Ruderman Summit gives voice to disabled

 

Above: Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, presents Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin with the Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion in Tel Aviv earlier this year.

BY SHELLEY A. SACKETT

NOVEMBER 2, 2017 – Over 1,000 attendees will have the opportunity to hear 50 speakers address ways to open doors for people with disabilities when the Ruderman Family Foundation holds its 2017 Inclusion Summit at the Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center in Boston on Nov. 19 and 20.

Among those who will appear are disability activist Marlee Matlin, a Jewish performer who is the only deaf film star ever to receive an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for 1986’s “Children of a Lesser God;” Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire; Richard Marriott, chairman of the Marriott Foundation for People with Disabilities; and Joyce Banda, former president of Malawi.

“These are people who spend time and effort trying to change their community,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation.

For over a decade, the foundation’s philanthropic mission has emphasized both advocacy for the inclusion of people with disabilities worldwide and educating Israeli leaders on the American Jewish community. This is the second Inclusion Summit, and Ruderman expects the conference to sell out.

“Our approach to disability inclusion is very holistic and includes all aspects of life, from birth to death: entertainment, education, employment, housing, sports, politics, and more,” Ruderman said. “The purpose of the summit is to convene the movers and shakers in all these fields to share best practices and network. We want to amplify the momentum of the disability rights movement so that it can have a more prominent presence in mainstream American culture.”

Although the foundation  – which has offices in Boston and Israel – has a global reach, it has invested more than $20 million in strategic multiyear initiatives in the Metro Boston area. These programs touch the lives of people of all ages with all types of disabilities.

On the North Shore, Temple Sinai in Marblehead and Congregation Shirat Hayam are partners in the Combined Jewish Philanthropies/Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project, which helps create religious communities where people of all abilities can fully participate. The Jewish Community Center of the North Shore also partners with the foundation to offer a year-round early childhood education program and an inclusive summer camp that makes a fun experience available to both campers and staff with   disabilities.

It doesn’t stop there. The foundation’s partnerships with CJP and Newton-based Gateways: Access to Jewish Education provide opportunities for children with disabilities in kindergarten through grade 12 to receive a Jewish education in an inclusive community. The Morton E. Ruderman scholarship helps defray the cost of both school-based and ancillary services for students with physical and emotional challenges. The goal of both programs is to mainstream students with disabilities in Jewish educational programs.

High school students benefit from a number of Ruderman Family Foundation partnerships. Student-athletes with visual or mobility impairments can participate in high school sports across eight states through the Northeast Youth and High School Inclusive Sports Initiative, a joint program with Adaptive Sports New England. New England Yachad and the foundation sponsor high school clubs, a youth leadership board, and a Jewish youth group network that provide opportunities for participants with and without disabilities to attend retreats, leadership training, and meetings.

Young adults with disabilities can receive training and job placement though Transitions to Work, a partnership among the Ruderman foundation, CJP, and Jewish Vocational Services. Since 2011, 200 individuals have graduated from the program. Of the 72 percent who achieve competitive employment, over 90 percent stay at their jobs for at least one year.

Partnerships with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston and Dorchester; Brookline Community Mental Health Center; Mass. General Hospital; and the Boston Jewish Film Festival all further the foundation’s mission: inclusion of children and adults with disabilities as a social justice imperative.

Jay Ruderman feels strongly that bringing public attention to injustices suffered by people with disabilities is critical to starting a public debate. His family’s foundation’s current strategy of developing a strong advocacy presence is aimed at raising the general public’s awareness.

“We recognize that our grantees are excellent at providing services, but to change minds, and ultimately to change social attitudes, we also need advocacy,” he said.

All this activity and global impact is the outgrowth of the belief and commitment of foundation founder Morton E. Ruderman that disability rights are civil rights. When Jay Ruderman contemplates how far the foundation has come since it was established in 2002, he thinks his father, who died in 2011, would be surprised.

“We started out as a foundation that was really focused on the Jewish community in Boston, and now we’ve expanded to having worldwide reach. I think he’d be proud of that,” he said.

For more information or to register, visit inclusion2017.org.

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

 

DOA_Ramona Alexander, Dana Stern and Jackie Davis

(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.

 

DOA_Ramona Alexander

​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/

Shedding a Special Light on Hanukkah at the MFA

 

 

It was beginning to feel a lot like Hanukkah at the Museum of Fine Arts last Wednesday when the Shapiro Family Courtyard was transformed into a large-scale celebration for the senses. The oversized interactive menorah cast its magic light over the crowd as some swayed to Ezekiel’s Wheels Klezmer Band, some created their own menorahs at the nearby crafts table, and some checked their official program guide, trying to fit as many of the evening’s overlapping art, music and storytelling offerings into their time schedule as possible.

menorah-making

Young and old gather in the Shapiro Family Courtyard to create one-of-a-kind menorahs.

 

Harriet and Jeff Brand of Marblehead were among the more than 1,000 attendees. At the third annual event “It’s just so festive and wonderful to see all the families here,” said Harriet, as a group of toddlers scrambled past. “It’s exciting the MFA is recognizing the joy of Hanukkah,” added Jeff.

 

“Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights” was presented by the MFA in partnership with the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston (CJP) and the newly formed Jewish Arts Collaborative (JArts), with support from the Consulate General of Israel to New England.

menorah2

The large-scale, interactive menorah changes whose flames change color as visitors approach.

 

This year’s celebration featured “Inworlds”, a cutting-edge mixed reality short performance created by Secret Portal in association with Dudley Square Studios that was as experiential as experimental. A live actor and a volunteer who wore a virtual reality headset interacted on a stage bathed in projected visuals that mirrored what the volunteer was seeing. The first-of-its-kind exploration told a story of loss, miracles, friendships and discovery, meant to reflect the miracle of Hanukkah itself.

 

For Laura Mandel, JArts Executive Director, this was the highlight of the 2016 event, and not just because her husband is part of the creative team behind it. “I have loved watching the evolution of our virtual reality endeavor. The end result is a beautiful look into the most current technology out there,” she said. “It excites me that we can inspire artists to push these boundaries in innovative ways, all tying us back to the miracle and illumination of Hanukkah.”

 

JArts was launched last December when the Boston Jewish Music Festival and New Center for Arts & Culture joined forces to create a bold new initiative to share the history, artistry and universality of Jewish Culture. Joey Baron, who co-created the Boston Jewish Music Festival with Jim Ball, is JArts Creative Director.

 

Baron’s selection of the evening’s musical events included a Hanukkah sing-a-long with cantor and klezmer clarinetist Becky Khitrik, the klezmer band Ezekial’s Wheels, a group Boston Jewish Music Festival helped introduce to Boston audiences, and the award-winning Nigun Chamber Ensemble.

nigun

The award-winning Nigun Chamber Ensemble perform Jewish songs from pre-war Eastern Europe.

 

Baron was most enthusiastic about Wendy Jehlen’s performance. Jehlen is founder and artistic director of Anikaya Dance, which weaves together music, dance and storytelling from disparate traditions and different ways of understanding.

 

“I’m not all that much of a dance fan, but there’s nothing like experiencing a dancer performing to live music in such an inspiring setting as a museum gallery setting. I think it could be magical,” he said.

 

Throughout the evening, “Spotlight Talks: Judaica” explored works of Judaica in four galleries with 15-minute talks that featured exploration of one or two specific pieces. A panel of curators, artists, Rabbis and educators discussed Judaica and Judaism at the MFA, in Bosoton and beyond.

 

No Hanukkah festivity would be complete without gifts, and the MFA celebration was no exception. The crowd eagerly awaited the unveiling of the just released 2016 Hanukkah stamp, its official party favor of the evening. The United States Postal Service’s official representative did the honors with great flourish to the sounds of snapping cameras and cell phones and robust claps and cheers.

 

usps

A United State Postal Service representative officially unveils the 2016 Hanukkah stamp.

But it was the installation of the giant menorah that really stole the show. The unique art menorah installation, “Step To Hanukkah Lights”, uses advanced technology to enable visitors to “light” a menorah by stepping on a platform with nine, free standing 8-foot candles. When they approach each candle, their proximity changes the menorah’s colors. The number of people close to the menorah and to each other alters the intensity and the color of the “flames.” It is quite something to behold and even more amazing to experience.

 

The menorah will remain on display at the MFA for two weeks and was created by a team of three local artists: Saul Baizman, Fish McGill and Andrew Ringler.

 

Neil Wallack, chair of CJP Board of Directors, was one of eight who offered remarks prior to the candle lighting. He referred to the evening as illustrative of “our combined efforts to repair the world. The light in our community gets brighter when we are together.”

 

After the menorah was lit, everyone joined in singing the Hanukkah prayers. “I get goose bumps every time I see 1,000-plus people singing Hanukkah blessings in the courtyard. That moment is the definition of community to me,” said Mandel, holding her squirming 18-month old.