“Truth makes you strong.”

2021 Obermayer Award winner Dr. Marion Lilienthal seeks to tell the real story, through extensive research and a hands-on approach to teaching history.

by Shelley A. Sackett

Dr. Marion Lilienthal leads a local tour in Korbach, Germany.

Dr. Marion Lilienthal has always taken the road less traveled. As a young schoolgirl in Kassel, at an age when most of her classmates were content to play with dolls, she became interested in the National Socialist period. Her grandparents, who opposed the Nazi Party and suffered disadvantages as a result, raised her father to be politically active and to speak up against injustice and he, in turn, raised his daughter to embrace the same values.

Although her father was a child during the war, he remembered seeing Jews led through Kassel, probably to the train for deportation. He also spoke warmly of a Jewish family he had known, always with enormous respect but also sadness about their suspected fate, leaving his young daughter with a positive image of Jews and a desire to find out what might have happened to them. It made the fate of Jews personal for her, giving a name and a life story to each.

The Holocaust was an important theme at her school and a real turning point for Dr. Lilienthal occurred in 1979 when, as a 13-year-old, she watched the Holocaust mini-series with her classmates. “It shocked me to see what people are capable of and strengthened my conviction to fight against injustice,” she says. Later, through an exhibit she created about Jews in Kassel, she became acquainted with Esther Hass, a teacher who was then head of the Jewish community in Kassel. Haas took the teenager under her wing, and the two worked on many projects together, including one at the local Jewish cemetery.

Dr. Lilienthal tried to learn as much as she could about the history of Nazi Germany, but repeatedly ran into roadblocks. “As a young person, it was very difficult to get information. There was public opposition. The archives did not answer all my questions, and people looked at you strangely when you researched there,” she recalls.

Twenty years later, in 1999, she arrived in Korbach as a high school history and computer science teacher with a specialization in the German-Jewish history of her home region, North Hesse. Since then, not only has Dr. Lilienthal distinguished herself among colleagues and students by her commitment to teaching; she has also engaged in exceptional socio-political activities with her students, young adults and community members to bring the centuries-old history of the Jews in the region back into the collective consciousness so that people can learn from mistakes of the past as they confront prejudice and anti-Semitism today.

Her impact, however, extends beyond teaching and spearheading group activities. Her work one-on-one reconnecting former Korbach residents and their descendants with the region has profoundly changed individual hearts and minds in a way that brings peace and closure. “I was able to learn about my grandparents and great-grandparents, who I could never meet, and the events that led up to my mom coming to America. The love shown to my daughter when she was invited to Korbach by Dr. Lilienthal to experience the places where my mom must have spent time is priceless,” says Renee Schindelheim. “While I have never met Dr. Lilienthal personally, she has impacted my life greatly.”

Part of Dr. Lilienthal’s motivation was a mission to correct inaccuracies she found in history books. “The Nazis wanted to destroy all Jewish life. I try to research these individual Jewish life stories to keep their memory alive,” she says. It has not always been easy.

She depends on post-war period files and interviews with local people. “I have looked for photos, gone from house to house knocking,” she says. Recently, a woman contacted her with eyewitness testimony about the fate of two Korbach brothers her father saw in Treblinkla. “She is so emotionally burdened. She wants to help,” she adds.

Today, she leads guided tours of Korbach that focus on the pre-WWII Jewish community. She invites people to walk in the footsteps of Jewish inhabitants, standing in front of a house and showing them an archival photo. She tells them what she knows about the family that used to live there and its fate. “The next time they pass this house, they have an idea of what happened there,” she says.

She first began her research 20 years ago as a newcomer in Korbach. “If people don’t know you, they don’t necessarily want to speak to you,” she says. Also, there was no interest at that time in revisiting the National Socialist period. “You had to be tough, be determined and be strong. I have received not only praise, but also hostility.”

When she mounted an exhibit about the looting of the Jews in Korbach, the mayor and city council supported her, but many Korbach residents did not. “The population is always afraid that a shadow could come over the family. Even today, there are letters and threats,” she says.

A few years ago, Dr. Lilienthal received her doctorate in “Euthanasia” under Prof. Krause-Vilmar. Her dissertation focused on Nazi era persecution of sick, disabled and “socially unadjusted” people from Korbach.

Her activities – nearly all of which have been outside her regular paid work – include: remembrance projects and publications to raise awareness of Jewish history in the region; connections to Jewish descendants from the region; a range of activities and workshops with her students and youth groups that have had a significant impact on how they see local history and the world; network building locally with like-minded people; and work with anti-racism, democracy and tolerance groups and initiatives.

She and many colleagues, including many former Obermayer Awardees, have formed a network of people and associations (such as the Arolsen Archives) from communities in the district where there used to be vibrant Jewish communities. The network sponsors events and publications that spotlight persecution and murder of the Jews while promoting coexistence of Jews and Christians in the region.

Her books and articles, which are used by libraries, history associations and other institutions, have achieved extraordinary results in combatting prejudice, as have her special public exhibitions. “Over the years, her many publications have helped people of all ages to overcome the period of forgetting, repressing and denying essential parts of our regional history. She has made a great contribution to bringing the centuries-old history of the Jews in our region back into consciousness so that people can learn for the future from the mistakes of the past,” reads a statement of support signed by Ernst u. Brigitte Klein, Karl-Heinz Stadltler, Hans-Peter Klein and Johannes Gröecke, all Obermayer awardees.

But, perhaps her most impactful work has been as a teacher, where she carries out projects with her colleagues and students that focus on Jewish life in the region.

Many former students credit Dr. Lilienthal’s hands-on approach to teaching the history of the Holocaust with sensitizing them to fight anti-democratic tendencies. “The work with Dr. Lilienthal left a lasting impact on me,” says former student Dominic Antony, who oversees the technical implementation of her projects. “Many years after my schooling, I am still involved in the fight against anti-Semitism and  racism.”

Over the years, her research and documentation of the history of German-Jewish families led her to record, process and publish the life memories of contemporary witnesses. She established and maintains contact with families who have emigrated to the USA, Israel and Australia.

Ten years ago, with the help of her students, Dr. Lilienthal created an online portal so this work is accessible worldwide. “I am fearful about the future with no witnesses. I try to work as fast as possible to contact as many witnesses as possible and document what they experienced. I know it is a race against time,” she says.

The website, “Gedenkportal Korbach”, provides extensive information about Korbach and its Jewish community, Jewish families, perpetrators and victims. (gedenkportal-korbach.de). Family members who don’t know who to ask about their family history can see her genealogical work in photos and documents, enabling them to reconstruct their own family tree and learn about deportations. The site preserves the history and memory of the Jewish community that lived in Korbach for hundreds of years until the Holocaust.

She was one of the first in the region to recognize the importance of online publications, particularly for the young generation today. Her computer expertise and electronic publications have extended the reach and influence of her work far beyond the region, and made them accessible teaching materials for schools worldwide.

For Michael Dimor, of Tel Aviv, Gedenkportal Korbach was the gateway to both learning about his mother’s family roots in Korbach and also developing a deep, strong relationship with Dr. Lilienthal and her husband. He contacted her in 2011, seeking information about his family. She forwarded photos and documents and arranged a visit for Dimor and his family during the 80th memorial of Kristallnacht. They participated in several ceremonies, prayed in the old Jewish cemetery, and met with Dr. Lilienthal’s students, including Marie Fischer. “For our generation, who never saw that part of history, it is hard to imagine what terrible things happened back then,” Fischer says.

For the granddaughter (Renee Giordano) and great-granddaughter (Dr. Sara Giordano) of pre-WWII Korbach residents Toni and Siegmund Weitzenkorn, Dr. Lilienthal provided a priceless link to their family’s past and a new lens to view Germany today. Sara met her in Korbach and received information and photos of her family that would have been otherwise inaccessible, buried among troves of town documents. She brought them home to her mother, Renee, who was deeply impacted. “Because of the trauma of the war, my mother never told me much about the history of her family in Korbach. I never had a desire to ever step foot in Germany, but because of this work, I now hope to visit the place of my mom’s childhood and to meet Dr. Lilienthal,” Renee says.

Dr. Lilienthal believes her remembrance work is even more important today. “Truth makes you strong. It is much easier to deal with the truth than with an unspoken supposition. With my pupils, I talk about the structure, the motivations, why people did some things. It takes a lot of energy, but it can only strengthen them,” she says. “With all the tragedy or difficulty you encounter, you will come out stronger.”

What one Jewish educator did on her summer vacation

 

Yeshivagroup photo

Group photo of the Yeshiva students. Janis Knight is in the back wearing a hat

 

Lunchtime at the Yeshiva

Lunchtime at the Yeshiva is still study time.

 

Veiled OrthodoxJewish women fashion mannekins1

Mannequins illustrate women dressed in full Orthodox cover at the Israel Museum exhibit.

 

Uptick in Swampscott seniors landing early acceptance

 

shs1

Pictured are some of the SHS seniors who have received early acceptances for college. Front Row, from left: Sarah Ryan (Vassar College); Chloe Howe (Bowdoin College); Sara Hamada Mohamed (UMass Boston, Stetson and St. Michael’s U.); Yelena Jeffries (Boston U.). Back Row, from left: Aveen Forman (Marist College); Grace DiGrande (Bucknell U.); Isaac Dreeben (Oberlin College); Kyle Lenihan (Syracuse U.), and Ivan Kadurov (Pratt Inst. And Wentworth Inst. Of Tech.)[Photo by SHELLEY A. SACKETT]

 

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

Aveen Forman was drawn to more than Marist College’s bucolic Hudson Valley campus when she decided to apply for early action to the Poughkeepsie, N.Y. school. What piqued her interest about the school was 3,140 miles away in Dublin, Ireland, where she will spend her first year as a member of the Marist College Freshman Dublin Experience.

 

“None of the other schools I applied to had anything like it. It was such a cool opportunity, I had to apply,” the Swampscott High School senior said. She needed to submit separate applications to the college and this special program. “Thankfully, I got into both. It was my top choice.”

 

For Maddy Foutes, one visit to Northwestern University was all it took to convince her it was the perfect fit for her. “The lakefront campus is stunning, with incredible access to Chicago. And Northwestern’s quarter system allows students to pursue several areas of academic interest at once,” she said. She returned home, applied early decision and was accepted. “I couldn’t be more excited!” she added.

 

Architecture is Kyle Lenihan’s passion and intended major, and the Syracuse, N.Y. native decided to return to his birthplace to pursue his interest in his “old stomping grounds. The Syracuse University School of Architecture gave a sense of challenge and prestige that no other school had. It consistently ranks among the best in the country for undergraduate architecture,” he said. His early decision application was accepted, based in part on a portfolio of artistic works he was required to submit. “I would not have been accepted to this program if it were not for the art program at SHS,” he added.

 

Early decision plans are binding — a student who is accepted as an ED applicant must attend the college. Early action plans are nonbinding — students receive an early response to their application but do not have to commit to the college until the normal reply date of May 1.

 

Director of Guidance Emily Zotto-Barnum noted a marked uptick in early acceptance application over last year. The Class of 2019 saw 15% of the senior class applying ED (vs. 6% in 2018) and 55% applying EA (vs. 37% in 2018). While she’s not sure why there was such a huge jump in the numbers, she suspects running more Naviance and Common App boot camps may have prepared students earlier than in past years. [The

Common App Recommender System and Naviance are on-line

systems used to submit recommendations and school forms].

 

“During these boot camps, we do a lot of hand holding and walk the students through each step of the process one on one. It has been a great opportunity for us to be with the students and really understand where they are at,” she said, noting that the 14 before school, after school and evening sessions all attracted robust attendance.

 

Yelena Jefferies, who will attend Boston University where she plans to study sociology, is thankful for the guidance she received in filling out her college applications. She strongly believes the opportunity SHS students have to take Advanced Placement and Honors classes is of equal importance in preparing them for college.

 

“I was able to build skills that I know will be useful in a college classroom setting,” she said. She equally praises her non-AP class experiences with preparing her to be more confident in the kind of discussion-based classes she expects in college. “One major example is Mr. Reid’s Media Lit classes, which has helped me articulate critical thinking skills in class discussions and improved my informal writing skills,” she added.

 

In 2018, one-third of eligible students (Grades 10-12) took at least one AP level course. Every student enrolled in an AP class must take the AP test. 162 students took 372 tests in 19 subjects and 80% of them scored 3 or better. Many colleges award college credit for AP scores of 3 or higher, saving students (and their parents) tuition expenses and permitting them to skip introductory level classes their freshman year.

 

While academics are arguably the most important prong to a student’s portfolio, Zotto-Barnum stresses that SHS values and supports students’ non-traditional choices, too. She has noticed an increase in students electing to take a GAP year between graduating from high school and entering college.

 

One student chose a Semester at Sea; another will teach skiing in Japan. “We’re all about the path,” Zotto-Barnum said, referencing the SHS Guidance Department’s philosophy — Embrace your path, make your own pace! “While not all students choose the same path, everyone does have a place. It’s important for parents and students to hear this message,” she said.

 

Other students who have received early acceptances include: Diego Lucruz (Suffolk U. in Madrid, Spain); Isaac Green (George Washington U.); Ivan Kadurov (Pratt Inst. and Wentworth Inst. of Tech.); Harry Katz (Stanford U.); Molly Delaney (Emerson, Keene State, Salem State, Suffolk and Whitworth U.); Grace DiGrande (Bucknell U.); Sara Hamada (St. Michael’s College, UMass, BU and Stetson U.); Isaac Dreeben (Oberlin College) and Chloe Howe (Bowdoin College).

 

Some student-athletes who have been accepted to college plan to continue their athletic careers. These include: Sarah Ryan (field hockey at Vassar College); Nikki Rosa (basketball at Roger Williams U.); Ryan Graciale (baseball at Salve Regina U.); Hannah Amato (field hockey at Salve Regina U.), and Tim Perlin (lacrosse at Franklin Pierce U.).

 

Lest anyone think these seniors are coasting through their last semesters at SHS, think again. In addition to their regular course loads and studying for their AP exams, these students are spending time participating in band and chorus concerts, participating in the SHS Spring Musical “Sweet Charity”, working at a preschool three days a week and, as Foutes said, “trying not to let senioritis affect me too much.”

 

 

Not Your Zayde’s Cheder

Darkeinulogo

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.”

Darkeinu1

 

“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.

Residents whet their whistles at Swampscott Public Library

Shelley A. Sackett

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Adam Denny Golab (at left), brewer and head cellarman of Lynn’s Bent Water Brewing Co., and Joe Nunnari, owner of Craft Beer Cellar in Swampscott, treated the over-21-year-old crowd at Swampscott Library to “Beer Tasting 101.”

 

Shelley A. Sackett

Despite rumbling skies and threats of downpours, over two dozen people ventured out last Friday evening to whet their whistles another way — by attending the Swampscott Library’s “Beer Tasting 101.”

For more than two hours, Adam Denny Golab, brewer and head cellarman of Lynn’s Bent Water Brewing Co., and Joe Nunnari, owner of Craft Beer Cellar in Swampscott, treated the over-21-year-old crowd to an evening that can best be described as, “everything you never knew you didn’t know about craft beers.”

Most importantly, after describing the brewing process and explaining in detail the differences in tastes among six beers, they circulated throughout the library’s reading room, pouring sample of the beers. Patrons cleared their pallets with pretzels, chips and cheese and crackers.

Nunnari, who says his wife, Kim, “kind of volunteered him” to sponsor the beer tasting (Kim is a volunteer at the Swampscott Library), hopes people learn a little about the complexities and subtleties of beer.

“There’s more to this than just opening a can,” he said with a laugh.

The library’s philanthropic arm, The Friends of Swampscott, captured the proceeds from the $20-per-ticket admission to the beer tasting event. The nonprofit provides volunteer help, conducts the annual book sale, sponsors programs for adults, purchases all museum passes, funds the library newsletter and underwrites many Young Adult and Children’s Room activities.

The tasting offered four different and distinctive genres of beer: an original German lager beer (Weihenstephaner Original); two malts (Murphy’s Stout and Mayflower Porter); two India Pale Ales (Bent Water’s Sluice Juice and Thunderfunk), and two Sour or Acid beers (Bent Water’s Cosmic Charlie and Destihl Wild Sour).

The history and intricacy of each beer was detailed before patrons had their first sip. IPAs, for example, were developed from pale ales in England to be shipped to India, where the hot climate demanded a lighter beer than typical English stouts. Hops were added so the brew would survive the journey.

Golab pointed out that hop flavors can be personal to the taster, with women, “for some unknown reason,” more prone to taste garlic. The hoppier the beer, the less bitter it tastes.

Some describe IPAs as hazy, chewy or mouthy, he added.

Nunnari also explained the importance of the “three-sip rule” when tasting beer.

“Never trust that first sip. Always sniff the beer first and drink it from a glass, not out of the bottle,” he advised.

Golab attributes Bent Water’s superior flavor to Lynn’s water, the “best water in the area” since it comes from the Lynn watershed instead of central Mass. The different profile minerality-wise gives Bent Water’s beer a different quality.

“After all, beer is 98 percent water,” he pointed out.

Like Nunnari, his interest in beer brewing started with the gift of a home-brewing kit from his parents. He has been brewing beer professionally for four years and the activity reminds him of family life as a child.

“I grew up in a house that cooked together a lot. Combining ingredients that create flavors that are unique and fun and work together well is a creative process,” he said.

He hopes after the tasting people realize there are more styles of beer than their usual go-to brand.

“There are so many different kinds of beer. There is something out there for everyone,” he said.

Sitting at café-style round tables of six, patrons chatted between sips, getting to know each other and the different brews. Anthony Cerra, a Swampscott resident whose father was a soda bottler and beer distributor from Pennsylvania, likes to support the Friends of the Library and likes to taste different kinds of beer. He used to brew beer before he had children.

“I guess it’s in my blood,” he said.

At a nearby table, Andrea Mercurio marveled that this was the first time she had been in the library.

“I love it. I want to wander around. I think I spend too much time at work. I definitely need to hang out here more,” said Mercurio a newcomer to Swampscott, she found out about the event on a Facebook page and thought it would be an excellent way to get out and meet people in the community.

Four years ago, the Swampscott Library hosted a beer tasting, and the library’s executive director, Alyce Deveau, thought it was time to do it again.

“It’s summertime and people drink beer in the summer,” she said. “People will get a lot of information and have a chance to come in and see the library and what they’re missing if they haven’t been here before.”

Reference and Teen Librarian Janina Majeran, who helped serve cheese and crackers between beer “courses,” thought the evening was fantastic.

“It’s really great for the library,” she said. “It is great exposure and something different than just books.”

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

 

Paul Calsimitto and Bill Hyde, Sr

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

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Chairperson Gina Bush serves pizza to Noah Murphy

Chairperson Gina Bush serves pizza to Noah Murphy

 

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

 

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

 

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

Hadley fouorth grade teacher Julie O'Brien

Hadley fourth grade teacher Julie O’Brien

 

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

 

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

 

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

Noah Murphy and Rick Pierro

Noah Murphy and Rick Pierro

 

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

 

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

Norma Freedman and Talia Pagliaro

Norma Freedman and Talia Pagliaro

 

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

Shelley Sackett and Caden Ross

Shelley Sackett and Caden Ross

 

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

North Shore religious schools struggle to engage parents

By Shelley A. Sackett

MARCH 29, 2018 – Carrie Dichter grew up in Marblehead, where she attended religious school at Temple Emanu-El through post-confirmation. She is parent committee chair of Temple Tiferet Shalom Hebrew School in Peabody, which her nine-year-old daughter has attended since pre-school. “My husband and I feel religious school is important,” she said.

Asked if there are any changes she would like to see, she answered with three words: more parental involvement.

“While life has always been busy, religion often falls between the cracks because of school, sports, clubs, arts and other special interests in addition to many families where both parents are working outside the home. Everyone is trying to navigate it in the best way possible,” she said.
Parents, teachers and rabbis from the North Shore’s religious schools who were interviewed for this article echo Dichter’s sentiment.

Over her 20-year career teaching different ages in three different schools, including her current position at Temple Emanuel in Andover, Marcie Trager has seen Hebrew School become less of a priority for parents. “Attending religious school has to come from their parent’s commitment,” she said.

Not only are parents today stretched thinner than their parents were, they also may not have fond memories of their own religious school experiences.

“When it comes to supplemental Jewish education, I have no doubt that parents who are more engaged with their child’s Jewish education will produce better results. Through anecdotal conversations, I’ve learned that a majority of adults view their own childhood experience with Hebrew school negatively. For some, they found it hypocritical that their parents forced them to attend Hebrew school, but did not engage themselves in meaningful Jewish practice,” said Rabbi Michael Ragozin of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott.

Many feel that the key to increased religious school enrollment and better attendance is family programming, beginning for toddlers long before they enter Hebrew School.

“Getting children started early with preschool, pre-K and programs like PJ Library, Tot Shabbat and other Lappin Foundation programs will help get more kids involved and enrolled,” said Allison Wolper, an educator at Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly who has taught religious school for 25 years.

To be successful, parents and educators believe that family programming at religious schools must also acknowledge the changing demographics of congregants, and stress inclusivity. At Gloucester’s Temple Ahavat Achim, according to Phoebe Potts, director of the temple’s Family Learning, 75 percent of the religious school families are intermarried.

Stephanie Band, who teaches grade K-2 at the Gloucester temple, points to many religious school offerings that are also open to parents and families. “The importance of learning together has grown significantly as many children are learning alongside their parents and caregivers,” she said. “Families need to model for their children what they want their Jewish future to look like.”

Band stresses the importance of inclusivity in religious school and the temple community. “These families need and deserve to be treated as equitable members of the community,” she said.

Lauren Goldman, who has taught at Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly for 16 years, also emphasizes the responsibility religious school teachers have to both honor sacred traditions and make all families feel welcome. “We must be inclusive of the LBGTQ community, children with disabilities and their families, mixed faith families – everyone,” she said. “Family programming is tantamount to involving the parents and other generations of the children’s families.”

Curricula that stress projects and social interactions – rather than traditional text-based learning – acknowledge another factor that plays a crucial role in getting parents to prioritize religious school attendance over other extra-curricular activitites: busy parents are more likely to transport their children to religious school if their kids enjoy it. “It’s very important today to make the parents happy by creating a kind of easy going environment,” said Rachel Jacobson, who teaches at Alevy Family Chabad of Peabody Jewish Center.

Stacey Chicoine, parent of third grade twins, appreciates Chabad’s innovative and hands on approach. “My Hebrew school growing up in Framingham was strict and I was slow in learning. I always felt uncomfortable asking for help,” said the Melrose resident. “Chabad is so intent on engaging the children and it has paid off. After a long day of school, my children look forward to attending.”

Parents also give religious schools high marks for establishing a sense of Jewish identity and kinship in their children. “I was hoping religious school would be a place where our kids would not only learn about Jewish tradition and history, but also make connections and feel part of a Jewish community,” said Rebecca Joyner, who attended religious school until her bat mitzvah and whose fourth and sixth grade daughters attend religious school at Temple Emanuel in Andover. “They are getting out of it what I had hoped. Some of our daughter’s closest friendships are at Hebrew school, and the temple has become a big part of their lives.”

Overall, once parents commit to sending their children to religious school, they and their children seem happy with the experience. Educators say the biggest hurdle is figuring out how to get more kids enrolled and, once enrolled, how to get their parents more involved in religious school and synagogue life.

Rabbi Meyer of Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead believes the key lies with a parent’s own Jewish practice. “The most important learning comes when our students are able to witness their parents’ valuing of Jewish education, and when what they are learning at temple comes to life in their own home and lives,” he said.

Rabbi Ragozin agrees and considers it the synagogue’s role to engage both parent and child. “Synagogues have a responsibility to offer a variety of gateways into meaningful and accessible practices, not only for the sake of adults, but also for the sake of educating children via their parents’ engagement,” he said.

Nonetheless, he is realistic about changing parents’ attitudes overnight. “Ultimately, we all need to have reasonable expectations,” he said.

Swampscott’s Saris takes LEAP into educating those in need

Above: LEAP for education cofounder and executive director Linda Saris (center) with brother and sister Josward Santana of Peabody (at left) and Idekelly Santana King of Lynn. Josward is a sophomore at Middlesex Community College and works full time at Citizens Bank. Idekelly graduated from Northeastern University in 2017 with a degree in mechanical engineering.

By Shelley A. Sackett

JANUARY 25, 2018 – SALEM – Linda Saris’ stellar resumé reads like every parent’s dream. A degree in economics and urban studies from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from the University of Chicago led to a career that culminated in the senior vice presidency of RSA Security, a fast-growing tech company with 1,300 employees and $320 million in worldwide sales. Her leadership and entrepreneurial skills reaped increasing responsibility and commensurate compensation.

Yet through her quarter-century career, she always felt something was missing. “As a mother and full-time employee who traveled a lot, there was little time for community engagement,” the Swampscott resident said. “I did work in support of women’s advancement opportunities in the workplace, but looking back, I should have done more.”

Her “wake up call to do something different” came in 2001, when the tech bubble burst after 9/11. Saris took advantage of a generous severance package and left the private sector to start a nonprofit with a mission to teach tech skills to young people and their parents.

“It was my time to give back and honor my family and cultural tradition of tzedakah,” she said.

Named Salem CyberSpace, the startup began as part of a larger nonprofit called North Shore Community Action Programs and served seven Salem students in 2003. Today, after going solo in 2004, it is known as LEAP for Education, and a $1 million budget allows it to reach over 800 students per year, primarily in Peabody and Salem.

With its mission to help low-income and first generation American students succeed in middle school, high school, and college, LEAP also educates parents on the college process and financing. It now has a staff of 17 and over 100 volunteers. Saris is understandably proud of LEAP’s 100 percent high school graduation rate and 85 percent college access and retention rates.

While LEAP continues to focus on teaching tech skills and emphasizes STEM – a curriculum based on science, technology, engineering, and math – it has adapted to changing demographics by also providing arts programs and English literacy for the growing immigrant population for whom English is a second language.

According to Saris, organizations like LEAP are especially important during this current administration. “LEAP helps to support, educate, affirm, and make feel welcome young people [and their families] from a variety of countries,” she said.

When new and longtime citizens meet and build connections across ethnic and cultural lines, Saris thinks the resulting familiarity and understanding creates respect, tolerance, admiration, and affection among a diverse citizenry.

“Those qualities are the antidote to prejudice, ignorance, and scapegoating,” she said.

Saris was raised in West Roxbury and attended Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Newton (now in Brookline), where she became a bat mitzvah in 1965 and attended Hebrew school through 11th grade. While her home life was “not overly religious,” her parents and temple educators stressed the importance of charity and community engagement.

As a high school student, she volunteered at ABCD in Dorchester, tutoring young children. “I talked incessantly about the inequities I saw in our community and my parents pushed me to put action behind my words,” she said.

Growing up during the 1960s empowered Saris. “It was a decade of citizen empowerment, of despair and of hope,” she said. “The events around me, my family, my Jewish cultural roots, all foreshadowed the path I decided to take.”

Her sister Patti Saris, older by 11 months, serves as chief judge of the federal court in Boston, and it is evident the sisters share views on immigration that are at odds with the current administration. Last September, Judge Saris issued a temporary order stopping the Trump administration’s deportation of Indonesians without due process.

At a hearing last week, The Boston Globe reported she compared the Indonesian Christians facing possible torture or death in their Muslim-majority homeland to Jewish refugees trying to escape the Nazis on the St. Louis, a boat that left Germany with 937 passengers, mostly Jews, that was turned away by the US government in 1939. Many were later killed in the Holocaust.

“We’re not going to be that country,” Judge Saris said in court, according to the Globe.

“My sister has always been a source of inspiration and someone I always looked up to,” Linda Saris said. “She was very supportive when I changed my career. However, the drive to do what I did came from within me, with a lot of help from my family and the events of the day.”

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.

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.