh Hodesh, the first day of the Jewish lunar month, which coincides with the new moon. It is a minor festival that has long been associated with, and sacred to, women. Midrash (biblical legend) holds the holiday was given to women as a reward for their refusal to give up their jewelry to help create the Golden Calf.

 

Women’s Rosh Hodesh groups started springing up in the 1980s as a way to revive its observance in a modern, more meaningful way.

 

My own introduction to Rosh Hodesh took place soon after moving to Swampscott in 2001 when I was invited to join a Hadassah evening of study and community. The focus was Rosh Hodesh. We each received a copy of “Moonbeams”, Hadassah’s guide to Rosh Hodesh modern practices. It still calls to me, the enchantment of its watercolor cover and thoughtful readings undiminished.

 

The next year, my daughter celebrated her Bat Mitzvah on Rosh Hodesh Sivan, which happened to fall on Mother’s Day. Rosh Hodesh and I had some sort of special bond, but the connection wasn’t yet clear.

 

Then, about five years ago, I learned to chant the Rosh Hodesh Torah parsha, which I have done almost every month since, always using my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah yad. Last week, at Rosh Hodesh Iyar, something felt different.

 

I felt a spark of kinship with the spirits of all women who ever stood where I stood, especially my daughter and my mother when the three of us shared the bimah in celebration of her Mother’s Day Bat Mitzvah 15 years ago. How had I forgotten?

 

That personal, spiritual way to connect with Mother’s Day I longed for was right in front of my eyes all along. All I had to do was to open them and notice.

 

This year, when I send that Hallmark card and buy that Mother’s Day gift, it will be with a full and grateful heart. Mother’s Day is my holiday too.

 

Bringing It Home: PJ Library Takes Parents to Israel

 

 

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Sara Weisman of Beverly, at center with white hat, took part in the first PJ Library Parents to Israel Trip (PJLP2I). Photo courtesy of the Lappin Foundation.

Last May 11, on Yom Ha’azmaut (Israel Independence Day), Debbie Coltin was reading a story to a group of children and their parents as part of the PJ Library program when a little girl turned to her mother and asked, “Mommy, does Israel really look like that?”

 

The mom, who had never been to Israel, panicked and made eye contact with Coltin, the Lappin Foundation Executive Director.

 

“I thought to myself, ‘We’ve got to get these parents to Israel,’” she said. And get them to Israel she did, with the creation of the first PJ Library Parents to Israel Trip (PJLP2I).

 

“We get the teens excited about Israel [with Y2I, the Lappin Foundation teen trip to Israel], but this hits a different generation. If we didn’t organize it, when would they go? Our dream is to have this missed generation of young parents who didn’t do birthright, who are busy professionals, go to Israel,” she said.

 

Less than a year later, from April 25 through May 4, Coltin led the first PJLP2I trip with 29 participants, including ten interfaith families. The subsidized trip was open to PJ Library parents of all faiths who live in the Lappin Foundation’s service area and who had never been to Israel.

 

PJ Library is a Jewish family engagement program that focuses on the bond created between children and parents during story time right before bed. Jewish children ages six months to eight years old are eligible to receive a free Jewish book and CD-of-the-month. The Lappin Foundation partners with Cohen Hillel Academy as local funders of the international program created by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.

 

The PJLP2I’s immediate goal is straightforward: to educate and empower parents to speak about Israel to their children from first-hand experience. According to Coltin, the bigger picture is to create ambassadors and advocates in the community for Israel.

 

“That generation is all about social media,” she said referring to the many participants who posted daily pictures during their trip. “Their friends and parents of other kids were already commenting on their postings. So it works,” she said.

 

Participants were from three distinct geographic areas — Newburyport, Marblehead/Swampscott and Beverly/Peabody. They and their families had three opportunities to meet prior to the trip. “It was a specular community building and growth experience,” Coltin said.

 

Sara Weisman, a Beverly mom and member of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, was very skeptical of Israel and hesitant to take the trip. She returned “totally blown away by the experience” with plans to return.

 

“This trip changed my impression of Israel completely. In some sense, I didn’t learn anything new, but I gained insight that can’t be learned at a distance or read in a book about the value of having a Jewish nation. What happens in Israel feels very personal in a way it didn’t before,” she said.

 

Al Pica from Swampscott is father of two young children and a member of Temple Emmanuel in Marblehead. He was most surprised by the unwavering patriotism among all Israeli people — Christians and Arab Israelis as well as Jewish Israelis — and how that differed from his preconceptions. He left the U.S. as an ambassador to Israel, but returned home “with a sense of duty to do even more — spread the good word, clear up myths and misconceptions about Israel, the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, etc.,” he said.

 

The trip affected both Weisman and Pica as parents. “I had previously been to other Holocaust museums, but a tour through Yad Vashem, and in particular the Children’s Memorial, had a tremendous impact on me as a parent of Jewish children,” Pica said.

 

Weisman feels she now understands Biblical history a lot better after visiting places where some Biblical events took place. “The mental scale I had of cities, distances, landscapes and so on wasn’t connected to physical places before. I want to share this with my children, as well as a sense of pride in the modern nation of Israel,” she said.

 

Coltin was most impressed by the sacrifices many had to make to participate. “Look at the demographics we were appealing to. One mom had four little kids. That’s brave, right?” she said.

 

She is delighted with the parents’ post-trip evaluation comments, especially the number who said the trip was “life changing” and “eye opening”. “The goal was to bring it home and instill it in your kids. I’m sure those conversations will take place,” she said.

 

 

 

 

Salem Artist Tapped as New ArcWorks Director

 

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Lifelong artist Susan Dodge loves her new position as Director of ArcWorks Community Center in Peabody. “The job I am doing now is just such a reward. I smile everyday. I’m happy to go to work. And I get to do so many things I really love, like curating shows, working with artists and envisioning what the next project will be,” the Salem resident said during an interview at The Bridge at 211 in Salem, where she currently has a piece on exhibit.

 

The Northeast Arc (NeArc) is a not-for-profit organization that helps children and adults with disabilities become full participants in the community. ArcWorks is its inclusive art center, which serves artists and viewers of all talents, skills, interests and backgrounds and provides artistic opportunity for people with and without disabilities.

 

In her role as its director, Dodge is responsible for scheduling gallery shows at both the art center and Breaking Grounds, the coffee shop in Peabody that NeArc runs. She also creates curriculum and teaches various art classes during the day to NeArc clients and in the evening to community members.

 

“I am happily tired at the end of the day,” Dodge said with a smile.

 

Tim Brown, Dodge’s supervisor and NeArc’s Director of Innovation and Strategy, couldn’t be more pleased to have Dodge on board.

 

“I have been a personal fan of Susan’s art for many years,” he said. “What I did not know was how each step in her personal journey fit so nicely into the model we wanted to develop.”

 

Dodge’s impressive resumé includes teaching art; a commission for 48 paintings at the famed Palm Beach, Florida property, The Breakers; a seven-year stint as Project Manager at a web design firm; a business career in sales and marketing at The Hawthorne Hotel; curating many art shows, and owning her own pottery studio, The Artful Dodger, through which she sold murals, tiles and signature pottery throughout the U.S. and the Virgin Islands.

 

She earned a B.F.A from Massachusetts College of Art and returned to school at age 48 for a certificate in digital graphic design.

 

According to Brown, the diversity of Dodge’s experience was exactly what NeArc hoped a new director bring to the position — the abilities both to develop an engaging class structure using a variety of mediums, and to manage the Gallery Shows and Shop within the ArcWorks program.

 

“Within her first four months at NeArc, she has curated five different gallery shows. Each show brought new artists and viewers, expanding our reach and recognition within the art community,” he said.

Prior to her current position, Dodge has always taught private art classes to children. This is her first time working with students with disabilities, but she sees more similarities than differences.

 

“I look at people with disabilities as just people. Creating art in so many ways is about honing a technique and seeing things. Everyone has their own vision of how they see things. Basically, making art is just translating that vision into an object or putting it on a canvas or a paper,” she said.

 

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Susan Dodge is working with Polyvios Christoforos on a painting that was ultimately featured in a collection of greeting cards handed out at the Ne-Arc “An Evening of Changing Lives Dinner and Fashion Show” on April 29

 

She works with 25-year-old Polyvios Christoforos twice a week. “He is a prolific painter. We work together really well,” she said. Christoforos’ work was featured in a collection of greeting cards handed out at NeArc’s “An Evening of Changing Lives Dinner and Fashion Show” on April 29.

 

“When you teach people with disabilities, you have to be really present, and compassionate and listen really well,” Dodge said, noting that many of her clients have speech-related issues. “I have developed different ways I work with people” depending on their needs.

 

Over the years and from her teaching experiences in the U.S. and abroad, Dodge has noticed a consistent and common thread among all her students: they share an eagerness to create something they can be proud of.

 

“In my core, I believe that everyone is an artist. It’s just a matter of letting yourself do it without judging what you’re doing,” she said.

 

For more information, visit ne-arc.org.

 

Rescuing Cats Is a Family Affair

Dedicated PALS volunteer marks fifteen years of service

 

 

The first thing Maryann Tapparro did when she left her childhood home in Rochester, New York was to get a pet. “My parents didn’t like pets; they weren’t animal people,” the Danvers resident said during a phone interview. “We were living in an apartment and so my first pet happened to be a cat.”

 

That was 54 years ago, and Tapparro has had cats ever since. “I don’t know why, but I’m just passionate about cats. They’re wonderful, intriguing animals,” she said, over the background mewling of a litter of recently born kittens.

 

Fifteen years ago, she found out about Pals Animal Lifesaver (known as “PALS”), a local all-volunteer no-kill cat shelter in Salem. The non-profit organization, founded in 1995, is dedicated to helping homeless cats and kittens find suitable, loving homes, and is funded fully by donations, adoption fees, and organized fundraisers.

 

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Maryann Tapparro with one of her many cats.

 

Since then, Tapparro has done every job there is at PALS and currently serves on its Board of Directors as Feline Coordinator. PALS has a team of rescuers on call 24-hours-a-day that responds to reports of a cat in the local area in need of rescue. As Feline Coordinator, Tapparro’s basic task is finding foster care for these rescue cats until they can be vetted and placed for adoption.

 

She has five cats of her own and has fostered hundreds over the years. “It’s very hard because we become attached to these cats, but then we are really happy that they do get adopted,” she said.

 

Some cats are sick or injured, so they may need medication or surgery. Some have chronic diseases, such as leukemia or thyroid issues, and need lifetime care. “We have some wonderful people out there who do adopt these animals and continue the medications for them,” Tapparro said.

 

She mentions educating the public as the biggest challenge PALS faces. First is teaching people to have their cats spayed or neutered. “Then there wouldn’t be so many strays,” she said.

 

Second is to educate cat owners about the importance of keeping their cats indoors because of the obvious safety hazards and because cats are not geared outdoor survival.

 

“If people move, they sometimes leave their cats thinking they can fend for themselves, but cats really are not used to eating birds and mice. It’s just a form of play for them,” she said. “That’s why we find a lot of cats in dumpsters trying to find food.”

 

They also need water, which is sometimes hard for an animal to find outdoors.

 

While fostering cats on her own, Tapparro also manages the database for all the other cats in other foster homes and initiates check-ups. All cats are followed up with and watched throughout all stages of rescue. Once well enough to enter the adoption center, a PALS Adoption Coordinator matches cats with the most suitable adopter for their needs.

 

Since 2003, PALS has been an adoption partner at PetSmart’s store at 10 Traders Ways in Salem. Hours for adoption are Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Fridays by appointment. The cats can be viewed in their cages during regular store hours.

 

According to PALS Volunteer Coordinator, Sandy Perry, the rewards of volunteering show no bounds. “Between the friendships made, helping adopters both past and present, and sharing the joys of their new family member and the wonderful felines we encounter every day, this is a wonderful, rewarding endeavor,” she said.

 

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Maryannn Tapparro and her granddaughter and fellow PALS volunteer, Amanda Tapparro.

For Tapparro, it is also a family affair. Three of her granddaughters have followed in her footsteps and volunteer at PALS. Amanda Tapparro is the official PALS photographer.

 

Her three children have also inherited her love of animals, one going one step further. “They all have cats. One even has dogs too,” she said with a laugh.

 

For more information, visit palscats.org/ or call 978-531-7478.

 

 

Salem Film Fest Turns Ten!

The “little festival that could” celebrates with a Gala

When local filmmaker Joe Cultrera, businessman Paul Van Ness and Salem Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rinus Oosthoek gathered at the fledgling CinemaSalem’s café in 2007, they all shared a common goal: to create an event that would be fair to documentary filmmakers and attractive to audiences. They presented a week of special film programming and live events in the middle of that same winter. “That’s about as fast as a festival can be put together once you have a venue,” said Van Ness who owns CinemaSalem. “I suppose you could call it a spring training for the big league festival that would inaugurate the next year.”

The 2008 Salem Film Fest drew 1,743 filmgoers; last year, more than 6,000 attended what has grown to be both one New England’s largest and among the nation’s most respected all-documentary film festivals. Each March, the festival presents a rich and diverse collection of the year’s best work from all over the world that helps sustain cinephiles through the long, bleak slog of New England winter.

This year the festival runs from March 2-9 and will kick off its tenth anniversary with a Gala on Thursday, March 2 at the Hawthorne Hotel that will combine presentation of the 2017 SFF Storyteller Award to Frontline founder David Fanning with a live music dance party. (Visit salemfilmfest.com/2017/gala-tickets for more information).

“Come to Salem, see the world” has been the Salem Film Fest catch phrase since its inception, both as an homage to old Salem merchant ships that established trade with the rest of the world and in tribute to the dozens of countries represented by the films the festival has screened over its ten years.

With a line-up of 35 feature and 13 short documentaries from more than 25 countries, SFF 2017 covers a lot of the globe: from the largest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan (“After Spring”) to Finland’s worst cheerleading team (“Cheer Up”); from the Mississippi Delta blues (“I Am the Blues”) to Mexico’s most famous tabloid photographer (“The Man who Saw Too Much”); from Jalalabad’s child street gangs (“Snow Monkey”) to a New York City’s West Village artist community (“Winter at Westbeth”). And everyplace in between.

Besides CinemaSalem, SFF partners with Peabody Essex Museum’s Morse Auditorium (PEM) and the National Park Service Visitor Center (NPS) as additional venues. With simultaneous screenings at all three sites, the streets of Salem feel like a mini Sundance as filmgoers greet each other on the street, making their way from one film to the next.

As in past years, SFF 2017 focuses on filmmakers as much as their films, and 19 filmmakers and/or their subjects will attend this year’s post-screening Q&A sessions, which promise to be as exciting and informative as festivalgoers have come to expect. “It’s great to see the growth of the festival while we also stay true to our roots. More and more filmmakers have found the festival to be a haven of sorts for their films, and they enjoy spending time in Salem,” said Jeff Schmidt, who has been SFF program director since 2014.

Cultrera, who handed the programming to Schmidt in 2013, agrees. “The thing I look forward to every year is getting a new crew of filmmakers to the festival: spending time interacting with them; introducing them to Salem; watching friendships build between them and some of our audience, and talking shop at after-hours gatherings,” he said.

Among this year’s line-up are three U.S. premieres: “The Day the Sun Fell” (surviving Red Cross doctors and nurses remember the day Hiroshima was bombed as nuclear disaster strikes Japan again); “Mattress Man” (an Irish 60-something-year-old creates a tacky YouTube persona to boost his failing business) and “Zimbelism” (one of the last working street photographers shares stories from his dark room). Both filmmaker Matt Zimbel and his subject and father, George S. Zimbel, will be present at the “Zimbelism” screening at PEM on Sunday, March 5 at 10:50 a.m.

The programming committee started looking for SFF 2017 films last June, and the richly varied menu of films has something to please every palette. To make planning easier, SFF offers a helpful guide that organizes the films into a number of “curated itineraries” to allow the audience to review films through specific lenses.

Three films that address complex socio-political issues through one person’s story are “Almost Sunrise”, Tickling Giants” and “Death by One Thousand Cuts”.

Filmmaker Michael Collins’ “Almost Sunrise” addresses “moral injury” by following two Iraq War veterans suffering from PTSD as they trek 2,700 miles in a last ditch effort to find the healing they both seek. Collins will attend the Q&A after the screening at PEM on Saturday, March 4 at 8:35 p.m.

“Tickling Giants” examines the aftermath of the Egyptian Arab Spring by showcasing Bassem Youssef, the “Egyptian Jon Stewart” who endangers his life and livelihood when the Morsi regime doesn’t appreciate his jokes. Filmmaker Sara Taksler will be available for a post-screening Q&A. The film is at PEM on Friday, March 3 at 8:10 p.m.

In “Death by a Thousand Cuts”, a brutal murder on the Haiti-Dominican border exposes the complex consequences of killing the Dominican forests, one cut at a time. The filmmaker will attend the Q&A after the screening at CinemaSalem on Sunday, March 5 at 5:10 p.m.

On the more whimsical side, “The League of Exotique Dancers” introduces eight unforgettable Burlesque Hall of Fame inductees who share the good, the bad and the ugly about the golden age of stripping with bawdy good humor and moving insight in a film that is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. It screens at CinemaSalem on Saturday, March 4 at 9:40 p.m.

Those most interested in the arts have plenty to choose from this year. “The Ballad of Fred Hersch” traces the foremost jazz pianist and composer’s journey from AIDS coma survivor to musical triumph (Friday, March 3 at CinemaSalem at 5:10 p.m.). “Yarn” introduces edgy, contemporary women who are revolutionizing the art of knitting and crocheting. (Saturday, March 4 at PEM at 11:50 a.m.). “I Am the Blues” gives an up-close-and-personal tour of the original southern juke joints with the aging blues musicians who still play its “Chitlin’ Circuit”. (Closing night feature on Thursday, March 9 at CinemaSalem at 7:00 p.m.).

Every year, regular attendees look forward to the premiere of “Salem Sketches”, a series of two-minute documentaries based in Salem and created exclusively for SFF by local filmmakers and SFF Planning Committee members Cultrera and Perry Hallinan. “We’re one of the few festivals that can claim to have our own original programing,” Cultrera said with pride.

SFF 2017 is also jam-packed with events, parties and the live music performances before many of the screenings at CinemaSalem by local musicians whose contributions add to the festival’s literal good vibrations.

While the community-driven, all-volunteer festival steadfastly remains true to its ideals of high-level programming and treating filmmakers like the stars they are, the “little festival that could” seems poised for even wider appeal and reach in its second decade. All agree that fundraising and broadening the volunteer base are two critical ingredients for generating this growth.

“The festival is special, but it could be on another level entirely if we had the resources and if there was a mechanism in place in Salem that better synchronized public, private and non-profit energies,” said Cultrera.

Nonetheless, the wildly popular and highly anticipated festival draws sell-out crowds to one of the liveliest and friendliest of Salem’s many festivities. Patrons return year after year and hugging reunions in the CinemaSalem lobby are commonplace. Clearly, the Salem Film Festival is about more than films. It’s also about community.

“Come to Salem, see the world. Come to Salem, meet the world,” Oosthoek said with a smile.

Salem Film Fest runs March 2-9 with screenings at CinemaSalem, Peabody Essex Museum and National Park Service Visitors Center. For more information or to purchase tickets or passes, go to the CinemaSalem box office or visit salemfilmfest.com/2017/.

Israeli Innovations Energize Mayor Driscoll

 

 

 

Israel had long been on Mayor Kim Driscoll’s bucket list. So when she was invited to participate in the American Israel Education Foundation’s (AIEF) educational seminar to Israel for members of Congress and other politically influential people last February, she jumped at the chance.

 

“We think Salem, which is almost 400 years old, has an embarrassment of riches, from the birthplace of the National Guard to the Witch Trials to the great age of sail. We’re a babe in the woods compared to what’s over there,” she said.

 

Although she is a practicing Catholic, she was more drawn into the history of the sites she visited than the bible stories. “I really value the role history plays in the character of a place. The commitment to never lose sight of that, whether it’s good history or history that’s more tragic, like the Witch Trials — that’s definitely moving,” she said.

Western Wall

At the Kotel (Western Wall)

At the Kotel, or The Western Wall (an ancient limestone wall in the Old City of Jerusalem), she also felt the weight of the region’s history and the thousands of years during which there have been sometimes violent disagreements. She came away with an even stronger commitment towards peace. “It is so complicated and so hard to achieve, yet so necessary,” she said.

 

She was also on the look out for Israeli ideas she could bring back to Salem, and she found more than she expected. “I was struck by the drive for ingenuity and innovation in Israel,” she said more than once during the hour-long conversation.

 

In particular, she marveled at Israel’s ability to recycle 80 percent of its water in a sustainable, thoughtful way. “It’s amazing what you can do when you have to. Water scarcity is a big issue in the Middle East. They don’t have a choice,” she said.

 

Israeli engineering firms that have developed ways of monitoring water leaks to help with water loss also caught her attention. “When you think about a water system as old as ours, well theirs is a thousand times older. I think there could be some shared alignment,” she said.

Granot Desalination Plant visit

At the Granot Desalination Plant

 

Urban agriculture, also tied to water, is another area of potential transferability. “I think we’re all going to need to think about that as more folks move into cities. There’s already a farm-to-table sustainability food industry here. I think there’s a lot we could learn,” she said.

 

She also sees potential applicability for Salem to adapt the way Israeli law enforcement communicates with residents. In Jerusalem, for example, a system of colored lights signal the current level of concern about potential attacks from Israel’s enemies. Although Salem doesn’t fear that kind of attack, Mayor Driscoll came away with ideas about how to expand the system already in place that flashes a blue light when there is a snow-parking ban.

 

“I’m talking more about if trash is delayed a day, or if there is other information we want to get out,” she said. “Right now we rely on phone calls or web sites. Their simple lighting system communicated a universal message to a city where people were from many different backgrounds and spoke many different languages. It was very clear to everyone what was going on.”

 

According to 2015 Census Bureau information, 23.3 percent of Salem citizens speak a language other than English. That is higher than the national average of 21%.

 

The February itinerary included briefings at the Gaza Strip and Lebanese and Syrian borders, and visits to the Granot desalination plant and the Knesset as well as to top tourist sites in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Capernaum.

 

Group photo at Visit to Sea of Galilee- Mt. of Beatitudes

Group photo at Mt. of Beatitudes- Sea of Gallilee

 

“I really felt like I was on a journey to better understand history and also how people interact in a time when there is trauma, stress and threats all around them. There is a real perseverance in Israel that you can see everyday,” she said in an interview soon after her return.

 

“We had immense opportunities to speak with everyone we met. We were told, ‘There is nothing you can’t ask. There is nothing out of bounds.’ That was very worthwhile,” she said.

 

The group was diverse, with members of state government, many of whom had been active in political campaigns and within different policymaking levels of government. “The discussions were really hearty. I appreciated being in a discussion with folks who had different lenses. I brought a lot of the local flavor, I would say,” she said.

 

What most impressed her, however, were two qualities she circled back to again and again: political consensus building and the perseverance of a people at perpetual risk.

 

“Israel has 26 different parties. It is very much a parliamentary form of government with lots of coalition building. Yet they can adopt a uniform policy that covers the whole country and it can have meaningful impact,” she said.

 

Although consensus building is harder in Israel than in the U.S., its power and effectiveness is greater. At the Knesset (Israel’s legislative body), she witnessed lots of party members expressing lots of opinions. “Yet I was struck by their ability to move something forward,” she said in reference to Israel’s policies of universal health insurance and national water conservation policy.

 

She contrasted that to the situation in the U.S. with our city, county, state and federal levels of government. “We get almost nothing done with two parties, yet with six parties influencing policies and legislation, they manage to get consensus,” she said, shaking her head.

 

On a more personal note, Mayor Driscoll described her visit to a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip where she met families who live under the constant threat of rocket attacks, yet would never consider living anywhere else.

 

“Seeing the bomb shelters, seeing the Egyptian border, and hearing first hand from individuals who lived there was very moving for me. The situation was normalized for them. It was normalized for their kids. If you heard the alarm, you had 19 seconds to get into a bomb shelter,” she said.

 

The impact that governmental actions can have on families’ everyday lives “hit me in the face. A peace process can be mind-boggling, trying to figure out who’s responsible for what and the role we Americans play in it. But the difficulties and complexities involved in that discussion didn’t matter to the kids sitting at the bus stop next to the bomb shelter,” she said.

 

The geography and diversity of the Israeli landscape, “mountains to coastline and everything in between” surprised Mayor Driscoll. So did the fact that she never felt unsafe for one minute. “I would encourage anyone who is remotely worried about safety to just go,” she said, pointing out that many Israelis she spoke to said they wouldn’t feel safe traveling to the U.S. with news reports of gun violence and school shootings. “We put into perspective the awful things that have happened here, normalizing them. We still haven’t passed gun control,” she added.

 

The AIEF trip was not all work and no play, and Mayor Driscoll thoroughly enjoyed getting better acquainted with Israel’s “awesome” food. “Shakshouka!” she exclaimed with a broad smile. “My new favorite, and they have it at Adea’s on Sunday right here in Salem!”

 

“I guess I had never thought of Middle Eastern food as the culmination of different places. It’s a little Syrian, a little Israeli, a little of everything. We were served small plates…but they just kept on coming,” she said with a laugh, adding, “we tried to walk as much as we ate.”

 

She was also surprised by the visit to a winery in the Golan Heights. “Who thought I’d be in a terrific winery in the Golan Heights? When I think Golan Heights, I think of ‘Duck for cover!’’ she said.

 

If invited back to Israel for a follow up trip, Mayor Driscoll would suggest the itinerary include digging deeper into Israel’s schooling and education. The February tour incorporated brief visits to schools that are trying to bridge Muslim and Arab and Jewish differences by bringing students and their families together in ways she found “smart and thoughtful”.

 

“We saw kids from different backgrounds being educated together and celebrating all holidays. This is sometimes under really difficult circumstances in neighborhoods where there may be a history of trauma or tragedy that exists between those with long-held beliefs or differences of opinion.

 

If they can figure that out, that younger generation might be the real key to achieving peace in the Middle East,” she said.

 

AIEF is the charitable organization affiliated with AIPAC, America’s pro-Israel lobby, and was created in 1990. For more information visit aiefdn.org.

 

 

Rosh Hodesh, Mother’s Day and Me

 

 

I am a mommy-in-the-middle: I have a mother and I am a mother. I get a lot of pleasure from both roles, but every year, Mother’s Day falls flat for me. I’m so busy being either mother or daughter that I never feel a personally meaningful or satisfying connection.

 

Yet, I certainly connect to being a mother. I just don’t connect to Mother’s Day.

 

So I decided that this year, rather than accepting and ignoring the hollowness of Mother’s Day, I would dig deeper until I discovered something that resonated with me in the way traditional Mother’s Day was supposed to, but didn’t.

 

Before discarding it out of hand, however, I thought I should learn more about Mother’s Day. It all started in the 1800’s when Ann Reeves Jarvis, an Appalachian social activist and women’s event planner, created “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to help educate women about how to care for their children and keep them healthy. After the war, she organized “Mother’s Friendship Picnics” to encourage Confederate and Union loyalists to ignore their differences and remember their common bond of motherhood.

 

When Ann died, her daughter Anna wanted to celebrate her beloved mother. She organized an honorary event in West Virginia on May 10, which soon spread to a number of states. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson designated the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day, declaring that the holiday offered a chance to “[publicly express] our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”

 

Anna’s idea was that children would spend the day with their mothers in appreciation of all they had sacrificed for them. When the day quickly turned into a retail gold mine, she was so disappointed that she spent the rest of her life fighting to have its holiday status revoked. She failed, and by 2014 Americans spent almost $20 billion on Mother’s Day goods and services.

 

While building personal bonds among mothers was a terrific legacy worth preserving, Anna Jarvis had correctly recognized that her original Mother’s Day had morphed into something commercial and trivial.

 

Many cultures and religions — including Judaism — have other ways for women to gather and pay homage to their unique feminine qualities.

 

We Jewish mothers are lucky to have Rosh Hodesh, the first day of the Jewish lunar month, which coincides with the new moon. It is a minor festival that has long been associated with, and sacred to, women. Midrash (biblical legend) holds the holiday was given to women as a reward for their refusal to give up their jewelry to help create the Golden Calf.

 

Women’s Rosh Hodesh groups started springing up in the 1980s as a way to revive its observance in a modern, more meaningful way.

 

My own introduction to Rosh Hodesh took place soon after moving to Swampscott in 2001 when I was invited to join a Hadassah evening of study and community. The focus was Rosh Hodesh. We each received a copy of “Moonbeams”, Hadassah’s guide to Rosh Hodesh modern practices. It still calls to me, the enchantment of its watercolor cover and thoughtful readings undiminished.

 

The next year, my daughter celebrated her Bat Mitzvah on Rosh Hodesh Sivan, which happened to fall on Mother’s Day. Rosh Hodesh and I had some sort of special bond, but the connection wasn’t yet clear.

 

Then, about five years ago, I learned to chant the Rosh Hodesh Torah parsha, which I have done almost every month since, always using my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah yad. Last week, at Rosh Hodesh Iyar, something felt different.

 

I felt a spark of kinship with the spirits of all women who ever stood where I stood, especially my daughter and my mother when the three of us shared the bimah in celebration of her Mother’s Day Bat Mitzvah 15 years ago. How had I forgotten?

 

That personal, spiritual way to connect with Mother’s Day I longed for was right in front of my eyes all along. All I had to do was to open them and notice.

 

This year, when I send that Hallmark card and buy that Mother’s Day gift, it will be with a full and grateful heart. Mother’s Day is my holiday too.