Salem Film Fest presents special Thanksgiving weekend screening

FOR AHKEEM

By Shelley A. Sackett

Above: Daje Shelton in “For Ahkeem,” a documentary film directed by Jeremy S. Levine and Landon Van Soest.

BEVERLY — By the Sunday after Thanksgiving, even the most diehard football fan and Black Friday shopper should be ready to trade leftover pie for popcorn and venture out to the Cabot Theatre where Jeremy Levine, a Beverly native and Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker from New York, will be returning home to screen his latest feature film, “For Ahkeem.”

The film tells the intimate and frank story of Daje Shelton, a strong-willed Black 17-year-old girl in North St. Louis, Missouri. The audience walks beside her as her path takes her from public school expulsion to the court-supervised Innovative Concept Academy, an alternative school for delinquent youth and her last chance to earn a diploma.

Shot over a two-year period against the charged backdrop of nearby Ferguson, we witness Daje’s struggles as she copes with academic rigors, the murders and funerals of friends, teenage love and a pregnancy that results in the birth of a son, Ahkeem.

With motherhood comes the realization that she must contend with raising a young Black boy in a marginalized neighborhood. The film illuminates the challenges that many Black teenagers face in America today, and witnesses the strength and resilience it takes to survive.

“For Ahkeem” will screen on Sunday, November 26 at 4:30 p.m. at The Cabot Theatre, 286 Cabot Street in Beverly as part of a special Salem Film Fest Presents — the documentary fest’s first cinema presentation outside of Salem. Levine will be on hand at to answer audience questions at the post-screening Q&A.

Salem Five Charitable Foundation is underwriting the screening and three local organizations are community partners: The Beverly Human Rights Committee, First Church Salem, UU and Salem No Place for Hate.

For Levine, who attended Beverly High School and worked for years as a counselor at the Waring School, the film he co-directed is more than a simple coming-of-age story. “It highlights the horrible effects of the school-to-prison pipeline, where we suspend and expel huge numbers of students — especially black and brown students — and the impact that has on girls like Daje from the time they’re five-years-old,” he said by phone from New York City, where he and co-director Landon Van Soest run Transient Productions, a full-service production company.

The film also approaches some of the most pressing social challenges facing America today — racial bias, social inequality, public education, police brutality and a biased criminal justice system.

“We wanted to tell a deeply personal story about what it means to live your life when so many systems are set against you,” Levine, an Ithaca College alumnus with a degree in Documentary Studies, said.

“For Ahkeem” has had an award-winning festival run starting in February at the Berlin Film Festival, followed by prestigious showcases like the Tribeca Film Festival, Canada’s Hot Docs, and the DMZ International Film Festival in South Korea.

While the film’s worldwide audience and awards —such as the Grand Jury Prize Award at Boston’s Independent Film Festival — thrill Levine, for him the screenings and discussions at high schools and prisons fulfill a greater mission of trying to do better for future generations of children.

In Tribeca, New York City, for example, approximately 500 high school students attended a screening. “When Daje came out for the Q&A afterwards, the kids erupted in applause,” Levine said.

The ensuing discussions included kids “really opening up about some of the challenges they face in their lives. It was really incredible,” Levine added. He is currently working to bring the film to more public high schools through a grant program.

Screenings at prisons have been equally powerful. When the lights came up at one screening for 100 inmates, all the tears in the room full of men touched Levine. “One of them wrote a poem for Daje and Ahkeem. Another man said, ‘Who knew I could learn so much about being a man from the story of a young woman?’” he said.

Levine credits the culture of Judaism and Hebrew School lessons at Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly, “a part of my life growing up”, with imbuing in him a sense of responsibility to try to make the world a better place. “I learned about the long suffering of our heritage and the injustice of that. That kind of moral underpinning is definitely huge in the work I do,” he said.

 

“For Ahkeem” will screen on Sunday, November 26 at 4:30 p.m. at The Cabot Theatre, 286 Cabot Street in Beverly as part of a special Salem Film Fest presentation. For more information or to buy tickets, visit theCabot.org.

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Neshama Carlebach headlines Swampscott inclusion celebration

By Shelley A. Sackett

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Neshama Carlebach will headline Swampscott’s Shirat Hayam’s Shir Lanu Inclusion Initiative Celebration on October 27 and 28.

 

Singer/songwriter Neshama Carlebach, a passionate advocate for inclusion in synagogue, will headline Congregation Shirat Hayam’s Shir Lanu (“One Song-Every Voice”) Inclusion Initiative Celebration October 27 and 28.

“When you’re accepting people who are different than you, it means that you have acceptance and love in your heart. Period. And if you don’t have love and acceptance in your heart, that’s not a place to pray,” the six-time entrant in the 2011 Grammy Awards said by phone last week from her New York City apartment.

One of Shirat Hayam’s stated missions is to support and provide opportunities for families and individuals with special needs as well as the LGBTQ community, interfaith families, elders and everyone who seeks a genuinely respectful, compassionate and responsive synagogue experience.

“I believe that hands down, this is one of the most important missions in the Jewish world right now. Every single synagogue should have this mission attached to their synagogue statement,” Carlebach said.

Last May, the synagogue received a selective Ruderman Synagogue Inclusion Project (RSIP) grant to further its inclusion work. The Ruderman Family Foundation is a Boston-based philanthropic entity that advocates for and advances the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout society.

Michele Tamaren and Amanda Clayman co-chair Shirat Hayam’s Shir Lanu inclusion committee and attended the gathering for the cohort of new 2017 RSIP affiliates. There they met Neshama Carlebach, who performed for the group.

“We were deeply moved by her soulful ability to lift hundreds of us in that room,” Tamaren said. She and Clayman stayed and connected with her after the concert. When the Shir Lanu committee started planning the October inclusion event, Tamaren and Clayman invited Carlebach to be the weekend’s artist-in-residence and to perform a community concert Saturday night with her gospel band, The Glory to God.

 

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Neshama Carlebach has sold more than one million records, and performed and taught in cities worldwide.

Neshama Carlebach is the daughter of renowned Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, the folksy, guitar-playing Orthodox rabbi who created hundreds of uplifting melodies, including many that are part of Shabbat services in synagogues all over the world. She sang with her father until his death in 1994, when she launched her own professional career.

She has sold more than one million records, performed and taught in cities worldwide, and co-authored the Broadway play, “Soul Doctor,” based on her father’s life. In 2016, she was inducted into the Brooklyn Hall of Fame, where she received a Certificate of Congressional Recognition for her work.

 

Carlebach credits her father for instilling in her the desire to bring inclusivity, love and wonder to the world. “My father gave that to me in my ear and in my heart from the moment I was born. That’s what he stood for. There’s no way I could have been any different,” she said.

She has done several events with the Ruderman Family Foundation. “I have never cried so much in my life, sitting and hearing these inspirational people talk about how they have struggled in their wheelchairs and how doors have been shut in their faces,” she said.

As the weekend’s artist-in-residence, Carlebach will provide inclusion teachings at the Friday, October 27 evening “Holy, Happy Hour Minyan” and the Saturday, October 28 morning “Nosh and Drash” Shabbat services. “Her teachings will focus on the Jewish imperative of inclusion,” Tamaren said.

Saturday evening, she will perform with her band and members of the spirited New York gospel choir, The Glory to God Gospel Singers, at Congregation Shirat Hayam, 55 Atlantic Ave, in Swampscott.

Reflecting on today’s divisive political climate, Carlebach thinks her father would be broken-hearted about the pain in the world and would have tried to do everything he could to bring healing. “Under his influence and in my own heart, I hope to try to do the same,” she said.

“There’s a song I sing called, ‘Y’hi shalom b’haylech’ – ‘May there be peace in your borders and tranquility in your castles.’ My father spoke about that all the time, that true peace comes from within the castle,” she said.

She paused for a few moments, then added, “I know you can’t heal what’s going on now with a song, but it would be great if all the world was waiting for was that one right niggun (Jewish religious melody).”

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit shirat­hayam.org/Neshama or call 781-599-8005.

Rosenberg Takes the Jewish Journal Helm

 

When Steve Rosenberg was seven years old, he had a friend who delivered newspapers for The Boston Globe. He tagged along, reading the paper before throwing it on the front doorstep. That early experience opened his eyes to the fact that there was a “whole, big world outside of my neighborhood that came in a newspaper every day,” Rosenberg said.

 

His fascination with journalism grew, reaching a peak during his teenage years with the Watergate political scandal and the crucial roles played by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, two young Washington Post reporters whose determination and relentless hard work broke the story that toppled Nixon’s presidency.

 

“Watergate showed just how important the free press was to our country, and that with a little digging, a young reporter could help protect our democracy. I knew then that I wanted to be a journalist,” he said.

 

Rosenberg made that dream a reality, graduating from University of Massachusetts Amherst with a major in journalism in 1981. Thirty years later, after returning to school, he earned an MFA in writing and literature from Bennington College.

 

And as of its May 4, 2017 issue, he is the new publisher and editor of the Jewish Journal. “I’m excited. This is a dynamic and thoughtful community. And, in this time and age, committed journalism is needed more than ever,” Rosenberg said. “We give voice to a population and a demographic that otherwise might be ignored, and also serve as a watchdog of the government.”

 

Rosenberg will bring decades of experience to his role, including 15 years as a staff writer and columnist for The Boston Globe and three years as editor of The Jewish Advocate. His articles and columns have been broadly published in the US, and abroad in The International Herald Tribune, Ha’aretz Newspaper and The Jerusalem Post.

 

The Jewish Journal is a 40-year-old nonprofit based in Salem that reaches 17,000 homes semimonthly. Rosenberg is its fifth editor since 2014, and Bob Rose, president of the Journal Board of Overseers, thinks he is an excellent match. “Steve has a long and distinguished career as a journalist, has very deep personal roots in the North Shore and is intensely committed to Judaism,” he said.

 

Rosenberg intends to bring strong, quality journalism that reflects the greater Jewish community of the North Shore to the Jewish Journal. He plans to make the paper “newsier” with opinion and editorial pages “filled with experts who base their pieces entirely on facts.”

 

Lynn Nadeau, of Marblehead, has been a Jewish Journal board member for 12 years and is delighted with Rosenberg’s hire. “He is a real journalist, not an advocate. He chooses his words carefully, with nuance and thought. He will uphold the values we hold: accuracy, fairness, balance, inclusiveness, civility, transparency and integrity,” she said.

 

According to Rose, Rosenberg’s duties as publisher/editor include producing print and web versions of the Jewish Journal; supervising and leading the staff; interfacing with the Board; engaging with the Jewish community in the broadest sense; and inspiring philanthropy and development.

 

“Rosenberg is a good fit because he understands that the Jewish Journal serves a niche. Hopefully, he will fill the paper with local stories that were always the meat of the paper,” said Barbara Schneider, who was the Jewish Journal’s publisher from 2004 — 2015.

 

“As publisher/editor, he has a particularly challenging role,” she continued. “The publisher’s duty is to keep a nonprofit paper on a solid financial footing while being an outreach ambassador to the community. His role as editor is to fill the paper with interesting and frequently controversial stories. Sometimes these roles conflict.”

 

Rosenberg thinks of himself as a writer and storyteller above all, and he enjoys the interview process, especially its qualities of intimacy and inherent trust. He is continuously captivated by what he learns when he spends an hour sitting and listening to someone tell their story, and by the similarities he sometimes finds with his own life. “It’s rewarding to publish these pieces because they help serve as common threads, and remind us that we have much more in common with our neighbors than we thought,” he said.

 

Many of Rosenberg’s articles for the Boston Globe chronicled life in the Greater Boston suburbs, giving voice to commonplace people. Fishermen, gang members, suburban moms, rabbis and veterans are among the hundreds his columns brought to life. His most recent book, “Middle Class Heroes: Voices from the Boston Suburbs” is an anthology of almost 90 of these columns.

 

In his new role as publisher/editor, he intends to bring similar personal stories to the Journal, focusing on people who work tirelessly in the Jewish community, and on everyday relatives who help sustain their familes and Judaism. “These pieces provide a glimpse of our shared values and priorities,” he said. “We are documenting a time and place in American history.”

 

Mark Arnold, Journal publisher/editor from 3003-2006 and a longtime journalist, applauds Rosenberg’s commitment to reflect the diversity of the local Jewish community and to write about “real people doing real things.” “Steve will be honest about the challenges our institutions face and show where we are and aren’t making progress,” he said.

 

He added that Rosenberg has the qualities needed for the position: a clear vision of the role the Jewish Journal should play in the community; a set of values and goals to steer by; patience, diplomacy, creativity, and open mind, and — thick skin. “I think Steve has been waiting his whole life for a challenge like this,” Arnold said.

 

Rosenberg and his wife, Dr. Devorah Feinbloom, a chiropractor and director of Marblehead Natural Healing, have one son Aaron, currently enrolled in Clark University’s Masters in Business Administration program.

 

Rosenberg is passionate about Israel and Judaism, and he travels to Israel a couple of times a year, where he especially loves spending time in the desert. Closer to home, he also enjoys walking and relaxing in the woods and on the beaches near his home. He has played guitar since childhood and recently bought an electric drum set. He also studies the Torah and finds Rashi’s commentaries particularly intriguing.

 

Asked which of his many accomplishments — journalist, photographer, documentary filmmaker, author, editor, TV station manager, producer — he is proudest of, Rosenberg doesn’t hesitate. “My family is the most meaningful and really, the only lasting accomplishment in my life,” he said. He also mentioned a strong group of friends from kindergarten he is in regular contact with, and whom he loves.

 

“Relationships keep me going; all else is temporary,” he said.

Chef Joe Raises the Bar at Village Tavern; New Menu Offers More than Just Bar Food

Ingemi and Peterson

“Chef Joe” displays his technique while preparing one of his signature dishes, Beef Strogonoff. PHOTO CREDIT: Shelley A. Sackett

Joseph Peterson — “Chef Joe” — can pinpoint the exact moment he knew he wanted to be a chef. He was a 12-year-old boy living in Dryden, New York, about an hour south of Syracuse. It was 10 o’clock at night, his mother was at work, and he was hungry. “I made stir fry beef with noodles and it tasted so good,” he said with a broad smile. “I had so much fun making it that the next day I thought, ‘this is what I want to do.’”

Right around that time, Dryden got its first cable service. Peterson wasted no time discovering cooking shows and famed chef Ming Tsai’s “East Meets West” program particularly captivated the tween. “He showed people how he cooked inside his restaurant, which was French-American-Asian. As a kid, I watched that show every Saturday and wanted to grow up to be just like him,” Peterson said.

Fast forward to 2009 when Peterson, fresh out of Boston’s Cordon Bleu cooking school, went to work for his idol at Tsai’s acclaimed Wellesley restaurant, Blue Ginger. After training under the celebrity chef, he went on to become executive chef at Jerry Remy’s, the downtown Boston restaurant near Fenway Park.

That’s where “Chef Joe” was working when Andrew Ingemi, who co-owns Village Tavern with his father, Arthur, realized that he would be a perfect fit for their Salem restaurant. “Jerry Remy’s gave him experience with volume,” Ingemi said. “I needed someone who would have no trouble with an October crowd. With Joe’s experience of a busy restaurant with Red Sox games multiple times a week, it was an easy choice.”

Ingemi hired Peterson last fall and the two unveiled an overhauled menu last month.

Peterson in the kitchen

Village Tavern co-owner Andrew Ingemi and Chef Joseph Peterson at a quiet moment in the bar.    PHOTO CREDIT: Shelley A. Sackett

Part of Ingemi’s dream was to make Village Tavern known for higher end tavern fare rather than just bar food. The new menu features such dishes as Sweet and Sour Duck and 28-day dry-aged grass fed sirloin, which “may be the very best steak you’ll ever have, other than at a fancy steakhouse in Boston,” he said.

Peterson is equally excited about the fusion side of the menu, which mixes traditional appetizers and Asian touches in such inventions as Philly Steak Egg Roll and Buffalo Chicken Ragoon.

Dear to Peterson’s heart is his Beef Strogonoff, which is a hearty and tasty dish his mother used to make once a week. His special secret? He adds sour cream at the end to give it a “zing” (his mom used heavy cream).

“A lot of cooking is about technique,” Peterson said as he prepared this dish for the Salem Gazette. “Stroganoff is simple, but hard to make it taste well.”

Ingemi’s family has been in the restaurant business in Salem since the 1970’s. His great-grandfather is the Steve of Steve’s Market and his father and grandfather have owned many eateries over the years. Ingemi didn’t join them until 2012, when his father and brother were opening the Village Tavern and asked him to help out. At the time, he was working in Boston at State Street Bank. He thought he would stay a year. Five years later, he’s still there.

“I fell in love with working with my family and making the restaurant better. It’s so rewarding,” he said. “It’s kind of fun — we have a big history in Salem.”

He’s also proud of “Chef Joe” and all the staff for “kicking it up a notch” to be up to Joe’s standards in the kitchen. “We’re able to give guests the overall experience we’ve been wanting to give them for the last couple of year,” Ingemi said.

Peterson is delighted to be in Salem after many years in Boston. While he’s looking forward to making an impact with his food, he is just as eager to take a leadership role among his employees in his kitchen. In the six months he has been at Village Tavern, he has already promoted many from within and has built a team spirit and loyalty among his staff.

“Taking a cook and making him sous-chef or taking a peeler and making him a prep chef, that the kind of stuff that excites me. I like growing people. I could do everything myself back there, but that’s not the idea,” he said.

More Than Just Pizza and Spaghetti

 

 

Anyone who has traveled to Italy and had the great fortune to eat even one dinner in Lucca knows that not only is the town a draw in its own right, with its enclosed walls and lovely broad parks, but that its food is also among Italy’s most compelling.

 

If Lucca is not on your 2017 agenda (or within your budget), Salem can dish up the next best thing: Vittorio Ambrogi, Lucca native and executive chef at Trattoria Orsini, located in the previous Grapevine space at 26 Congress Street.

 

The former chef of the Grapevine (where his wife Stacy was one of the owners), Ambrogi has created a modern Italian menu that features dishes ranging from chopped salads to grilled octopus to his special “Orsini Meatballs” (veal, beef and pork meatballs braised in Chianti tomato sauce with Cavatelli pasta).

 

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Ambrogi’s famous pasta Bolognese

 

Ambrogi’s accent is as deliciously Tuscan as his cuisine, and he peppers the conversation with “pero” (Italian for “but”) and other Italian phrases. When asked what are some of his favorite dishes to cook, he lets loose with a belly laugh and says, “Risotto and sauce. You can’t go too far from the sauce in Italian.”

 

According to Michael Gajewski, a Trattoria Orsini General Manager (“I’m really just a glorified busboy,” he joked), although the chef and space are the same as the Grapevine’s, the new restaurant differs in significant ways. Major renovations included adding expanded patio space and creation of a different “look” with new furniture, a sleek bar, and two rooms with cozy tables where diners can enjoy quiet and intimate conversations as well as terrific food.

 

However, what has remained the same is what makes Trattoria Orsini as special as the Grapevine was. “Having Vittorio and a lot of the old staff back, and of course Vittorio’s food and his nightly specials” are what patrons are happiest about. And of course, everyone is looking forward to spring and summer on our beautiful new patio,” he said.

 

The new restaurant opened last summer with over 4,000 square feet of interior dining and a 2,000+ square foot patio. Completing renovations, equipment procurement, permitting, staffing and menu production were among the biggest challenges, according to Gajewski.

 

Among the menu’s most popular items are the meatballs, risotto, arancini (rice balls), shrimp scampi, octopus, cod and, of course, Ambrogi’s famous Bolognese sauce. The chef added the Grilled Octopus appetizer (accompanied by fried black polenta, olives, capers and fresh tomato sauce) as an item unique to the new restaurant. The dish was not on the Grapevine menu, and has been a huge crowd pleaser.

 

His Pan Roasted Cod dish, while among the most popular entrees, is not really an Italian dish as far as Ambrogi is concerned, because Italians don’t have access to the same kind of fish Americans do. “Cod is not a very popular fish in Italy. It’s not as meaty and juicy as it is here. It’s also a smaller fish,” he said.

 

While Ambrogi loves cooking and creating inventive and delicious nightly specials, he also likes his days off. Last Monday and Tuesday he took advantage of the recent snowfalls and decided to go skiing at his favorite place, Sunapee, which is “always fun”.

 

The Tuscan chef has been cooking for over 27 years, including almost 20 at the Grapevine where he developed quite a loyal following. He reflected on his long career and devoted patrons, and added modestly, “We’ve been putting out pretty decent food for many years and we are still doing that.”

 

Trattoria Orsini is located at 26 Congress Street and is open from 4 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. For reservations, call (978) 594-8048 or visit trattoriaorsini.com.

 

 

Back to Basics: Cookies and Milk

“Goodnight Fatty” satisfies those late night munchies

Above:  Erik Sayce and Jen Pullen, proud owners and creators of “Goodnight Fatties”.

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Fatties on parade from left: Blueberry Lemon Cream, Peanut Butter S’more, and the Cowgirl Fatty, made of oatmeal, Ghirardelli dark chocolate, cinnamon, coconut and crushed pecans

Late last Friday night, a small storefront on Derby Street was abuzz with conversation, music and camaraderie. Couples canoodled at the bar, small groups huddled, drinks in hand, talking and laughing, and the duo behind the counter could barely keep up with the food orders.

The latest trendy theme bar or craft brew pub? Not quite. These millennials (and a couple of baby boomers) were savoring the nostalgic comfort and shockingly fabulous taste of homemade, small batch cookies and bottomless glasses of milk.

“I like chocolate inside chocolate,” said Anthony Schepsis, pointing to the puddle of melted chocolate that had oozed onto his plate from inside the warm double chocolate cookie he had just demolished with a cold glass of milk. “Who doesn’t like a cookie at 10 p.m. on a Friday?”

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Soniya Tejwani and Anthony Schepsis on a Friday night date night at their favorite new bar.

That was exactly the question Goodnight Fatty creators and owners, Jennifer Pullen and Erik Sayce, asked themselves after a date night in Salem not too long ago. “We were walking home from Turner’s Seafood and were both talking about how great it would be to have a quick place to get a warm cookie late at night,” Pullen said. The pair brainstormed the whole walk home, and came up with the “Goodnight Fatty” popup concept before they reached their front steps.

“We made a pact to keep it a secret – even from our own family!” Pullen added. “We were nervous our idea wouldn’t come to fruition.”

Once they had a plan, the couple, who both work at Salem Academy Charter School – Pullen in the food program and Sayce in the office of Communications and Development – needed a venue.

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Fatties ‘N Cream – the most popular cookie – is vegan with a pudding base and Oreo’s and Taza Dark Chocolate from Somerville MA.

The day before Derby Joe’s, the breakfast, lunch and coffee shop at 142 Derby Street, opened its doors for the first time, Sayce “barged in”, in need of a cup of coffee. “They still served me!” Sayce exclaimed, even though they weren’t officially open. Sayce and Pullen became friends with Dan Crowther, Derby Joe’s’ owner, and brought him their first cookie, the “Cowboy Fatty”, to try.

As they drove away, Sayce remembers looking in the window and seeing Crowther dancing by himself as he finished eating it. “That’s how you know it’s good!” Pullen chimed in.

The young couple pitched the idea to Crowther that they commandeer his Derby Joe’s space after he closed and “sling cookies on weekends.” Crowther loved the idea, and the Goodnight Fatty popup was born.
Each weekend, from 7 p.m. until midnight, the two serve up a new variety of “Fatties” (the official name for their cookies) made in small batches, with ethical and quality ingredients, and most importantly served warm so they perfectly complement the ice-cold milk that is their patrons’ beverage of choice.

Sayce and Pullen met when they were in college, he at Salem State University and she at Keene State College. They had been friends for years before they started dating and last year, Sayce asked Pullen to marry him. Once they found out how expensive weddings were, they decided they could either go into “massive credit card debt or start a cookie business on weekends,” Sayce said.

Both are floored by the support they’ve received. They want to keep growing the business as long as it stays fun and something Salem residents want. By next month, they hope to add home delivery service of warm fatties.

For Pullen, who grew up on a large horse farm in New Hampshire her family still runs today, starting Goodnight Fatty has helped make Salem, which to her feels like a “huge city”, feel more like home. “It’s exciting to meet more locals and see them come back week-to-week smiling,” she said.

With Pullen’s background and skillset helping on the kitchen side of creating breathtakingly decadent flavors and adhering to the technicalities of food safety, and Sayce’s marketing tools, the two vegans could be poised for expansion. Instead, they are savoring their current accomplishment and the thrill of keeping their product fresh each week. “For now, we’re just excited to have some success under our belt and are totally focused on just pulling off next weekend,” Sayce said.

Goodnight Fatty is located at 142 Derby Street, in the Derby Joe’s location and is open Friday and Saturday from 7p.m. until midnight.

Justice Is Not Denied in “Denial”

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

When historian Deborah E. Lipstadt walked onto the stage on September 22 for a Q&A after a preview of the film “Denial”, she was asked what it felt like to be portrayed by the Academy Award-winning actress Rachel Weisz. “It was surreal,” she said with a laugh, noting that the most remarkable part was hearing her own Queens accent perfectly mimed by the English film and theater star.

 

But with that, any light-heartedness faded as discussion turned to her real life role as defendant in a British lawsuit brought by Hitler admirer and “historian” David Irving. After Lipstadt labeled him a Holocaust denier in her 1993 book, “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory”, Irving sued her and her publisher, Penguin books, for libel, claiming her false statements had harmed his reputation.

 

Her subsequent ten-week legal battle in 2000 to defend herself and establish the “historical truth” that the Holocaust did indeed occur formed the basis of her “History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier” (2005), the book on which playwright David Hare’s script for “Denial” is based.

 

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Rachel Weisz as Deborah Lipstadt in the true story, “Denial”.

 

As Irving knew, in Britain libel laws favor the plaintiff. The defendant must prove that statements the plaintiff considered libelous, or false, are indeed true. In this case, Lipstadt had to prove that the Holocaust really happened, and that, therefore, Irving intentionally lied when he insisted there were never any gas chambers at Auschwitz and that the Nazis had never murdered any Jews.

 

As if this isn’t complicated (and heart wrenching) enough, Lipstadt and her team had two additional stumbling blocks. The first was a lack of physical evidence. The team had to amass their case despite the facts that the Nazis never allowed photographs of prisoners being gassed in Auschwitz and further covered their tracks by destroying the gas chambers.

 

The second was defense counsel’s decision not to allow Lipstadt or any Holocaust survivors to testify for fear that Irving, who was acting as his own attorney, would humiliate and exploit them. For Lipstadt, this was worse.

 

“A trial is not therapy,” Lipstadt’s British solicitor, Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott, known to TV’s “Sherlock” fans as Moriarty), tells her. Furious, she tries to make him understand that it is not their own catharsis the survivors seek. “You think they want to testify for themselves? It’s not for themselves. They want to give voice to the ones who didn’t make it.” Unmoved, Julius replies, “It’s the price you pay for winning.”

 

The bulk of the film centers on the trial and all the testimony comes directly from the actual trial transcripts. “This was a film about truth and it had to be truthful,” Lipstadt said during the Q&A. Although some of the film’s detailed court procedures may be confusing (and boring to a non-attorney), the exchanges between Irving (Timothy Spall) and the defense’s Scottish barrister Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson) crackle, due in large part to the stellar acting of both.

 

Spall, who recently starred in “Mr. Turner”, has a rubber face perfectly suited to playing the duplicitous and self-impressed Irving. One minute, he is all smarmy self-justification, buttering up the judge and showboating for the spectators. The next, he is at his most infuriating, spewing diabolical anti-Semitic racist invectives and then playing the victim, accusing Lipstadt of tarnishing his reputation with a “verbal yellow star”.

 

The always-terrific Wilkinson brings weight and nuance to a cool-headed performance that hints at the roiling emotion lurking just below the surface. The film’s most satisfying moments are when his Rampton slyly lures Irving in during cross examination, then ferociously pounces, drawing and quartering his squirming prey.

 

Its most moving scene is during the legal team’s visit to Auschwitz. When Rampton steps on a barbed wire shard on his way to the gas chamber entrance, he suddenly understands the enormity of the atrocity perpetrated by the Nazis. To imagine a barefooted Jew stepping on a piece of barbed wire on his way to his imminent murder is unspeakably unjust — and real.

 

Given the extraordinary pre-release press “Denial” has engendered, it can hardly be a spoiler to reveal that Lipstadt won her case. The Holocaust scholar, however, hopes the biggest takeaway of the film is not her victory, but a recognition that not all opinions merit defending.

 

“There are not two sides to every story. The Holocaust happened. Slavery happened. There are some things you cannot debate,” she said. “I will debate you on the facts. I will not debate liars.”

 

Noting that earlier in the day, the New York Time used “lie” to describe some of the things Donald Trump has said, Lipstadt is worried about what lies ahead. “We are living in a time when lying has become mainstream. The needle has moved so far,” she said. “There is an anti-intellectual, anti-factual attitude which is frightening.”

 

She paused for a moment and then directed the Q&A session towards the audience. “Where does that put us? As academics and people interested in social justice, what do we do?” she asked.

 

“It’s All in the Timing”: The Evolution of the Sackett Family’s Business

By Shelley A. Sackett

Note: This article originally appeared in the Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association’s publication “Notes”, Vol. 17, Number 1, November 2015

 

Israel Sakofsky

Ettie and James Sackett (born Israel Sacofsky) and their nine surviving children, ca. 1905.

 

In April 1882, a month after a revolutionary assassin had killed Czar Alexander II in St. Petersburg, a wave of pogroms spread throughout the Russian empire’s southwestern region. Hundreds of Jewish communities were attacked, including some in the Rechitsa district of southeastern Belarus, where some of my ancestors lived. Like most of the approximately 2.3 million Jews who left Russia between 1881 and 1930, they never saw their native land again.

What’s in a Name?

When my paternal great-grandfather, Israel Sacofsky, and his wife, Ettie, landed in Boston on July 15, 1882, they were literally in the same boat as many Jewish passengers who had also fled Czarist Russia. He was 23 and she was 24, and they sought the promise of new lives in America.

When Israel applied for United States citizenship on December 29, 1885, he renounced allegiance to “every foreign Prince, Potentate, State and Sovereignty whatever,” but particularly to Czar Alexander III. On October 31, 1891, he became a naturalized citizen in Providence’s district court.

The young couple made Providence their new hometown. Over the course of 17 years, they had eleven children, nine of whom survived. Only my grandfather, Morris, the fifth surviving child, was not born in Providence. Instead, he was born on August 9, 1889 at 176 Clinton Street in New York City.

Having returned to Providence in 1890, the city directory shows that Israel worked as a tailor and lived at 201 North Main Street. This was in the lower reaches of the Jewish neighborhood known as the “North End.” The following year he moved his business to 305 North Main. In 1892 his new home was located at 52 Charles Street.

By 1895, however, Israel was back in New York for a visit. As reported in the November 9 issue of The New York Times, he told Officer John Croughan that a stranger had tried to steal his watch near Delancey and Eldridge Streets. The suspect, arrested hours later, turned out to be Raymond Elroy of Boston, the leader of a masked band of thieves who had shot and killed a man during a holdup at a nearby bar a few nights earlier. Elroy had a gun in his pocket when he tried to rob Israel.

It may have been a coincidence, but thereafter the Sacofskys never resided anywhere but Providence. Israel worked as a tailor or sold tailor’s trimmings.

Uncle Meyer and Uncle Nathan’s Influence

Of all the Sacofsky children, Meyer and Nathan, the first and second born, had the most lasting impact upon their family. This assessment was made by my father, Herbert Sackett (born in 1928), who, as the son of Morris, was their nephew.

There is a family story that in the fall of 1899, when Meyer and Nathan were seniors at English High School and applied for admission to Brown, they used their given name, Sacofsky. They were refused admission. Although Jews had always been welcome under the university’s colonial charter, the first identifiable Jew, Israel Strauss, had not graduated until 1894. So, in order to improve their chances for admission, Meyer and Nathan decided to change their surname to Sackett and their father’s first name to James. A few Sacketts lived in Providence. Frederic was Rhode Island’s adjutant general. There was also a Sackett Street (between Elmwood and Broad) in South Providence. The family submitted a change-of-name application to the State Legislature in January 1900, and Meyer and Nathan reapplied to Brown in the fall.

Again, according to our family’s story, this time both boys were accepted, and they commuted from their family’s home at 22 Wheaton Street. Meyer and Nathan were born more than 18 months apart. Meyer was originally a member of the Class of 1905, but both young men, known as Sackett, earned bachelor of philosophy degrees with the Class of 1906. The “Sackett” seed of the family tree was sown, and next came the family business.

It Was in the Cards

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Sackett’s, 203 Union Street in Providence, Rhode Island, ca. 1930.

 

Prior to attending Brown or even while they were students, Nathan and Meyer opened a small store or newsstand at 449 Westminster Street, on the fringe of downtown Providence. They may have also sold postcards, a word that had not come into existence until 1870. Because they could not devote full time to the store, they persuaded their younger brother, Morris, to tend to the business. Herbert explained, “Apparently my father took a liking to it and, upon their graduation, he somehow ended up becoming the proprietor and operated the store at that location until 1910.” Providence directories suggest, however, that at least one of Morris’s siblings, Lillian, continued selling postcards in the Union Street store through 1915.

By this time, according to the Providence directory, Meyer had moved to Detroit. In fact, he relocated to Cambridge and then Somerville, Massachusetts, where he became a wholesaler of cotton goods. By the 1940s, he and his wife, Minnie, lived in Winthrop, where he died in 1949.

According to Providence directories, Nathan sold postcards at 449 Westminster Street. In 1918, he moved to New York City and became a publisher of postcards. Herbert remembers that he ran a company on Long Island that manufactured high-quality, engraved cards. Nathan, who married Helen, died in New York in 1967.

Morris opened the small store at 203 Union Street in the center of downtown in 1910. “This became one of the first stores selling only postcards and greeting cards in the Northeast,” Herbert explained. He elaborated, “My father maintained the Union Street store for the balance of his career, and it was there I was raised into the retail business.”

Coincidentally, 1910 was the same year that another business pioneer, 18-year-old Joyce Clyde (J.C.) Hall, traveled from his home in Nebraska to Kansas City, Missouri. He brought two shoeboxes of picture postcards (the only form of greeting card at that time) and an entrepreneurial fire in his belly. Hall set up a wholesale distribution center at the Kansas City YMCA where he was lodging. The postcards were a huge success and soon his brother, Rollie, joined him in the business that became Hall Brothers. It was later known as Hallmark Cards.

J.C. Hall’s Midwest success and pioneering spirit brought him and his shoebox full of cards to the East in search of greater distribution. One of his first stops was 203 Union Street. Morris Sackett liked Hall’s product and decided to retail it. Little could either man suspect that that transaction was the start of a 75-year business relationship.   It would culminate in 1985, when J.C.’s son, Don, invited Morris’s son, Herbert, to a lavish weekend celebration at Hallmark’s Kansas City headquarters to celebrate another milestone of their business relationship. In 1910 neither J. C. Hall nor Morris Sackett could have imagined that the 203 Union Street store would someday become the oldest Hallmark account in its original location.

It is of course ironic that Rhode Island became home to another of America’s manufacturers of greeting cards. Founded in 1906 by Samuel and Charles Markoff, also Jewish entrepreneurs, Paramount was headquartered in Pawtucket after a start in Providence. It remained a highly successful family business until its sale to new owners in 1983. After relocating to Canada, the company folded in 2006.

Morris Sackett, like J.C. Hall, was an innovator. He developed solid oak, continuous-run greeting card racks so customers could see cards full-face. His store, among the first to use fluorescent lighting and air conditioning, set industry standards. Max Abrams and Son, Cabinetmakers, in Providence, was the contractor who built these fixtures. Morris wanted to create a pleasant, comfortable place where customers would linger as they selected cards. When postcard sales declined and the Hall brothers recognized the public’s desire for more private communication, Morris carried their new greeting cards, which were sold with envelopes.

By 1930, Morris was living at 23 Methyl Street with his Providence-born wife, Evelyn (Sergy) Sackett, and their three children, Shirley (then ten), Edna (then six) and Herbert (then two). Morris and his wife, Evelyn, were charter members of Temple Emanu-El.

1939 Sackett family

The Sackett family at 23 Methyl Street in Providence: Herbert, Edna (seated), Evelyn and Morris, ca. 1940.

 

In 1934, James died in a tragic accident. When returning home from synagogue during a snowfall, he did not realize that he was walking along snow-covered trolley tracks on North Main Street. He also did not hear a silent electric trolley coming from behind. In the snowfall, its conductor did not see him either, and James was killed. Herbert recalled that his grandfather was 74 years old and in very good health. Herbert added, “I was only six, but I remember it clearly.”

The War Years

During World War II, manufacturers of all kinds faced strict quotas. The same was of course true for paper. Greeting cards became a popular way to communicate with troops stationed all over the world. Because mail took weeks or even months to reach its destination, customers had to send cards very early to arrive on time. Christmas cards were sold out weeks before the holiday, and Valentine’s Day cards were on sale before Christmas. “It was probably a never-to-be-repeated situation in the industry,” he reflected.

During this era, Evelyn Sackett was actively involved in U.S.O. Herbert, who was a young teen at Nathan Bishop Junior High and already working after school hours at the family store, liked visiting the headquarters of card factories with his father, Morris. For example, they traveled to Rust Craft’s in Boston and Norcross’s in New York City. Morris was treated “kind of special” by vendors who recognized him as the retailing pioneer he was. “I used to tag along and got to meet the heads of the companies and many of the executives,” Herbert said, noting that companies in those early years presented their card lines through samples that buyers would choose from, one card at a time. “I gained knowledge of the products and learned to identify those which contained quality and salability,” he observed. Herbert also learned many intangibles from his father. “The major things he taught me were the importance of accurate record-keeping and financial discipline,” he added. Such lessons would stick with Herbert throughout his 41-year career.

The Suburbs and Beyond

1953 Morris and Herbert

Morris and Herbert Sackett, 1953.

 

In July 1950, having graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a degree in business administration, Herbert went to work full-time for Sackett’s Greeting Cards. Given his full-time job and his engagement to Jane Lee Cohen, he also gave up his ROTC membership. I was born in 1952 and my brother Richard in 1955. Our family lived in a two-family house at 98 Dexterdale Road in Providence before moving to 287 Rochambeau Avenue in 1958.

From the Providence store, he saw firsthand what was happening to downtowns throughout New England during the 1950s. “Downtowns were no longer the retail vehicle,” he said, referring to the development of suburbs and those residents’ desire to shop closer to their homes. He knew intuitively that this was where the retailing action of the future would be. Shopping centers were also the perfect vehicle for an ambitious young entrepreneur who already knew he wanted to be “an operator of stores, not a store operator.” But the suburbs were not the kind of place where a store that sold only greeting cards could thrive. He needed a plan.

Over the next four years, Herbert researched product mixes and store formats that could be duplicated as a multi-store operation. By 1960, he was ready to open a 1,400 square foot store at 742 Hope Street, around the corner from his Rochambeau Avenue residence.

This “Sackett’s” carried party goods, candles, and stationery items in addition to greeting cards, a “social expression” resource that would become the prototype for future development. Because no single company carried all of these products, he had to put together his own mix of vendors, including greeting card vendors.

In 1962, Herbert brought this new diversified product approach to the store he opened on Westminster Mall, around the corner from the flagship Union Street location. He named it “Richley’s” after my brother and me- “Rich”-ard and Shel- “ley”- to avoid competition with the Union Street store. Although greeting cards were still the dominant product, Richley’s also had a paperback book department, an entire area devoted to party goods, and a candy department. Evidently, Herbert still believed that downtowns had a future.

Over the next few years, he paid careful attention to which products worked and which didn’t. Candy and paperback books were in the latter category.

Herbert opened his first two stores outside Rhode Island in 1967 in downtown New Bedford and downtown Taunton, Massachusetts. They were also the first step toward affiliation with an all-Hallmark product presentation. He then sold the Hope Street “laboratory” location.

Toward the end of the 1960s, when new highways connected suburban shoppers to destination retail areas, there was also an explosive growth of shopping centers. For Herbert, this was a perfect retail storm. “The major positive thing that happened to me in my career was timing,” he said. “Being able to be involved just about the time the suburbs, shopping centers, and malls caught on provided the biggest momentum for my career. I saw this as the wave of the future. It was obvious to me that Main Street, U.S.A. was not going to be the retailing future.”

In 1968, Morris, who had retired in 1963, died at age 79, leaving his son to continue his legacy. While Herbert did just that, he was poised on a very different trajectory. “For my father’s time and personality,” he explained, “functioning basically as a single-store owner was the right thing for him to do. I was much more oriented toward the idea that you take your knowledge and package it.” Unfortunately, Morris did not live long enough to witness a Sackett’s store in a mall location.

Further Expansion

By 1970, Hallmark was retooling in a similar way, diversifying its product line from just greeting cards and gift wrap to include other products like party goods, photo albums, candles, and some gift items. This shift made Hallmark a more attractive vehicle through which Herbert could accomplish his goal of expansion. So Sackett’s became an official Hallmark retail outlet and changed its name to “Sackett’s Hallmark.”

The relationship between the companies remained that of independent manufacturer and retailer (as opposed to franchisor and franchisee). This proved to be a winning combination.

In 1971, the first Sackett’s Hallmark store within an enclosed mall opened in Wampanoag Mall in East Providence. At 2,500 square feet, it included a book department, an expanded gift department, and a cutting-edge, brightly colored saw-toothed ceiling decorated with reproductions of silk-screened poster banners.

Over the next 20 years, Sackett’s Hallmark, driven by a philosophy of “controlled growth,” expanded to locations in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, and upstate New York. In 1978, to accommodate the management infrastructure needed to support the rapid growth, Sackett’s moved its headquarters from an upstairs balcony alcove in its downtown, Union Street location to a 13,000-square-foot building in East Providence that housed both corporate offices and a warehouse. Herbert also concentrated on fine-tuning his mix of “allied” (or non-Hallmark) products to achieve an identity that would distinguish Sackett’s Hallmark stores from other Hallmark retailers.

He explained, “Our growth was a conservative one, which gave me a certain amount of comfort, but once you’re committed to that kind of expansion and growth, you’re in all the way. In order to attract and keep the right personnel to make it grow, you need to provide career opportunities for them. We were successful in attracting and keeping our key managerial and supervisory staff because they always knew there was the possibility for future promotion. That was always a challenge and responsibility for me.”

In 1980, I joined Sackett’s as area retail coordinator. Thus, I became the third generation Sackett to be part of the business. My duties included merchandising, writing a company newsletter, and learning the art of gift buying from my father. Only his sharp eye for spotting the next hot seller eclipsed his love for its hunt. In the fiercely competitive gift industry, his merchandising prowess was renowned among vendors and fellow retailers alike.

When I started accompanying him to gift shows in New York and Los Angeles, I was amused and amazed by the effect his lingering in a vendor’s booth could create. I could not have asked for a better mentor.

I remained with the company until 1989 when I relocated to Cheyenne, Wyoming. My brother, Richard, had and still maintains a psychotherapy practice in Manhattan.

By 1985, Herbert was again noticing a new trend in retailing, the “trendy, young-at-heart-oriented” shop. He wanted to take that concept, remove the off-color humor some companies emphasized, and package it in a 1,200-square-foot store that could go into the same malls as Sackett’s Hallmark stores. These new stores, which would carry no Hallmark products, would have a mix of 70 percent gifts and 30 percent cards and were named “Be Dazzled!”. This would be the reverse of the Sackett’s chain merchandising formula.

This was also at the height of mall expansions, when developers were seeking to maximize their attraction by offering the most interesting mix of stores to their customers. The two-store Sackett’s approach had two goals: to differentiate Sackett’s Hallmark from other Hallmark retailers who were competing for the same locations, and to appeal to mall developers who were interested in an additional concept to add to their store mix. Such a move would also maximize Sackett’s management and administrative efficiencies.

Be Dazzled! was birthed on Thayer Street that year, and I was its project director. Over the next few years, it grew to its own chain of seven stores with additional locations in Dedham, Hadley, and Swansea, Massachusetts, as well as in upstate New York.

By the time the 1990s arrived, there were 60 stores under the Sackett’s, Inc. umbrella in six states with over 1,000 employees. Retail competition had become more intense and demanding than ever and Herbert, now in his sixties (who had been receiving a number of overtures from would-be buyers), decided it was time for a change of lifestyle. An opportunity soon arose. In September of 1991, and after so many decades in the industry, he elected to say “yes” to an offer, agreeing to sell the retail division to a longtime acquaintance who was in the same industry but whose locations were primarily in the Middle Atlantic states.

“Needless to say it was a difficult and traumatic decision and was not made quickly or lightly,” Herbert said. “After all those years together, my organization was like family to me. Many of them had been with me from the beginning and it was important to me that I was leaving them in good hands.

“One of my most fulfilling satisfactions came from the fact that, throughout the entire building process, we were able to remain an “independent” company and succeed based on our own high standards, of which we were very proud. On a strictly personal level, it made me even more aware and grateful for the opportunities made possible for me and my family only through the courage and bravery of my grandfather Israel and grandmother Ettie and their migration to this great country,” he said pausing. “This is a message of gratitude I’ve tried to pass down to my own children and grandchildren.”

 

IMG_3681

The Sackett clan today: Shelley and her children Julia, Alex and James; Herbert (center); Richard and his children Taylor and Mimi.

 

Retirement Reflections

Herbert reflected on his retirement. “With such a dramatic change of lifestyle and pace, it amazed me how seamless the transition became,” he said. “The fact that I remained active was, for me, the key – and it still is.”

Sackett’s, Inc. (the corporate structure that was not part of the transaction) became an investment vehicle and still allows Herbert to keep a finger in the business world, “but only to whatever degree I choose.” He noted that suddenly, there was more time to be involved with his grandkids, volunteer work, travel, hobbies, reading for leisure and for one of his then favorite activities, skiing (which he was now able to enjoy mid-week when the slopes were less crowded). “All in all, it became a satisfying combination,” he said.

 

United Brothers Synagogue

Congregation-and-guests

United Brothers Synagogue in Bristol, Rhode Island.

Since 1987, Herbert has lived in Bristol. A couple of years before he sold the business, he ran into Jack Temkin, a fellow Temple Emanu-El member also active in the wider Jewish community. When Herbert remarked about planning to see him over the high holidays, Jack asked why he didn’t attend the synagogue in Bristol. That was the first time Herbert heard there was such a synagogue.

Having learned that United Brothers Synagogue has been located at 205 High Street since 1916, Herbert decided to attend services one Shabbat. “I was overwhelmed by the building and very impressed by the cantor, who had a beautiful voice,” he remarked. “My nickname for him was ‘the Robert Goulet of the cantorial world.’ A lot of people felt that way.”

Although to this day he remains a member of Temple Emanu-El, Herbert was so taken by United Brothers that he decided to become a member. After officially retiring from business in 1991, he decided to become further involved. In 2006, after serving many years on its board, he became treasurer. Quickly realizing that the synagogue was underfinanced and in need of many costly repairs, Herbert decided that his personal goal would be to strengthen United Brothers’ financial health. This led to a building fund campaign that paid for a restoration in 2008. After the completion of a recent 2015 capital campaign, there is now an operating surplus.

Business Advice

When asked if he misses being in business, Herbert quickly replied, “I don’t miss being in business at all. If I miss anything, it’s the camaraderie that I developed, the personal relationships.” At gift shows there were social engagements almost every evening. “I always looked forward to them,” he said. He served on the boards of the New York and California Gift Shows and remained an advisor to the board of the California Gift Show for a few years after his retirement. He still sees some old business friends a few times each year.

Asked what advice he would give a young person just starting out in business, he answered without hesitation. “The most important thing, no matter what kind of business- whether it’s bricks and mortar or Internet or whatever- is to have a sound business plan. A well-thought-out business plan becomes a vehicle for producing the degree of profit. Those rules never change.”

“What does change,” Herbert cautions, “are business cycles that represent shifts in consumer demands. The successful entrepreneur must respond to these, which may occur in five-year cycles.” “The Internet,” he warns, “has completely overhauled the retail arena.”

As for additional lessons learned from his family’s business launched about 110 years ago, Herbert offered this: “Don’t expect to be 100 percent right when making decisions; that’s aiming too high. Always think about the ‘what ifs.’”

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Shelley and Herbert, Father’s Day 2016. The envelope on the table holds, of course, a Hallmark card.

 

Despite the phenomenal growth of the Internet with its dozens of virtual e-cards, Herbert still believes that there can be no substitute for old-fashioned, paper cards. “The concepts of art and sentiment, in the ‘touchy-feely’ greeting card, will always have its place,” he proclaims. In fact, both my dad and I are drawn to Hallmark cards and still send them to each other on every card-giving occasion. I can’t speak for him, but the ones he has sent me over the years are in a special shoebox that I look forward to adding to for many years to come.

 

 

All’s Unfair in Love and War in “Indignation”

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

Boston Jewish Film Festival did a real mitzvah on Sunday, July 17 when it treated local film lovers to a free sneak preview of Indignation, the film based on the 2008 Philip Roth novel that opens at the West Newton Cinema and local theaters on July 29. Even better, BJFF further indulged the sold out audience by bringing director and screenwriter James Schamus, (co-founder and former CEO of Focus Features) and his lead actor, Logan Lerman (Fury, Percy Jackson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), to the stage for a post-screening Q&A.

 

Semi-autobiographical, Roth’s dark story fictionalizes his own early-1950’s college experience at Bucknell University in rural Pennsylvania. Schamus picked up the slim novel in an airport and fell in love with the book. “It is contemporary but shocking,” the producer and frequent Ang Lee collaborator said.

 

Set in 1951 against the backdrop of the Korean War, Indignation introduces us to Marcus Messner (played by 24-year-old Logan Lerman). He is the straight-A, straight-laced only son of Max, an overbearing Newark kosher butcher, and Esther, his practical, well-meaning wife (played by theatre veterans Danny Burstein and Linda Emond). Marcus is also the film’s narrator, and his voiceover story has a single simple message: the choices we make determine our fate.

 

When Marcus’ buddies start coming home from Korea in body bags, Max’s spiraling anxieties fuel his transition from paternal protector to paranoid oppressor. “The tiniest mistakes can have consequences,” he relentlessly warns his son, worried he will squander his future in a pool hall or behind the wrong closed door.

 

As much to escape his suffocating parents as to avoid the draft, Marcus accepts a scholarship (awarded by his synagogue) to the fictional, elite and very WASP-y Winesburg College in bucolic Ohio. Instantly, the cinematographer Christopher Blauvett’s pallet changes from the overcast skies and gloomy browns and greys of working-class Newark to the sunshine and lush lawns of the collegiate mid-West.

 

Marcus’ emotional pallet, however, retains its muddy hues. A defiant loner by choice, he avoids getting too close to his two roommates and chafes at any action he interprets as controlling. He resents mandatory chapel attendance not because he is Jewish, but because he is an atheist. He is an equal opportunity religious objector, a rebel for whom the whole world is his cause.

 

He joylessly slogs through his days, excelling at his studies and working in the library. Then one day, the dreamy creamy Olivia (Sarah Gadon) awakens his slumbering id. Simultaneously calculated and insouciant, she casts her line in Marcus’ sight line and reels him in with the lure of her twitching foot. Schamus’ light directorial touch subtly alerts us to impending danger and ultimate doom. She is Eve, and Marcus is ravenous for whatever she is serving up.

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Olivia (Sarah Gadon) and her alluring twitching foot.

 

During their first date at the only French restaurant in town, the two seem an easy intellectual match, but there’s an unsettling emotional power imbalance at play. He’s as naïve and unscathed as she is cynical and damaged. Even later, during and after the unsolicited sexual favor she performs on him in the front seat of his roommate’s borrowed car, there’s a steely premeditation to Olivia that puts Marcus (and the audience) on edge. This is the least intimate intimate act imaginable, and that disconnect bodes ill for our protagonist.

Indignation

Marcus (Logan Lerman) and Olivia (Sarah Gadon) on their first date.

Marcus may be sitting in the driver’s seat, but Olivia’s clearly behind the wheel. With that single shocking act, she has changed his life forever, and she knows it.

Their initial infatuation becomes hopelessly complicated, careening from snub to obsession to mutual self destruction. This unravels the stoic Marcus to the point where he draws the attention of Dean Hawes Caudwell (played by the terrific Tracy Letts, lately of “Homeland” fame), who summons him to his office for a little chat. In an 18-minute scene that is the unequivocal showpiece of the film, Marcus sheds his melancholic reserve and demonstrates his High School debate captain chops as he rips into the Dean’s defense of all things Winesburg, including mandatory chapel.

 

Admiring the precocious Marcus’ considerable oratory skills while clearly loathing his message, the Dean treats him as an intellectual equal, and the two go at it tooth and nail. There is no deference to status or age; this is intellectual trench warfare, and each is prepared to fall on the blade of his razor sharp wit.

 

“I knew the film would live or die on that scene,” Schamus said during the Q&A, and he’s right. It’s the most riveting and emotional scene of the entire movie. It’s a shame Marcus doesn’t show half the passion and urgency with Olivia that he does while lacerating the Dean. The two lovers just don’t share the same on-screen chemistry.

 

shamus

Director and screenwriter James Schamus

Eventually things go from not great to worse, and Esther shows up at Winesburg when Marcus lands in the hospital after an emergency appendectomy. She meets Olivia, immediately spots the suicide scars on her wrist, and quickly evaluates the danger her son is in. The scene where she exacts Marcus’s promise never to see Olivia again in exchange for her remaining married to his increasingly abusive father is both devastating and tender.

 

In his directorial debut, Schamus has made a classy, painterly film. As Marcus, Lerman gives a focused performance of subtlety and depth. Although Marcus is clearly Jewish, he is more engaging and accessible than the neurotic clichéd stereotypes popularized by Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Allen. Each time he bristles at some real or imagined oppressive authority figure, his indignation brings home the film’s point.

 

Gadon’s Olivia is impossible to look away from. She is as complicated as she is stunning, equal parts Lauren Bacall, Grace Kelley and Rebecca Pigeon. Letts, however, is nothing short of brilliant as Dean Caudwell, the roguish academic autocrat whose concern for Marcus is both intrusive and sincere.

 

Schamus has made a good, entertaining movie, especially considering it is the industry’s “Summer Season”. But for Jay Wadley’s trite and overbearing score, and the fact that we really don’t care enough about Olivia and Marcus because they don’t seem to care enough about each other, it could have been a very good one indeed.

 

 

 

 

Salem Farmers Market returns to Old Town Hall every Thursday, 3-7 p.m.

Salem Farmer’s Market keeps a tradition alive and well

Shelley A. Sackett, correspondent

 

Although the 2016 Salem Farmers’ Market may bear little resemblance to its 1634 originator, the Commonwealth’s earliest settlers would feel right at home in downtown Derby Square in front of Old Town Hall — the oldest surviving municipal building in Salem.

 

Today, as then, the market offers much more than local fresh produce and other dry and baked goods. It also offers a place where people can gather and feel a real sense of local community.

 

Hundreds of smiling people of all ages did just that last Thursday, braving the wind gusts and threatening skies, to be part of the festivities marking the Salem Farmers’ Market’s eighth opening day. Many lounged on Town Hall steps, munching and talking. Others gladly sampled the vendors’ wares.

 

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Amy Glidden looks at one of the plants for sale at the Gibney Gardens booth during the Salem Farmers Market at Derby Square, Thursday, June 9, 2016. Wicked Local Staff Photo / David Sokol

 

“The Salem Farmer’s Market creates a community center where residents can catch up with other,” said Kylie Sullivan, executive director of Salem Main Streets.

 

In fact, according to Kylie, whose downtown Salem revitalization organization runs the market, the city’s deed actually requires the use of Derby Square as a market. “The Salem Farmer’s Market physically transforms the feel of downtown for a little while in a way that’s very relevant to its history,” she added.

 

The volunteer-run market will be held at the square on Front Street in downtown Salem every Thursday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. through October 13. Each week features live music and other entertainment.

 

 

Among the 30 vendors lined up for 2016 is “Balloon Man” Lawrence Levesque, who lives in Peabody and is also a magician. He met some people who were “in balloons” eight years ago, and he’s been twisting balloons into fanciful shapes to the delight of youngsters of all ages ever since. “I love it. I wouldn’t do anything else. It’s the best career choice I ever made,” he said as he handed a preschooler a perfect latex dachshund.

 

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Lawrence Levesque, who is also a magician, delights Salem Farmers Market shoppers of all ages with his balloon creations. Photo by Shelley A. Sackett

 

Mandy Williamson of Marblehead’s “Fishwives Specialty Foods” started her business on a friend’s dare after she lost her job as regional director of biotech in a wastewater management company. She makes all natural, gluten-free chowders and bisques and “on-the-go” gazpacho that comes in a 16-ounce bottle ready to crack open and drink “much as they do in Spain.”

 

Because the chowders are gluten free, Williamson can cut back on cream and butter without cutting back on taste resulting in an “absolutely decadent” taste with only 200 calories per 10-ounce cup.

 

Holly and Andy Varela started Maitland Mountain Farms, one of the seven major farms that anchor the market, after Holly’s 2009 visit to the Salem Farmer’s Market inspired them to ask her father about growing vegetables on his 2.5 acre Salem property.

 

He agreed, and the two revived the land, cultivating it and installing greenhouses. “Six years later, we’re actually an agricultural production,” Andy said proudly of Salem’s only urban farm.

 

These days, the bulk of their business is pickles, which they sell all over the Northeast through a food service. They still stay close to their homegrown roots, however, by doing local farmers markets and servicing farm stands and small “boutique-y shops.”

 

Among the market’s biggest fans is Mayor Kim Driscoll, who was excited when its June 9 opening day rolled around. “The market is such a vibrant and fun weekly downtown event,” she said, offering thanks to Salem Main Streets, the volunteers, City employees and all the vendors “who put in the hard work to make the market possible.”

 

Tucked in a corner in the shadow of Town Hall is Ann Counihan’s “All Fruit Inc.”, an all natural dried fruit and nut mix that comes in eleven varieties. The healthy snacks-in-a bag are attractively packaged for travelling and are meant to be eaten anywhere.

 

A large board labeled “Samples” generously offered smaller versions of each of the 11 varieties, each packaged with the same attention to style and detail. Not only were they the classiest samples at the market, Counihan’s encouragement to try as many as you wanted made doing so guilt-free.

 

Sullivan thinks these direct connections between business owners and customers are a key benefit of the Salem Farmer’s Market. “It becomes a pipeline for emerging businesses to grow their product and their reach,” she said.

 

For the latest updates about the Salem Farmer’s Market, visit salemfarmersmarket.org, “like” them on Facebook at facebook.com/SalemMAFarmersMarket or follow them on Twitter at @salemfarmmarket.