Student of Elie Wiesel shares his story in Marblehead

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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.

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Marblehead bar mitzvah boy boosts hockey in Israel

 

 

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Jacob Aizanman in a sea of hockey equipment he secured to donate to CIHS as his bar mitzvah project.

Ice hockey is not the first thing that comes to mind when most people think of Israel. Not so for Marblehead resident and hockey player Jacob Aizanman, who secured more than 200 pieces of equipment to bring to the Canada-Israel Hockey School for his bar mitzvah project.

It all started four years ago when Jacob’s mother, Melissa, was at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during an Eim Chai Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project trip. She asked a woman who was wearing a hockey shirt with a Canadian symbol to take her picture. The two started chatting, and Melissa learned the woman was an Olympic gold medalist who was in Israel to promote the documentary, “Neutral Zone.”

“My husband [Darren] is Canadian. Jacob loves playing hockey. It felt ‘beshert’ [meant to be],” said Melissa. She couldn’t wait to get home and suggest the Canada-Israel Hockey School as a possible mitzvah project for Jacob’s bar mitzvah, which would be held in 2018 at Temple Sinai in Marblehead.

“Neutral Zone” (vimeo.com/70459909) documents a program at the Canada-Israel Hockey School in Metula, a town in the northernmost tip of Israel, smack between the Syrian and Lebanese borders. The program’s goal is to promote peace between the next generation of Israeli Arab and Jewish kids through playing hockey together.

“You’d think there would be bombs coming at us,” said Sidney Greenberg, who helped launch the CIHS and is vice president of one of Canada’s largest media companies. “Instead, here’s a hockey rink in the center of it.”

The kids who participate include Druze and Muslims from villages in the Golan Heights, Jews from kibbutzim and nearby towns, and Christian Arabs from Nazareth.

Many area Arab kids had never met a Jew. Many Jewish kids thought only of rockets screaming across the sky from Lebanon toward their homes when they thought of Arabs. Now those same kids are teammates, several even self-described “best friends.”

“Is that going to get us peace in the Middle East?” asked CIHS Head Coach Mike Mazeika in the film’s first minutes. “Probably not. But if you don’t start small and take tiny steps, you’ll never be able to take a big step.”

Jacob Aizanman, who plays hockey at Veterans Middle School and in Marblehead Youth Hockey, watched the documentary and knew contributing to the school was going to be the mitzvah project for his bar mitzvah. “I love hockey. I’m Jewish. And it’s cool to learn they play hockey in Israel,” he said.

With his mom’s assistance, Jacob contacted the CIHS to find out how he could help. He learned they needed specific gear (neck guards and jock straps). Luckily, his uncle, Jeffrey Volk, has spent his career in the sports media industry, and connected them with the right people to get the donations. The NHL and Pure Hockey agreed to support the project.

“They wanted to get involved. They wanted to promote hockey in countries not usually associated with the sport,” Melissa said.

Over 200 pieces of equipment arrived at their Marblehead home in four huge boxes. The entire family schlepped it all to Israel and on July 10, Jacob presented it in person to CIHS. The highlight for Jacob was being invited to skate on the ice and hang out in the locker room. He even received an offer to return next summer and coach hockey.

Jacob is proud that he was able to provide the school with fresh gear and promote his favorite sport in his Jewish homeland. “It was really meaningful and still has an impact on me,” he said.

Lights, camera, action! JCC film festival screens in Marblehead, Salem

 

 

 

APRIL 26, 2018, MARBLEHEAD – Film fans on the North Shore who love Jewish movies but don’t love driving over bridges or through tunnels to see them are in for a treat.

From Tuesday, May 8, to Friday, May 18, the fifth annual JCC of the North Shore International Jewish Film Festival will bring 12 award-winning films to theaters in Marblehead and Salem. With a range in genre from historical fiction and documentaries to mystery, comedy, and drama, the 2018 lineup has something to satisfy every taste.

The 21 members of the Film Committee and co-chairs Izzi Abrams and Sara Winer selected films that showcase Jewish- and Israeli-themed topics. None of the films have been previously shown locally and half include post-screening speakers.

The 2018 festival includes two unique Israeli films, one for mature audiences (“The Cakemaker”) and one dealing with an international problem that affects all combat veterans (“When the Smoke Clears”).

Films will be screened at the Warwick Cinema in Marblehead, the Salem Visitor Center and – for the first time ‒ Cinema Salem. Several films will be screened twice, with both evening and matinée offerings.

“This festival is a signature JCCNS event, one that we look forward to bringing to the community each and every year,” Marty Schneer, executive director of the JCCNS and Film Committee member, said in a statement.

Barbara Schneider recalled how the film festival got started. About eight years ago, when she was publisher of the Jewish Journal, the owner of the Gloucester Cinema approached her about collaborating with the Journal. But the timing wasn’t right.

After a brief and loose affiliation with the Boston Jewish Film Festival, the idea lay dormant until Schneer became executive director of the JCCNS in 2012 and revived it.

“Marty was a key motivator,” Schneider said. He started pulling together a group to help organize and plan the film festival. “I said to Marty, ‘If you want this to be successful, you need to get Izzi Abrams,’” Schneider added.

Schneer did just that and Abrams chaired the first festival in 2014 and every one since, sharing the duty for the first time this year. “It really took off. People were very excited,” Schneider said.

“Itzhak” is the Opening Night celebratory screening at the Salem Visitor Center at 7 p.m. on May 8. This inspirational American-made documentary dives below the surface of violinist Itzhak Perlman, disabled polio survivor and masterful musician, to reveal the charming and entrancing essence of the man. Dessert and live music follow the film.

Also noteworthy is “RBG,” a new documentary about the diminutive but fierce legal warrior and Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. At 85, Ginsburg’s unique personal journey has been largely unknown, but the filmmakers shed light on this daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants and her stunning legacy. It will be shown May 10 at 8:15 at Cinema Salem.

Of special local interest is “Etched in Glass,” the remarkable story of concentration camp survivor Steve Ross, who founded the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston. Mike Ross, Steve’s son, and the film’s director, Roger Lyons, will speak after the screening (May 11 at 2:30 p.m. at the Warwick Cinema).

While several films share roots in the Holocaust, their styles are completely different. In “1945,” (in Hungarian and Russian with English subtitles), an Orthodox man and his grown son are treated with suspicion and fear when they arrive at a small Hungarian village. Similarly, Holocaust researcher uncovers a long-buried secret that casts doubt on his family history in “The Testament” (Austria). “Bye Bye Germany” (Germany) combines upbeat klezmer music and a fresh historical perspective to tell the story of a Holocaust survivor who returns to postwar Frankfurt to strike it rich.

Rounding out the lineup are: “Humor Me,” a father-son comedy starring Elliott Gould and Sam Hoffman; “My Hero Brother” (Israel), an inspirational story about young Israelis with Down syndrome who trek through the Himalayas; and “An Act of Defiance” (South Africa), a riveting historical drama about the fight against apartheid and the lawyer who risked his life to defend them.

“Les Enfants de la Chance,” a coming-of-age drama set in 1942 France and based on a true story, will be shown at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 17, at the Salem Visitors Center. Light refreshments and live music by Jack Skowronski follow the film.

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

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.

Marblehead’s Dolphin Yacht Club has survived stormy seas

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

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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.”