“Dawnland” packs the house at PEM

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Cultural genocide survivor and “Dawnland” participant spoke of her experience growing up in an abusive foster home.

 

A near capacity crowd packed the Peabody Essex Museum’s Morse Auditorium last Friday for a special screening of the award-winning documentary “Dawnland.” Presented by the Salem Film Festival, the film exposes the untold story of how generations of Maine’s Native American children were systematically taken from their families and cultures and placed in white foster homes as part of a government sponsored program to “save them from being Indian.”

 

Many of those children suffered devastating emotional, physical and psychological harm at the hands of the adults who tried to erase their cultural identity. Among them is Dawn Neptune Adams, taken from her mother at age 4, who tells of having her mouth washed out with soap for speaking her native Wabanaki language.

 

She and scores of other members of the five tribes of Maine’s Wabanaki people shared their stories of the horrific abuse they suffered as foster children in public statements made to Maine’s truth and reconciliation commission (TRC), the first government-sanctioned TRC in the U.S. Its three-fold mission is: to document what happened; to give Wabanaki people a place to share their stories, and to make recommendations to the Maine child welfare system on how to fix its practices.

 

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“Dawnland” co-director Ben Pender-Cudlip answered audience questions at the post-screening Q&A.

 

“Dawnland” filmmakers Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip follow the TRC to contemporary Wabanaki communities for an intimate behind-the-scenes look at the untold narratives of those who endured Maine’s policy of cultural genocide as they struggle to reveal their truths and heal.

 

“Sometimes examining our past can help frame the current dialogue. ‘Dawnland’ touches upon an important part of our country’s history that isn’t as well known as it should be,” said SFF Program Director during a post-screening Q&A attended by Co-director Pender-Cudlip, Producer Dr. Mishy Lesser and “Dawnland” participant Dawn Neptune Adams.

 

Adams was born in Bangor, Maine on a reservation of the Penobscot Nation. At first, she did not want to be filmed. “I am a shadow warrior. I am not one to be in the spotlight,” she said.

 

It was not an easy decision for her to make a public statement to the TRC. “I had put my story away in childhood. Luckily, I took it out. It had been festering,” she said. “We’ve all been hearing this inside of us. When you honor us by listening, you help us carry this weight.”

 

Co-director Pender-Cudlip shared his initial concern about making a film that would both be accessible to all audiences and do justice to the survivors’ stories. He was mindful of his sensitive position as a non-Native filmmaker, and asked permission from every participant everyday, even if they had agreed to be filmed the day before.

 

“Lots of people who look like us went to the Native people wanting to tell their story and screwed it up. We didn’t want to be those guys,” he said.

 

SFF Festival Director and co-founder, Joe Cultrera, is grateful that SFF and PEM could work together on this special screening (SFF2019 is scheduled from March 29 through April 4). “When we find a film that might be too dated by the next fest, and we can bring the film team or participants for a post screening discussion, then we try to make something happen. “Dawnland” was a perfect fit, not only for us, but also for PEM’s programs concerning Native American culture,” he said.

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(L-R): Panelists Pender-Cudlip, Lesser, Adams and Schmidt at the post-screening Q&A.

 

“Dawnland” was produced by The Upstander Project, a filmmaking and educational collaborative created in Boston in 2009 to challenge indifference to injustice and raise awareness of the need for upstanders, especially among teachers and their students.

 

Upstander Learning Director Mishy Lesser, Ed.D., whose work focuses on genocide and human rights education, explained why her company undertook this project. “I was morally uncomfortable teaching genocide in faraway places without dealing with genocide here in this country. Upstander was founded to confront indifference to injustice,” she said.

 

She researched and wrote the five-inquiry “Dawnland” Teacher’s Guide, available for free at http://dawnland.org/teachers-guide/. The guide contains resources and tools to help teachers tell “the untold history of this land.”

 

“The goal is to get this teacher’s guide into the hands of every history and social studies teacher so people have the chance to know more than I knew growing up,” Lesser said. She referred to her schooling about the founding of America as “the history of the people on the boat.” She aims to teach those same lessons from the perspective of “the people on the shore.”

 

Several in the audience thanked Lesser for both making the film and creating the teacher’s guide. “This is something I knew nothing about. Students, especially in the lower grades, need to learn about it,” said one teacher who is using the guide in her classroom.

 

Adams has grown and healed a lot in the 4-5 years between first sharing her story with the TRC and today. “I don’t recognize that person as me,” she said of seeing herself in the film. “It’s like pulling the scab off a wound, letting the bad stuff out and rehealing.”

 

Initially skeptical, she now thinks “Dawnland” is both beautiful and necessary. “What’s the point in making a public statement if it’s just going to be archived somewhere?” she said.

 

“Dawnland” was sponsored by PEM with hospitality sponsorship by Salem Waterfront Hotel and Suites.  Community partners were: the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness, the North American Indian Center of BostonVoices Against Injustice (formerly Salem Award Foundation) and Salem No Place for Hate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jewish Book Month Speaker Series Opens on a High Note

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Grammy nominee and internationally acclaimed actress Alexandra Silber will perform at Congregation Shirat Hayam on September 26 at 7:30 to kick off the Jewish Book Month Speaker Series.

 

Alexandra Silber is a Jill of all creative trades. She is an internationally renowned Grammy-nominated American singer, writer, actress, composer and educator. She has performed on Broadway, in London’s West End, and on concert stages, including The Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and the 57th Grammy Awards.

 

On Wednesday, September 26 at 7:30 p.m. she will add the stage at Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott to her resume. Opening night of the Jewish Book Month Speaker Series spotlights Silber reading from her début novel, After Anatevka, sprinkling the reading with seven musical performances that reflect the chapter’s dramatic climax.

 

The 45-minute musical program is, according to Silber, a “fully dramatized piece of literary theater. The concert is a ven-diagram of reading and cabaret.”

 

Her novel is historical fiction, inspired by Silber’s portrayal of Tevye’s daughter, Hodel, in the 2007 Oliver-nominated West End production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” She had recently lost her own father to a long battle with cancer. “Every day for two years, I spoke Hodel’s final words, ‘Papa, God alone knows when we shall see each other again…’ Each time as Hodel said ‘goodbye,’ so did I,” she said by email.

 

Hodel disappears in the second act, following her true love, Perchik, to Siberia where he is imprisoned. Deeply haunted by her character’s courage, faith and fierce intellect, Silber felt compelled to chart the rest of Hodel’s mysterious passage. “I needed to know what happened to her. After Anatevka truly was a journey from stage to page,” she said.

 

Silber’s “spiritual autobiography” began in a largely secular household with a Catholic mother and a father whose lineage traced back to the Pale of Settlement. Although they exposed her to religious principles of theology, ethics and sociology, Silber was on her own to find her way regarding the concept of “God.”

 

Playing Hodel was a kind of “Judaism University” for Silber. “At 23-years-old, I took the work more personally, and interpreted it more thoroughly than I had ever done before. It was a turning point, with everything thereafter being interpreted through the eyes of a woman of faith,” she explained.

 

Writing After Anatevka was “part obsession, part socio-political battle cry, part spiritual autobiography and, above all, a marrow-deep roar for an ever-lasting tapestry of hope and faith,” Silber added.

 

The JBM closing event promises to be every bit as exciting when Emmy award-winner and former NBC News Bureau Chief Martin Fletcher discusses his latest novel, Promised Land.” The event is at the Peabody Essex Museum on Sunday, December 16 at 3 p.m., and includes a reception and an opportunity to visit the new “Empresses of China’s Forbidden City” exhibit.

 

In between, JBM Chair Diane Knopf is proud of a lineup that offers “something for everyone.” The committee tries to arrange its schedule to avoid conflicts with events at fellow North Shore agencies and synagogues. “The authors we request are in high demand on the speaker circuit, so dovetailing our dates with theirs can be challenging,” said Knopf.

 

Long a JBM tradition, Kernwood Country Club will again host an evening of dinner and conversation. On Thursday, November 15 at 6 p.m., Boston Globe columnist and entertainment reporter Meredith Goldstein will talk about her “Love Letters” advice column and her latest book, Can’t Help Myself: Lessons & Confessions from a Modern Advice Columnist.

 

Novelists Janna Blum (The Lost Family) and Ronald H. Balson (The Girl from Berlin) will speak at the JCCNS on Wednesday, October 10 and Thursday, October 18 at 7 p.m.

 

Local author Phyllis Karas will discuss Women of Southie, her true account of the women behind the scene during crime boss Whitey Bulger’s hey day. Three women featured in the book will attend the Tuesday, October 30 event at the JCCNS at 7 p.m.

 

Rounding out the roster is Ariel Burger, author, teacher, artist and rabbi, who was a lifelong student of Elie Wiesel. Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom chronicles his intimate relationship with the legendary Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor. The event is at Temple Sinai on Sunday, October 21 at 9:30 a.m. and is part of the temple’s Scholar-in-Residence program.

 

 

Jewish Book Month Speaker Series 2018-2019 is sponsored by cultural benefactors Sharon and Howard Rich. For reservations or more information, visit jccns.org or call 781-476-9909.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOCUS ON: DAWNLAND

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Father and child, Indian Island, Maine Photo by: Ben Pender-Cudlip Courtesy: Upstander Project

 

By Shelley Sackett

DAWNLAND tells the story of the state of Maine’s effort to come to terms with a shockingly shameful part of its history, when state welfare workers removed Indian children from their families and placed them in foster care. The film follows the work of the state’s Truth And Reconciliation Commission, set up in 2012, which gathered stories from the state’s indigenous people.  It premiered at The Cleveland International Film Festival and recently won the 2018 Jury Award for Best Documentary at the Woods Hole Film Festival.

Salem Film Fest Selection Committee member Shelley Sackett had a chance to talk with co-director and cinematographer Ben Pender-Cudlip, ahead of DAWNLAND’S North Shore premiere, which will take place at The Peabody Essex Museum on Friday, September 21 at 7:00pm.

SS: How did you first get involved in filmmaking?

BP-C: In 2009 I was working in computer consulting. My company was a sponsor of a local film festival (IFFBoston), so I used our complimentary passes and saw a ton of nonfiction films. After going to a bunch of Q&As and talking to directors, I decided: I could do this! So I went to work on Monday, gave my two weeks’ notice, and started figuring out how to make films. DAWNLAND is my first documentary feature, and I’m thrilled that it has the chance to have a really robust social impact.

 

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Georginia Sappier-Richardson sharing her story at a TRC community visit Photo by: Ben Pender-Cudlip Courtesy: Upstander Project

SS: How did you get involved with this project?

BP-C: Co-director Adam Mazo and I had collaborated on other issue-oriented documentary projects. Our friend and colleague Dr. Mishy Lesser—the exceptional learning director for the Upstander Project—heard about the TRC in its formative stages via WBUR. Adam reached out to the TRC and REACH and after 8 months of conversation we were invited to make a film about the process. I joined as co-director and cinematographer, and we ended up spending two years traveling back and forth from our homes in Boston to Maine filming the TRCs work, and gathering the material to tell the story of Indigenous child removal in the United States.

SS: What compelled you to tell this story? What about it ignited a fire in your belly?

BP-C: I didn’t know that Native children were being stolen from their homes by state agents, and I wasn’t aware of this country’s long history of separating Native families. I was shocked and wanted to learn more. I’m a non-Native person, and I feel an obligation to try to end institutional racism in the United States. DAWNLAND allows us to tell a story about a present-day investigation that sheds new light on past wrongs, exposes current injustice and contributes to healing and change.

SS: What do you hope audiences take away from this film?

BP-C: I hope audiences understand that this isn’t just a story about the past. The child welfare crisis in Indian Country is ongoing, especially in places like Minnesota where Native children are 20 times more likely than white children to be in foster care. Genocidal policies have a ripple effect from generation to generation, and whole communities are being damaged. And the same basic impulse is playing out at the southern border under the moniker of “family separation,” predicated on the same belief that families of color are worth less than white families.

 

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Father and child, Indian Island, Maine Photo by: Ben Pender-Cudlip Courtesy: Upstander Project

 

SS: What have been some of the audience responses at screenings? Given its special place in the narrative, was the Maine screening different?

BP-C: Before releasing DAWNLAND widely, we held a series of screenings in Wabanaki communities. It was a very emotional experience to watch the film with the same people who had stared down the pain and come forward to share their stories of survival and resilience with the commission. In one community, people sang along to songs in the soundtrack. In another, we had a circle discussion afterwards and somebody chose that moment to share their story for first time. It’s our highest dream that this film will help Wabanaki people heal.

SS: Anything else you’d like to share?

BP-C: We hope DAWNLAND viewers will come to understand that Wabanaki and Native people are still here. We hope teachers will use the film and companion teacher’s guide with students nationwide, and especially in New England where this story is especially relevant. In particular, for teachers on the north shore and greater Boston, we’d love to invite them to participate in the Upstander Academy in Boston in summer 2019 to learn about genocide and human rights with the DAWNLAND team and film participants.

DAWNLAND will screen at the Peabody Essex Museum on Friday, September 21 at 7pm and tickets can be purchased here: http://salemfilmfest.com/2018/films/dawnland/

Shirat Hayam Gets Down to Business

 

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Anna Hathaway settles into her new office as Congregation Shirat Hayam. She is the synagogue’s first Business Manager.

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

SWAMPSCOTT — For its first thirteen years, Congregation Shirat Hayam operated without a business manager. That changed on June 4th with the hiring of Anna Hathaway, a Middleton CPA, PFS and MST with 18 years of career experience.

 

Hathaway couldn’t be more pleased with her new position. “I wanted to find a place where I could work for the greater good, using my talents to help an organization accomplish its mission,” she said from her sunny office that abuts the social hall. “In today’s world, I believe it is important that people have both a place and an organization of people to be able to connect with something bigger than themselves. After meeting the staff at CSH, I was interested in joining the team and working with them to accomplish theirs.”

 

The need for a business manager surfaced as part of a three-year process undertaken by the CSH Strategic Planning Group and facilitated by Dennis Friedman of the Chesapeake Group. The group’s charge is to develop and implement a new Strategic Plan, Vision and Mission for CSH.

 

The journey began in 2017, when Renée Sidman became CSH Board President. She and fellow board member Larry Groipen approached the full board to fund a strategic visioning program. “We felt strongly that we needed to invest time into understanding who we were and where we were going. The best analogy was that we all needed to row the boat in same direction,” she said.

 

Friedman came highly recommended by Groipen, who had worked with him professionally for over 25 years. “Dennis was a fresh set of eyes to our community and brought his own experience as past president of his congregation in the South Shore,” Sidman noted.

 

What resonated most with Rabbi Michael Ragozin, however, was that Friedman remains with CSH to oversee the vision statement during its implementation. “That practical focus on implementation was very important to us. Many people on the Board sat on other organizations where an inordinate amount of time and resources is spent on creating a plan that simply sits on a shelf,” he said.

 

The resultant CSH Vision Statement has three prongs, including: “We embrace our responsibilities to invest in strengthening our Jewish community for generations to come.” Implementation of this prong led to creation of the business manager position.

 

As a business consultant with 28 years’ experience specializing in strategic planning and organizational development, Friedman concurred with the rest of the group that CSH had strong leadership in the religious and educational spheres, but needed a business manager to bring the same level of leadership in the physical and fiscal infrastructure sphere if it was to fulfill its mission “for generations to come.”

 

A successful candidate would be someone with strong financial expertise and management skills who could also work collegially with staff to assist them in increasing efficiency and effectiveness, the group decided. Hathaway’s resume was a perfect fit.

 

Born and raised in Lynn, Hathaway spent many summer days at Kings Beach. She and her husband Dave are parents to an adult son, DJ. She holds a Masters of Science in Taxation from Bentley College and a B.S. in Business Administration from Salem State University. Her experience includes: Controller/CFO of Quadrant Health Strategies, Inc.; Controller of Wakefield Management, Inc. (Midas franchises); Business Manager at Epstein-Hillel Academy, and Controller of the Jewish Federation of the North Shore (from 2001-2006).

 

After interviewing her, Groipen, a member of the Strategic Planning Group, knew that Hathaway was just the sort of person the group had in mind.

 

“Anna is a CPA, she has a lot of building knowledge, she understands enough about roofing, plumbing, landscaping, HVAC and building safety and security to make good decisions,” he said. “Above all, she wants to work towards continuing the welcoming experience we at CSH are so proud of.”

 

While Hathaway is ready to advance CSH’s vision for the future, she is also mindful of national current trends. “The biggest challenge facing CSH is similar to other religious organizations, namely attracting and retaining families to become active participants of the congregation,” she said.

 

Not Your Zayde’s Cheder

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By Shelley Sackett

 

Congregation Shirat Hayam will unveil Darkeinu (“our way”), a trailblazing post-b’nei mitzvah program modeled on a college education that gives Jewish teens credit toward Kabbalat Torah/Conformation for participating in a broad range of activities that they choose for themselves.

 

Students in grades 8 through 12 can earn credits towards their Darkeinu “degree” by participating in a variety of activities that encompass five basic areas of Jewish life: community services, ritual leadership, community leadership, study and Zionism.

 

“As an educator, I am really enthusiastic about giving teens flexibility and choice,” said Janis Knight, Director of Center for Jewish Education. “One thing is for sure — this isn’t your zayde’s cheder, or even much like your own Hebrew School experience any more!”

 

The program’s real groundbreaking innovation, according to Rabbi Michael Ragozin, is in offering credit for “life experience” already available throughout the North Shore and beyond. Teens can fulfill their course requirements by participating in any number of local programs, such as the Jewish Teen Initiative, the Sloane Fellowship, Lappin Foundation, BBYO, Cohen Camps and more.

 

They also have the option of proposing something they come up with on their own or studying with Rabbi Ragozin in a more traditional setting. Once a month, however, all Darkeinu participants will meet for a light dinner and discussion with the Rabbi and CJE Director as part of a mandatory 9-week character and Jewish values program called “Chai Mitzvah.”

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“By giving teens credit for participating in an array of teen programs already in place, Darkeinu isn’t competing with existing local opportunities. Rather, we are encouraging participation in the unique activities that are right for each teen. Darkeinu is participant-centric, not institution-centric,” Rabbi Ragozin noted.

 

Perhaps most revolutionary is that Darkeinu is open to any teen that self-identifies as Jewish and has a whole-hearted interest in building their own authentic Jewish identity as they become an adult.

 

“We’re not trying to make anyone CSH members. We’re just trying to get Jewish kids together to explore being Jewish in their own way,” Knight said, adding, “And they get credit for it.”

 

One prong of the newly crafted CSH Vision Statement reads, “We will deliver the best childhood and teen education on the North Shore,” and Darkeinu helps fulfill that mission. A recent report from the Jewish Education Project, Generation Now: Understanding and Engaging Jewish Teens Today, influenced Knight and Rabbi Ragozin as they brainstormed about Darkeinu. (see http://JewishEdProject.org/GenerationNow.)

 

The JEP study developed core questions for educators to imagine teens asking themselves, such as: Who am I? With whom do I connect? What is my responsibility in the world as a Jewish adult? How do I bring about the change I want to see? “Creating programs and experiences that help teens to ask and look for answers to those questions is our goal,” Knight said.

 

Rabbi Ragozin, who was equally affected by the study, agrees. “We know that Jewish teens are yearning for inspiring opportunities and that meaningful teen engagement opens new worlds of wisdom and practice as they become adults. We want all to have the best Jewish teen experience, whether it’s inside Shirat Hayam or outside,” he said. “But in the short term, our goal is that they feel energized and have fun.”

 

Darkeinu launches at a brunch on Sunday, October 14. For more information or to register, go to bit.ly/RegisterDarkeinu or contact Janis Knight, CJE Director at CJE@ShiratHayam.org or 781-599-8005 x25.