‘Never Again!’ Teen Holocaust Legacy Fellows return from Poland and Berlin empowered and committed

Aus-Bir tracks

HLF teens walk the tracks to Auschwitz-Birkenau where the ashes of 1.2 million human beings lie.

 

Shelley A. Sackett

On August 12, Marblehead High School incoming senior Jillian Lederman was not at the beach, enjoying the North Shore summer with her friends. Instead, she stood on the grounds of Majdanek concentration camp in Poland. She saw the dusty shoes piled to the ceiling and a massive mountain of human ash. Majdanek made the stories of abuse, anti-Semitism and genocide suddenly real.

 

“It didn’t seem that any human could commit such atrocities, that the rest of the world could just sit by and let it happen,” she said. “I saw all that remained of thousands of Jews who were brutally and mercilessly murdered and it clicked. The Holocaust happened. It was real and it was terrible.”

 

Majdanek-Schwartz

“I believe that this trip is to open our eyes and see first-hand what deep rooted hatred in people can do. This is to teach us to be compassionate and sensitive in order to counteract and spread the antithesis of spreading hatred.” -Jonah Schwartz, Framingham, Gann Academy

 

For Lederman and her 15 fellow teen travelers, their journey began in April 2018, when Jody Kipnis and Todd Ruderman stood in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland on Yom HaShoah and promised each other that the words ‘never again’ would no longer be a call to prayer, but a call to action. The key to fulfilling their commitment, they decided, lay in creating future Jewish leaders in the community who would learn about and fully understand the Holocaust.

 

A mere 16 months later, they took a group of teens to Poland and Berlin on the first fully subsidized trip of Holocaust Legacy Fellows (a non-profit they created, funded and co-direct). The 16 HLF teens came from 10 Greater Boston cities and towns. None had previously participated in an organized Holocaust educational trip to Poland.

 

“Our biggest challenge was knowing that nothing, and I mean nothing, will prepare you for a visit to Treblinka, Auschwitz and Majdanek, or to stand in Buczyna forest where 800 Jewish children were murdered in one mass grave,” Kipnis said.

 

Veksler and Richmond

Victoria Veksler, Marblehead High School, and Danny Richmond, Needham High School, at the Wannsee Conference Center reading the Final Solution where, in just 83 minutes, the extermination of the Jews was drafted.

 

Participants were required to keep a journal during the trip as a means of coping with their mix of emotions and to record what they saw and heard from their tour guide, a second-generation Holocaust survivor. “Keeping the journal was extremely helpful. It served as my personal therapist during the trip,” Victoria Veksler of Marblehead said.

 

 

The itinerary started in Berlin, Germany, where the teen fellows toured Wannsee, the site where high-ranking Nazi Party and German government officials discussed and coordinated implementation of the Final Solution of the Jewish Question. “One of the teens said to me, “I can’t understand how this could happen here. This place feels so normal,” Ruderman said.

Chak

Alan Chak, Middleton, Masconomet Regional High School, outside the crematorium in Majdanek wondering why the world stood by while 6 million Jews were brutally murdered.

 

From Berlin, the group travelled to Warsaw, Poland where they visited the Jewish cemetery on Okopowa Street, the Warsaw Ghetto and the Treblinka death camp. For most, it was their first visit to the site of a concentration camp. “I visited Treblinka and I felt a strong sense of purpose. I understand why we are here. We need to teach the Holocaust so it won’t be forgotten,” Alan Chak, of Middleton, wrote in his journal.

 

On their way to Kraków, the group toured Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where the ashes of 1.2 million human beings lie. “The things I saw there will never escape my memory. This is where I realized the true inhumanity of the Nazi officers. Even more impactful, though, was hearing the testimony of the survivors. Listening to stories of children sacrificing the little food they had so they could keep their parents alive another day broke me,” Adam Zamansky, of Marblehead, said.

 

Nonetheless, their tour guide, Sara Pellach, the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, filled the teens with hope that Jewish life can be re-built. She described her family for them: four children, 18 grandchildren, eight great grandchildren and another on the way.

 

All was not doom and gloom. While in Kraków, the teens visited Oskar Schindler’s factory, where they learned about his saving the lives of 1,100 Jews despite being a Nazi himself. They also experienced Kraków Old Town, the biggest market square in Europe, and visited the JCC, which coordinates programming open to the entire community and meant to foster Polish-Jewish relations.

 

And everyone looked forward to the daily respite of creamy, delicious Polish ice cream.

 

It was Majdanek death camp, however, that most horrified the teens, according to Kipnis. Unlike Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek is completely intact, from barbed wire to barracks, from gas chambers to crematoria.

 

Majdanek-2019HLF

2019 Holocaust Legacy Fellows outside Majdanek

 

“There were countless people who could see the smoke from the crematorium, and others who saw Jews walking the 4km from the train station to the camp. They said nothing about it, pretending as if nothing were wrong at all. I thought a lot about all those bystanders,” Danny Richmond, of Needham, said.

 

Every night of the 10-day trip, group dialogue and role playing helped the teens transition back to everyday life. “The biggest reward for the teens in our opinion were the engagement and interpersonal relationships that formed. Their nightly discussions could have gone on for hours had we let them,” Kipnis added.

 

The HLF program did not begin or end in Germany and Poland. In preparation, teens attended mandatory educational meetings and met and heard from Holocaust survivors firsthand. Now that they have returned, they have to: write a post-trip reflection of their experience; prepare and deliver a presentation on the memory and lessons of the Holocaust; participate in the Holocaust Remembrance Service; pledge to transmit the lessons and memories of the Holocaust to future generations, and serve on the Holocaust Speakers Bureau.

 

“Holocaust Legacy Fellows was designed to create an empowered community of critical thinkers who will illuminate the world with hope, respect and responsibility. This alone sets our Holocaust education program apart from any other,” Kipnis said.

 

The HLF capstone is a graduation ceremony on September 8th at 4pm at Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody. Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe columnist, will be the keynote speaker and the teens will read their reflection essays.

 

Kipnis and Ruderman’s goal of inspiring the 16 HLF graduates to take on the mantle of leadership and inform their communities about the Holocaust seems to have hit its mark.

 

“This trip changed my life in so many ways and has given me an important purpose in life. The post trip assignments do not feel like a burden. They are an opportunity for me to fulfill a deep desire to educate others and advocate on behalf of myself, HLF and the Jewish people,” Max Foltz, of Newburyport, said.

 

The trip was also transformative in intangible but indelible ways. “We saw first-hand what deep rooted hatred in people can do. This is to teach us to be compassionate and sensitive and to counteract and spread the antithesis of hatred,” Jonah Schwartz, of Framingham, said.

 

“For the first time, I truly thought of the Jewish people as my people,” Katie Hubbard, of Arlington, added.

 

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‘The Nature Plays’ Bring Mt. Auburn Cemetery to Life in a Spectacular Plein Air Tour de Force

 

Namesakes

Ed Hooperman (as Louis Agassiz), Jacob Oommen Athyal (as Elizabeth Agassiz) and Theresa Hoa Nguyen (as Jane Gray) debate their legacies in “Namesakes.”

 

Reviewed by Shelley A. Sackett

This review first appeared in The Theater Mirror. theatermirror.net/ All photos by Corinne Elicone.

 

Mt. Auburn Cemetery and its rich, natural environment is a heaven-made set for Playwright Patrick Gabridge’s spectacular first set of five site-specific one-act plays, collectively titled, “The Nature Plays.” Each ten-minute play touches on a topic germane to its particular setting in the 174-acre cemetery, which is also an arboretum and National Historic Landmark District.

The plays run through June 9 with another series of five short plays, “The American Plays,” scheduled to run September 14-22.

Gabridge, who is also Mt. Auburn Cemetery’s Artist-in-Residence, chose the topics based on “whatever interested him.” The result is five works, each stunning in its whimsicality, creativity, craftsmanship and depth. They seamlessly blend big-picture topics like global warming and the role the present plays in shaping history and legacy with slapstick and zingy one-liners.

Courtney O’Connor directs and cast members, all members of Actors Equity Association, include: Lisa Tucker, Jacob Athyal, Ed Hoopman, and Theresa Nguyen.

Over the course of the 75-minute production, the audience travels about a mile from site to site with the actors, wandering from pond to gravesite to secret mushroom trove to birding hot spot to sheltered glen. Chairs are set up at each site and there is not a bad seat in the house.

 

Patrick MAC umbrella close up

Patrick Gabridge, Playwright and Mt. Auburn Artist-in-Residence

 

Last Saturday at 5 pm, the stroll through the park-like setting was as magical as the plays themselves. Gabridge was on hand to offer bug spray and a brief introduction to the 35 people lucky enough to have scored a ticket to the sold out show.

The five plays are: “Hot Love in the Moonlight,” about the strange mating habits of spotted salamanders (“but it’s also a play about choosing to have children in a dangerous world,” Gabridge told Theater Mirror); “Namesakes,” which shows the 19th century naturalists Asa Gray and Louis Agassiz confronting the impermanence of their legacies; “Sworn to Secrecy,” a peek at the hidden world of mushroom hunters; “Cerulean Blue,” about the inner lives of bird watchers; and “Love and Loss in the Glade,” a play about healing and loss told through the words of three trees.

 

Hot Love

Jacob Oommen Athyal (as spotted salamander Jeremy) courts Theresa Hoa Nguyen (as spotted salamander Samantha) in “Hot Love in the Moonlight.”

 

Along with a natural soundtrack of chirps and tweets, bird recordings of warblers, orioles and warbling vireos chime in during the bird-watching play.

 

The Nature Plays - Cerulean Blue2

Ed Hooperman (as deaf birdwatcher Dan) and Lisa Tucker (as blind birdwatcher Leanna) share their observations in “Cerulean Blue.”

 

Each play provides both charm and a deeper message, and the actors clearly revel in delivering their clever lines. “So much life in a place dedicated to the dead….I never expected to feel so much less lonely here,” one bird watcher tells another.

Playwright Patrick Gabridge is an award-winning writer of historical and contemporary stage plays, novels, audio plays, and screenplays. His short plays have been produced more 1,000 times in theaters and schools in 14 different countries around the world and appear in various anthologies. His recent site-specific works include “Blood on the Snow” and “Cato & Dolly” for The Bostonian Society/Old State House, and “Both/And: A Quantum Physics Play” for the MIT Museum.

In 2018, Gabridge launched Plays In Place, a new company that works in partnership with museums, historic sites, and other cultural institutions to develop and produce site-specific theatrical plays and presentations to help engage, entertain, and enlighten visitors in new and vibrant ways.  Gabridge’s Mount Auburn plays are presented in partnership with Plays in Place as one of the company’s inaugural projects.

The Theater Mirror caught up with Gabridge, who answered these questions.

TM: How did you decide on the topics for “The Nature Plays?”

G: One of the cool things about being artist-in-residence at Mount Auburn Cemetery is the freedom we get to choose what to create, and also the richness of the history and environment of the place. There are 100,000 people buried there, but it’s also a world-class arboretum, an important stop on the migratory bird pathway. It has lots of interesting wildlife and some very smart programs to get people involved with science and nature.

As I got to know the Cemetery, it quickly became apparent to me that I’d have to write about BOTH history and nature. There was just so much to write about, so many different elements, that I decided to write two series of plays. And even then, The Nature Plays cover quite a bit of ground. The plays themselves also have different styles and takes on their subjects. I love the ability to experiment and play, and I think the audience is going to have a good time, too.

 

TM: What are the challenges of working/performing in an outdoor environment? What are some of the rewards?

G: The hardest thing about outdoor work is unpredictability, especially around weather. We’re fortunate at Mount Auburn in that we have an indoor rain backup space, at Story Chapel. You also have a lot less control over passersby, random environmental noise, etc., that you don’t have to worry about in the controlled space of an indoor theatre.

However, the rewards are great. We get a vividly real, three-dimensional environment, better than any set we could ever create. In Mount Auburn, we get an incredibly beautiful venue in which to perform and it comes with great spatial depth that we can use.

One thing I love about site-specific work like this is that it’s super intimate—often the audiences and performers are quite close. The formal barrier that exists between actors and audience in a traditional space is much more permeable, much less rigid. This enables more engagement, and I don’t necessarily mean the actors are talking to the audience, but there’s a sense of connection that’s deeper. This kind of experience often has great appeal for people who are less comfortable in a formal theatre environment. There’s a sense of shared experience, even among the audience themselves, that creates a memorable and engaging event.

 

TM: What do you hope audiences will take away from the experience?

G: I hope they’ll see Mount Auburn a little differently than they did before. That the specific spots where we perform will have a new resonance for them. I hope that they’ll be drawn to visit again, and when they do, they’ll look at the birds and trees and the place with a new curiosity, and also with a sense of belonging. They’ll know something about this place, and I hope they’ll feel like they’re a part of it, and it’s a part of them, in some small way.

 

TM: What initially inspired you to develop site-specific works?

G: I started creating site-specific plays in Colorado, in 1993. I had co-founded Chameleon Stage, with a bunch of other writers and a director friend, and we had no money, but wanted to experiment with creating new short plays. So we made plays for wild spaces in the mountains of Colorado, just west of Denver. It was called ‘Theatre in the Wild.’ It was so much fun we did more of them, toured a tiny bit (to Aspen and Golden), and then did Asphalt Adventures, a set of parking lot plays. I learned a lot about creating and producing site-specific plays.

TM: Anything you want to add?

G: I hope people will also keep an eye out for the second set of Mount Auburn plays, which will be in September.

THE NATURE PLAYS (30 May to 9 June)

Mount Auburn Cemetery, 580 Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, MA

617-607-1980 or mountauburn.org

 

Stellar ‘The Return’ marks Israeli Stage’s final production

by Shelley A. Sackett

 

“I think I may have done something wrong,” the Jewish Israeli character known as Her says to the Palestinian Israeli character known as Him. “I want to understand and make it right.”

“The Return,” the provocative and extraordinary two-character play performed by Israeli Stage at the Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion through May 19, slowly unravels the mystery of love and betrayal that underlies the relationship between these two very human beings trapped within a politically complicated country. Their backstory is a roadmap that examines Israel’s establishment and its contemporary social and political order through a Palestinian lens.

Because it is impossible to avoid spoilers in a full-throated review, broad brushstrokes must suffice. The writing (Palestinian-Israeli Hanna Eady and American Edward Mast), acting (Philana Mia and Nael Nacer) and directing (Guy Ben-Aharon) are brilliant. The set design (Cristina Todesco) and lighting (Jeff Adelberg) are powerful, yet unobtrusive, subtly evoking an interrogation room. And the post-performance moderated dialog last Saturday evening was as thought-provoking and engaging as the play itself.

The 65-minute intermission-less show is a product of the ongoing 20-year collaboration between the Seattle-based playwrights, who met through mutual friends soon after Mast returned from his first trip to Israel. The two talked a bit that night. The next day Hanna asked Mast if he would be interested in teaming up on a project he had in mind. “Aside from being a good playwright, Ed is an activist for human rights,” Eady said.

That project became their first play, “Sahmatah: Memory of Stones,” based on interviews with refugees from the Palestinian village destroyed during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. In 1998, it was produced in Arabic in the Masrahal-Midan Theater in Haifa, and on the ruins of the village of Sahmatah in the Upper Galilee.

Eady, who holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theater from the University of Wisconsin and a Master of Fine Arts in drama and directing from the University of Washington in Seattle, grew up in Buqayah, a small village similar to Sahmatah, also in the Upper Galilee region of Israel. “A mixed population of Palestinian Druze, Christians, Muslims and Palestinian Jews lived there together for thousands of years. In 1948, Israel was established and the harmony of their life in the village was destroyed,” Eady said. A large part of his family fled and are now scattered around the world in five continents.

His intent in writing “The Return” is twofold. “I would like the audience to feel the tragic reality of daily life of the Palestinian people, to see they are deprived of the most simple and natural thing in life, which is normal human contact,” he said. He also wants theatergoers to notice the play’s message of hope and spread it. “A good play changes attitudes and motivates the audience to take action,” he added.

Mast, who grew up in California, was “a very typical uninformed passive supporter of Israel” when he befriended a Palestinian coworker. “Through their eyes, I began to see things differently,” he said. He and Hanna have much in common. They both act and direct, and are compatible personally, politically and artistically. “We know a lot of beloved people who are in danger every day because of a system that places one people in power over another.”

When Guy Ben-Aharon founded Israeli Stage in 2010 as a 19-year-old Emerson College student, his goal was to expose American audiences to Israeli plays. Over nine seasons, the company has become known for its commitment to diversity, empathy and building community bridges through shared dialogue. “It’s so easy to exist in echo chambers, and have our own thoughts and opinions regurgitated for us. It is much more challenging to confront dualities and a multiplicity of experiences,” the Israeli native said.

“The Return” marks the last play of his company’s final season, and Ben-Aharon is “really glad” to share this Palestinian-Israeli perspective on the reality in Israel and the Palestinian territories. “It is the very first time we will have done that in nine seasons’ worth of work. We’re not trying to change hearts and minds as much as we’re trying to open them. Just a little bit.”

The Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts is located at 527 Tremont St., Boston. For tickets, visit IsraeliStage.com or call 617-933-8600.

Pastries for Pesach

SWAMPSCOTT – Sara Winer stood in her recently redecorated kitchen emanating the serene aura of a person who is in the right place at the right time. “My kitchen is my happy place,” she said as she took a loving glance around the gray-toned sleek yet warm sanctuary, which has been kosher since the day she got married 49 years ago.

The Swampscott baker comes from a long matrilineal line of bakers, starting with her Russian Bubbe Sara, for whom she is named. She is renowned for her creative and delectable creations, which are decidedly not low-calorie. “There really is no substitute for butter if you want a rich cookie or cake,” she said.

Finally succumbing to repeated suggestions from friends, Winer decided it was time to test the waters and start a baking business. She launched “Sara’s Baked Goods & Specialties” last Passover, when she decided to offer a few of her personal favorites items to a few friends.

Baking for Passover can be challenging and tedious because no leavening agents are used, Winer shared. She makes sure all ingredients are kosher for Passover and she uses only her Passover dishes and cooking implements. “I buy eggs five dozen at a time,” she said.

This Passover, she again is selling desserts and kugels. Some she can bake in advance and freeze; others, like her chocolate-dipped meringues and sponge cake, are made just prior to delivery. New to this year are the vegetable farfel kugel and her personal favorite, Passover granola, loaded with nuts, coconut, raisins and honey.

The response so far has surprised her. “I always think people could do this themselves, but they either like what I make or don’t have that same excitement about baking,” she said.

Creativity is also in her genes. Her mother, sisters, nephews and son excelled in painting, photography and animation. Winer tried her hand at fine arts, but found her medium – and her calling – in baking. “It is also therapeutic, meditative, and fun. It satisfies my need to give, to nurture and to care for my family and friends,” she said as she poured a cup of tea and set out a plate of her favorite cookies: hermits, pecan sandies, chocolate chip and poppy seed.

The science of baking fascinates Winer, and she loves working with yeast. “A couple of ingredients and voilà! You have a challah!” she said with a broad smile.

She worked for 18 years as a sales rep at Rivkind Associates, a large printing company in Stoughton, and gifted her clients with baskets of handmade cookies at the holidays. “They all came to look forward to it every year,” she said.

After retiring in 2013, she had a lot of time on her hands, which translated to a lot of time for baking. Friends celebrating birthdays receive cupcakes or a cake, and her mah jongg friends know not to eat dessert on game nights, because Winer always provides an assortment of homemade goodies. “My freezer is literally full of cookies, cakes and breads,” she said.

Although Winer’s nuclear family is a great reservoir of talent, she credits her mother-in-law, Ida Winer, as the biggest source of her inspiration. “She taught me how to entertain and how to make everything look nice. She just had a real flair. I like to think I am following in her footsteps,” she said.

For more information, email sewiner48@gmail.com.

An interview with Joan Nathan

What do you plan to speak about at Friends of Hillel Library event?

I plan to speak on the revolving “bagel” of Jewish cooking from King Solomon’s times to our times.

What do libraries mean to you?

I love libraries. They mean history, finding nuggets of history, for me Jewish history, I love the quiet of them and the fact that everyone can use them, and what they reveal in wonderful books.

What current trends do you see in Jewish cooking?

Jewish cooking is really hot right now, especially Israeli cooking in New York, LA, Berlin, Paris, and many small places in between. Of course, much of it is due to what I call the “Ottolenghi” phenomenon – this wonderful Israeli chef, living in London and using pomegranate paste, date jam, chickpeas, etc. in his colorful cuisine. It raised the idea of Israeli cooking and I believe inspired all kinds of chefs and restaurateurs. In LA there is Bavel; in New York there is Nur, Mint Village; in Philly there is Zahav; in New Orleans there is Saba; and in Buenos Aires there is Meshuganah. Out of this is also coming Diaspora cuisine in restaurants everywhere.

Any “words of advice” to young Jewish people?

Learn as much as you can now. When it comes to cooking, go to your parents and grandparents and watch them cook and ask them their stories and the stories of the foods that are in your family. Write everything down and make a little booklet out of them or do a paper for a class on them. You will keep them and learn from these recipes for the rest of your lives.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Every Jew has his or her own history. Food is so much part of it because of the repetitive: Enjoy it, celebrate it, and learn from your table what the history of each ingredient is. Food is just as important as music or prayer and in many families it is absolutely the last to leave our culture. Catch the recipes for you and the next generation.

Temple Emanu-El unveils stunning stained glass ark at rededication

by Shelley A. Sackett

MARBLEHEAD – When Rabbi David J. Meyer stood on the bimah facing a packed congregation at the Temple Emanu-El rededication ceremony on March 8, he felt like a moment of fulfillment was being shared with the entire North Shore Jewish community.

The lights came up in the newly renovated sanctuary, with its magnificent stained glass ark, and he could hear gasps of amazement. “I felt enormous gratitude for the blessings filling the moment,” he said.

Ingrid Pichler, the Swamp­scott artist who created the ark, was among the attendees at the Shabbat service who witnessed the Torahs being placed in their new illuminated home.

“It’s a very different feeling when the work is installed as it takes on its own identity, the one it was created for, in the place it was always meant to be,” said Pichler. “After months in my studio, the work has now gone home.”

Ingrid Pichler, the Swampscott artist who created the ark, working with stained glass in her studio. Photo courtesy of Ingrid Pichler

The renovation was a long road that started with discussions five years ago, as both the need and desire to update the sanctuary, social spaces, offices, and learning spaces became ever more compelling. The $1.8 million project, which addressed accessibility and inclusion, functionality, security, and the environment, also stressed artistic considerations, which is immediately evident upon entering the remodeled sanctuary.

During discussions of how to best capture the essence of their community, Temple Emanu-El members kept coming back to the idea of water. “It is fitting, especially for our synagogue which stands only steps from the Atlantic Ocean, that water is used as a visual theme for our sanctuary of worship,” Rabbi Meyer said in a statement last year.

Pichler was first contacted by Francine Goldstein, Renovation Committee chairwoman, who asked if she would be interested in submitting a proposal for the ark as part of a national search for artists. The only direction she received was that the theme was water and she had one week to come up with something.

There were no initial guidelines regarding color, shape, or content, which left it up to the artists to find their own interpretations and relationships with the theme of water and the architectural space. The committee also considered using mosaic, metal, and wood.

Pichler presented her preliminary designs, and Goldstein recalled overwhelming committee support for using glass as the medium to express the theme. “The flowiness of the glass really speaks to the whole idea of water without being too blatant,” she said.

Pichler received the green light to meet with the design team and submitted her first designs in February 2018. After a lengthy period of discussion and tweaking, the final design was approved last May.

A view of the ark from the aisle. Photo by Stuart Garfield

“Any site-specific installation has to successfully integrate the architectural space; honor the location, purpose, and light of that space and, in this case, be the focal point,” Pichler said.

Pichler admitted she was a bit apprehensive at first, since this was her first Jewish house of worship (she has created work for churches in the United Kingdom and Marblehead). However, as a visual artist working in glass, she reminded herself that she communicates through more than just words.

“The language of color, shape, texture, line, and light is universal,” she said.

Originally from northern Italy, Pichler has been working in architectural glass for almost 30 years. She cut, shaped, assembled, and fired each one of the several thousand pieces of glass for the ark.

“I consider each piece of glass as a brush stroke that makes up the final painting, and therefore I work solo,” she said. “Water for a sacred space demands a very different interpretation than water for a luxury spa or swimming pool, and my thoughts when designing and fabricating are matched accordingly.”

The stunning result evokes the ocean, waves, and flow of the tides with its hues of blues and refraction of light, accomplishing much more than just its functional goal.

“In the Torah, water is the primordial substance from which life emerged at the will of God,” said Rabbi Meyer.

Daughter offers glimpse inside private world of Leonard Bernstein

by Shelley A. Sackett

Leonard Bernstein, whose global 100th birthday celebration has invigorated his reputation as one of the great musicians of modern times, was best known as a composer, conductor, pianist, teacher, and humanitarian. With the publication of her memoir, “Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein,” oldest daughter Jamie Bernstein shifts the spotlight to his least examined – but to her – most important role: that of father.

Jamie, a writer, broadcaster, filmmaker, and concert narrator, paints a detailed portrait of a complicated and sometimes troubled man, plumbing the emotional complexities of her childhood and inviting the reader into her family’s private world of celebrity, culture, and occasional turmoil.

North Shore Leonard Bernstein fans will have a chance to hear Jamie speak about her book and answer questions at 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 7, at the newly renovated Temple Emanu-El, 393 Atlantic Ave. in Marblehead. In addition, there will be a screening of the documentary, “Leonard Bernstein, Larger Than Life,” followed by a dessert reception. The event is co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Center North Shore Jewish Book Month and International Film Festival committees.

One of Jamie’s goals in writing her memoir was “to answer the frequently asked question: WHAT WAS IT LIKE?!” she told the Journal by email. “What was it like growing up in that family, with that father? The short answer: not boring. The longer answer: read my book!”

In her 400-page memoir, chockfull of spicy details and intimate family pictures, Jamie paints an eyewitness portrait of the 1960s and 1970s she lived. “I grew up in amazing times. They were turbulent and shifting. It was a particularly intense time to be a young woman,” she said. She also dishes about the extraordinary circle of characters that populated the Bernsteins’ lives, including: the Kennedys, Mike Nichols, John Lennon, Richard Avedon, Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Robbins, and Lauren Bacall.

Her two siblings, Nina Bernstein Simmons and Alexander Bernstein, also have been involved in preserving their father’s legacy. Jamie showed them every draft of her memoir. “All along, I told them that they had complete veto power. They were amazingly supportive; I don’t think they ever asked me to take anything out,” she said.

Their mother, Chilean pianist and actress Felicia Montealegre, raised her three children to be bilingual, which serves Jamie well when she narrates concerts in Spanish in locations such as Madrid and Caracas. “Our mother was not only beautiful, elegant, and talented, she was also the stabilizing force for our family in general and [for] our dad in particular,” she said.

Giving new meaning to the phrase, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Jamie communicates her own love affair with classical music through her roles as speaker and concert narrator. She writes and performs the script for “The Bernstein Beat,” a popular and successful program of family concerts about her father’s music modeled after his own groundbreaking “Young People’s Concerts.”

Leonard Bernstein conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1970. Photo by Heinz Weissenstein, Whitestone Photo, BSO Archives

“I’m not exactly channeling him [her father], since I’m only doing half of his job – the writing and talking part,” Jamie said. “But I do feel a similar urge to reach out and communicate to my audiences. I love sharing the stuff I’m excited about.”

While on her book promotion tour (“a considerable amount of schlep”), she has talked to many people who experienced her father’s mystique, either through concerts at Tanglewood and the New York Philharmonic or through recordings, TV, and Broadway productions. “It has been incredibly touching. The attendees are curious and attentive and quite emotional. And so many of them have stories!” she said.

Izzi Abrams, president of the JCC in Marblehead, is among those with stories. Her family had an indirect relationship with the Bernsteins through her uncle, Rabbi Israel Kazis of Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Brookline, where the Bernsteins were members when Leonard was a boy. Abrams also taught a course on Bernstein last fall and winter. “I’ve been excited ever since I heard a couple of summers ago that Tanglewood was going to celebrate Bernstein’s 100th birthday in 2018,” she said.

With over 5,000 events worldwide, Jamie acknowledges that her book is just a small piece of the LB Centennial celebration that she and her siblings hope will remind those who lived in their father’s era of the enormous legacy he left behind.

“We also hope that young people will discover Leonard Bernstein, and be excited to know more about him, his music, and his music-making,” she said.

For information or to buy tickets to the April 7 event, visit jccns.org or call 781-631-8330.

 

‘Heartland’ goes straight to the heart

 

 

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Dr. Harold Banks (Ken Baltin) and daughter Getee (Caitlin Nasema Cassidy) enjoy each other’s company in Gabriel Jason Dean’s riveting new play, “Heartland.” [Photo by Christopher McKenzie. ]

By Shelley A. Sackett

Dr. Harold Banks has a guilty secret.

The renowned Afghan scholar and retired professor at the University of Nebraska lives in Omaha, the “heartland” of America, with his beloved adopted daughter, Getee. Orphaned in Afghanistan, Getee yearns to return to her birth home both to reconnect with her biological roots and to offer humanitarian aid by teaching children outside Kabul.

While there, she discovers a dusty box of old primary school textbooks from the 1980s with messages that promote violence, hatred, and jihad. Nazrullah (Naz), an Afghan Muslim math teacher she befriends, remembers using the same book as a child. To her horror, Getee learns that Americans authored these books.

To Harold’s deeply buried shame, he was on the CIA-led team from the University of Nebraska that created and imbedded those same propaganda-laden books in Afghanistan as part of a Cold War strategy to counteract the Soviet invasion.

Playwright Gabriel Jason Dean’s riveting and recommended new play, “Heartland,” presented by the New Repertory Theatre at the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown through Feb. 9, plunges its audience into the personal and political tornado that encircles these three people. The tormented history of the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States is the invisible but pivotal fourth character, and it casts its shadow over every scene.

The play opens as an elderly and ill Harold, wearing boxers, a tropical-themed shirt, a baseball cap and flip flops lays on a chaise dictating semi-comprehensible lecture notes into a mini-recorder. Naz (portrayed with equal parts humor and gravitas by the gifted Shawn K. Jain) shows up on Harold’s doorstep with a message from Getee (ably played by the perky Caitlin Nasema Cassidy). Harold mistakes Naz for the air conditioner repairman, setting in motion a common thread of false impression, mistaken identity, and misunderstanding that runs throughout the 105-minute intermission-less production.

 

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Dr. Harold Banks (Ken Baltin) and Nazrullah (Shawn K. Jain) get to know each other. [Photo by Christopher McKenzie]

Through flawlessly interwoven flashbacks and dramatized memories, the linked stories of Getee’s adoption, her nascent interest in Afghanistan, her romantic relationship with Naz, and her ultimate death in a Taliban-led attack unfold beside revelations about Harold’s unwitting complicity in creating a generation of ruthless fighters. Ironically, those children raised on Harold’s textbooks grew up to become the Taliban that killed Getee. With her blood on his hands, Harold is at last forced to face his involvement in a failed foreign policy that reaped great sorrow for so many, including himself.The intimacy of the Mosesian Center for the Arts’ 90-seat BlackBox Theatre and Afsoon Pajoufar’s spare but effective set provides an immersive experience for the audience, which is transported from Kabul to Omaha with the flick of spotlights. When Naz moves in and takes care of Harold, their increasingly honest conversations explore the consequences of misguided US foreign policy while exposing Harold’s emotional rollercoaster ride through love, loss, denial, and pain.

“The man thought he was performing tikkun olam [healing the world] for a country he had come to love. He realizes that while he solved one problem, he created another enormous problem,” said Ken Baltin, the Needham resident whose portrayal of Harold’s inner conflict is spot-on. “How to manage these kinds of circumstances and still live with yourself is one of the main points of the play.”

“Heartland” is Dean’s second play about Afghanistan. His self-described “obsession” with the country began in 2006, when his brother-in-law’s girlfriend and her family were shot down near Kandahar while visiting her father, a civilian contractor.

“It wasn’t until I was holding my sobbing brother-in-law that a conflict in Afghanistan became personal to me,” he said by email. While researching another play set in Afghanistan, he came across several articles about these textbooks. “I knew I wanted to write about them immediately,” he added.
He hopes audiences will leave the play questioning U.S. policy of intervention in foreign countries with a critical eye to examining how Americans address their culpability when those policies fail.

“If we had the courage to face our failures, to say we are wrong, we are sorry, ask for forgiveness, and actually commit to better policy, then that would be the first step to righting these wrongs we seem to have a habit of repeating,” Dean said.

However, the more complicated issue of whether good intentions can trump unforeseen bad consequences is never quite black and white, even when the contrast between objective and outcome is stark. Despite his patriotic and selfless motives, the sympathetic Harold suffers in agony in a gray limbo area between damnation and redemption, trapped in a personal spiritual struggle.

“We made decisions that were in the best interest of the U.S. and Afghanistan,” he explains to Getee when she discovers his collusion. “Hindsight makes it easy to have morality.”

The Mosesian Center for the Arts is located at 321 Arsenal St., Watertown. Visit newrep.org or call 617-923-8487.

Student of Elie Wiesel shares his story in Marblehead

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Rabbi Ariel Burger leads a workshop at the 2008 Covenant Foundation meeting at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.

 

NOVEMBER 1, 2018, MARBLEHEAD – Rabbi Ariel Burger was 15 when he met Elie Wiesel for the first time. His stepfather, a conductor who worked with Wiesel on a musical project, introduced the two after a lecture in New York, sparking a connection that would span over a quarter of a century.

As Wiesel’s undergraduate student, doctorate candidate, and teaching assistant at Boston University, Burger developed a relationship with the Romanian-born American Jewish writer, professor, political activist, Nobel laureate, and Holocaust survivor that transcended protégé. The two became close friends.

During his five years as Wiesel’s teaching assistant, Burger witnessed the transformative power of his mentor over hundreds of students. He lets the public peek through the keyhole door into this classroom dynamic in his newly published book, “Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom,” a detailed chronicle of student interactions and Burger’s personal conversations with Wiesel about intellect, faith, tolerance, and truth.

Rabbi Ariel Burger’s art includes illustration and multimedia works, and deals with themes of language and its limits.

 

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“Light”

 

“A lot of people had the chance to study with my teacher, or at least to hear him lecture or speak publicly,” Burger said via email. “But we can no longer do that. So it’s up to us who knew him and learned with him to share what we learned.”

Wiesel, who passed away in July 2016 at age 87, supported Burger’s project. “I think he was excited whenever his students created new work, especially books. And I was able to share with him some very early sketches of the book, chapter titles, things like that for his feedback,” Burger said.

A true Renaissance man, Burger has been drawing, painting, and illustrating since he was a young boy. He works in a variety of media, from acrylic portraits to pen and ink illustrations, to digital collages.

Referring to himself as “an educator and artist whose focus is leadership, spirituality, and creativity,” Burger strives to empower others to access their spirituality, or “the less common inward-facing stuff. We’re meant for more than plodding through our days with shopping breaks. And the problems we face as human beings demand better and deeper responses.”

The master storyteller and rabbi also began studying conflict transformation after spending time in Israel from 1998 to 2003, where he experienced the Israeli-Palestinian conflict firsthand. He was unsatisfied by the prevailing attitudes he encountered: the “us v. them” mentality and others that seemed to avoid the real issues altogether.

 

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“Aleph”

“I came away with a sense that we needed to deepen our approach to otherness, to difference, to competing claims and stories,” he said. “I wanted to know what my own tradition, and especially the hidden side of our tradition – the mysticism – had to say about how we might transform conflict.”

After studying in several other yeshivot, Burger finished his rabbinical studies at the orthodox Bat Ayin Yeshiva in the West Bank and was ordained in 2003. Wiesel neither encouraged nor discouraged this pursuit. “In general, he didn’t push me in any specific direction. He usually answered my questions with other questions. But this helped me a lot, because his questions were so much more precise, and asking them helped me clarify what I wanted,” Burger said.

As Scholar-in-Residence at Temple Sinai in Marblehead this year, Rabbi Burger will bring all his hats to wear leading the audience in three sessions devoted to learning and growing. “The Temple Sinai community and Adult Education Committee feel a responsibility to provide exciting programs to the whole area that will inspire people to continue evolving and learning as part of leading a Jewish life,” said Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez.

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“Freedom”

A member of the committee had met Burger and thought his fusing of text and traditions with the arts would be a good fit for the temple’s program. “And as a student of Wiesel, Rabbi Burger also focuses on one of my favorite passions — the power of storytelling,” Cohen-Henriquez added.

At the first session on Oct. 21, which was part of the Jewish Book Month speaker series, Burger spoke about “Witness” and his personal and professional experiences with Wiesel. “I always hope to connect listeners to themselves, to each other and to wisdom,” he said. “I feel very committed to helping heal our broken civic discourse through sharing stories and studying text. I’m continuing to travel and teach, learn, listen, and share stories about a man who continues to have so much to teach us.”

Rabbi Burger wants people attending his sessions to leave with two takeaways. “Hope, and new questions,” he said, echoing his mentor’s mantra.

The winter and spring sessions will integrate text study, art, and storytelling. For more information, go to templesinaiweb.org or call 781-631-2763.

FOCUS ON: DAWNLAND

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

 

By Shelley Sackett

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

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

SS: How did you first get involved in filmmaking?

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

 

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

SS: How did you get involved with this project?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

SS: Anything else you’d like to share?

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

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