Shirat Hayam Gets Down to Business

 

Anna Hataway

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.

 

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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.”

Salem’s first rooftop bar touts strong drink, simple food and stellar views

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Shelley A. Sackett

Salem has no shortage of special summer attractions and activities.

From recreating at Salem Willows Park and Winter Island to enjoying the Essex Street Fair and Jazz and Soul, Salem Maritime and Salem Arts Festivals, there seems to be something happening every day guaranteed to suit almost every taste and age.

And, as of last month, those who crave a lively seasonal bar with a 360-degree view perched atop a snazzy new downtown hotel can have their specific summertime itch scratched too, with the opening of Salem’s first rooftop bar, aptly and simply named “The Roof.”

Casual high-top tables and plush banquette seating lend the bar a trendy, urban air that suits the slick retro décor of the hotel below. Although The Roof can accommodate 85 guests seated and an additional 150 more standing, its 18-seat rectangular bar fills quickly, especially on balmy, clear summer evenings and weekends.

Offering a casual menu of Mexican small plates and views of downtown Salem (and a sliver of a glimpse of the harbor), The Roof is above Salem’s newest hotel, The Hotel Salem, at 209 Essex Street. Its wood-paneled exterior walls, turquoise and lime green color scheme and live greenery produce the feeling of a hip, vibrant and modern outdoor space.

Glass barricades provide safety without compromising the views and a seasonal heating system will keep patrons toasty as summer fades to fall and Salem’s notoriously busy Halloween season. A retractable awning creates shade over the bar area.

Executive Chef Justin Perdue has created a menu of traditional and composed oysters, ceviche, six taco dishes and three inventive guacamole preparations designed for sharing. Recent standouts include Pork Belly Guacamole, Marinated Flank Steak Tacos with dates, pickled mushrooms and farmer’s cheese, and Roasted Eggplant Tacos.

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The small plates complement The Roof’s cocktail program that boasts three rotating seasonal cocktails on tap, fresh house-made frozen Frosé (frozen rosé), sangria and the usual craft beers and wine by the glass and bottle.

 

So far, the Frosé and various guacamole offerings have been the most popular items. To keep up with the volume, The Roof plans to buy another Frosé machine. As for guacamole, “we can go through 50-60 avocados on a busy day!” Perdue exclaimed.

He admits that managing The Roof’s wait list has been difficult. “During peak times we can have a wait list of almost two hours and hundreds of people. Once people get up there, they are happy and enjoy the atmosphere, but we’re still working to find a balance between turning tables quickly and inviting people to lounge around and relax,” he said. “It’s a fortunate position to be in.”

Nonetheless, Perdue said overall response to the rooftop bar has been strong and positive. “We have been busy since day one. When we opened in June, the amount of people who immediately went out of their way to visit really blew us away,” he said.

Although The Roof has no special events planned for this summer, Perdue said he looks forward to exploring different programs in seasons to come. He also plans to add more tables and chairs to accommodate more guests and “hopefully bring the waitlist down.”

In the meantime, those anxious to check out Salem’s first rooftop bar are advised to come early and bring plenty of patience.

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!”

Salem Garden Club celebrates its 90th anniversary

Church Stroll

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

On January 7, 1928, 20 men and women met at the home of Mr. Wilis H. Ropes. Bound by a love of gardening, the mostly married couples had decided to form the Salem Garden Club, a Salem mainstay that celebrated its longevity on May 20 with a 90th Anniversary Tea and Social at the First Church.

 

Mayor Kim Driscoll was on hand to express Salem’s appreciation. “It was an honor to recognize the club’s 90 years of dedicated service beautifying our city, sharing horticultural knowledge and providing social enterprise to members young and old,” she posted on her Facebook page.

 

Co-pres.

Co-Presidents Meg McMahon and Tracy Rubin at the 90th Anniversary Tea and Social.

On display were artifacts from years gone by, including old program books, photos, certificates of recognition, handwritten thank you notes from the people of Britain for seeds sent in the 1950’s and a slide show of special moments over the last nine decades. “Some members wore hats, which added to the festive atmosphere,” said SGC 2017-2019 Co-president Meg McMahon.

 

Following its 1928 establishment, the club’s first decades of existence were marked by much activity. It joined the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts in 1929 and participated in the annual spring Flower Show in Boston that same year.

 

Members

Members Eleanor Soucy, Rosemary Mroz, Mimi Ballou, Jane Koza, and Judy Giunta at the 90th Anniversary Tea and Social held on May 20, 2018.

 

At the suggestion of local architect Philip Horton Smith, members rebuilt the garden at the Brookhouse Home on Derby Street. For a few years in the 1930’s, SGC sponsored a garden contest for children involved in the Salem summer playground program. With cash prizes for the best home gardens, the event was a summer favorite.

 

To celebrate the club’s 10th anniversary in 1938, the ambitious membership sponsored the city’s first garden tour, opening to the public ten gardens on Federal and Chestnut Streets and others along the Salem Common. Called “Open Garden Day,” the event drew over 600 people at $1.00 each, and the club raised enough money to hold its own horticultural show in historic Hamilton Hall on Chestnut Street the next year.

 

The club sponsored a second, smaller garden tour in 1941 to celebrate the opening of the Gardener-Pingree House on Essex Street, designed by Salem architect Samuel McIntire. As one of its missions, SGC had taken on the responsibility for replanting the gardens at this magnificent Federal mansion.

 

Library

Spring arrangement at the Salem Public Library.

 

Over the next decade, WWII interfered with the club’s many activities, although conservation chairperson Mrs. Willis Ropes advised citizens on how to plant their own war gardens. Never ones to remain idle, members began diaries with interesting facts and entertaining anecdotes about their own gardens. “Old Salem Gardens,” a compilation of these entries, was published in 1946 and remains available for purchase 72 years later.

 

McMahon, who has been a club member since 1999, described the SGC’s early years, when meetings took place in members’ homes. “Some records indicate that there may have been Saturday night meetings and sherry drinking with lovely flower arrangements set up by one’s maid or butler,” she said.

 

Today, with over 100 active, associate, sustaining and honorary members — all women —, the meetings take place in many venues that can accommodate the club’s growing numbers. Tracy Rubin, who has been a SGC member since 2013, is its co-president.

 

City Hall

Large group of members after winter planting of urns on Washington Street.

 

Another difference is that membership in SGC is “very hands on. Today’s members dig in their own dirt and enjoy refreshments that the hostess committee provides,” McMahon said. Programs typically include presentations by experts in landscape and floral design, environmental studies, local farming and native plants, among many others. Open to the public, the meetings are held on the first Thursday of the month from September through December and from March through June.

 

Although the style and membership of the club has evolved in the last 90 years, McMahon stressed that its traditions, missions and objectives remain unchanged: the advancement of gardening; the development of home grounds; civic beautification, and aiding in the protection of forests, wild flowers and birds.

 

Committed to the beautification of Salem, the club has worked on the Town House Square, planted shrubs and annuals in Lappin Park, donated and planted trees in Salem Common and maintained the gardens at Brookhouse and Emmerton House.

 

Today, SGC’s civic involvement can be spotted in the celebrated large urns on Washington Street, the City Hall window boxes, and the Blue Star Marker on Hawthorne Boulevard. The club also provides monthly floral arrangements to the Salem Public Library and helps judge the window box and traffic island contest during Heritage Days. Each year, one lucky qualifying student receives a generous $1,000 scholarship, courtesy of club members.

 

Blue Star

Blue Star Memorial Marker on Hawthorne Boulevard honoring all Veterans.

 

The club is hardly idle during the winter months. Since the Christmas House Tour began in 1984, SGC members have participated by decorating one of the homes in the annual event. Starting in 1999, the club expanded its involvement to include the Christmas Boutique, where members sell handmade wreaths, swags, boxwood trees and arrangements to raise funds for its activities.

 

In 2017, the club’s biennial Garden Stroll, which highlights gardens in different neighborhoods, featured 15 private gardens in the McIntire District. The club is already busy planning its 2019 Garden Stroll.

 

McMahon has enjoyed her almost 20 years of SGC membership, with its monthly meetings where she has learned much from the many presenters and from fellow members. “Most of all, I’ve loved being a part of a dynamic organization and having the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people,” she said.

 

For more information, visit salemgardenclub.com or its Facebook page.

In Salem, NSCDC, United Way forge ‘win-win’ partnership

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North Shore Community Development Coalition redeveloped the Congress Street residences, an 8-building 64-unit complex, after buying the property in 2014.

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

The North Shore Community Development Coalition will host an evening on June 6 to spotlight the local impact the Community Investment Tax Credit (CITC) is having in Salem, where the funds have created affordable housing, neighborhood development, vital community services and vibrant urban mural art.

United Way of Massachusetts Bay and its partner, FHLBank Boston, are co-sponsoring the event to show investors how they have helped revitalize the North Shore community.

“We thought a donor appreciation event would be of interest to ‘spread the news’ while showing off the wonderful work they do with a walking tour,” said Senior Executive Director of the North Shore Region Bill Weihs.

This is the first North Shore CDC partnership with United Way to help market its Community Investment Tax Credits, and Weihs thinks it’s a win-win association.

“It was tremendously attractive to the donors that I cultivate and steward throughout the North Shore, since they want their donations to remain local. In previous years, they only had Boston-based CDCs to chose from,” he said.

United Way partners with a couple of dozen CDCs throughout the eastern MA region to administer a CITC strategy as they try to sell their tax credits to individual investors.

NSCDC could do this itself, but Weihs explained many CDCS choose to go through an agency like United Way because “often they are not selling out their credits. They are looking for another way to market these excess credits.”

Like most CDCs, the North Shore CDC has a particular niche — youth homelessness and vibrant urban mural art — that Weihs called “particularly unique. I don’t know of that many CDCs that focus on youth homelessness,” he said.

NSCDC Chief Executive Officer Mickey Northcutt said the nonprofit concentrates primarily on housing development projects that will have a “triple-bottom-line impact” — they create meaningful affordable housing units; they create highly sustainable, cutting-edge energy efficient housing which serves as a model for sustainable development, and they have a transformative economic development impact on the neighborhood in which they are located.

One example of a finished project is the Congress Street Residences, an 8-building, 64-unit Salem development. NSCDC acquired the buildings in 2014 because they were “some of the most distressed assets in the city. People were living in unsafe conditions,” Northcutt said.

After a $26 million rehab, the space has turned around for tenants and neighbors and includes a sculpture garden on Dow Street and a 2,000 square foot community center, called Espacio, on Congress Street.

Another finished project is Harbor & Lafayette Homes, a 2-building 100 percent affordable Salem development project that will be completed in early 2019. Of the 27 units, 16 will be prioritized for formerly homeless young people aged 16-24.

“They will have access to many services to help them with job training, support services, etc. to help them get back on track,” said Machel Piper, NSCDC director of development.

That project will have a live-in manager and additional case management services as well as a public art installation.

Future projects which have already been designed and permitted and await funding are The Lighthouse, a 2-building 46-unit mixed-income new construction in Salem, and Harbor Village, a 30-unit mixed-use 100 percent affordable project on Main Street in downtown Gloucester. This will revitalize a long-closed, blighted commercial property and when completed, will reconnect Gloucester’s west and east ends.

“We work only in low-income neighborhoods throughout our footprint on the North Shore, choosing environmentally challenged and distressed properties that are in dire need of renovation,” said Piper. “Many times this is a property that, once renovated, has the capacity to completely revitalize an area that will, in turn, transform a neighborhood.”

Both Northcutt and Piper point to CITCs, passed by MA in 2015, as helping NSCDC tap into the fundraising world and enabling it to become a strong partner with United Way and its excellent fundraising capacity. “We both have the mission that whatever is raised locally, stays local,” said Piper.

For more information or to attend, contact Bill Weihs at bweihs@supportunitedway.org or call 978-922-3966 x2005.

Davening to a different drummer: Meet Cantor Alty Weinreb

 

Aty Weinreb1

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

When Alty Weinreb answered the ad Congregation Shirat Hayam placed for a new cantor, it was because he was attracted to its name. “I love music (shirat) and the ocean (hayam), so I thought it might be interesting,” he said from his New York City home. After he experienced Shirat’s Shabbat Renewal Service during a weekend at the Swampscott synagogue as one of three candidates invited for live auditions, he was convinced it was more than an attraction to a name that led him to the Swampcott synagogue — it was bashert (meant to be).

It all goes back to Weinreb’s childhood. Raised in a very observant Flushing, New York Orthodox home, he would wait all week to go to shul (synagogue) to hear the cantor sing. “His voice became my refuge and inspiration,” he explained.

 

In addition to attending services, his family would head back to shul on Friday evenings after prayers and dinner for a group sing-along called Oneg Shabbos (Joy of Shabbos). “Here I was, a child surrounded by mostly grown men singing with full-throated joy and deep feeling. When everyone sang together, I was transported to a magical place,” he said.

 

Shirat’s Shabbat Renewal services, where congregants are invited to enter a meditative spiritual place through prayer and music, brought Weinreb back to those magical moments of his youth. It also reminded him of a funny story.

 

One Shabbat, he remembers the cantor was “wailing from his soul and it flew into my soul. I became lost in a davening (praying) ocean, swimming in deep waters, transfixed,” he said. Without thinking, he began hand drumming on the table in front of him.

 

Alty Weinreb2

 

His beat was getting louder and louder. Suddenly, the cantor stopped singing. “Then the Rabbi turned around and looked at me and screamed, ‘Alty, STOP! There’s no drumming in shul, young man. You are in a lot of trouble,” Weinreb continued.

 

He was mortified, but did not understand what the problem was. Fast forward to the adult Alty, recently walking into Shirat for the first time and seeing a collection of drums next to the bima (Torah ark). “Then the Rabbi invited me to play the drums during prayers,” he said, pausing for dramatic effect. “Hallelujah! Poetic justice!”

 

Weinreb began his cantorial studies because he loves Jewish prayer music. “It makes me feel alive when I sing it. It allows me to connect with people of all ages and maybe inspire in others what I first felt as a child,” he said. He holds a BA from St. Louis Rabbinical College and studied at Yeshiva University Belz School of Jewish Music in New York, where he trained in both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions.

 

“I started out taking Ashkenazi cantor training and then fell in love with the Sephardic melodies,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to have studied with two of the greatest living cantors — Cantor Joseph Malovany (Ashkenazi) and Hazzan Moshe Tessone (Sephardic).”

 

Since 2000, Weinreb has been a cantor during High Holidays and at nursing homes and hospitals. He has also taught drum and percussion and performed with a number of musical groups, including the Judeo Flamenco group, the Simcha All Stars Klezmer Band and the Cuban Jewish All Star Klezmer Band.

 

Shirat is his first residential synagogue cantor position. Weinreb feels it is the right time in his life to contribute to building a community, especially one that is such a perfect fit. “I love Shirat’s desire to rethink basic assumptions about ritual and spiritual practice,” he said. “I hope to continue on the great path that Cantor Elana Rozenfeld blazed” during her seven years at Shirat.

 

He also hopes to add some new items to Shirat’s Shabbat Synaplex™ menu, such as “Storahtelling,” a Torah service that creatively fuses traditional chanting with English translation, dramatized commentary and audience interaction that brings text to life. “I have been energized by Storahtelling,” he said.

 

Although he counts among his “most fun gigs” playing drums for Shlomo Carlebach at a Purim show and performing with his Judeo Flamenco group for 1,000 singing and dancing concertgoers at NYC’s World Music Pier 70 Concert Series, he is excited to settle into his new apartment in Salem with his wife, Elizabeth, and begin his new job on July 1.

 

So is Shirat Board President Renée Sidman. “I cannot wait to see what he will bring on a weekly basis!” she said.

 

To listen to some of Cantor Alty Weinreb’s music, visit cantoraltyshul.com/about/

Rare genetic mutation sends family on an unexpected journey

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Luke Heller proudly shows a drawing to his speech therapist, Jessica Brown. / Photos by Shelley A. Sackett

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

SWAMPSCOTT—Jody and Noah Heller brought their newborn son, Luke, home to Swampscott in December 2013. Although he was a “sweet baby with an infectious laugh,” by nine months they noticed he was not hitting the same developmental milestones his older sister Lucy had by that age.

 

The Hellers knew something was off. Luke wasn’t able to sit up independently or crawl and never tried to put anything to his mouth. “If you picked him up, his body felt a little floppy,” Jody said.

 

Their pediatrician said Luke had low muscle tone and recommended an early intervention program. He also sent them to a neurologist. “Kids his age usually put everything in their mouths,” Jody said. “He was concerned.”

 

Luke began receiving physical, occupational and developmental services at Aspire Early Intervention in Lynn, but as he got older there were more delays.

 

He didn’t crawl until he was18 months and didn’t walk until he was 2. No one really knew what was wrong. His diagnosis was the umbrella term “globally delayed.”

 

Later, Luke was diagnosed with apraxia of speech, a condition where the brain has difficulty sending signals to the mouth to create speech. Luke knew what he wanted to say, but he didn’t know how to form the words to say it.

 

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Luke, Noah and Jody Heller at their Swampscott home.

 

The Hellers were determined to dig deeper, and visited the Genetics Department at Boston Children’s Hospital. Genetic tests in 2015, when Luke was 18 months old, were inconclusive, but the doctors urged them to keep trying. “They said, ‘we’re learning so much about genetics every day,’ and recommended we come back in two years,” Jody said.

 

When Luke turned 3 and aged out of Aspire, the Hellers enrolled him at Northeast Arc, a not-for-profit organization that helps children and adults with disabilities. It was perfect timing, because Luke would often get frustrated at not being able to express himself, which was causing behavior issues.

 

Through Northeast Arc, behavioral and speech therapists work with Luke at his home. Jessica Brown, his speech and language pathologist, also goes to Luke’s Chabad pre-school with him, where she helps him use a special iPad speech device that gives Luke a voice he otherwise doesn’t have, enabling him to “talk” to his classmates.

 

“Northeast Arc allows us to communicate with our son. He has made so much progress,” Noah said.

 

Still, the Hellers wanted to do more than just treat Luke’s symptoms—they wanted to know what was causing all these delays. Last July, they returned to Boston Children’s Hospital, ready for Luke to take a genetic sequencing test that identifies every protein-coding gene in the body.

 

This time, just before Luke turned 4 years old, they received definitive information. “The geneticists told us that he had a mutation on the TECPR2 gene, but that there wasn’t a lot of information on the disease. It was extremely rare,” Noah said. Only eight children in the world had the same mutation, most of them living in Israel, where the mutation was first discovered in 2012 by an Israeli neurologist.

 

Both Jody and Noah, who are of Ashkenazi descent, tested negative for the Ashkenazi Panel screening test, which assesses the risk of having a child with any of 11 disorders, including Tay-Sachs disease. TECPR2 is not on the panel, but can be prenatally tested by request.

 

The Hellers asked for the Israeli doctor’s name and contacted her immediately. “That started a whole new journey for us,” Jody said.

 

The Hellers hope to get the TECPR2 mutation added to the Ashkenazi Panel in the near future. Jody started a Facebook page for TECPR2 families, and several families are now following the page and sharing stories.

 

“There are definitely others with this genetic syndrome out there, but they have been misdiagnosed as something else,” Jody said. “That’s why we’re really trying to bring awareness to this newly discovered syndrome.”

 

The Hellers and their families are also attacking the disease on the medical front. They started the Luke Heller TECPR2 Foundation, a privately funded entity with the goal of finding a cure for Luke’s mutation. The Boston-based foundation has enlisted scientists from around the globe.

 

In the meantime, Luke continues to work hard and to charm those he encounters with a quick hug and a ready smile. “Luke is smart and determined. We are so grateful to the Northeast Arc,” Jody said.

 

Noah acknowledges that reconciling what happened to Luke has not been easy. “We have a strong, loving family that has really helped us. Jody has done a lot of work to keep our family together and everybody happy. She is the center and strength of our family,” he said.

 

Filmmakers plan to bring Mass Hysteria to Salem

 

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By Shelley A. Sackett

Salem residents are used to mass hysteria in their seaside city during the month-long Halloween season, but a group of local filmmakers plan to extend the spell into the summer months when they begin shooting their comedy-thriller, “Mass Hysteria,” on the streets of Salem.

 

Set over the course of Halloween Eve, the films centers around a group of historical re-enactors who are falsely accused of witchcraft when a tourist dies on Halloween Night in Salem. The wrongly accused heroes flee as another tourist dies, then another…making it clear this is not just a random accident.

 

“Halloween in Salem is an experience of a lifetime, and we wanted to recreate a modern witch hunt surrounding this annual event. The majority of tourists come to Salem in October with no idea of what actually happened in 1692. Our goal is to make a thriller/comedy that is truthful and entertaining, but also shares the dangers of the effects of a modern-day witch hunt,” said Matt Peruse, producer of First-Names Films.

 

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Production stills from the test shoot for “Mass Hysteria,” shot on-location in Salem last October. Pictured from left: Matt Perusse and co-director/producer Jeffrey Ryan.

 

The film is set to begin production on the North Shore as early as mid-July and wrap by mid-August. The cast has not been disclosed, but Perusse promises “a great ensemble of new and veteran actors.”

 

Co-directed by First-Names producer Arielle Cimino, “Mass Hysteria” unites three former Salem residents on a project dear to their hearts. “We love the juxtaposition of Salem’s rich, historical past colliding with the reality of today’s Salem through the conduit of the millions of visitors to the city each year,” said First-Names Films co-director and producer Jeffrey Ryan in a statement.

 

First-Name Films started as an idea to create a production company that would operate as a collective of like-minded producers who strive to create independent films on a regular basis. “We aim to involve the communities around us in order to help these smaller films reach a massive audience,” Perusse said.

 

Cimino, Perusse and Ryan collaborated on “YouthMin,” First-Names Film’s last feature film, which was produced in Beverly and won the Boston Independent Film Festival’s Audience Award. The film pre-premiered at CinemaSalem to a nearly sold-out audience. With “Mass Hysteria,” the producing team aims to once again engage the town in production of the Halloween comedy/thriller through community involvement and corporate sponsorship.

 

Cimino and Ryan first met at college, where they performed together on the improv comedy team. “We discovered through improv that we not only had similar goals for our film careers, but also a strikingly similar sense of humor that would lend itself to writing and creating comedies together,” Cimino said. After graduation, they started working together on short films and TV pilots to gain experience for their eventual goal of producing and directing independent feature-length films.

 

Perusse met Ryan after returning to Massachusetts a few years after working for a time in Los Angeles as an actor. A mutual professor introduced them with the purpose of discussing how to be a working actor in New England. The two struck up a friendship, which led to an eventual collaborative relationship. “YouthMin” was their first feature-length film.

 

As filmmakers, the three share a common goal of engaging, inspiring and entertaining their audience. With “Mass Hysteria,” they aim to take the audience on a thrilling and comical journey through one of the most exciting nights of the year — Halloween in Salem. “As a result, our audiences will not only appreciate Salem’s rich historical past, but also gain an appreciation for Salem’s standing as a modern, creative and vibrant 21st century city,” said Perusse.

 

For more information, visit firstnamesfilms.com