Manna rains on Marblehead interfaith project

 

Pictured left to right: Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez and Pastor Jim Bixby

When Temple Sinai’s Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez and Pastor Jim Bixby from Clifton Lutheran Church first met at a Marblehead Ministerial Association meeting last summer, they both sensed a spiritual connection that went beyond them being among the youngest in the room.

“His church and Temple Sinai have a lot of similarities,” said Cohen-Henriquez, who is known as “Rabbi David” to his congregants. “Both are small. Both are in Marblehead. And both are dealing with contemporary theological challenges where people are not going to services like they used to. We are both striving to find ways to engage the new generations.”

Bixby, who congregants call “Pastor Jim,” grew up in Miami next door to many Panamanians, and he was fascinated when he found out Cohen-Henriquez was born in Panama. “I said to myself, ‘I don’t think I know anyone from Panama who is Jewish, let alone a rabbi, let alone a man with a hyphenated last name and a gift for storytelling,’” Bixby said with a chuckle.

The two spoke at length and realized their connection ran deeper than congregational size and demographics. Both aspired to engage their communities into social action while connecting personally and spiritually with their neighbors of different faiths.

Bixby learned of Temple Sinai’s decision to focus its social action on homelessness and of its support for Lynn shelters. He shared his church’s emphasis on helping recently arrived refugees and immigrants at Lynn’s New American Center.

With both congregations committed to providing food for marginalized people in need in Lynn, the two spiritual leaders decided to combine forces.

The result is “The Manna Project,” a joint mission with three components: a pulpit exchange, a Harvest Festival, and a food-packing event to benefit the needy in Lynn.

The September pulpit exchange was a huge success. Bixby addressed a Friday night Shabbat service and Cohen-Henriquez spoke at a Sunday morning church service. Both events drew congregants from both communities and thrilled the two clergymen.

Cohen-Henriquez had been in churches before, but had never been to a Sunday service, and certainly had never spoken to a congregation from a Christian pulpit.

The similarities between the two traditions impressed him. The Lutheran selected reading (similar to the weekly Torah parsha) during his appearance happened to be about the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, known to Jews as the parting of the Red Sea. He captivated the churchgoers with midrashim that retold familiar biblical stories in ways outside the traditional Lutheran framework.

“Seeing people react to these stories that fill in the blanks, appreciating and rediscovering treasures that were already there, was really satisfying,” Cohen-Henriquez said.

The communitywide Harvest Fest, timed to coincide with the end of Sukkot and Oktoberfest, was a fund-raiser with vendors, games, and food, which both communities prepared and sold together. Shepherded by Temple Sinai Executive Director Susan Weiner, and Clifton Lutheran Church UpReach Council member Pat Small, the event raised $2,000 toward its $5,000 goal. Each dollar raised buys a meal for a family of four.

To fill the fund-raising gap, The Manna Project will sell tickets for a monthlong daily raffle in January. Bixby and Cohen-Henriquez went to local Marblehead businesses soliciting donations. (“Seeing a pastor and a rabbi entering your store must be like the opening of a joke,” Cohen-Henriquez said with a laugh).

Both were struck by how generous the business owners were and by how much they appreciated seeing clergy from different traditions work together.

The Manna Project’s third and capstone event is a food-packaging gathering on March 4, which will involve both communities’ social action committees and many volunteers. “We will need as many hands on deck as possible in order to get out the 3,000 to 4,000 meals we hope to prepare. Many hands make light work!” said Small.

In the meantime, both the pastor and the rabbi are positive their collaborations will not end with The Manna Project.

“Our communities are getting to know each other. We even see our missions as intertwined,” Bixby said.

“It’s a consciousness that transcends how you pray,” echoed Cohen-Henriquez. “There are many more things that bond us than separate us.”

For more information on The Manna Project, call Temple Sinai at 781-631-2763 or Clifton Lutheran Church at 781-631-4379.

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Marblehead’s Dolphin Yacht Club has survived stormy seas

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

Dolphin-club

George Freedman of Marblehead reflected on the history of the Dolphin Yacht Club. Photo by Steven A. Rosenberg/Journal Staff

 

MARBLEHEAD – John Smidt was a kid from Marblehead who loved sailing and being around the harbor. His dad, Phenny, bought a boat in 1948 and John remembers they joined the Salem Willows Yacht Club, even though his hometown harbor was miles closer.

“The way the story has been passed down, there was no place in Marblehead Harbor for a Jew with a boat,” John said over coffee and a muffin at an outdoor café on a recent sunny morning. “I didn’t know the politics of what was going on, but I watched what was happening.”

Although there was no written ban, realtors steered Jewish buyers away from Marblehead. “‘You probably wouldn’t be comfortable here’ was the phrase most commonly used,” said retired psychiatrist George Freedman, who grew up in Marble­head.

That discrimination extended to Marblehead Harbor and its yacht clubs, which in 1950 denied fuel, mooring, or launch service to Jewish boaters. Like Phenny Smidt, they either joined clubs in nearby harbors or had to moor at a spot unaffiliated with any of the Marblehead clubs.

Fed up with the status quo, a group of Jewish boaters decided to take matters into their own hands. In January 1950, 14 men formed the Dolphin Yacht Club and sent letters soliciting charter members “with the main qualification being a desire to participate in nautical activity as an avocation.” The stated purpose and scope of the club was to “promote and foster the nautical spirit among its members regardless of color, race, or creed.” Initial membership would be limited to 60.

Dolphin-founders

The founding members of Marblehead’s Dolphin Yacht Club in 1950.

 

The list of founding members and tentative officers who signed the letter included Harry Weinstein, B. Frederick Yoffa, Morris Jaynes, Ben Myers, Arthur Rubino, Phenny Smidt, Irving Mann, Leo Sonnabend, Dr. Adolph Sandberg, Harry Simon, Nathan Cohen, Dr. Nathan Silbert, Hy Jaffee, and John Rimer.

Nine attended the club’s first breakfast meeting on January 15 at Lynn’s Hotel Edison, according to a $12.65 bill that itemized breakfast charges at 85 cents each and room rental at $5.

Smidt remembers going with his father to the Dolphin Yacht Club’s first location, a space under the Rockmere Hotel (now Glover Landing condos) with a gravel floor and metal lockers. Boaters would grab their dinghies and row out to their moorings.
In 1955, the Marble­head Harbor Yacht Club, adjacent to the Rockmere Hotel, merged with another club and its property became available. Lewis Athanas, brother of restauranteur Anthony Athanas, offered to act as a non-Jewish “straw” – or third party – to buy the Marblehead

Harbor Yacht Club and turn it over to the Dolphin Yacht Club. “He was just open-minded,” Smidt said. “Looking back, it took guts.”

Over the next six decades, the club fluctuated in its financial solvency, physical amenities, and members, but remained steadfast in its promise to be an inclusive presence on the previously exclusive Marblehead Harbor.

In 1964, 22-year-old John Smidt bought his first sailboat, a 16-foot Bullseye, and joined the Dolphin. By 1969, he and Marvin Frank put the club on the yachting map when they raced Frank’s boat, “Bat Yom,” in the 70-hour Marblehead to Halifax race, becoming the first Dolphin boat to compete in that prestigious event.

Colorful Sunset over Marblehead Harbor

The Dolphin Yacht Club looks out onto Marblehead Harbor. Photo courtesy of dolphinyachtclub.com

 

By 1973, the club needed more income to remain solvent. Smidt tried to beef up membership numbers – and the club’s finances – by advertising the Dolphin as “a yacht club for all people.” He did the same thing in 1980 when membership had dwindled to 45. By the end of that season, the Dolphin had 75 members who represented a mixture of people and cultures.

“We took on a bunch of non-Jewish members,” Smidt said. But the club still struggled to make ends meet.

The situation was so dire that a 1986 article in the Jewish Journal was titled, “The Dolphin sends an S.O.S. to the Jewish community.” Marblehead pharmacist Elliot Strasnick, a member since 1975, dug in his heels, enlisted volunteers like Freedman, and “decided to go for it. We started to think outside the box,” he said. The club sold bonds, paid off its debts, and rebooted with more emphasis on social and kayak memberships and amenities.

Next, the club procured a liquor license, started offering food service, and offered social memberships. Today, social memberships far outnumber boaters, and non-Jews outnumber Jews. The club recently completed extensive renovations and hired Alan Knight, former executive chef at the Boston Yacht Club. On sunny weekends, dinner reservations on the deck are hard to get.

Despite the larger numbers and fancier digs, Freedman still feels the small club friendliness of the early years. But more than that, the 2017 Dolphin has come full circle, more closely fulfilling the original members’ intent.

“Although the club’s origins are Jewish, its original charter specifically stated that the club was open to all,” Freedman said. “Fortunately, we have lost the perception of being “the Jewish Club,” but the history is important, especially in these sensitive times.”