JCC’s International Jewish Film Festival presents a virtual array of history, culture, and inspiration

by Shelley A. Sackett

MARBLEHEAD – The Jewish Community Center of the North Shore International Jewish Film Festival is celebrating its eighth year – and second straight virtually due to the ongoing COVID-19 restraints – with a diverse menu of 13 films inspired by Jewish history, culture, and values.

The festival runs from April 5 through April 25 and includes prerecorded and live Zoom conversations with filmmakers.

This year marks the first time the festival has partnered with the Central Mass International Jewish Film Festival, widening its audience to include the Worcester area. Tickets are $15 for individual films, with three discount packages for six, nine, or all 13 films. Films may be purchased ahead of time or when you are ready to watch. Eventbrite is the festival’s box office and screening platform, with tickets and information available at jccns.org.

Opening Night (April 5) presents the blockbuster “Six Minutes to Midnight,” starring Dame Judi Dench and Eddie Izzard. Set in 1939 at a finishing school in an English seaside town where influential families from Nazi Germany have sent their daughters, this taut, heart-racing espionage film heats up when a teacher figures out what is going on and tries to alert British authorities.

The social justice documentary, “Shared Legacies,” uses a treasure trove of archival materials to weave together crucial historical lessons of Black-Jewish alliances, starting with the founding of the NAACP in 1909. Narrated by eyewitnesses, activists, Holocaust survivors, and movement leaders, a prerecorded conversation with head writer-director Shari Rogers and members of the ADL’s Black-Jewish Alliance is included.

Among the other documentaries, “Code Name: Ayalon” recounts the 1975 discovery of The Ayalon Institute, a secret ammunition factory built by Haganah underground youth in 1947 during the British Mandate. The David vs. Goliath story includes interviews with surviving group members and a live discussion with the film’s producer, Laurel Fairworth, on April 21 at 7 p.m.

In 1977, Aulcie Perry, a basketball legend from Newark, New Jersey, was recruited by Maccabi Tel Aviv while playing a pickup game in Harlem. “Aulcie” chronicles this inspiring story and includes a live discussion with the director, Dani Menkin, and the raffle of a basketball signed by Aulcie on April 13 at 7 p.m.

Tamar Manasseh, the subject of “They Ain’t Ready for Me,” is a force to be reckoned with. Tired of the violence that has plagued her south side Chicago neighborhood, the Black rabbinical student builds bridges between her two worlds with grassroots activism and Jewish community celebrations. This timely and moving portrait includes a live discussion with director Brad Rothschild and Manasseh on April 23 at 7 p.m.

Filmed over 10 years, “A Lullaby for the Valley” introduces Eli Shamir, an Israeli artist who paints the view from his studio overlooking the Jezreel Valley in northern Israel. Director Ben Shani documents the artist at work, neither guessing at the changes that would occur over their decade together. A live discussion with the filmmaker is April 18 at 2 p.m.

The remaining seven features range from comedy to drama to historical docudrama. “Adventures of A Mathematician” reenacts the story of Stan Ulam, the brilliant Polish-Jewish scientist who worked on the top-secret Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb. A live discussion with the film’s team will take place on April 11 at 1 p.m. In “A Starry Sky Above the Roman Ghetto,” the discovery of a puzzling photograph sparks an Italian student to probe the history of Rome’s Jewish ghetto and the fate of one little girl.

Sparks fly in the screwball romantic comedy, “Kiss Me Kosher,” when two families from wildly different cultural backgrounds – German and Israeli – collide to plan a same-sex wedding. On a more serious but no less romantic note, the historical drama, “An Irrepressible Woman,” tells the true story of Janot Reichenbach, who fell in love with French-Jewish socialist and three-time Prime Minister Léon Blum when she was a teenager and abandoned all to be by his side decades later when the French government fell to the Nazis.

“Here We Are” is the touching story of a devoted father who has dedicated his life to raising his autistic son. The docudrama “Winter Journey” features Swiss actor Bruno Ganz in his final screen role. The film blends reenactments and archival materials to relate a Jewish-German couple’s poignant pre-World War II romance and is based on the book by their son, NPR radio host Martin Goldsmith.

Finally, closing night (April 25) showcases “The Crossing,” the story of Gerda and Otto, Norwegian siblings whose parents are arrested for resistance activities. They discover two Jewish children hidden in their basement, and decide to risk helping them cross into Sweden to escape the Nazis.

For more information and to buy tickets, visit jccns.eventive.org.

From Marblehead to Hollywood, where she now makes movies that touch the soul

Filmmaker Jerri Sher and former NFL quarterback Mark Rypien on the set of “Quiet Explosions: Healing the Brain.”

by Shelley A. Sackett

Jerri Sher is no shrinking violet.

In the 1980s, she and her husband Alan, a tax accountant, were raising their family in Marblehead. Their daughters, Heather and Amy, attended Hillel Academy (now the Epstein Hillel School), and Alan volunteered as treasurer of the Jewish Journal. After teaching at Endicott College, Jerri decided to enter the business world. But, she didn’t just quietly switch careers; she smashed through a glass ceiling as the first woman to work in the transportation industry in the Northeast corridor.

Sher rose quickly in the sales and marketing department at Guaranteed Overnight Delivery, where she was trained by Tony Robbins, the top life coach and business strategist. “The male-oriented industry of transportation was difficult because people were not used to dealing with a woman, so I had to prove myself to be better than any man,” she said from her Los Angeles home.
Sher learned on the job, and she learned fast, negotiating freight contracts for Fortune 500 companies such as Gillette and Raytheon. “Little did I know that all of the skills I was learning were getting me ready to be a producer,” Sher said.

Sher’s schooling and first career were in the arts. The Fall River native earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts degree at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a master’s in art education from Springfield College, where she later became its youngest professor. Despite a demanding schedule in the trucking business, her creative drive never slowed down. With no formal training, she wrote a novel about a woman in the trucking business. “The Twig Painter,” a medical thriller that became a screenplay, fused her two careers – art teacher/painter and trucking sales representative – and wet her appetite for her third: movie screenwriter, director, and producer.

She dove in, determined to learn as much as she could about the filmmaking process. She helped out on any movie set that came to the North Shore and before long, one director recognized her business smarts and creative skills and told her she should set her sights on being a producer rather than “just” an art director.

Although a member of the elite LA-based Directors Guild since 1998, she had no access to its benefits from Massachusetts. After successfully producing several movies for others, she decided it was time to direct her own. “I was in my mid 50s when I said, ‘let’s move to LA,’” Sher said.

That was 18 years ago.

Other than missing friends and family, Sher found Hollywood spectacular. Despite never attending film school, her career flourished as she finally had direct entrée into the hub of the industry’s network. “I knew I was right where I was supposed to be,” she said.

Although Sher faced obstacles as a woman in another male-dominated industry, she already had overcome that challenge once and never let it bother her. “I am proving myself in this industry and am climbing to the top of the ladder despite the discrimination,” she said. “The word ‘no’ did not exist in my vocabulary. I had all the tools I needed to make films and thrive.”

Sher has since completed 22 film and television projects, including “Santa Monica Cares Step Up,” which earned her 2014 Emmy awards for directing and producing. This short documentary film, about a homeless man rescued by charity, was the highlight of Sher’s career. “It made me realize I only wanted to work on projects that would positively influence society,” she said.
Her latest film, “Quiet Explosions: Healing the Brain,” is a documentary about traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans, athletes, and others. Released last month on Amazon and Vimeo, the film explores under-publicized, non-pharmaceutical approaches that have led to complete healing in brain injury patients.

Based on “Tales from the Blast Factory,” the book by brothers Andrew and Adam Marr, the film highlights the breakthrough work of Dr. Daniel Amen (psychiatrist, clinical neuroscientist, and brain imaging specialist) and neuro-endocrinologist Dr. Mark L. Gordon, whose patients have been cured by his treatments. Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien, Ben Driebergen (winner of “Survivor” and ex-Marine), and Shawn Dollar (champion surfer) tell their heart-wrenching stories of trauma and recovery. Podcast host Joe Rogan, an active Wounded Warriors supporter, interviews Gordon and Andrew Marr.

Although the film’s 10 characters are from all different walks of life with different clinical histories, they share one thing: at some point, each wanted to commit suicide. After watching the film together, they cried and hugged each other, grateful that others might understand the agony they had suffered.

“For Dr. Gordon, a neuro-endocrinologist, to come up with this treatment is mind boggling. Why does the whole world not know about this?” Sher asked. Her hope is her film will educate its audience ‒ especially doctors – about these groundbreaking solutions that help those with traumatic brain injury to heal.

Sher had a solid foundation in Judaism, and credits her Jewish background with steering her artistic choices and storytelling toward messages of tikkun olam (repairing the world). “I am definitely all about healing the planet and the people on it. Most of my recent projects are about healing and health,” she said.

Right now, however, she has two goals. One is for an Oscar to keep her two Emmy awards company. The second is to get the Veterans Administration to institute Dr. Gordon’s protocol. “And if we can do that, then I’ve done so much for society,” Sher said.

For more information, visit jerrisher.com and quietexplosions.com.

JCCNS Jewish Book Month Speaker Series goes virtual

Jason Rosenthal, seen with his late wife, Amy, will open the series on Oct. 6.

by Shelley A. Sackett

MARBLEHEAD – With hurricane season, daylight savings time and the election looming just around the corner, we could all use an engaging and stimulating indoor activity to look forward to during these trying COVID-19 times.

To the rescue is the 2020 virtual Jewish Community Center of the North Shore’s Jewish Book Month Speaker Series with a line-up of 12 outstanding authors who will literally travel right into your living room and share their books.

“Books are a way into people’s souls. Arts and culture are a non-threatening way for people to have a Jewish identity,” Suzanne Swift, Jewish Book Council Director of Author Network, told the Journal. JBC provides resources and support to Jewish organizations, including the JCCNS.

From Tuesday, Oct. 6 through Sunday, Nov. 29, the annual JBM speaker series offers an especially broad selection of genres and topics, including memoir, history, fiction, humor and – of course – food.

JBM chair Diane Knopf acknowledges there is a silver lining to mounting the series during a pandemic. “There is no geographical barrier to participate in a virtual series” she said.

Jason Rosenthal, who will open the series on Oct. 6 with his memoir, “My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me,” lived in a romantic fairytale for the 26 years he was married to his bashert (soulmate), Amy, a writer and filmmaker until she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her last project before she died in 2017 was an op-ed piece for the “Modern Love” column of the New York Times entitled, “You May Want to Marry My Husband,” expressing her wish for her beloved Jason to remarry. It was published right after her death, catching Jason completely by surprise.

His book describes his life with Amy and their three children (the “Rosies”) and how he coped with his grief and loss. Judaism played a big role in his upbringing and in the family he and Amy raised in Chicago (regular Friday night Shabbat dinners, Jewish day school for his kids). “Shabbat dinners meant slowing down from a hectic week. Simple. Quietly reverent. And always full of gratitude,” he told the Journal.

After Amy’s death, however, he sought comfort elsewhere. “I look more to other spiritual elements in my life; mindfulness, meditation and yoga come to mind,” he said.

Although he shares some upbeat stories about women who wrote to him after they read Amy’s column, his aim is to help others. “Grief is a beast and a non-linear process,” he explained. “Ultimately, my book is filled with a message of hope and resilience. One never ‘gets over’ grief; we move through it.”

Other memoirs in the series include: “On My Watch” by local author Virginia Buckingham, who was head of Logan Airport on 9/11 and bore public blame for “letting it happen,” and “What We Will Become” by Mimi Lemay, a woman raised in an ultra-orthodox Jewish family who supported her transgender child’s odyssey.

On the fiction stage are Lynda Cohen Loigman’s “The Wartime Sisters,” the story of two estranged sisters reunited at the Springfield, Massachusetts armory during the early days of WWII, and Anna Solomon’s Good Morning America Book Club pick, “The Book of V.”

In “The Book of V,” Solomon intertwines the individual stories of three women: a Brooklyn mother in 2016; a senator’s wife in Watergate-era 1970s Washington, D.C., and the Bible’s Queen Esther in ancient Persia.

Solomon, who grew up in Gloucester and whose mother was the first female president of Temple Ahavat Achim, reconnected with the story of Esther when she read it to her own children. She was struck by how many questions the story raised, especially about Queen Vashti (executed after disobeying her husband, the king), who had fascinated her since she was a little girl.

“What did she do that was so bad? That was the mystery I wanted to unravel,” she told the Journal. “I also wanted to explore how our notions of a bad and good woman have and haven’t changed over time, and how we continue to reduce women to types.”

Solomon was born in the late 1970s when, for some women, it seemed gender equality had been achieved. “But anyone can see that’s not the case today. I wanted to play around with what it means to experience life in a way that doesn’t match what you’re being told. These three women all take charge of their own story in some way,” she said.

She hopes the book’s call for more connection and less competition among women resonates with her readers. “Let’s judge each other – and ourselves – less and reach out across our supposed differences more,” she said.

Fans of nonfiction and investigative reporting will also be thrilled. Longtime BBC correspondent Raffi Berg will discuss his “Red Sea Spies: The True Story of Mossad’s Fake Diving Resort,” the story of undercover Israeli spies who staffed a luxury resort on the Sudanese coast and secretly evacuated thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel.

Local author Eric Jay Dolin covers the history of American hurricanes from Columbus’s landing to contemporary climate change in “A Furious Sky,” and Kristen Fermaglich’s “A Rosenberg by Any Other Name” chronicles the impact of name change on American Jews. “The Last Kings of Shanghai” by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jonathan Kaufman recounts the remarkable history of two wealthy and powerful Jewish families who helped shape China’s economic boom.

On a lighter note are Iris Krasnow’s “Camp Girls” (about the joy and lasting importance of the summer camp experience); Rachel Levin’s “Eat Something” (part comedy, part cookbook and part nostalgic journey). Alan Zweibel, an original Saturday Night Live writer who got his start selling jokes on the Borscht Belt circuit, shares his own stories and interviews with friends in the riotous “Laugh Lines.”

For more information and to buy tickets, visit jccns.org.

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

Aus-Bir tracks

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

 

Shelley A. Sackett

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

 

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

 

Majdanek-Schwartz

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Veksler and Richmond

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

 

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

 

 

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

Chak

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Majdanek-2019HLF

2019 Holocaust Legacy Fellows outside Majdanek

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

This year’s Jewish Film Fest will leave you on the edge of your seat

by Shelley A. Sackett

MARBLEHEAD – Jewish film festivals are wildly popular, and according to jewishfilmfestivals.org, moviegoers had 170 to choose from worldwide in 2018 in locations ranging from Nebraska to Nepal. For the sixth year, local residents need travel only a few miles to Marblehead and Salem to view 13 films offered by the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore International Jewish Film Festival from April 28 to May 9.

While films about the Holocaust are natural candidates for a Jewish film festival, this year’s lineup features several films that – although set during World War II – are more character than history-driven. Bookending the 12-day festival are opening night’s “The Catcher Was a Spy,” a thriller starring Paul Rudd based on the true story of Moe Berg, the Red Sox catcher who became a WWII spy, and closing night’s “Prosecuting Evil,” a gripping documentary about Ben Ferencz, the remarkable 99-year-old and last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor.

Gordon Edes, an award-winning sportswriter and Boston Red Sox historian, will speak and answer questions following “The Catcher Was a Spy,” and both films include a post-screening reception.

The remaining 11 films are a well-balanced mix of documentary, drama, and comedy. In “Winter Hunt,” a riveting German contemporary psychological thriller, a young woman on a personal mission of vigilante justice goes to extremes as she seeks reprisal against a suspected ex-Nazi. Powerful performances, an edgy score, and a tight script fuel the suspense.

Jewish women are front and center in three films that look at dilemmas they face as they struggle to forge their own paths in a world complicated by religious tradition and social conformity. “Working Woman” addresses the complexity of contemporary life in Israel, chronicling the predicament faced by Orna (played by the remarkable Liron Ben-Shlush) as she juggles motherhood, marriage to a struggling restaurateur, and a meteoritic rise in the corporate real estate world. When her boss relentlessly sexually harasses her, her entire world is brought to the brink of disaster.

Life for women in pre-state Israel was no less complex, as illustrated by “An Israeli Love Story.” Based on a true story and set in 1947, the well-shot and edited film explores the relationship between an aspiring actress and a kibbutznik who is also a member of Palmach, an elite fighting force. In “Leona,” a young Jewish artist in present day Mexico City finds herself torn between her traditional, observant family and a forbidden love.

On a lighter but no less poignant note, the award-winning “Shoelaces” traces the relationship between Reuven, a surly parent, and Gadi, his charismatic adult son with special needs, as the two slowly develop a tender and life-affirming bond of devotion. The popular film is thought-provoking and unexpectedly funny.

Three documentaries reveal different facets of present-day Jewish life. “Chewdaism: A Taste of Jewish Montreal,” follows two local men on the cusp of middle age as they nosh their way through a series of classical eateries and share their community’s 100-year Jewish history. “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel” charts the underdog journey of Israel’s national team to the 2017 World Baseball Classic in a story of sports, patriotism, and growth.

“Sustainable Nation,” shown in partnership with CJP as a free community event in honor of Israeli Independence Day, follows three visionary Israelis as they bring water solutions to an increasingly thirsty planet.

Poland and France are the settings for the rest of the line up. “Who Will Write Our History” is a documentary set in 1940, after Nazis sealed 450,000 Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. The story of Oyneg Shabes, a group of journalists, scholars and community leaders who resolved to fight Nazi propaganda with pen and paper, is told through writings, new interviews, rare archival footage and dramatizations.

In her deeply personal documentary, “Chasing Portraits,” filmmaker Elizabeth Rynecki travels to Poland to find the remaining work of her great-grandfather, a prolific impressionistic painter who captured scenes of pre-war Jewish life.

“A Bag of Marbles,” based on a true story, follows two young Jewish brothers as they fend for themselves, making their way through German-occupied France to reunite with their families.

Many films have post-screening guests who will speak to issues raised by the films.

For information and to buy tickets, visit jccns.org or call 781-631-8330.

An interview with Joan Nathan

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

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

What do libraries mean to you?

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

What current trends do you see in Jewish cooking?

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

Any “words of advice” to young Jewish people?

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

Anything else you’d like to add?

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

Hillel to honor Knopfs

by Shelley A. Sackett

MARBLEHEAD – Every year since 1987, the Friends of the Hillel Library have recognized members of the community for their commitment to learning and the pursuit of knowledge by presenting them with The Edith Bloch Award. This year’s recipients, Swampscott residents Diane and Eddie Knopf, will be honored at “Food: The Ultimate Connector,” a celebratory event to be held on Sunday, May 19 at 6 p.m. at the Epstein Hillel School in Marblehead.

“All of us who have had the opportunity to work alongside Diane and Eddie Knopf have seen first hand that their dedication to the North Shore Jewish community literally knows no bounds,” chairs Maura and Paul Copeland said in a press release.

Edith Bloch was a founding member of the Friends of the Hillel Library and was renown as a consummate teacher and committed mentor.

The Knopfs have made an impact on their community in many areas. For 11 years, Diane was Director of Community Engagement at Epstein Hillel and has volunteered in a number of positions, including as president of the JCC of the North Shore and chair of the JCC’s Jewish Book Month Speaker series. Eddie served on the Temple Beth El-Temple Israel merger committee and on the executive board at Congregation Shirat Hayam, where he is a regular at morning minyan.

Both earned MBAs, Diane from Northeastern University and Eddie from Boston University, and met at a Christmas Eve party in 1987. “I had a broken ankle and was in a cast, and he had a horrible cold,” Diane recalled with a laugh.

They married the following Thanksgiving, and Diane moved from Brookline to Swampscott, where Eddie had been living since 1978. Their daughter Elyse graduated from (then) Cohen Hillel Academy in 2004 and went on to Washington University in St. Louis.

To the Knopfs, libraries and education are synonymous and have long been part of their lives as students and adults. Diane and her mother, a 2nd grade teacher, established the Miller/Knopf Resource Library at Simmons University, both their alma maters. “Libraries matter to us,” she said.

Cooking, entertaining and travel matter to them too, and choosing Joan Nathan as the evening’s speaker reflects that. The award-winning cookbook author, PBS television host and newspaper and magazine contributor has won the James Beard Award twice, co-founded New York’s Ninth Avenue Food Festival under then-Mayor Abraham Beame, and received an honorary doctorate from the Spertus Institute of Jewish Culture in Chicago.

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, she is the mother of three grown children and lives in Washington, D.C. and Martha’s Vineyard with her husband, Allan Gerson.

Nathan will speak about her culinary exploration of Jewish cooking from around the world and sign copies of her latest cookbook, “King Solomon’s Table,” after a light dinner reception featuring recipes from the book. The event is open to the community and is free of charge, although registration is necessary.

Diane readily admits Eddie is the cook in the family. “He first got involved watching his mom and aunt cook,” she said. His favorite dishes to cook are chili, chopped liver, and turkey and stuffing for a big crowd. Diane’s favorite dishes to eat are “all of the above” plus Eddie’s locally famous popovers.

They love entertaining and bringing people together for an evening of food and camaraderie and share the responsibilities seamlessly. Eddie handles the majority of cooking and cleaning up and Diane organizes, decorates and plans the menu, which often features ethnic foods. “I am a very experimental eater, perhaps because my mom instilled in me a love of traveling the world,” Diane explained.

The Knopfs are in awe of Nathan’s accomplishments and couldn’t be more thrilled that she is the featured speaker at their honorary celebration. They share her beliefs that food has the power to unite people, especially during challenging times. Born in Tiverton, R.I., Diane’s link is also personal. “Before all the current famous Israeli/Jewish chefs, there was Joan from Providence, the leading expert in Jewish cooking who embraced and promoted Jewish cooking in America,” she said with just a hint of her native Rhode Island accent.

Temple Emanu-El unveils stunning stained glass ark at rededication

by Shelley A. Sackett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daughter offers glimpse inside private world of Leonard Bernstein

by Shelley A. Sackett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Student of Elie Wiesel shares his story in Marblehead

Burger-1024x699

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Light

“Light”

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

aleph

“Aleph”

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

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

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

Freedom

“Freedom”

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

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

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

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