Teens return from Y2I trip with fierce allegiance to Israel

Y2I teens at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photos courtesy of Lappin Foundation

by Shelley A. Sackett

After a two-year pandemic hiatus, the Lappin Foundation’s 12-day, fully subsidized Youth to Israel Adventure resumed this summer, and the 83 teens from 31 local communities and 41 high schools returned on July 8 with reactions that reflected a somber reality.

Against the current backdrop of rising global antisemitism and increased incidents of anti-Israel sentiments and activities on college campuses, the 2022 Y2I cohort was especially receptive to learning ways to help them face the challenges they may soon confront as college students.

Although the teens still kvelled over praying at the Kotel (Western Wall) on Shabbat, viewing sunrise from Masada and swimming in the Dead Sea, their post-trip reflections also reveal more sobering concerns about coping with the world in which they live.

By far the experience most mentioned as having had a significant impact were two presentations by StandWithUs director of international student programs Charlotte Korchak. Speaking passionately and from personal experience, she explained the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and counseled how to best respond when encountering anti-Israel propaganda and misinformation.

The presentations are a regular part of the Y2I experience, but resonated particularly with this group. StandWithUs is an international Israel education organization that inspires and educates people of all ages and backgrounds, challenges misinformation, and fights antisemitism.

“Building on Y2I’s positive impact of enhancing Jewish identity, building community, and connecting teens to Israel, the teen Israel experience also takes on added importance of educating teens on how to identify and respond to antisemitism in its many forms,” said Lappin Foundation Executive Director Deborah L. Coltin, who has supervised Y2I since 2006. “The Jewish community has an obligation to do this. If we don’t do this, who will?”

At the Cardo in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Ephram Adler, of Wenham, wondered whether Israel might really be the aggressive apartheid regime he read about before the trip during a perusal of online posts and comments about Israel, Gaza, and the West. Now, armed with facts, he better understands how misinformation thrives on such sites and “feeds monsters.”

Several teens were surprised to discover how little they knew about the conflict and how complicated it is. “I learned neither side is completely innocent, and it is important that I stay involved and informed as a non-Israeli Jew,” said Sarah Diamond of Malden.

With antisemitic incidents becoming more commonplace in their own schools and community settings, the teens luxuriated in the freedom and empowerment they felt being in a land where they were not a minority and where expressing Jewish pride did not pose a risk to their safety.

“Israel is a place where I do not have to explain myself to anyone. It is such a beautiful thing to see Jewish people walking around, going about their day as a Jew, and wearing their religious attire without fear,” said Naomi Smith of Amesbury.

Y2I teens in Jaffa.

For many teens, especially those who lack a local Jewish community, the Y2I trip provided an important connection between their homeland and their homes. “Before this trip, I knew very few Jewish people in my town [Newbury] or at my school, but now I feel a have a community of Jewish friends I can always turn to if I ever need to talk about antisemitism in my town or stuff related to being Jewish,” said Sofia Colden.

Some, like Rachel Freedman of Peabody, said the sense of belonging she felt in Israel helped her see a whole new side of Judaism. “Israel felt like home. Now I have a voice and I’m not scared to use it. I’m not afraid anymore. Yes, I’m Jewish and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m proud to be who I am. Y2I helped me find that,” she said.

For five teens, the opportunity to enhance their Jewish identity occurred during the trip when they decided to have an informal Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Emma Mair, one of the counselors and a college student at Mount Holyoke and rabbinic intern at Temple Tiferet Shalom in Peabody, led the (re)commitment to Judaism ceremony.

“This moment gave me the opportunity before I returned home to further connect myself to my Judaism with those I grew so close to over the course of this journey,” said Drew McStay of Danvers, one of the five.

For many, the biggest takeaways from the trip were the surprising nuances of Israeli culture and customs, which opened their eyes to a new way of contemporary life. Diamond found it interesting and “honestly, a relief” to see so many reform teens who supported issues like feminism and gay marriage. “I felt like I could really relate to these modern-day residents of the Holy Land,” she said.

For Chase Goldberg of Lynnfield, a chance encounter revealed the heart of the homeland. In Tel Aviv, he was looking for a missing scavenger hunt item he had no idea where to find. A man sitting nearby witnessed his struggle and offered to help, giving him a detailed explanation of where it was.

“I learned later that random acts of kindness like this are not random in Israel; it is just their way of life,” Goldberg said.

Virtual Services connect and expand the Shirat Hayam community

‘A Beautiful Noise’ comes to Emerson Colonial Theatre

Shirat Hayam’s Zoom services.

by Shelley A. Sackett

SWAMPSCOTT — Since 2020, Covid has significantly affected Jewish religious practice nationwide, and Shirat Hayam is no exception. Almost overnight, services — especially minyanim — went virtual by necessity. For many, the inability to gather in person — the very essence and meaning of “congregation” — is a hardship for which no amount of technology can compensate.

Nonetheless, this sudden shift has not been without its silver linings. According to tabletmag.com, an extraordinary number of people have engaged in Jewish experiences online owing to two important factors: the efforts by synagogues to put their programming and worship online immediately following the March 2020 moratorium on in-person gatherings, and the global accessibility of content.

For some locals, the convenience of attending services, study sessions and programming from their cozy homes has been a plus, especially during the cold, dark and snowy months. For others who live far beyond Shirat Hayam’s Swampscott location, virtual programming has made it possible for them to participate in services and feel part of the community.

“Shirat Hayam has been a leader in accessibility,” said Rabbi Michael Ragozin, noting that the temple removed stairs from its bima, revamped Shabbat services, and began Shulcasting almost two decades ago. “Investing in new technologies like Zoom, microphones, and webcams is a natural expression of our commitment to making a dynamic Judaism and Jewish community available to all.”

Arinne Braverman of Natick regularly attends Friday night and Saturday morning Shabbat services, usually via Facebook Live. Despite not having set foot in the physical building since becoming a member, she still feels connected.

She attends services online with her mother, Diana Edelman, also a CSH member, who lives fulltime in California. Although she misses the one-on-one informal and impromptu conversations with congregants, “I love not having to commute to and from shul,” Arinne said.

She believes strongly that people looking to join a synagogue should consider more than just its geographical convenience. Her own search took her quite a while. With the pandemic and the sudden possibility of remote attendance, she expanded her search from local to nationwide.

She ultimately chose CSH specifically because of its clergy. She first met Rabbi Ragozin when she was Executive Director of Northeastern University Hillel and he contacted her to offer his support after reading an article about Hillel’s fight against BDS and the surge in campus antisemitism. Later, he invited her to partner on CSH’s Campus Antisemitism Task Force training.

Although her mother, Diana, belonged to a local, in-person Reform synagogue, it wasn’t the right fit for her. At Arinne’s suggestion, she checked out a Shirat Hayam Shabbat service on Zoom and found what she was looking for. After confirming that remote access was not just a temporary response to Covid and would continue even when worship returned to in-person services, she joined.

She would like to attend in person, but recognizes that is not a viable option. “I would prefer to interact with other members so I would have a sense of belonging to a community or extended family,” she said.

Despite some annoyances (remote participants singing out of sync or not muting themselves while carrying on personal conversations during services), she likes the convenience and flexibility of remote attendance, especially the ability to mute her own microphone and video camera.

“Remote attendance provides me with the chance to participate in a service and enjoy the music, singing, spirituality and d’var Torah,” Diana said.

Donna Revman also enjoys remote Zoom services. She lives in Charlotte, North Carolina but grew up in Marblehead, where she and her family attended Temple Israel. Even after she left the area, she always returned to Temple Israel and, after the merger with Temple Beth El in 2005, Shirat Hayam for the High Holy Days. When she couldn’t attend in person, she would watch the services on Shulcast.

She started attending minyan after her mother, Sylvia Revman z”l, passed away. “It was a way my sister in Massachusetts, my brother in New York, and I in North Carolina could honor my mother together during shloshim,” she said.

She prefers the more interactive Zoom services to Shulcast. “It gives me the opportunity to see the people attending, with a chance to say hello before and after the service, and even the ability to participate sometimes by leading one of the responsive reading sections,” she said.

Holly Strogoff, who lives in Florida, began attending the evening minyan services weekly after her father passed away. “I knew I wanted to honor him by saying Kaddish, but I wasn’t sure how this would work,” she said.

Rabbi Michael suggested she check out Zoom services. “I am grateful to participate in services in the community where I was raised,” she said.

When she signed on to attend her first service, she was immediately welcomed into the group. “Although sometimes Zoom can seem impersonal, I found the services to be warm and welcoming. Since I started attending these minyan services, I have found comfort in the connection and plan to continue to attending,” Holly added.

A version of this article first appeared in the ‘New Wave’, the Congregation Shirat Hayam newsletter.

Over 160 state municipal leaders join fight against antisemitism at Lappin forum

“This is not just a Jewish problem,” Deborah Coltin said at the March 28 forum.

By Shelley A. Sackett

SALEM — The Lappin Foundation on March 28 sponsored “Two Steps Forward Against Antisemitism,” a virtual event aimed to educate Massachusetts city and town officials on two important steps they can take to help their communities stand up to and combat the growing threat of antisemitism. The event drew 168 municipal leaders representing more than 100 localities.

Deborah Coltin, Lappin Foundation executive director, explained the summit’s goal was to educate attendees about two tools available to fight antisemitism: adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s non-legally binding, working definition of antisemitism, and local enactment of a proclamation to annually commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27.

“This is not just a Jewish problem. Where there is antisemitism, there are also other kinds of hate,” Coltin said.

The IHRA, which has promoted Holocaust education, research, and remembrance since 1998, is the only intergovernmental organization mandated to focus solely on Holocaust-related issues. With strong evidence of a recent rise in antisemitism, its experts determined that in order to begin to address the problem, there must be clarity about what antisemitism is, according to its website, http://www.holocaust­remembrance.com.

The IHRA defines antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Over a dozen scenarios apply the definition in the contexts of criticism against Israel and contemporary examples in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and the religious sphere.

Robert Leikind, regional director of the American Jewish Committee of New England, stressed the importance of a common framework to help governmental officials and others understand what is meant by antisemitism. “In the absence of a clear understanding of the definition, you can’t create policies to deal with it,” he said. “You can’t fight what you don’t recognize.”

So far, 35 countries have endorsed the IHRA, including the United States. Twenty states and five governors have adopted its definitions of antisemitism, including Massachusetts, when Governor Charlie Baker signed a proclamation on Feb. 18.

Peabody Mayor Ted Betten­court, honorary chair at the Lappin event, announced that the Peabody City Council unanimously voted to adopt the IHRA’s antisemitism guidelines at its March 24 meeting, making Peabody one of the state’s first to do so (Newton, New Bedford and Lynn have already adopted the IHRA definition). Mayor Bettencout also issued a proclamation on Jan. 27 recognizing it as International Holocaust Remembrance Day and January as Holocaust Education Month.

The Peabody City Council is considering adding Holocaust education to its middle and high school curriculum, Bettencourt said.

Referencing the verbal attack on Chabad Rabbis Nechemia Schusterman and Sruli Baron on Lowell Street in 2019, Bettencourt stressed that acts of hate will not be tolerated in Peabody. “Love and acceptance can triumph over hatred, intolerance, and exclusion,” he declared.

Underscoring the importance of adopting the IHRA guidelines, Robert Trestan, Anti-Defamation League New England regional director, cited a recent poll that indicated almost all American Jews say antisemitism is a problem. Furthermore, 2021 FBI statistics indicate that 60 percent of all hate crimes are against Jews.

“This is not just anecdotal. The increase in violence and antisemitic incidents is real,” Trestan said.

Sharon was the first town to adopt the IHRA definition in March 2021. Sharon community activist Robert Soffer, who was instrumental in this process, emphasized that antisemitism is as grave a danger for non-Jews as for Jews. “It is the ‘canary in the coal mine’ and indicative of all forms of hate,” he said. “If the municipal managers attending this summit truly embrace this fact, then something very important will have been achieved.”

Rounding out the list of speakers were Josh Kraft, president of Kraft Philanthropies and the Foundation to Combat Anti-Semitism; Jody Kipnis, co-founder of Holocaust Legacy Foundation; Lucy New and Sofia Vatnik, cochairs of the Teen Antisemitism Task Force; and Dr. Hans Fisher, a frequent speaker and Holocaust survivor who was aboard the M.S. St. Louis in 1939. The ship carried more than 900 Jews who had fled Germany and hoped to reach Cuba and then migrate to the US, but passengers were not allowed to get off the ship in Havana, and then shut off from docking in Florida. The St. Louis was forced to return to Europe, where more than 250 of the Jewish passengers were killed by the Nazis.

“Antisemitism is alive and well in the US,” Dr. Fisher told the Journal after the summit. “Police protection, unfortunately, is often necessary right now, but strong school education programs can be very effective in ameliorating this scourge.”

In her remarks, Kipnis urged attendees to work to get their communities to adopt the IHRA definition and proclaim January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. “Ask yourselves two questions: What have I learned? And, how can I make a difference in community,” she said.

For more information about adopting the working definition of antisemitism as an educational tool to identify and combat hate, email Robert Leikind, Director of American Jewish Committee New England, at leikindr@ajc.org. For information about the process Sharon went through to adopt the definition, email Robert Soffer at sofferrobert@gmail.com.

CSH, JCCNS partner with theater company to present unique Women’s Seder

CSH, JCCNS partner with theater company to present unique Women’s Seder

Tiffany Moalem (l) and Kimberly Green (r) will perform stories at the Women’s Seder.

By Shelley A. Sackett

Why is this year’s Passover different from other years?

Because this year, the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore and Congregation Shirat Hayam have teamed up to partner with The Braid (formerly the Jewish Women’s Theatre) to put on a hybrid Women’s Seder that will interweave Zoomed professional story performances with the text of the women’s Haggadah the team has created.

“The broad themes of encouraging each of us to free ourselves to be ourselves might seem only individual. But when we see a group of women around us wrestling with the same issues — trying to uncover and accept who each of us is beneath all of our expectations, responsibilities and self-denials — we realize we are more similar than different,” said Janis Knight, Director, Center for Jewish Education at CSH.

It all started when Sara Ewing, JCCNS Director of Adult Programs, reached out to Knight, who has run a CSH Women’s Seder for years, asking if she wanted to partner with the JCCNS. Ewing had received a grant from the Jewish Women’s Endowment Fund. Knight was immediately on board.
“Collaborations are key in getting the word out, sharing resources, and building a sense of community,” Ewing said.

Ewing was introduced to The Braid at a national JCC conference. She liked the company’s creative approach and she and Knight reached out to the California-based group to work together and bring something innovative and different to the North Shore community.

Jodi Marcus, Community Partnership Lead at The Braid, explained how their unique process works. First, she asks if there is a particular theme the organization wants to explore and the number of stories they want presented. To create a unique Haggadah, as they are doing in this case, Ronda Spinak, The Braid Founder and Artistic Director, suggests specific stories that illuminate the theme — some funny, some thought-provoking and some that might elicit a tear.

“We are thought partners,” Marcus explained.
The team selects stories to highlight JCCNS/CSH’s theme of “Journeys to Liberation – Transcendence, Acceptance, and Freedom to Reveal Our True Identities.” They then forward those stories to the JCCNS/CSH team for approval, and determine how they’d like to integrate the stories into the Haggadah, including room for writings, prayers or songs that are meaningful to the community.

The Braid’s virtual partnership will bring a creative and modern twist to an ancient tradition. Their stories, performed live for an online audience, are guaranteed to punctuate and enrich the seder experience.

Cantor Sarah Freudenberger, who is excited to help create and participate in the event, will enhance the morning with her musical talents. “I am excited to see what Passover is like at Shirat Hayam, and to add my own music to the story,” she said.

Before the seder, The Braid and local team will have a technical rehearsal to ensure the event will flow smoothly. Knight, in particular, is thrilled (and relieved) to have been able to hire someone to focus on the timing and production of the Zoom event.

Since 2008, The Braid has pioneered a new theatrical art form called Salon Theatre, a compilation of true stories curated around a theme meant to illuminate the human condition. This unique art form sits at the intersection of theater and storytelling, giving voice to diverse contemporary stories grounded in Jewish culture and experience that can be performed anywhere.

The Braid doesn’t use sets, props or costumes. Rather, the experience is meant to be intimate and engaging, whether on Zoom or in person. “Touching hearts and leaving no Jewish story untold is at the core of what we do,” Marcus said.

The Braid will perform many stories, including: the retooling of Dayeinu (“It would have been enough”) into a rap song; a mother’s trauma when she discovers her son has head lice (one of the 10 plagues), and the true story of Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, senior rabbi of New York’s Central Synagogue, the daughter of a Korean Buddhist mother and a Jewish father.

These stories will be Zoomed in at specific times during the seder, which will be inperson only on Sunday, April 3, at 11 a.m. at Congregation Shirat Hayam. A $5 fee includes a kosher boxed lunch.

Stressing inclusivity, particularly for Jews of Color, LGBTQ+ Jews, Jews of choice and others, Knight is especially hopeful the seder will draw teenage girls and their mothers, in order to expand their awareness of what being a Jewish woman is and can be in this community. “I hope to hear singing, laughter, conversation, and that indefinable humming noise you get when someone hears a story that has touched them,” Knight said.

For more information or to register, go to bit.ly/WomensSederNorthShore

Salem Film Fest celebrates ‘Fiddler’s’ 50th anniversary

Chaim Topol and Norman Jewison on the set of “Fiddler.” Photo: Zeitgeist Films

By Shelley A. Sackett

SALEM — Two Jewish films that run the gamut from life to death – “Fiddler’s Journey to The Big Screen” and “On This Happy Note” – make their way to the Salem Film Fest March 24-April 3. These enjoyable, feel-good movies are the perfect respite from this endless winter.

Salem Film Fest, the all-documentary film festival now in its 15th year, will screen 47 features and shorts during its hybrid 2022 season. From March 24-27, all screenings will be in person only at Cinema Salem, Peabody Essex Museum and The Cabot in Beverly. From March 28-April 3, the fest will be exclusively virtual.

2021 marked the 50th anniversary of the beloved “Fiddler on the Roof,” the film The New Yorker’s Pauline Kael called “the most powerful movie musical ever made.” Narrated by Jeff Goldblum, “Fiddler’s Journey” captures the humor and drama of director Norman Jewison’s quest to re-create the lost world of Jewish life in Tsarist Russia and re-envision the stage hit as a wide-screen epic.

Filmmaker Daniel Raim was most interested in the inner lives of the cinema artists making the film. “Ironically, most of the cinema artists making ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ were not Jewish. And that’s what makes this film that much more interesting – because it explores their approach to authentically re-creating Jewish life in Tzarist Russia in 1905,” Raim said in an email.

“I wanted to learn about their exploration of Jewish identity both in front of and behind the camera,” the native Israeli said. Developing these themes into a concise narrative structure was “probably one of the more challenging and rewarding aspects of making this film.”

He remembers his grandparents, who survived the Holocaust, introducing him to “Fiddler” when he was 13 years old. “It was a window into the world my grandparents came from, which no longer exists,” he said.

Anat Gov

“On This Happy Note”

Tamar Tal Anati’s remarkable film, “On This Happy Note,” heralds and honors death by documenting the deliberate and thoughtful way one woman chose to live her last days.

We first meet Anat Gov, one of the most influential playwrights in Israeli theater, as she prepares for her death from cancer just a couple of months away. A chain smoker, she is unafraid of her fate. But when she asks her longtime literary agent, Arik Kneller, to be the executor of her will, he struggles to accept the humor, serenity and grace with which she faces her upcoming end.

Gov believes there is such a thing as a happy ending and that it is possible to die in peace. She wants her death to open doors for others by leaving footprints for them to follow. Gov wishes to leave a spiritual legacy.

As it turned out, she also leaves a cinematic legacy.

“On This Happy Note” was launched when Kneller decided to film his final meeting with Gov. She agreed, and the two longtime colleagues and friends recorded as they talked about her work and hopes for how she will be remembered.

Kneller showed the footage to Israeli-born director Anati, who would work with it to create a film. Two weeks later, Gov died and the project temporarily froze.

In the meantime, Anati dove into Gov’s writings, learning about her creative process. She read Gov’s plays and television scripts and, in the course of doing this research, wrote a new script from the scenes and writings Gov left. The film weaves performances from her plays and footage of her family and political world to create a tapestry that highlights the very thin line between documentary and real life and the stories that connect the two.

For Anati, Gov’s way of thinking and dealing with death was not shocking. “In a way, she gave clear and very accurate words to what I felt. The most important thing to her is that fewer people fear death. She thought that if we talked about death and accepted it as part of life, we would live better,” she said from Florence, Italy, via email.

Like Gov and her writings, the film spotlights black humor to address challenging matters and difficult themes. At the film’s premiere, she was shocked by the number of places where people roared with laughter. “It’s kind of a nice release,” she said.

Gov’s family saw the film, and shared their strong, positive reaction to it. “They said they felt like she had returned to life for an hour,” Anati said.

“Fiddler’s Journey to The Big Screen” will screen in person only at Cinema Salem on March 25, 2:45 p.m. “On This Happy Note” will screen virtually from March 28-April 3. For more information go to salemfilmfest.com

As Shirat Hayam’s cantor is ordained, some wonder, ‘What exactly is ‘Renewal’?

ALEPH Dean of Students Hazzan Diana Brewer participates in the ordination of Cantor Sarah Freudenberger.

by Shelley A. Sackett

Cantor Sarah Freudenberger of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott was ordained in January, culminating more than five years’ training at the ALEPH Ordination Program, a Renewal-style program that promotes global Jewish music.

Candidates study classical Ashkenazi musical motifs as well as other genres, such as Sephardic. Graduates are able to navigate and lead in a wide variety of contexts, blending both traditional and contemporary styles.

Although she worked as a full-time cantor since her college graduation, Cantor Sarah ran into barriers when she discovered that mainstream seminaries didn’t accept students with non-Jewish partners.

“Even though I wanted to learn, I couldn’t,” she said.

Finally, she discovered ALEPH, a program founded by Reb Zalman, who believed that music is the carrier of the Jewish message. She chose ALEPH both because it was welcoming and, more importantly, because of its robust and comprehensive curriculum and respected reputation.

AOP dates its origins back to the mid-1970s, and progressively evolved over the course of four decades to where it is today.

It all started in Somerville in 1968. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi – “Reb Zalman” – was instrumental in the founding of Havurat Shalom, a collective egalitarian spiritual community. He was a visionary pioneer in contemporary Jewish life. His ideas and work influenced the birth of the Havurah movement and the international Jewish Renewal movement.

In 2000, he engaged Hazzan Jack Kessler to develop a new kind of program that would train cantors who are grounded in tradition, but who could also keep Jewish music alive, relevant, and growing into the future. The two agreed this training would encompass additional skills that go beyond vocal performance and the knowledge that was once sufficient for someone to be called a cantor.

By 2001, Reb Zalman had ordained three hazzanim. He then turned over the effort to Hazzan Jack, who created a comprehensive program that embraces traditional and contemporary Jewish musical and liturgical creativity.
As of 2022, ALEPH has ordained 30 cantors. Cantor Sarah is the only cantor ordained in the 2022/5782 class.

Cantor Sarah Freudenberger

Conservative synagogues like Shirat Hayam are bringing in Renewal melodies, percussion, meditative prayer experiences, healing prayers, and an array of Renewal-style approaches to making communal prayer dynamic and participatory, Hazzan Jack explained.

“We believe that synagogues can once again become magnets for Jewish spiritual seekers, Jewish families, and anyone who cares about the continuity of Jewish life, where we can find prayer experiences that elevate our souls and activate our best selves. This is our commitment,” he said.

Cantor Sarah and Hazzan Jack at her ALEPH ordination

ALEPH Executive Director SooJi Min-Maranda reported an uptick in younger applicants who transfer from a more traditional seminary where they didn’t feel their approach to spirituality quite fit. “Most say they are excited about the way ALEPH brings emotional relevance to Jewish life,” she said.

Yet, for many lay people, two huge questions still remain unanswered: What exactly is meant by “Renewal?” And how can a synagogue be both Reform/Conservative/Orthodox and part of the Renewal movement?

Shaul Magid, the Distinguished Fellow in Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College and author of the seminal book, “American Post-Judaism: Identity and Renewal in a Postethnic Society,” spoke with the Journal.

From the beginning, according to Magid, Reb Zalman did not envision Renewal as a new Jewish denomination, but rather as a new vision that could revive late 20th-century Judaism. “He wanted different communities to adopt pieces of that vision as it suited its own inclinations,” he said. “Renewal offers a different template and assumes we are living in a new global [and not only Jewish] era that demands a more radical reevaluation of how we engage and encounter Jewish life.”

At Shirat Hayam, the Renewal approach informs services and life-cycle rituals. “The synagogue experience, particularly prayer, must be accessible, meaningful, and leave people feeling transformed,” said Rabbi Michael Ragozin.

“Perfunctory ritual has failed to maintain the vibrancy of Jewish life. Renewal Judaism offers an approach to revitalizing Jewish practice.”

Holocaust Symposium prompts Danvers students and adults to become “Upstanders”

Tenth grader Nora Hass and her father Mike Hass attended the symposium.

by Shelley A. Sackett

DANVERS — When Danvers High School Principal Adam Federico decided to partner with Lappin Foundation to host a six-week Intergenerational Holocaust Symposium on Zoom, his hope was that the students and adults who attended would feel empowered to call out and fight against biased and hateful language and actions.

He more than got his wish. Based on comments during the final session on February 17, Danvers now has a community of activists ready and willing to confront hatred and ignorance.
“This is unique and special,” Deborah Coltin, Lappin Foundation’s Executive Director, told the 73 participants. “There was a call to action and you showed up. I hope you’ll rely on each other and respond,” said Lappin, who ran the symposium.

The event was created in response to antisemitism, swastikas and racist graffiti appearing more frequently in schools and community settings. Last fall, Danvers was victim to a rash of such incidents. Students who attended all sessions will receive a Certificate of Completion and credit for nine hours’ community service.

The curriculum included curated materials, primary sources, films, survivor testimony, a book read and discussion, and a closing lecture by Dr. Chris Mauriello, Salem State University history professor and Director of its Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. “Be an upstander, not a bystander,” he told the group. “Ask yourself, ‘What am I taking away from this?’”

Danvers tenth grader Norah Hass and her dad, Mike Hass, both attended and talked with each other after class, discussing the Holocaust and what is happening in Danvers and society as a whole. “Norah is forming her politics and thoughts on the world now, and I love seeing her think critically about history as well as current events,” Mike said.

“We don’t normally have conversations like that, so it was cool to see a new side of him. He would sometimes ask me how the meeting made me feel, and asked what I thought about it,” Norah added.

Listening to and interacting with survivors rendered the Holocaust and its horrors more real and left the deepest impact on most participants.

“Actually hearing survivors recount where they were during the Holocaust and how it affected their life is so much different from reading about it. These stories made me more aware of how it felt to be a Jew during the Holocaust. They need to be heard by more students, and the world,” said tenth grader Isha Patel.

“It takes the Holocaust from being a crime of epic proportions and personalizes it, a reminder that every person killed or who survived had a prior life, interacted with people in the town, and struggled through each day to get to the next,” said Mike Hass.

Coltin will expand this program to other communities. A community wide six-session online course begins March 2 and is open to any high school student, regardless of faith or town, who is interested in learning about the Holocaust. Newton South High School plans to host its own symposium this spring.

Also, she is working with Marblehead Village School to develop a professional development program for teachers and is assembling a team to train Salem High School to facilitate its own symposium. “The plan is to make it widely available to high schools and middle schools beginning in the fall of 2022,” she said.

In Danvers, all participants expressed both hopes for their community and a personal action plan to make that happen.

Danvers Chief of Police James Lovell, the father of two middle school students in Danvers, attended the symposium and said he was surprised to learn how much hate in our society is still rooted in the thoughts and beliefs of the Nazi party. He plans to engage community members in conversation about the difficult national and local issues facing them.

Principal Federico plans to expand experiences like the symposium to the greater community, with Danvers High School leading the way for more understanding and kindness.

To that end, he and Tess Wallerstein, a Jewish tenth grader, are already in the process of planning a project to help bring the lessons of the symposium to more students and adults. “It’s imperative for everyone to understand major historical events so they don’t repeat themselves,” she said. “I hope that residents of Danvers will continue to educate themselves and others about these important lessons in history.”

Dave McKenna, co-founder of the Danvers Human Rights and Inclusion Committee and Superintendent of Jewish Cemeteries of the North Shore, plans to continue speaking out when he sees division. “I am continually amazed at just how close beneath the surface is our ability to be divided and encouraged to hate someone else over the slightest difference of opinion, appearance, religion, belief or lifestyle,” he said.

Students Patel and Hass will stand up and encourage their peers to do the same.

“Now that I know how far racism can go, I want to make sure some of the students at my school don’t continue with their racist behavior,” Patel said. “They need to learn how harmful it is.”

“I have a job to bring awareness and act as a representative for the Jewish community at Danvers High School, especially since there are so few Jewish students,” Hass said. “I want to tell the students they aren’t alone in this fight.”

Millennial brings Talmud to TikTok

Miriam Anzovin

by Shelley A. Sackett

NATICK — It’s not easy to pigeon-hole Miriam Anzovin of Natick.

The middle of three children, Anzovin, 36, was born in Englewood, NJ and grew up in Amherst in a ba’al teshuva family, moving from secular to orthodox Judaism by her 11th birthday. She attended Chabad day school from grades 6-8.

Yet she considers herself an atheist. She chose to home school herself in high school yet works hard to create learning communities so learners don’t feel alone.

She is a millennial yet her interests span millennia. She is “obsessed” with 21st century social sharing media platforms, especially TikTok. So she uses the platform to take deep dives into another of her passions, the 6th century with Daf Yomi, a regimen of learning the Babylonian Talmud by covering each of the 2,711 dafs (double-sided pages) in sequence. Under this schedule, the entire Talmud is completed, one day at a time, one page at a time, in a cycle of approximately 7.5 years.

The first cycle of Daf Yomi commenced on the first day of Rosh Hashana 5684 (September 11, 1923), with tens of thousands of Jews in Europe, America and Israel learning the first daf of the first tractate of the Talmud, Brachot. Today, hundreds of thousands of Jews from all sects and social sectors worldwide take advantage of the free course.

Her chevruta (learning partner) is a former colleague and dear friend. Although the pandemic prevented them from learning in person, they connected over Google Chat.

As they shared responses to the text, Anzovin realized that many of her comments made her partner laugh. “I thought, ‘Well, I’m doing Daf Yomi anyway, and I only share my reactions with my chevruta. What if I made those reactions into short TikTok videos?’” she said, via email. “‘If he laughs, maybe other people will too.’”

Last December, she posted her first “Daf Reactions” on TikTok. The episode opens with Anzovin introducing the tractate she will discuss. She records from her desk in her room at home surrounded by personal items, including a white stuffed doll wearing huge pink headphones. Viewers are invited to share comments and questions, which Anzovin promptly answers.

The response was immediate and positive. “These Daf Reactions are definitely the most Torah I’ve learned in 7 years,” one person wrote. “Forget the Daf! This parody is awesome, we need more like this!” said another.

One look at Anzovin, who describes herself as a “petite blonde makeup aficionado,” and it’s obvious that she is not your typical Talmud commentator. She is saucy, her language is sometimes spicy and her delivery has more in common with Valley Girl speed speak than a Rabbinic sermon. (“This is the daf to end all daf!”) Serious about her Talmud, she sprinkles her posts with slang and humor that make her intellectually challenging topics accessible and unique.

She also knows her way around social media. She spreads “Daf Reaction” content across TikTok, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. She says she has tens of thousands of followers and hundreds of thousands of total views.

Occasionally, she departs from her standard Daf Reac­tions, as she did shortly after Ukraine was invaded. “I’ve been busy doomscrolling about Ukraine. It’s too hard to focus on anything else,” she told followers. Then she named organizations working to help those affected.

Miriam Anzovin

The seed for her TikTok channel was planted at Combined Jewish Philanthropies, where Anzovin has worked for five years as a visual artist and content creator/producer, primarily for its site JewishBoston.com. Her introduction to Daf Yomi was through a CJP-sponsored “Lunch and Learn” program. That presentation resonated with her in a powerful way, setting the stage for “Daf Reactions.”

The Talmud’s intensity and challenge appealed to her. “I love Judaism and Jewish learning; it is deeply embedded in my mind and heart,” said Anzovin, who holds a degree in Judaic studies from the University of Massachusetts.

Inspired, she decided to commit to the rigor and discipline of daily Daf Yomi. She had to wait until January 5, 2020 to start, the first day of a new 7.5 year cycle. Around that same time, TikTok also grabbed her attention. Two months later, COVID hit. She credits the social media platform and daily Talmud studies with helping her get through the pandemic.

Homeschooling in Amherst left her with a residual feeling of isolation, which she struggles with still. When it became clear that COVID was not going away quickly, she felt the rumblings of the internal panic she has worked so hard to overcome.

“For all the negative aspects of social media, it has also been an absolute balm in calming that fear of feeling shut away, and it allowed me to get to know so many people I would never have met otherwise. My thinking expanded,” she said.

Her three-minute “Daf Reactions,” which she posts every few days or whenever she feels what she calls “The Daf Muse,” take her hours to prepare. She first fully studies and wrestles with the page so she can distill it into a video that is short, funny and didactic. She learns, records and edits the episode in one day. The pace is punishing, but the rewards are worth it, especially when she gets messages from other people like herself who left Orthodoxy but still have deep and abiding love for Judaism and its heritage.

Anzovin’s path to atheism began when she was 21 and could no longer accept the explanations for some of the ways Orthodox Judaism treated women. Not being counted for minyan, the agunot crisis, where women were trapped in marriages because their husbands wouldn’t give them a divorce, and hearing men recite the morning prayer thanking God for not making them women “burned my soul every day. Believing in a God who would appoint only men as the arbiters of acceptable religious practice was too painful,” she said.

Although Anzovin agrees that today she could be considered an unaffiliated Jew, she openly identifies as an atheist because she wants Jews “who might have moments when they look inside themselves and no longer find Hashem” to know there are options to cutting themselves off completely from Judaism, that they can still learn, connect with Jewish thinking, and participate in Jewish cultural life.

“Discovering one’s internal beliefs have changed can be a source of shame and fear. I don’t want these people to feel alone,” she said. “I believe the Talmud is the cultural and intellectual heritage of all Jews, regardless of gender identity or level of personal observance. I do not believe in gatekeeping.”

She has been overwhelmed with positive messages from people who are delighted to engage in traditional Jewish learning that doesn’t bore, judge or hurt them. Messages from teenage girls who send their own daf reaction videos matter the most to Anzovin, making her “sob with joy,” she said.

“They are powerful, smart, witty and brilliantly savvy. They understand the Gemara and talk about it on their own terms. They make the future seem brighter to me,” she said.

Her posts have also become a lightning rod for those who believe she is desecrating something holy and object to her “Daf Reactions” based on her millennial language, her status as a nonreligious Jew and the belief that women shouldn’t be allowed to learn — let alone teach — Talmud at all. Anzovin takes these “truly horrific” negative reactions in stride.

“The misogyny and hatred of my detractors, their fears? It only serves to fuel me more, because it means I’m doing something right,” she said.

Music lifts the spirit at Congregation Shirat Hayam

Clockwise, from left: David Sparr, Jeremiah Klarman, Lautaro Mantilla, and Noam Sender

by Shelley A. Sackett

SWAMPSCOTT — Those who attend Holy Happy Hour and Saturday morning Renewal services know firsthand the beauty and grace four professional musicians bring to the experience. Some travel from afar; most also work in other congregations. Other than being musicians, the one thing they all share is their love for the welcoming Shirat Hayam community and its innovative approach.

“To walk into a job with a long roster of professional musicians already in place is such a gift,” said Cantor Sarah Freudenberger. “The history these musicians have in working with previous cantors and Rabbi Michael Ragozin, and the congregants knowing and loving them, is a great help to me as the new person in the mix. Each musician brings his own feelings and style, and our collaboration is special and new with every service.”

Pianist David Sparr, who lives in Nahant and joins Shirat at both services, has performed professionally for 47 of the 63 years he has been playing. He is music director at Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline and also performs in jazz clubs, churches, synagogues, senior living facilities, and concert halls. He first came to Shirat through his acquaintance with Cantor Emil Berkovits z”l. The two performed together and Cantor Emil later recorded at David’s studio. He continued the connection with Shirat Hayam’s clergy.

“The spirit of the clergy and the welcoming embrace of the congregation always inspires me to perform at a high level,” he said.

Bostonian Jeremiah Klarman has played piano for 25 years and percussion for 15 years. He plays both at Shirat during Renewal services. He also plays at Temple Emanuel in Newton – where he is Artist in Residence – and recently started playing at an African Methodist Episcopal church. Other engagements have included weddings, concerts, and even accompanying an improv group.

Through a joint concert in 2017 at Temple Emanuel, Jeremiah met Cantor Elana Rozenfeld. She invited him to play for an event at Shirat. He joined her at Renewal service and has played there ever since.

“Among all the synagogues I’ve played at, Renewal at Shirat is unique. It has a mystical, more ‘song leader’ element [which speaks to me because I grew up in a Reform synagogue]. There is also a more Hasidic, “yearning” element. The repertoire we do is varied and speaks to this diverse approach of what Renewal offers for so many people,” he said.

His favorite part is when he, the cantor, and the rabbi are in sync about when and how a song should continue, get faster, get slower, etc. “There’s no planned formula and it just happens. As a musician, those are some of the moments I live for, and it’s very special to share those moments with others,” he added.

Lautaro Mantilla travels from Framingham to play guitar at Holy Happy Hour and Renewal services. The native Colombian guitarist and composer comes from a family of musicians and artists, and started playing when he was 3 years old. He has been playing for over 20 years and teaches at the New England Conservatory. He performs frequently at Jordan Hall and several other smaller venues in Boston and New York.

A couple of years ago, Lautaro was invited to play a classical guitar concert after a Yom Kippur service at Shirat, and “right from the start, the congregation was extremely welcoming and opened their hearts to me and my music, for which I feel very grateful and blessed,” he said.

What he likes best about playing at Shirat are “the incredible depth, energy, and powerful feelings that every service has, and how these feelings go with you after you perform. It’s a unique feeling that I always have performing there.”

Noam Sender is a multi-instrumentalist from Waltham who has been singing and playing hand percussion, guitar, and ney (Turkish flute) for over 50 years. Although these days he plays mostly in synagogues, over the years he’s performed in university auditoriums, music clubs, museums, and community centers.

He was introduced to Shirat about 10 years ago, when congregant Michele Tamaren organized the interfaith event, “Make a Joyful Noise! Uniting our Spirits through Jewish, Islamic and Christian Music.” He played Sufi music with the Islamic Ensemble and, unexpectedly, was invited to sit in with the Jewish Ensemble, where he first met Shirat’s Cantor Elana Rozenfeld. She invited him back to play at various events, including Shabbat Olam and Selichot services. Not long after, he became a regular musician at the Shabbat Renewal service.

“I love the Shirat community, and over the years I have made many friends here. I am grateful to be a part of the Renewal service and always set my intention to bring joy, upliftment, and inspiration to the congregation. Hopefully in the process, I also help create a sacred and soulful space,” Noam said.

He also teaches Jewish spiritual wisdom once a month at Nosh & Drash right after the Renewal service. “I discuss the mystical treasures hidden within the weekly Torah portion through a Hasidic lens, providing participants with spiritual tools and understanding for everyday life,” he said.

Samuel Bak, who paints the past so we will never forget it, to be on display in Beverly

Samuel Bak in his Weston studio. Photo: Pucker Gallery, Boston

by Shelley A. Sackett

BEVERLY – Samuel Bak, the renowned international artist, speaks in a language of images, dreamscapes, and colors. A child prodigy and Holocaust survivor, Bak tells his life’s stories through canvases rich in symbol, metaphor and reorientation. Recognizable objects and figures appear shattered and reglued; a pear sports a smoke stack, broken teacups become surrealist landscapes, and a ruined house sits atop a mound of books.

Bak’s rich, thought-provoking works will soon be on view in Beverly. “Samuel Bak and the Art of Remembrance,“ an exhibition at Montserrat College of Art Gallery presented in cooperation with Pucker Gallery of Boston, brings together 37 paintings and works on paper created between the 1990s and today. The show runs Jan. 18 to March 4, with an opening reception to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27.

Persistence of Memory by Samuel Bak

His canvases tell the story of a world destroyed, a destruction he witnessed and survived. His work references Jewish and Holocaust history, challenging historical amnesia with difficult images of those times.

Yet, he does not consider himself a “Holocaust painter,” as he is often described, and despite the fact that what he witnessed during those times is the subject of many of his paintings. “I felt I have a story to tell and I wanted to touch other people. I refer to the Holocaust because it is something I know, but it goes beyond that,” he said over Zoom from his Weston home.

His paintings are meant to make the viewer wonder what happens when the world rejects equality and focuses on dehumanizing “the Other.” “My paintings ask questions. They don’t necessarily give answers because I personally don’t have any,” he said.

Despite scenes of anguish and despair, Bak also paints survivors, imbuing them with glimmers of muted hope and resilience. Rivers still run; painters still paint. The teddy bears and tea cups and humans are put back together again, but they can never be the same as our first memories of them.

Under the trees of Ponari by Samuel Bak

“I wanted to speak about the survivors, who are people who try to rebuild something that is similar to the reality that existed once, but cannot be totally reconstructed,” he said. “Somehow it is out of the bits and pieces of the horrors of the past that we can construct the sense of our being here and learn to prevent such horrors from happening again as much as it is possible.”

An only child, Bak was born in 1933 to an educated, middle-class family in Wilno, Poland. At age 3, he was a recognized child prodigy painter. At age 7, on the day after his first day of school, he and his family were deported to the old Jewish quarter of the city now called Vilna. At 9, he had his first exhibition, inside the Vilna ghetto. When the Russians liberated Vilna, he and his mother were among its 200 survivors from a pre-war community of between 70,000 and 80,000 Jews.

“The major subject of my paintings is: How was it possible such events happened? How is it I am still alive?” he said.

He and his mother spent from 1945 until 1948 in German displaced person camps, immigrating to Israel in 1948 when Bak was 15. After working and living in Tel Aviv, Paris, Rome and Lausanne, he came to America and settled in Weston in 1993.

During his 85-year career, Bak has produced over 9,000 items. Since the 1960s, remembrance and its nuances has been a major theme.

“Memory is not a folder that is downloaded onto your computer and when you want to look at it, you give a click and the folder reopens exactly as it was before,” the 88-year-old said.

Persistence by Samuel Bak

Unlike a computer folder, Bak sees the human memory as unique and individual because it also contends with our failure to remember. “We are blessed that we have the possibility to forget. This is what keeps us alive,” Bak said. It is also why, when we want to remember, we must recreate that memory.

In his paintings, Bak is “recreating the image that I have of the world in which people live today. Images that somehow seem to belong to another world attract viewers and enable me or others who speak about my work to speak of the times they represent,” he said.

His paintings have been used to educate thousands of teachers and students about the Holocaust since 1978. That year, he exhibited in a national museum in Germany that drew large groups of teachers and young students. “It suddenly opened my eyes. I thought, ‘My goodness. My paintings can do that. That’s absolutely wonderful,’” he said.

Since then, the PBS show “Facing History” has used his art for over 40 years to teach about the Holocaust, reaching millions of students in thousands of classrooms. In 2022, the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg will mount a yearlong exhibit of his paintings to commemorate its 30th anniversary.

Montserrat will sponsor a virtual artist talk with Bak and – COVID permitting – other school groups plan to visit the exhibit. “What is happening with this exhibition at Montserrat College is not something new, but it is something I know works,” Bak said.