Davening to a different drummer: Meet Cantor Alty Weinreb

 

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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/

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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.

 

Israeli Stage presents blistering, sensual drama ‘The Last Act’

 

Guy Ben-Aharon, c:o the director, photographer Esra Rotthoff

Director Guy Ben-Aharon

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict seems to be an unavoidable topic of discussion: in the news, in the gym, even in the produce aisle. From May 18 through June 1, the conversation will move from side bar to center stage when the Israeli Stage presents the world premiere production of award-winning playwright Joshua Sobol’s latest play, “The Last Act” at Martin Hall in the Calderwood Pavilion.

 

Known for controversial work that challenges and provokes, Sobol’s newest work boldly addresses a difficult question: once society legitimizes branding and treating a group as the “other,” is there any hope the two sides can ever see each other as anything other than an enemy?

 

Playwright Joshua Sobol

 

Crafted as a play-within-a-play, the blistering and sensual drama centers on Gilly, a Jewish-Israeli unemployed actress leading a dull, settled life, and Djul, a Palestinian actor. The two share a passion to put on theater that is risky and matters. They mount an adaptation of August Strindberg’s “Miss Julie,” a play about an aristocratic woman and a senior servant, Jean, whose mutual attraction leads to tragedy.

 

Like the characters they play, Gilly and Djul feel a magnetic pull towards each other despite the cultural, political and social barriers that separate them. The plot thickens when Gilly’s husband, Ethan, a Jewish-Israeli intelligence officer, receives a surveillance assignment that involves spying on his wife and her Palestinian co-star, whom Ethan’s boss falsely assumes is a Hamas operative.

 

New York-based actress Annelise Lawson is just getting to know her character, Gilly, and she likes what she is discovering. “Her genius is her intuition; she picks up on everything. She is unabashedly assertive in pursuing her loves and doesn’t suffer fools gladly,” she said. “I’m a little envious of how she navigates her world.”

 

At one point, Gilly growls, “Theatre should be dangerous, or else it should not be!” Lawson agrees. “To get along in our daily lives, we have to edit ourselves constantly, making sure we express our opinions in just the right way. Theatre is one of the few places where we can drop the social mask and take the temperature of our culture. The act of telling the truth is dangerous.”

 

Sobol sees many parallels between “Miss Julie,” with its irrational and rigid focus on impenetrable social class barriers, and the situation in Israel. “The Israeli-Palestinian ‘mess’ has long abandoned the territory of sound reason,” he said, pointing out that the mutual prosperity Palestinians and Jews have experienced should have convinced the two communities they can only gain from a peaceful acceptance of each other. “But instead of thriving together in peace, the Hosseini belligerent leadership of the Palestinian community opted for a forceful showdown.”

 

The Israeli Stage’s mission is to share the diversity and vitality of Israeli theatre, and Director and Producing Artistic Director Guy Ben-Ahron considers “The Last Act” a perfect fit. “While the play is inherently Israeli, it is utterly universal. The peril of the surveillance state is a global phenomenon. The option for society to choose fear or hope is one that faces all Americans today,” he said.

 

Artistically, he appreciates that the play-within-a-play structure distorts the lines of reality, inviting the audience to tune into two realities simultaneously. “It blurs the lines of comedy and tragedy- it’s funny, it’s sharp and it’s poignant. I love the playfulness of the script,” he said.

 

Nightly dialogues will follow each performance, providing an opportunity for communal reflection. “Our vision is to create an opportunity to listen, inquire and reflect deeply at a time when our world suffers mightily from divisions and distrust. We’re not trying to change hearts and minds as much as we’re trying to open them. Just a little bit,” Ben-Ahron said.

 

For more information or to buy tickets, visit israelistage.com or call (617) 933-8600.

 

Israeli artist breaks gender barrier with ‘A Fringe of Her Own’

By Shelley A. Sackett

MARCH 29, 2018 – Two summers ago, Tamar Paley started thinking about what she wanted to focus on for her senior thesis project at Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan.

As one whose work is inspired as much by her own life and opinions as by form and materials, she decided to use the thesis platform as a way to bring attention to two matters she cares strongly about – feminism and gender inequality – and the “non-recognition of progressive Judaism from Israeli authorities,” the 26-year-old said by email from Tel Aviv.

Paley came up with the idea to create feminine Jewish ritual items based on but totally different from those traditionally reserved for men, including tefillin, tzitzit, and tallit. Her collection, “A Fringe of Her Own,” calls on her talent for jewelry making with delicate, inventive, and exquisite pieces specifically for women.

Soon after finishing her studies, she ran across an open call for the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute’s artist-in-residence program and submitted her work for consideration. She was selected from 30 applicants, and “A Fringe of Her Own” is now on display at HBI’s Kniznick Gallery at the Women’s Studies Research Center in Waltham through June. This is Paley’s first solo show and the first US exhibition of her work.

Initially, her peers and professors at Shenkar were unenthusiastic about her proposal. “This is not ‘mainstream’ in Israel and more than that, it is a subject of deep controversy that has led to confusion and identity questions,” she said. Once she explained what she wanted to do and why, “they got it. The support was amazing and opened up a new realm of discussion beyond design and into worlds of faith and femininity.”

Growing up in a reform/progressive Jewish community, Paley was part of a group that accepted women as religiously equal to men when it came to participating in what mainstream Israeli Judaism considers exclusively male.

“In Israel, everything is political, so women wearing a tallit or using tefillin feels like a very bold statement, sometimes even scary and uncomfortable,” she said.
Even among other progressive Israeli women, using and seeing tallit and tefillin on women doesn’t always feel natural. “They still feel like they culturally belong to men,” Paley said.

At Brandeis, her bold, innovative work was welcome.

The Hadassah-Brandeis Institute’s mission is to support “fresh ways of thinking about Jews and gender world-wise,” and Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, Shulamit Reinharz director of the institute.

“We are excited by the challenging beauty of her work and by the role that dialogue with women in the progressive movements in Israel played in her design process,” Joffe added, noting Paley will continue that conversation with women in the region through lectures and workshops.

The groundbreaking exhibit builds on Paley’s belief that jewelry can make a strong social statement while reflecting beauty and aesthetics. She deconstructs traditional patriarchal Jewish ritual objects and redesigns them to reflect a feminine consciousness using material such as German silver, handwoven textiles, found objects, gold foil, printed parchment, Lucite, and printed silk.

The results are breathtaking in their symbolism, feminine energy, and exceptional craftsmanship. The combination of graceful silverwork, delicate fringe, and carefully chosen snippets of text against a backdrop of elegant yet bold blue textile creates wearable objects with religious and spiritual significance and beauty.

“A Fringe of Her Own” garnered Paley a prestigious American-Israel Cultural Foundation scholarship. She also presented the collection at the world-renowned Marzee International Graduation Show in the Netherlands.

Joffe hopes visitors take away awareness that Israeli women are part of a vibrant art scene that is exploring contemporary issues of Jewish identity. Paley hopes for something a little deeper.

“I want attendees to leave with the notion that religion is in our hands, literally, and it is our responsibility to design and reflect our needs and beliefs,” she said. “I hope I can be a voice for some women out there, at least hopefully the friends I grew up with, and that this will encourage them to be proud of who they are and to fight for what they believe in.”

The Kniznick Gallery is located on the Brandeis University campus in the Epstein Building, 515 South St., Waltham. The exhibit is free and open to the public Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with special weekend hours April 15 and 22. For more information, visit brandeis.edu/hbi/arts

Millennial Jews finding ways to connect on the North Shore

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Alex Powell and Toby Jacobson discuss the Six13 North program. Photo by Steven A. Rosenberg/Journal Staff

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

Last November, a group of young Jewish professionals gathered at the home of Congregation Shirat Hayam Rabbi Michael Ragozin to brainstorm ways to engage their fellow North Shore millennials. Ranging in age from 22 to 45, few of them   had met before and most knew the rabbi only minimally.

Yet all shared the same longing to create a vibrant local community of Jewish friends. They quickly focused on their purpose: To maximize the number they would connect with over the next six months.

They decided to apply for a $2,500 Combined Jewish Philanthropies Young Adult Community Grant to start the group. Named Six13 North after the 613 mitzvot in the Torah, it defines itself as “an open community of young professional Jews and friends with the stated mission to design environments to create, grow, and deepen connections on the North Shore.”

Within two days, recent college graduates Alex Powell and Axi Berman delivered a draft business plan. The group collaboratively revised it and on Dec. 21, CJP awarded the grant and Six13 North was officially launched.

Its first event, Hometown & Homeland, will feature a tasting of local spirits and Israeli wines paired with light snacks at the Bit Bar in Salem at 8 p.m. on March 8.

“We wanted to create a fun, low-barrier social gathering for young, professional Jews and their friends,” Rabbi Ragozin said. 

Subsequent plans include a cooking class, a networking event, and an outdoor recreation get-together.

“Many millennials have the view that temple doesn’t have to be a weekly trip for them to have faith,” Powell said. “My hope is to create a social experience in which participants take the lead and decide what they want to get out of it.”

The Swampscott native attended Temple Israel and Shirat Hayam and grew up in a religious family where Shabbat dinners were frequent and family and friends always gathered to observe Jewish holidays. As a recent Franklin Pierce University graduate, he thinks traditional temple affiliations are more appealing to young families than to “a post-grad still strapped with student loans. There are other means to feel connected.” 

Elliot Adler-Gordon attended the inaugural Six13 North meeting with his wife, Jenna. “People choose to be involved with religion when they find it to be meaningful, and I think that the synagogue-oriented Judaism that many people have grown up with over the past 40 years can be difficult to relate to,” he said. “This is why there needs to be a focus on creating alternative opportunities.” 

Adler-Gordon grew up as an “involved Conservative Jew on Long Island,” attending Jewish day school through high school and Jewish summer camp. He was very active in Jewish life at the University of Pennsylvania and met his wife during a junior year abroad in Haifa.

A product marketing manager at GCP Applied Technologies in Cambridge, Adler-Gordon moved to the North Shore a few months ago from the Brookline/Brighton area after Jenna was hired as the second-grade teacher at Epstein Hillel School. They left behind a strong group of Jewish friends.

“We knew, moving to the North Shore, that there is not much of an involved Jewish young professionals community, so I was glad to hear Rabbi Ragozin was looking for a group to create such a community,” he said.

In addition to sponsoring large events, Adler-Gordon hopes Six13 North helps people meet friends who share interests such as hiking in the mountains or sharing Shabbat dinners. “I am optimistic there are people who live on the North Shore who are looking to be part of a Jewish community,” he said.

Rabbi Ragozin’s plans go far beyond that. By empowering organic leadership within the group, he hopes this self-organized leadership team will design experiences that “create such a buzz that there’s a natural flow of millennials from Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Somerville, and Jamaica Plain into the North Shore.

“I’m speaking with as many millennials as possible. They’re hungry for spirituality and meaning. They’re looking to their faith tradition – Judaism – but not finding models from their childhoods that excite them today. They want the spirituality of social connections, Shabbat dinners, service projects, etc. Their first point of exploration is within Judaism, but up to now, they haven’t found it within existing North Shore Jewish institutions.

“Six13 North flips the script. We say, ‘You are the institution. You make it happen.’” 

To buy tickets ($10) for the Hometown & Homeland event March 8, visit bit.ly/Six13North01.

‘Bernstein & Beethoven’ slated for March 4 at the Cabot

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Leonard Bernstein in 1973. Photo by Allan Warren

 

Symphony by the Sea, the North Shore’s premier professional orchestra, will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth with “Bernstein & Beethoven,” a concert featuring excerpts from his most popular and enduring achievement, “West Side Story,” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 (“Eroica”).

The historic Cabot Theater in Beverly will host the concert on Sunday, March 4 at 3 p.m.

Bernstein, whose given name was Louis, was born in Lawrence to Russian immigrant parents, and attended Boston Latin School and Harvard University. He burst onto the American music scene in 1943 when he substituted for the ailing Bruno Walter as an 26-year-old unknown assistant conductor, leading the New York Philharmonic in a critically acclaimed concert.

Maestro Donald Palma, music director of Symphony by the Sea, has a special and personal connection to Bernstein (1918-1990), who was the grandson of a Ukrainian Hassidic Rav (Rabbi) and the first American to become musical director and conductor of the New York Philharmonic.

Palma grew up in New York, where he attended the Juilliard School and joined Leopold Stowkowski’s American Symphony at age 19. He worked with Bernstein on several other “awe-inspiring concerts” and attended many of his performances at the New York Philharmonic. “I even sent him a piece I wrote when I was 12-years-old!” Palma said by email.

In 1984, when the German classical music record label, Deutsche Grammophon wanted Bernstein to record “West Side Story” in Germany, he insisted the recording be made on the West Side of New York with New York musicians. Bernstein invited Palma, a prominent classical double bassist, to play principal bass on the record.

“One of the high points in my career was recording ‘West Side Story’ with its composer. We recorded not far from where the action of the play takes place,” Palma said. Bernstein’s children provided the spoken dialogue and the BBC documented the week’s proceedings.

A year after his conducting debut, Bernstein established his composing prowess when New York critics awarded his Symphony No. 1 (subtitled “Jeremiah,” in reference to the story of the sixth century B.C.E. Jewish prophet) their highest accolade, pronouncing it the most impressive new work of the year.

Although Bernstein was not traditionally observant, his life and music were steeped in Judaism. He accepted a commission from the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City in 1945 to compose liturgical music for Shabbat services. “Hashkivenu” for cantor mixed chorus and organ is Bernstein’s one work specifically for the synagogue.

He first visited Israel in 1946, when he conducted the Palestine Symphony Orchestra, and he was later appointed the first conductor of the Israel Philharmonic.

To create “West Side Story,” choreographer Jerome Robbins convened a quartet of Jewish artists – the composer, Bernstein; the lyricist, Stephen Sondheim; the librettist, Arthur Laurents; and Robbins, the director and choreographer.

The show transfers Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” to the tempestuous streets of 1950s New York City’s Upper West Side, where two star-crossed lovers find themselves caught between two rival gangs of different ethnic backgrounds: the white Jets and the first-generation immigrants from Puerto Rico, the Sharks.

The centennial concert adds an exciting twist to nine musical selections from “West Side Story” by combining them with stage direction by Penny Singh, narration by playwright, actress and Salem State University professor of theater, Anne Marilyn Lucas, and vocals by the Endicott Singers, directed by Rebecca Kenneally.

Although written over 50 years ago, Kenneally’s students uncovered contemporary messages. “The themes of gang violence, prejudice against immigrants, police brutality and troubled youth seem especially relevant today. The subject matter is as deep as the musical language Bernstein uses to discuss it, and the students are hungry to explore these depths fully,” she said.

Palma deliberately paired Bernstein’s “West Side Story” music with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3. “Lenny was a larger than life figure and as great if not greater than his reputation. He taught so many of us, through his Young Person’s Concerts and Harvard Lectures, how to think about Beethoven’s music,” he said.

On March 4, the great Maestro’s legacy will live on under the baton of one who still feels the thrill of having been touched by his greatness.

For more information, visit symphonybythesea.org or call 978-922-1248.

Swampscott’s Saris takes LEAP into educating those in need

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

By Shelley A. Sackett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guthrie’s love song to her Jewish and folk family

By Shelley A. Sackett

Above: Nora Guthrie, daughter of folk legend Woody Guthrie, recently spoke at Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody.

 

JANUARY 25, 2018 – PEABODY – About once a year, Nora Guthrie presents “Holy Ground: Woody Guthrie’s Yiddish Connection,” a multi-media program about Woody Guthrie’s creative and collaborative relationship with his Jewish mother-in-law, the Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt.

Last Monday, over 140 people attended Guthrie’s presentation, which was sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Organizations of the North Shore and CJP, and hosted by Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody.

The hour-long storytelling piece included writings, artwork, music from a two-disc Klezmer project, home movies, and Nora Guthrie, telling the surprising story about how her father and grandmother bonded as fellow artists when the family lived in Brooklyn’s Coney Island.

Guthrie says she always begins by answering the question she knows is on everyone’s mind: what in the world does Woody Guthrie have to do with Yiddish poetry? “It’s this crazy story about two people from completely different backgrounds. My father had never met a Jew in his life and my mother had never met a cowboy. He grew up Protestant in a small Oklahoma town. She grew up in Atlantic City and was a student of early Zionism,” she said in a phone interview.

Her parents’ romance started in New York City in the early 1940s, where Woody Guthrie caught the attention of folklorist Alan Lomax, who recorded the troubadour’s songs. Some were used in a Martha Graham Dance Company ballet called “Folksay,” a suite of dances set to American roots music. Marjorie Mazia was a dancer with the troupe. She jumped at the chance to meet the songwriter when she heard he was at his apartment in Greenwich Village. She was instantly smitten.

By 1942, the couple was living in Coney Island, the heart of Brooklyn’s Jewish community, across the street from Mazia’s mother, Aliza Greenblatt. By 1945 they were married and Greenblatt introduced her son-in-law to Jewish culture and, most importantly, to Jewish food.

Asked what growing up in Coney Island was like in the 1950s, Nora Guthrie laughs. “It was very Jewish. This was the Yiddish-speaking culture that left Hester Street and moved to Brooklyn. Everything was blintzes, borscht and knishes,” said Guthrie, who is the co-founder of the Woody Guthrie Archives and president of Woody Guthrie Publications.

On the other hand, she was barely aware that her grandmother was a renowned Yiddish poet whose poems were widely published in the Yiddish press and were also set to music and recorded by composers and performers including Abraham Ellstein, Solomon Golub, Theodore Bikel and Sidor Belarsky.

“Our relationship with her was purely bubbie and every aspect of bubbie. It was singing lullabies to us at night, it was taking us for walks on the boardwalk, it was feeding us every Friday night,” Guthrie said.

Shabbat meant family dinner at bubbie’s, and Nora and her brothers, Arlo and Joady, looked forward to the chopped liver, blintzes, sweet and sour meatballs, and liver and onions. In 1952, when Guthrie was just two-years-old, her father was hospitalized for Huntington’s chorea, the disease that killed him in 1967. She doesn’t remember anything special about her father and grandmother’s relationship.

“I was a kid. Bubbie was bubbie. My father was folksongs. When you’re little, you’re not paying attention to that stuff. I didn’t really have an awareness of them as artists and the depth of their creative collaboration, and so a lot of this program I am doing is really explaining the discovery I made as an adult about them,” Guthrie said.

The “discovery” is her father’s writings, drawings and journals that were put into boxes when he was hospitalized and sat unopened for forty years. As her mother moved from apartment to apartment, the unopened boxes went with her. When she died in 1983, they ended up in an office. Ten years later, Guthrie went to work in that office and started looking through her father’s papers. “I found over 100 songs that had to do with Jewish topics. I couldn’t believe my father wrote songs about blintzes and hamentashen,” she said.

Uncovering her grandmother’s legacy was equally happenstance. She received a call one day from Aaron Lansky, president of the Yiddish Book Center, and was informed that Greenblatt’s books had been digitized. Guthrie had no idea her mother had donated them to the center after her grandmother’s death. “I never even had the opportunity to learn of my grandmother’s story and her creative life’s work, especially her Yiddish poetry,” she said.

She created “Holy Ground” to draw attention to an unknown side to her father’s legacy and to the woman who inspired him. “It’s kind of my funny journey from a child knowing each of them as I’m growing up to now as I discover more and more about each of them as creative artists. As you get older, you want to learn more about what your parents did as adults. I didn’t put that together for a long time,” she said.

 

 

 

 

Israelsohn and Noss to receive social action award

By Shelley A. Sackett

JANUARY 11, 2018 – BEVERLY – When Eve Israelsohn Noss was a child, her mother, Elaine Israelsohn, and a friend started the Ipswich League of Women Voters (LWV). The two women held planning meetings at each other’s homes, usually in the kitchen. Eve recalls sitting under the table, coloring and “listening to them talk about voter education and water resources.”

Elaine’s dedication to social issues and activism extended to the family supper table. “We encouraged our kids to participate and be knowledgeable of what was going on around them politically,” she said by email.

Her mother’s community involvement and growing up in Ipswich, where she and her brothers were the only Jewish kids in the entire school district, shaped Noss’ career choices and her commitment to social justice and interfaith community building issues. “Ipswich has always been ethnically and economically diverse,” Noss said.

When the educator and mediator returned to the area years later, she followed in her mother’s footsteps, joining the Beverly LWV, co-chairing two local studies on domestic violence and child abuse, and serving as its co-president.

Mother and daughter remain dedicated to tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) at Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly and throughout the North Shore and Essex County, their multi-generational commitment spanning half the temple’s history.

On January 12 at 7 p.m., the TBA Social Action Committee will acknowledge them at its Social Action Shabbat with the third annual Leah Shriro Social Action Honor, which pays tribute to members who represent the best of TBA through their community involvement.

“Eve and her mother represent two generations of compassionate, caring, engaged members who are also active in the larger community,” Rabbi Alison Adler wrote by email. “It became clear that honoring Eve and her mother, Elaine, had special significance on MLK weekend, as we remember all who were engaged in the Civil Rights Movement together across religious boundaries.”

The inclusive Shabbat service includes a speaker and reflections from Dr. King, Rabbi Abraham Heschel and other sources that fit with themes of social justice and interfaith activism.

The social action award was created in 2016 in memory of Leah Shriro, a longtime temple volunteer and founder of the Social Action Committee who died in 2015 at the early age of 62. The award brings into focus and salutes the passionate dedication of members who have been working for social justice and creating caring community both within TBA and in the world at large.

In addition to her work with the local and state-level LWV, Israelsohn also served on the board of Bridging the Generations, a Beverly coalition that dealt with social issues and city-wide preventative programs, and represented TBA on the Beverly Interfaith Council.

She served on the temple’s board for many years, including as vice president, and created its historic archive collection. “Preserving the history of our community is so important and she has done so with great love,” Rabbi Adler said.

The seed for Noss’ work embracing interfaith marriage and community relationships was planted when she moved back to the North Shore in 1985 and started attending temple programs as a young interfaith family. “It became clear at High Holiday and regular services that in a Conservative congregation, the Jewish spouse was expected to convert the non-Jewish spouse to Judaism,” she said by email.

She met many other couples that were grappling with similar issues, including Leah Shriro, who became one of her closest friends. In response, she helped develop an interfaith family group for couples with and without children and parents whose young adult children were dating non-Jews. These families celebrated holidays together and discussed what it meant to raise children together. “Eve really helped change TBA into a more welcoming place for interfaith families,” Rabbi Adler said of the TBA past president.

Anti-Defamation League honors Swampscott native

Diana Headshot

Diana Leader-Cramer

The Anti-Defamation League New England Region will present its 2017 Krupp Leadership Awards to Diana Leader-Cramer Moskowitz and Monica Snyder at its 15th Annual Young Leadership Celebration on Saturday, Dec. 16 at The Colonnade Hotel in Boston.

The award is given to community members who demonstrate outstanding dedication and leadership on behalf of the ADL.

Diana Leader-Cramer Moskowitz, a credit research analyst at Loomis Sayles, is one of the longest-serving members of the ADL Associate Board and has held various leadership positions, including co-chair of the programming and governance committees.

The Swampscott native credits Epstein Hillel School (then Cohen Hillel Academy) and her parents, “who lead and continue to lead by example,” for instilling in her a deep sense of wanting to give back to the Jewish community.

“Philanthropy has always been an important part of my Jewish identity and an important outlet for me. Despite working full-time and going to school part-time when I was pursuing my MBA, it was essential to me to stay involved with and support the causes that were important to me, such as the ADL,” the Wellesley resident and Washington University and Boston University alumna said.

After attending Cohen Hillel Academy, she volunteered as a teachers aid at the school and later continued her involvement with Temple Israel as a Torah reader until leaving for college. While in college, she continued to be an active member of the Jewish community, minoring in Jewish studies and becoming a member of the local Hillel and Jewish Student Union.

Monica Headshot

Monica Snyder

As an employment lawyer at Fisher & Phillips, LLP, a national labor employment firm in Boston, Monica Snyder’s chosen field greatly influences her involvement at ADL.

“My law firm represents employers in dealing with a wide array of employment matters, including issues involving discrimination,” she said. “I became a lawyer, in part, to cure the injustices in this world,” the Boston resident and Amherst College and Boston University School of Law alumna added.

Snyder co-chairs the Glass Leadership Committee and the Young Lawyers Committee, which provides opportunities for Boston area attorneys to network and to generate discussions through round tables and speakers.

A group made up of members of several ADL boards, directors and the prior year’s winners selects honorees.

“Monica and Diana embody ADL’s values and believe deeply in ADL’s mission. They are both widely respected leaders,” said Daniel Hart, director of Development New England Region Anti-Defamation League and a member of the selection committee.

The Young Leadership Celebration was created 15 years ago to recognize young leaders with a once-a-year signature event and to broaden ADL’s reach in the young leadership community in the Greater Boston area.

Both Snyder’s and Leader-Cramer Moskowitz’s involvement with ADL started with their acceptance into the Glass Leadership Institute, a year-long program that meets on a monthly basis, giving young adults the opportunity to learn what the ADL does first hand about issues facing communities. Shortly after, each decided to take on leadership responsibilities.

“This program gave us the opportunity to meet with experts from across the organization and learn about the different ways they make an impact on a daily basis. Gaining a full understanding of all the important work the ADL does motivated me to stay involved,” Leader-Cramer Moskowitz said.

Actively engaged in ADL since 2010, she spent two weeks in Germany in 2012 representing ADL in its partnership with the German government’s Close-Up program.

“I learned about Germany’s history and modern Jewish life. I am passionate about the ADL’s mission of promoting equality and fair treatment for all,” Leader-Cramer Moskowitz said.

She is proudest of her role in helping to create the Breaking Barrier speaker series that brings interesting and engaging speakers that are important to the ADL and to the community at large. Last year, Khizr Khan, the Pakistani American parent of United States Army Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed in 2004 during the Iraq War, joined the group for a conversation on religious freedom, civil rights, and security issues.

The 2017 series welcomed Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi who now helps others counter all types of racism and violent extremism.

“These speakers bring important topics to the forefront and engage the community in discussions about what is happening and also what can be done to combat hate and promote equality for all,” Leader-Cramer Moskowitz said. “ADL’s expanded efforts to combat all kinds of hate is something that is critically and increasingly important today.”

For more information or to buy tickets, visit: http://bit.ly/2B5ugUF