Salem’s Root celebrates three years of helping at-risk youth

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Peter Endicott, the owner of Salem’s Cheese Shop and Root graduate Henrique Corminas prepare the hors d’oeuvre that they created especially for Root’s 3rd Annual Celebration. [All photos by Alyse Gause Photography

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

Last Wednesday evening, over 200 people filled Root’s elegant HarborPoint event space overlooking the harbor at Shetland Park, enjoying fine food, stylish table settings and festive lights. The well-heeled patrons were not gathered for just another holiday party. Rather, they were attending a third birthday party fundraiser for Root, a non-profit culinary-based training program for at-risk youth. They also celebrated honoree Deborah Jeffers, Root advisory council member and school nutrition director for Salem Public Schools, who received the 2018 Root Community Leadership Award.

 

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Founder and Board Chair Jennifer Eddy, Root graduate Nicky Lebron of Salem, Nutrition Director for Salem Public Schools Deborah Jeffers and 2018 Root Community Leadership Award Recipient, parent of Root graduate Leticia Carrasco, Root graduate Cassandra Bartolo of Beverly, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll and Root Executive Director M. Scott Knox were all speakers during the program at Root’s 3rd Annual Celebration.

 

 

Mayor Kim Driscoll hosted the Third Annual Gala and presented the award to Jeffers. “Who doesn’t like an organization that helps kids?” Mayor Driscoll asked rhetorically as she kicked off the formal program.

 

The Mayor spoke of Salem’s relationship with Jeffers, who eleven years ago proposed a food program in the public schools to provide fresh, wholesome, scratched-cooked meals with locally sourced ingredients. Today, this initiative has gained national attention and provides more than 900,000 nourishing meals a year. Every Salem school student gets free breakfast and lunch, regardless of need.

 

 

Jeffers also connected early on with Root founder and chairman of the board Jennifer Eddy to offer advice about setting a program that could both serve Salem Public School kids and be successful. “She is an exceptional partner and it is a pleasure to honor her,” Mayor Driscoll said.

 

Jeffers spoke briefly about the importance of food growing, preparation and sharing as a community to help lift us all up. “I don’t usually speak in front of a group. I’m more of a back room kind of person,” she admitted.

 

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Table of hors d’oeuvres in the kitchen for Root’s 3rd Annual Celebration includes Root’s own pickled vegetables and “Oat-eez” along with other catering items that are sold at the Root Café in Shetland Park. [Photo by Alyse Gause Photography]

Root is a social enterprise that focuses on the food industry as a training tool for at-risk youth ages 16 to 24 who have significant barriers to employment. Through a rigorous 12-week, 200-hour, work-force training program, students (called Program Partners) learn career and life skills through hands-on experience. “Root is the on ramp for youth in Essex County with an obstacle to success,” said M. Scott Knox, Root executive director.

 

Proceeds from the event will help support Root’s Essex County job skills training program.

 

It all started when Eddy had an idea she wanted to pursue to give at risk youth an opportunity to build a better life and break the cycle of poverty. She had visited and was impressed with D.C. Central in Washington, D.C. and Liberties Kitchen in New Orleans, two successful programs that use the culinary arts to train motivated young adults to access employment and education, and develop their skills as leaders and mentors.

 

When she returned, she put together a group of people, including her friend Elisabeth Massey, who serves on the Root board as community volunteer. They used the same structure and training program model Eddy encountered in D.C. and New Orleans. “She took the best of those two organizations and tailored it to our needs in Salem,” Massey said.

 

The result is Root, which operates a training program as well as several lines of food service-based businesses out of its Shetland Park facilities. These provide a training environment for the students and also generate revenue to support the mission. They include: The Root Café, which offers breakfast and lunch items; Catering By Root, and HarborPoint at Root, a new 2,200 square foot special event site. “Kids in the program learn by working in a real business,” Massey said.

 

Training is an intensive curriculum that runs Monday-Friday with four-hour morning and afternoon shifts. Program Partners attend life skills workshops, one-on-one career readiness coaching, and culinary training in Root’s on-site full catering kitchen. Root graduates are equipped with industry-certified credentials and direct skills that give them a sense of accomplishment and an advantage in seeking employment. “They leave Root with the skills not just to get a job, but to keep a job,” said Knox.

 

Referrals to the program come through the school system, the Department of Children & Families, social workers and word-of-mouth. Candidates who demonstrate a “barrier to success”, such as socio-economic level, housing status, or learning disability, go through an application and interview process. The average age is between 18 and 19 and Root just graduated its fifth cohort, marking almost 100 graduates in three years. “We really try to do whatever we can to be successful,” Massey said.

 

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Root graduate Nicky Lebron of Salem, Root graduate Arianna Couturier from Salem, Root Founder and Board Chair Jennifer Eddy, Root graduate Jayla Bryant from Salem, Root graduate Nevada Winter from Salem, Nutrition Director for Salem Public Schools Deborah Jeffers and 2018 Root Community Leadership Award Recipient gather at Root’s 3rd Annual Celebration. 

 

Recent graduates Nicky LeBron and Cassandra Bartholow praised the program. “For the first time, I felt like I was able to accomplish something for myself. I learned to be more proactive. I learned what I’m good at is working with people,” said Bartholow, whose mother works in Shetland Park and heard about Root.

 

LeBron is a 2018 Salem High School alum. On the last day of school, his class took a field trip to Root, and he knew immediately Root was for him. “What I loved about Root is — everything!” he exclaimed. “My mentors also felt like my friends. I could go to them about anything, not just cooking.”

 

 

Root is located in Shetland Park, 35 Congress Street, Building 2, Third Floor. For more information or to volunteer or make a donation, visit rootns.org or call 978-616-7615.

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Inaugural Salem pumpkin drop draws crowd

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Hundreds of pumpkins, diverted from landfills and incinerators, will become compost for local gardens and farms. [Courtesy Photo/Marilyn Humphries]

By Shelley A. Sackett

Last Sunday at Dead Horse Beach, the sun shone brightly, the air was Fall-crisp and pumpkins were flying through the air as over 100 people participated in Salem’s first Great Pumpkin Drop and Toss.

Scotia Hunter, 10 and a fifth-grader at Carlton Innovation School, never imagined she would be throwing her jack-o’-lantern into a barrel four days after she carved its face.

“I think it’s really fun,” she said, despite hers landing a little short of its mark.

Sponsored by SAFE (Salem Alliance for the Environment), SalemRecycles and Black Earth Compost, the community event promoted composting with the goal of signing up more Salem households to participate in the fee-based service. It also provided the opportunity for people to find out if they had the skills to shoot their pumpkin through a basketball hoop.

A blue tarp in front of the truck bore the slimy remains of those former Jack o’ lanterns whose owners didn’t score.

Justin Sandler of Black Earth Compost with is glad he put down a tarp in front of his “basketball hoop” truck.

 

“I feel like people are underestimating how much force it takes to get a 10-pound pumpkin up and over into the truck,” said Justin Sandler, Short Stop at Black Earth Compost of Gloucester, which donated its services. “We lowered the hoop for the kids, but some people have been adventurous,” he added with a chuckle.

Black Earth Compost CEO Conor Miller, who has done post-Halloween pumpkin pick ups in other towns and has handled Salem’s for the past couple of years, knew the city was ripe for just such a special event.

“Salem’s amount of pumpkins is triple any other town’s, and I always wanted to shoot one through the basketball [hoop],” he said. “We’re trying to get as many people in Salem on board to participate in curbside composting. It’s the right thing to do.”

The idea to host a free community composting event grew out of a SAFE board meeting last summer where members set reducing residential composting rates and increasing participation as one of its top priorities for the coming year.

Initially, a grant allowed Salem to offer composting at no cost during a pilot program begun in April 2014. By that December, about 1,500 homes had signed up. When the grant ran out and the city had to start charging for the service, household participation rates took a tumble.

Current subscribers pay $8/month, but the cost could be reduced to $6.50 per month with the addition of fewer than 100 more households, according to Miller.

SAFE Chairman Pat Gozema, who has been active in SAFE since its 2001 founding, says her group is concerned about the existence of methane gas coming from landfills and the incineration of organic material, particularly food.

“We need to increase composting so food waste goes to the growing of more food rather than producing more methane gas that causes climate change,” she said.

Gozemba organized an initial event planning session shortly after last summer’s SAFE board meeting. She invited Miller, Salem Business Manager Julie Rose, and members of SalemRecycles, the all-volunteer committee appointed by Mayor Kim Driscoll in 2008 to develop ways to increase recycling and decrease waste.

Miller suggested doing a pumpkin drop off.

“He said after Halloween, the compost bins are very heavy, straining his collectors’ backs. He thought this would be helpful,” said Shelley Alpern, SAFE board member and longtime volunteer.

The group decided to make the event community-wide and free, so they could amass hundreds of pumpkins and reintroduce people to composting. Black Earth agreed to absorb the cost of the pick up in return for gaining the organic material. Coffee Time Bake Shop on Bridge Street and Honey Dew Donuts and Dunkin Donuts, both located on Washington Street, donated treats and donuts. SAFE absorbed remaining costs.

Miller started Black Earth Compost in 2010 after working in the recycling and composting fields in Wisconsin and Wyoming. He is passionate about eliminating wasted materials and committed to doing his part to make that goal a reality.

“I think of composting like a soil bank. If you’re only drawing from it, in other words sowing but not recycling the nutrients, then we’re all going to be broke,” he explained. He refers to food bank and animal feed donations as alternatives to composting, but is adamant that consumers not throw away food that came out of the ground “or we’re going to run out of nutrients.”

He too hopes more people sign up for curbside composting services after attending Sunday’s event.

“Driving from one house to the next is more efficient than driving from one neighborhood to the next. It becomes cheaper and cheaper the more people that do it,” he said.

Judging from the almost full container of names entered into a raffle for a free one-year compost pickup, the event sponsors succeeded in whetting people’s appetites to participate more in composting. The free cider and treats didn’t hurt either.

“Instead of letting pumpkins sit on the sidewalk for three weeks and rot, the city collects them and makes them into compost,” said Salem resident Craig Barcelo between bites of a donut. “This is fantastic. I’d definitely do it again.”

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.

 

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“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.

 

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“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.

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“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.

Shirat Hayam Gets Down to Business

 

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Anna Hathaway settles into her new office as Congregation Shirat Hayam. She is the synagogue’s first Business Manager.

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

SWAMPSCOTT — For its first thirteen years, Congregation Shirat Hayam operated without a business manager. That changed on June 4th with the hiring of Anna Hathaway, a Middleton CPA, PFS and MST with 18 years of career experience.

 

Hathaway couldn’t be more pleased with her new position. “I wanted to find a place where I could work for the greater good, using my talents to help an organization accomplish its mission,” she said from her sunny office that abuts the social hall. “In today’s world, I believe it is important that people have both a place and an organization of people to be able to connect with something bigger than themselves. After meeting the staff at CSH, I was interested in joining the team and working with them to accomplish theirs.”

 

The need for a business manager surfaced as part of a three-year process undertaken by the CSH Strategic Planning Group and facilitated by Dennis Friedman of the Chesapeake Group. The group’s charge is to develop and implement a new Strategic Plan, Vision and Mission for CSH.

 

The journey began in 2017, when Renée Sidman became CSH Board President. She and fellow board member Larry Groipen approached the full board to fund a strategic visioning program. “We felt strongly that we needed to invest time into understanding who we were and where we were going. The best analogy was that we all needed to row the boat in same direction,” she said.

 

Friedman came highly recommended by Groipen, who had worked with him professionally for over 25 years. “Dennis was a fresh set of eyes to our community and brought his own experience as past president of his congregation in the South Shore,” Sidman noted.

 

What resonated most with Rabbi Michael Ragozin, however, was that Friedman remains with CSH to oversee the vision statement during its implementation. “That practical focus on implementation was very important to us. Many people on the Board sat on other organizations where an inordinate amount of time and resources is spent on creating a plan that simply sits on a shelf,” he said.

 

The resultant CSH Vision Statement has three prongs, including: “We embrace our responsibilities to invest in strengthening our Jewish community for generations to come.” Implementation of this prong led to creation of the business manager position.

 

As a business consultant with 28 years’ experience specializing in strategic planning and organizational development, Friedman concurred with the rest of the group that CSH had strong leadership in the religious and educational spheres, but needed a business manager to bring the same level of leadership in the physical and fiscal infrastructure sphere if it was to fulfill its mission “for generations to come.”

 

A successful candidate would be someone with strong financial expertise and management skills who could also work collegially with staff to assist them in increasing efficiency and effectiveness, the group decided. Hathaway’s resume was a perfect fit.

 

Born and raised in Lynn, Hathaway spent many summer days at Kings Beach. She and her husband Dave are parents to an adult son, DJ. She holds a Masters of Science in Taxation from Bentley College and a B.S. in Business Administration from Salem State University. Her experience includes: Controller/CFO of Quadrant Health Strategies, Inc.; Controller of Wakefield Management, Inc. (Midas franchises); Business Manager at Epstein-Hillel Academy, and Controller of the Jewish Federation of the North Shore (from 2001-2006).

 

After interviewing her, Groipen, a member of the Strategic Planning Group, knew that Hathaway was just the sort of person the group had in mind.

 

“Anna is a CPA, she has a lot of building knowledge, she understands enough about roofing, plumbing, landscaping, HVAC and building safety and security to make good decisions,” he said. “Above all, she wants to work towards continuing the welcoming experience we at CSH are so proud of.”

 

While Hathaway is ready to advance CSH’s vision for the future, she is also mindful of national current trends. “The biggest challenge facing CSH is similar to other religious organizations, namely attracting and retaining families to become active participants of the congregation,” she said.

 

Not Your Zayde’s Cheder

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By Shelley Sackett

 

Congregation Shirat Hayam will unveil Darkeinu (“our way”), a trailblazing post-b’nei mitzvah program modeled on a college education that gives Jewish teens credit toward Kabbalat Torah/Conformation for participating in a broad range of activities that they choose for themselves.

 

Students in grades 8 through 12 can earn credits towards their Darkeinu “degree” by participating in a variety of activities that encompass five basic areas of Jewish life: community services, ritual leadership, community leadership, study and Zionism.

 

“As an educator, I am really enthusiastic about giving teens flexibility and choice,” said Janis Knight, Director of Center for Jewish Education. “One thing is for sure — this isn’t your zayde’s cheder, or even much like your own Hebrew School experience any more!”

 

The program’s real groundbreaking innovation, according to Rabbi Michael Ragozin, is in offering credit for “life experience” already available throughout the North Shore and beyond. Teens can fulfill their course requirements by participating in any number of local programs, such as the Jewish Teen Initiative, the Sloane Fellowship, Lappin Foundation, BBYO, Cohen Camps and more.

 

They also have the option of proposing something they come up with on their own or studying with Rabbi Ragozin in a more traditional setting. Once a month, however, all Darkeinu participants will meet for a light dinner and discussion with the Rabbi and CJE Director as part of a mandatory 9-week character and Jewish values program called “Chai Mitzvah.”

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“By giving teens credit for participating in an array of teen programs already in place, Darkeinu isn’t competing with existing local opportunities. Rather, we are encouraging participation in the unique activities that are right for each teen. Darkeinu is participant-centric, not institution-centric,” Rabbi Ragozin noted.

 

Perhaps most revolutionary is that Darkeinu is open to any teen that self-identifies as Jewish and has a whole-hearted interest in building their own authentic Jewish identity as they become an adult.

 

“We’re not trying to make anyone CSH members. We’re just trying to get Jewish kids together to explore being Jewish in their own way,” Knight said, adding, “And they get credit for it.”

 

One prong of the newly crafted CSH Vision Statement reads, “We will deliver the best childhood and teen education on the North Shore,” and Darkeinu helps fulfill that mission. A recent report from the Jewish Education Project, Generation Now: Understanding and Engaging Jewish Teens Today, influenced Knight and Rabbi Ragozin as they brainstormed about Darkeinu. (see http://JewishEdProject.org/GenerationNow.)

 

The JEP study developed core questions for educators to imagine teens asking themselves, such as: Who am I? With whom do I connect? What is my responsibility in the world as a Jewish adult? How do I bring about the change I want to see? “Creating programs and experiences that help teens to ask and look for answers to those questions is our goal,” Knight said.

 

Rabbi Ragozin, who was equally affected by the study, agrees. “We know that Jewish teens are yearning for inspiring opportunities and that meaningful teen engagement opens new worlds of wisdom and practice as they become adults. We want all to have the best Jewish teen experience, whether it’s inside Shirat Hayam or outside,” he said. “But in the short term, our goal is that they feel energized and have fun.”

 

Darkeinu launches at a brunch on Sunday, October 14. For more information or to register, go to bit.ly/RegisterDarkeinu or contact Janis Knight, CJE Director at CJE@ShiratHayam.org or 781-599-8005 x25.

Texting not allowed — senior and fourth grade pen pals keep alive the old fashioned tradition of writing letters

 

Paul Calsimitto and Bill Hyde, Sr

Hadley fourth grader Paul Calsimitto and his senior pen pal, Bill Hyde, Sr

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

To the casual observer, last Wednesday looked like just another noontime at the Swampscott Senior. The lunch tables were set, the bingo spinning wheel was in place, and the alluring aroma of pizza wafted from the kitchen.

 

But at 12 o’clock sharp, the Senior Center van pulled up to the front door with a surprise. When its doors opened, out poured a throng of excited and agile Hadley fourth grade students, ready to meet their senior pen pals for the first time.

 

Since last October, Julie O’Brien’s class has corresponded with volunteer seniors from Swampscott the old fashioned way: by writing letters. “This experience was wonderful. I wish the seniors had a chance to see the look on the kids’ faces when they opened their letters. It was amazing to see the joy as they discovered new things about their new friends,” O’Brien said.

 

The intergenerational program was started 6 years ago by Marilyn Cassidy as a way to connect seniors and young children. Gina Bush, whose son William is in O’Brien’s class, chaired the program this year.

Chairperson Gina Bush serves pizza to Noah Murphy

Chairperson Gina Bush serves pizza to Noah Murphy

 

“The best part is the connection the seniors made with the class,” she said as she looked around the dining room. “It’s fun to see how well some of them are getting along and to see them meet face-to-face for the first time.”

 

The exercise is not just for fun, however; there is also a pedagogic and life skills component. The students learned to write a formal letter, how to address an envelope and how to share personal information with someone they had never met.

 

When the class received mail from the senior center, all the students would open their letters and read them at their desks. Then they would all meet “on the rug” to share something new they had learned about their new friend, O’Brien said.

Hadley fouorth grade teacher Julie O'Brien

Hadley fourth grade teacher Julie O’Brien

 

Some pen pals were uncannily well matched. Student Paul Calsimitto’s father is a fireman in Revere. His pen pal, Bill Hyde, Sr. was a Swampscott fireman for over two decades, including a period as Fire Chief. “My dad was very surprised,” Calsimitto said. “He thought it was kind of funny.”

 

For Hyde, who has been part of the program since its first year and has kept in contact with several of his former pen pals, it’s not just about getting to know a fourth grader. “It’s an opportunity to learn about their parents, their brothers, sisters. It’s almost like I have another family,” he said.

 

First time pen pal Rick Pierro, who retired from his advertising agency, Designer’s Eye, has always wanted to be a big brother, but hasn’t gotten around to it yet. Although he has lots of nieces and nephews, he has no children and loved having a pen this year. “My only complaint is it takes too long between letters,” he said with a chuckle.

Noah Murphy and Rick Pierro

Noah Murphy and Rick Pierro

 

His pen pal, Noah Murphy, really liked learning about Pierro through their correspondence. What amazed him the most? “I was surprised he wants to be a champion chef and enter in the Julia Child competition,” Murphy said as Pierro grinned.

 

After lunch, seniors and fourth graders teamed up to play four rounds of bingo, bonding even more in lessons of frustration, good sportsmanship and gracious winning.

Norma Freedman and Talia Pagliaro

Norma Freedman and Talia Pagliaro

 

Norma Freedman, who chaired the program last year, was happy to just relax this year. She enjoyed her Italian ice with her pen pal, Talia Pagliaro, who was surprised to learn Freedman’s children attended Hadley and said she couldn’t have asked for a better pen pal. “Whenever she talked about something, she put a lot of thought into it,” Pagliaro said with a big smile.

Shelley Sackett and Caden Ross

Shelley Sackett and Caden Ross

 

Last but hardly least, each pen pal received a card and envelope. They addressed the envelope to themselves and exchanged them, with the intent of keeping the correspondence going over the summer. After all, as Caden Ross enthusiastically put it, “It’s fun!”

Davening to a different drummer: Meet Cantor Alty Weinreb

 

Aty Weinreb1

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

When Alty Weinreb answered the ad Congregation Shirat Hayam placed for a new cantor, it was because he was attracted to its name. “I love music (shirat) and the ocean (hayam), so I thought it might be interesting,” he said from his New York City home. After he experienced Shirat’s Shabbat Renewal Service during a weekend at the Swampscott synagogue as one of three candidates invited for live auditions, he was convinced it was more than an attraction to a name that led him to the Swampcott synagogue — it was bashert (meant to be).

It all goes back to Weinreb’s childhood. Raised in a very observant Flushing, New York Orthodox home, he would wait all week to go to shul (synagogue) to hear the cantor sing. “His voice became my refuge and inspiration,” he explained.

 

In addition to attending services, his family would head back to shul on Friday evenings after prayers and dinner for a group sing-along called Oneg Shabbos (Joy of Shabbos). “Here I was, a child surrounded by mostly grown men singing with full-throated joy and deep feeling. When everyone sang together, I was transported to a magical place,” he said.

 

Shirat’s Shabbat Renewal services, where congregants are invited to enter a meditative spiritual place through prayer and music, brought Weinreb back to those magical moments of his youth. It also reminded him of a funny story.

 

One Shabbat, he remembers the cantor was “wailing from his soul and it flew into my soul. I became lost in a davening (praying) ocean, swimming in deep waters, transfixed,” he said. Without thinking, he began hand drumming on the table in front of him.

 

Alty Weinreb2

 

His beat was getting louder and louder. Suddenly, the cantor stopped singing. “Then the Rabbi turned around and looked at me and screamed, ‘Alty, STOP! There’s no drumming in shul, young man. You are in a lot of trouble,” Weinreb continued.

 

He was mortified, but did not understand what the problem was. Fast forward to the adult Alty, recently walking into Shirat for the first time and seeing a collection of drums next to the bima (Torah ark). “Then the Rabbi invited me to play the drums during prayers,” he said, pausing for dramatic effect. “Hallelujah! Poetic justice!”

 

Weinreb began his cantorial studies because he loves Jewish prayer music. “It makes me feel alive when I sing it. It allows me to connect with people of all ages and maybe inspire in others what I first felt as a child,” he said. He holds a BA from St. Louis Rabbinical College and studied at Yeshiva University Belz School of Jewish Music in New York, where he trained in both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions.

 

“I started out taking Ashkenazi cantor training and then fell in love with the Sephardic melodies,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate to have studied with two of the greatest living cantors — Cantor Joseph Malovany (Ashkenazi) and Hazzan Moshe Tessone (Sephardic).”

 

Since 2000, Weinreb has been a cantor during High Holidays and at nursing homes and hospitals. He has also taught drum and percussion and performed with a number of musical groups, including the Judeo Flamenco group, the Simcha All Stars Klezmer Band and the Cuban Jewish All Star Klezmer Band.

 

Shirat is his first residential synagogue cantor position. Weinreb feels it is the right time in his life to contribute to building a community, especially one that is such a perfect fit. “I love Shirat’s desire to rethink basic assumptions about ritual and spiritual practice,” he said. “I hope to continue on the great path that Cantor Elana Rozenfeld blazed” during her seven years at Shirat.

 

He also hopes to add some new items to Shirat’s Shabbat Synaplex™ menu, such as “Storahtelling,” a Torah service that creatively fuses traditional chanting with English translation, dramatized commentary and audience interaction that brings text to life. “I have been energized by Storahtelling,” he said.

 

Although he counts among his “most fun gigs” playing drums for Shlomo Carlebach at a Purim show and performing with his Judeo Flamenco group for 1,000 singing and dancing concertgoers at NYC’s World Music Pier 70 Concert Series, he is excited to settle into his new apartment in Salem with his wife, Elizabeth, and begin his new job on July 1.

 

So is Shirat Board President Renée Sidman. “I cannot wait to see what he will bring on a weekly basis!” she said.

 

To listen to some of Cantor Alty Weinreb’s music, visit cantoraltyshul.com/about/

Rare genetic mutation sends family on an unexpected journey

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Luke Heller proudly shows a drawing to his speech therapist, Jessica Brown. / Photos by Shelley A. Sackett

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

SWAMPSCOTT—Jody and Noah Heller brought their newborn son, Luke, home to Swampscott in December 2013. Although he was a “sweet baby with an infectious laugh,” by nine months they noticed he was not hitting the same developmental milestones his older sister Lucy had by that age.

 

The Hellers knew something was off. Luke wasn’t able to sit up independently or crawl and never tried to put anything to his mouth. “If you picked him up, his body felt a little floppy,” Jody said.

 

Their pediatrician said Luke had low muscle tone and recommended an early intervention program. He also sent them to a neurologist. “Kids his age usually put everything in their mouths,” Jody said. “He was concerned.”

 

Luke began receiving physical, occupational and developmental services at Aspire Early Intervention in Lynn, but as he got older there were more delays.

 

He didn’t crawl until he was18 months and didn’t walk until he was 2. No one really knew what was wrong. His diagnosis was the umbrella term “globally delayed.”

 

Later, Luke was diagnosed with apraxia of speech, a condition where the brain has difficulty sending signals to the mouth to create speech. Luke knew what he wanted to say, but he didn’t know how to form the words to say it.

 

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Luke, Noah and Jody Heller at their Swampscott home.

 

The Hellers were determined to dig deeper, and visited the Genetics Department at Boston Children’s Hospital. Genetic tests in 2015, when Luke was 18 months old, were inconclusive, but the doctors urged them to keep trying. “They said, ‘we’re learning so much about genetics every day,’ and recommended we come back in two years,” Jody said.

 

When Luke turned 3 and aged out of Aspire, the Hellers enrolled him at Northeast Arc, a not-for-profit organization that helps children and adults with disabilities. It was perfect timing, because Luke would often get frustrated at not being able to express himself, which was causing behavior issues.

 

Through Northeast Arc, behavioral and speech therapists work with Luke at his home. Jessica Brown, his speech and language pathologist, also goes to Luke’s Chabad pre-school with him, where she helps him use a special iPad speech device that gives Luke a voice he otherwise doesn’t have, enabling him to “talk” to his classmates.

 

“Northeast Arc allows us to communicate with our son. He has made so much progress,” Noah said.

 

Still, the Hellers wanted to do more than just treat Luke’s symptoms—they wanted to know what was causing all these delays. Last July, they returned to Boston Children’s Hospital, ready for Luke to take a genetic sequencing test that identifies every protein-coding gene in the body.

 

This time, just before Luke turned 4 years old, they received definitive information. “The geneticists told us that he had a mutation on the TECPR2 gene, but that there wasn’t a lot of information on the disease. It was extremely rare,” Noah said. Only eight children in the world had the same mutation, most of them living in Israel, where the mutation was first discovered in 2012 by an Israeli neurologist.

 

Both Jody and Noah, who are of Ashkenazi descent, tested negative for the Ashkenazi Panel screening test, which assesses the risk of having a child with any of 11 disorders, including Tay-Sachs disease. TECPR2 is not on the panel, but can be prenatally tested by request.

 

The Hellers asked for the Israeli doctor’s name and contacted her immediately. “That started a whole new journey for us,” Jody said.

 

The Hellers hope to get the TECPR2 mutation added to the Ashkenazi Panel in the near future. Jody started a Facebook page for TECPR2 families, and several families are now following the page and sharing stories.

 

“There are definitely others with this genetic syndrome out there, but they have been misdiagnosed as something else,” Jody said. “That’s why we’re really trying to bring awareness to this newly discovered syndrome.”

 

The Hellers and their families are also attacking the disease on the medical front. They started the Luke Heller TECPR2 Foundation, a privately funded entity with the goal of finding a cure for Luke’s mutation. The Boston-based foundation has enlisted scientists from around the globe.

 

In the meantime, Luke continues to work hard and to charm those he encounters with a quick hug and a ready smile. “Luke is smart and determined. We are so grateful to the Northeast Arc,” Jody said.

 

Noah acknowledges that reconciling what happened to Luke has not been easy. “We have a strong, loving family that has really helped us. Jody has done a lot of work to keep our family together and everybody happy. She is the center and strength of our family,” he said.

 

Filmmakers plan to bring Mass Hysteria to Salem

 

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By Shelley A. Sackett

Salem residents are used to mass hysteria in their seaside city during the month-long Halloween season, but a group of local filmmakers plan to extend the spell into the summer months when they begin shooting their comedy-thriller, “Mass Hysteria,” on the streets of Salem.

 

Set over the course of Halloween Eve, the films centers around a group of historical re-enactors who are falsely accused of witchcraft when a tourist dies on Halloween Night in Salem. The wrongly accused heroes flee as another tourist dies, then another…making it clear this is not just a random accident.

 

“Halloween in Salem is an experience of a lifetime, and we wanted to recreate a modern witch hunt surrounding this annual event. The majority of tourists come to Salem in October with no idea of what actually happened in 1692. Our goal is to make a thriller/comedy that is truthful and entertaining, but also shares the dangers of the effects of a modern-day witch hunt,” said Matt Peruse, producer of First-Names Films.

 

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Production stills from the test shoot for “Mass Hysteria,” shot on-location in Salem last October. Pictured from left: Matt Perusse and co-director/producer Jeffrey Ryan.

 

The film is set to begin production on the North Shore as early as mid-July and wrap by mid-August. The cast has not been disclosed, but Perusse promises “a great ensemble of new and veteran actors.”

 

Co-directed by First-Names producer Arielle Cimino, “Mass Hysteria” unites three former Salem residents on a project dear to their hearts. “We love the juxtaposition of Salem’s rich, historical past colliding with the reality of today’s Salem through the conduit of the millions of visitors to the city each year,” said First-Names Films co-director and producer Jeffrey Ryan in a statement.

 

First-Name Films started as an idea to create a production company that would operate as a collective of like-minded producers who strive to create independent films on a regular basis. “We aim to involve the communities around us in order to help these smaller films reach a massive audience,” Perusse said.

 

Cimino, Perusse and Ryan collaborated on “YouthMin,” First-Names Film’s last feature film, which was produced in Beverly and won the Boston Independent Film Festival’s Audience Award. The film pre-premiered at CinemaSalem to a nearly sold-out audience. With “Mass Hysteria,” the producing team aims to once again engage the town in production of the Halloween comedy/thriller through community involvement and corporate sponsorship.

 

Cimino and Ryan first met at college, where they performed together on the improv comedy team. “We discovered through improv that we not only had similar goals for our film careers, but also a strikingly similar sense of humor that would lend itself to writing and creating comedies together,” Cimino said. After graduation, they started working together on short films and TV pilots to gain experience for their eventual goal of producing and directing independent feature-length films.

 

Perusse met Ryan after returning to Massachusetts a few years after working for a time in Los Angeles as an actor. A mutual professor introduced them with the purpose of discussing how to be a working actor in New England. The two struck up a friendship, which led to an eventual collaborative relationship. “YouthMin” was their first feature-length film.

 

As filmmakers, the three share a common goal of engaging, inspiring and entertaining their audience. With “Mass Hysteria,” they aim to take the audience on a thrilling and comical journey through one of the most exciting nights of the year — Halloween in Salem. “As a result, our audiences will not only appreciate Salem’s rich historical past, but also gain an appreciation for Salem’s standing as a modern, creative and vibrant 21st century city,” said Perusse.

 

For more information, visit firstnamesfilms.com

SalemRecycles celebrates a decade of making Salem greener

 

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SalemRecycles committee members received special commendations for the committee’s ten years of helping to make Salem one the North Shore’s greenest cities. Pictured from back row: Sharon Kishida, DEP; Rep. Tucker; Hannah, from Sen. Lovely’s office; Shelby Hypes (new member); Liz Vago; Penny Neal (Emeritus); Carol Hautau; Julie Rose; Susan Yochelson and Mayor Kim Driscoll. Front row: Jennifer Percy (Emeritus); Nancy Gilberg; Melynn Nuite; Erin Huggard and Lynn Murray. Current members missing from photo: Tony Keck, John Roberts and Beth Gillette. (Emeritus-members who have been active for over 5 years and who now choose to staff events, etc. and are not obligated to come to meetings.)

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

In 2008, Julie Rose had been at her job in the Salem City Engineering Department for about a year when Mayor Kim Driscoll decided that her department would manage the city’s recently negotiated trash contract, which included new recycling guidelines.

 

Rose realized the engineering department had a lot of work ahead of it to educate the community about the importance of recycling. “We didn’t have a lot of staff, but I had heard about volunteer recycling committees in other communities,” said Rose, currently Business Manager of the City of Salem Engineering Department. She wanted to start one in Salem.

 

She worked with Jason Silva, then Mayor Driscoll’s Chief of Staff, and Sharon Kashida, the Northeast District 2 Regional and Solid Waste Coordinator for the Mass. Dept. of Environmental Protection. They looked at various recycling committees throughout the North Shore.

 

By talking to other communities, they learned they would need volunteers from various fields such as graphic design, communications, the law, and others. “We needed a committee with strong and diverse skill sets to help us pull off what we wanted to do,” Rose said.

 

Collaboratively, Rose, Silva and Kashida came up with the structure for Salem’s recycling committee. SalemRecycles would be a 12-member committee that is charged with developing ways to increase recycling throughout the city and promote other green efforts. Members’ backgrounds would include environmental studies, graphic and fine arts, business, law, public health, communications and education.

 

Mayor Driscoll appointed the inaugural SalemRecycles committee in 2008 and ten years later, Rose, the committee’s only paid employee, proudly points out that of the current 12 members, 3 have been involved since the beginning and 3 more have served for 8 years or more.

 

Last month, SalemRecycles celebrated its 10th birthday, and Mayor Driscoll presented its members with special commendations for a decade of work.

 

“The Salem Recycling Committee has been such a wonderful driver of positive change in our community. Their dedication and passion for sustainability has been instrumental in so many highly successful projects, events, and initiatives in Salem over the last decade, making our city more green and more livable for all. The volunteers who devote their time to the committee and its many efforts are committed to Salem and to our planet,” Mayor Driscoll said.

 

Since 2008, Salem has become a recycling leader on the North Shore, improving recycling rates by 3 times, holding 20 events per year and pioneering many initiatives. The recipient of many grants, awards and special recognition, SalemRecycles was the winner of the 2017 Mass Municipal Award for Innovation.

 

Kashida, as municipal recycling coordinator for 39 communities north and northwest of Boston — including Salem — is in a position to compare SalemRecycles to other communities she serves, and she gives Salem high marks. “I have been able to see how Salem Recycles has enabled the City to accomplish so much more. This is not your standard volunteer committee,” she said.

 

“Under Mayor Driscoll’s continued support and Julie Rose’s aegis, the committee is empowered to work with the City to help it achieve its waste reduction and recycling goals and be on the cutting edge,” she added.

 

Among the Salem programs Kashida cites are: trash limits; dual stream recycling education campaign with the former Newark industries; E-waste collections; book swaps; an annual textile drive; an annual swap and drop; a newsletter and blog, and the recently enacted plastic bag ban.

 

Two initiatives, the food waste collection pilot and the twice-yearly Repair Café, are firsts in her district. “SalemRecycles has served as a role model for other communities to replicate, so its impact goes beyond Salem,” Kashida said. “The SalemRecycles Facebook page is considered the “go-to” source for up-to-date vetted information.”

 

Seven or eight years ago, when she first joined SalemRecycles, Nancy Gilberg took on the primary administrative role for the Facebook page. She grew it from several hundred followers to about 1,850.

 

“I enjoy writing, editing, and building positive community. I create and promote the FB events, and draw from dozens of other recycling pages and everyday life experiences to create and share content,” she said. While the committee’s primary goal is to educate and to provide recycling and diversion opportunities, “we also want it to be fun and easy.”

 

Lynn Murray has been a member since the committee’s inception and served as its Chair for a year and a half. She remembers how its initial emphasis was to educate Salem residents about the then new recycling initiative. While education remains a prime focus, social media now makes the job easier and more far reaching.

 

SalemRecycles has a Trash and Recycling page on the City website (Salem.com/trashandrecycling), the GreenSalem website (GreenSalem.com), the SalemRecycles Facebook site, videos, an e-newsletter, occasional articles in local newspapers, appearances on SATV, door hangers, flyers and more.

 

The committee’s efforts to help residents think more broadly about recycling efforts make Murray especially proud. A twice yearly book swap (attended by up to 850 people at each event), an annual Textile Drive (where 7 tons of textiles were collected last November), and the Spring Swap and Drop are examples of recycling’s reach beyond just curbside collection.

 

Murray has loved her decade serving on SalemRecycles. “The committee is made up of volunteers who represent nearly all wards of the City, are passionate about what they do, yet have a lot of fun carrying out the various initiatives. Because the volunteers are from all over the City, we serve as emissaries to neighborhood groups encouraging participation in events and answering questions,” she said.

 

Murray credits the Mayor and Rose for the committee members’ commitment and longevity. “The Mayor has given us a lot of latitude, which has allowed for the expression of creativity and the development of initiatives beyond the scope of the City-mandated recycling programs,” she explained.

 

Rose’s management style and leadership have also been crucial to SalemRecycles’ success. “She delegates work effectively, empowers committee members to come up with new initiatives and always gives credit to and focuses on the accomplishments of committee members,” Murray added.

 

Past chair and current committee member Anthony Keck is no less passionate about SalemRecycles and its mission. He pointed out how Salem’s status as a tourist destination is a mixed blessing. “Hundreds of thousands of visitors arrive in the city each year. They bring tourist dollars with them, and they also bring and create trash from their single use items,” he said. SalemRecycles is attacking this problem on several fronts.

 

Visible recycling bins are now placed throughout the City. SalemRecycles became involved with charitable walk and run sponsors and found ways to reduce trash and to recycle, “saving the City by reducing trash tonnage.” The committee introduced cigarette butt recycling bins and placed them around the city.

 

“Feedback from visitors has been encouraging and many have commented with gratitude for encouraging and providing recycling collection to them,” Keck said.

 

He considers launching the Repair Café, which teaches how items can be repaired and reused rather instead of being tossed in the trash and replaced, one of SalemRecycle’s most significant initiatives.

 

“Raising the consciousness of all residents and stakeholders to the importance of reducing trash continues to influence how people purchase products,” Keck said. “Everyone can find ways to reduce, repurpose, reuse, repair and lastly recycle.”

 

SalemRecycles holds regular meetings, open to the public, the first Tuesday of the month on the 1st floor of 90 Washington Street at 6:30 pm. For more information, visit salem.com/recycling-and-trash, greensalem.com or Salem Ma Recycles on Facebook.