Salem Film Fest presents special Thanksgiving weekend screening

FOR AHKEEM

By Shelley A. Sackett

Above: Daje Shelton in “For Ahkeem,” a documentary film directed by Jeremy S. Levine and Landon Van Soest.

BEVERLY — By the Sunday after Thanksgiving, even the most diehard football fan and Black Friday shopper should be ready to trade leftover pie for popcorn and venture out to the Cabot Theatre where Jeremy Levine, a Beverly native and Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker from New York, will be returning home to screen his latest feature film, “For Ahkeem.”

The film tells the intimate and frank story of Daje Shelton, a strong-willed Black 17-year-old girl in North St. Louis, Missouri. The audience walks beside her as her path takes her from public school expulsion to the court-supervised Innovative Concept Academy, an alternative school for delinquent youth and her last chance to earn a diploma.

Shot over a two-year period against the charged backdrop of nearby Ferguson, we witness Daje’s struggles as she copes with academic rigors, the murders and funerals of friends, teenage love and a pregnancy that results in the birth of a son, Ahkeem.

With motherhood comes the realization that she must contend with raising a young Black boy in a marginalized neighborhood. The film illuminates the challenges that many Black teenagers face in America today, and witnesses the strength and resilience it takes to survive.

“For Ahkeem” will screen on Sunday, November 26 at 4:30 p.m. at The Cabot Theatre, 286 Cabot Street in Beverly as part of a special Salem Film Fest Presents — the documentary fest’s first cinema presentation outside of Salem. Levine will be on hand at to answer audience questions at the post-screening Q&A.

Salem Five Charitable Foundation is underwriting the screening and three local organizations are community partners: The Beverly Human Rights Committee, First Church Salem, UU and Salem No Place for Hate.

For Levine, who attended Beverly High School and worked for years as a counselor at the Waring School, the film he co-directed is more than a simple coming-of-age story. “It highlights the horrible effects of the school-to-prison pipeline, where we suspend and expel huge numbers of students — especially black and brown students — and the impact that has on girls like Daje from the time they’re five-years-old,” he said by phone from New York City, where he and co-director Landon Van Soest run Transient Productions, a full-service production company.

The film also approaches some of the most pressing social challenges facing America today — racial bias, social inequality, public education, police brutality and a biased criminal justice system.

“We wanted to tell a deeply personal story about what it means to live your life when so many systems are set against you,” Levine, an Ithaca College alumnus with a degree in Documentary Studies, said.

“For Ahkeem” has had an award-winning festival run starting in February at the Berlin Film Festival, followed by prestigious showcases like the Tribeca Film Festival, Canada’s Hot Docs, and the DMZ International Film Festival in South Korea.

While the film’s worldwide audience and awards —such as the Grand Jury Prize Award at Boston’s Independent Film Festival — thrill Levine, for him the screenings and discussions at high schools and prisons fulfill a greater mission of trying to do better for future generations of children.

In Tribeca, New York City, for example, approximately 500 high school students attended a screening. “When Daje came out for the Q&A afterwards, the kids erupted in applause,” Levine said.

The ensuing discussions included kids “really opening up about some of the challenges they face in their lives. It was really incredible,” Levine added. He is currently working to bring the film to more public high schools through a grant program.

Screenings at prisons have been equally powerful. When the lights came up at one screening for 100 inmates, all the tears in the room full of men touched Levine. “One of them wrote a poem for Daje and Ahkeem. Another man said, ‘Who knew I could learn so much about being a man from the story of a young woman?’” he said.

Levine credits the culture of Judaism and Hebrew School lessons at Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly, “a part of my life growing up”, with imbuing in him a sense of responsibility to try to make the world a better place. “I learned about the long suffering of our heritage and the injustice of that. That kind of moral underpinning is definitely huge in the work I do,” he said.

 

“For Ahkeem” will screen on Sunday, November 26 at 4:30 p.m. at The Cabot Theatre, 286 Cabot Street in Beverly as part of a special Salem Film Fest presentation. For more information or to buy tickets, visit theCabot.org.

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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.

North Shore day camps serve up Jewish summer fun

Shelley A. Sackett, Journal correspondent

 

Happy campers in the pool

JCCNS Campers

 

After a chillier and wetter spring than usual, parents and their school aged children are especially anxious for the warmer days of summer vacation and the welcoming start of the summer camp season.

 

Families on the North Shore are lucky to have a choice of three Jewish day camps: the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore’s “Summer at the J” in Marblehead; Chabad of the North Shore’s “Camp Gan Israel of the North Shore” in Swampscott; and North Suburban Jewish Community Center’s “Summer Play” in Peabody.

 

The JCCNS has offered the Camp Simchah summer camp experience for over 70 years, starting in Lynn Beach and moving to its current 11-acre campus “on the hill” after over four decades at its former Middleton location.

 

Fine and Performing Arts- Day one

 

Summer at the J Camps covers all age groups from 2 years 9 months through those entering 10th grade. With nine one-week sessions, camp starts on June 26 and ends August 25. Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. with extended care available.

 

All campers have instructional morning swim led by the Aquatics department at the outdoor pool located on the JCCNS campus, and use of lower fields, tennis courts, and gym.

 

KinderCamp features daily schedules of music and movement, sports and games, instructional swim and more for those between 2 years 9 months and entering kindergarten.

 

Campers entering grades 1 and 2 attend Simchah Classic Junior and those entering grades 3 to 6 attend Simchah Classic, both with rotating schedules of drawing, science, arts and crafts, sports and instructional swim. The two groups also have a weekly choice of electives, among them science, engineering, SCRATCH!, robotics, drama, cooking, ropes course, dance and more.

 

Older campers entering grades 6-8 have the opportunity to attend Simchah Travel Camp, with weekly 2-3 night overnight trips and daily trips that may include kayaking, canoeing, indoor/outdoor rock climbing, museum visits, amusement parks and beaches. Day trip destinations may include Crane’s Beach, Canobie Lake Park, Salem Willow, and Water Country. Overnight trips may be to Caratunk, Maine and North Conway, New Hampshire.

 

The Simchah Counselor-in-Training (CIT) Program partners with the North Shore Teen Initiative (NSTI) to provide campers entering grades 9 and 10 with two-week sessions which incorporate counselor training, leadership workshops, social justice field trips, volunteer projects and fun social trips.. For more information and to register, visit JCCNS.org or call 781-631-8330.

 

Gan

Chabad of the Norhshore Camp Gan Israel buddies

 

Chabad of the North Shore’s Camp Gan Israel has been in operation for almost 20 years, with Rabbi Shmaya and Aliza Friedman entering their seventh year as camp directors.

 

Aliza has directed Jewish day camps across the world, including in Dublin, Ireland, Helsinki, Finland and Boca Raton, Florida. She spearheads staff training and has extensive experience with preschoolers through teenagers. Rabbi Shmaya heads up Chabad’s youth programming, including Jew Crew and Chai Five.

 

All campers get a hot kosher lunch every day and extended before and after care options are available for those who need more hours than provided by the regular 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. schedule. Camp runs from June 26 to August 4.

 

Mini Gan Izzy for boys and girls ages 3-4 takes place at Chabad at 44 Burrill Street in Swampscott, where campers participate in sports and outdoor adventures, art and music and swimming.

 

Gan2

Camp Gan Israel field trip

 

The Junior (entering grades K-2), Sabra (entering grades 3-5) and Pioneer (entering grades 6-8) programs take place at Chabad’s second campus at 151 Ocean Street in Lynn.

 

“It’s like an everything camp in one,” Aliza explained, describing the various activities all campers experience, from swimming at the Marblehead YMCA and Salem Forest River Park to the many specialties offered each week to the Friday Shabbat party with a specialty show that may be magic, puppets, the “bubble guy”, animal people or a mad carnival.

 

Every Wednesday, the entire camp goes on a field trip to destinations like Legoland, Canobie Lake and Water Country. The older two divisions have additional trips on Mondays that may be bowling, skating, golfing or laser tag. They also have a choice of electives that include photography, horseback riding, boating, Adventure camp, computer lab, art and baseball clinic.

 

Camp Gan Israel’s flexible sign up policy allows parents to craft their own schedule, whether by the week, for a few days here and there or for the entire summer. The Friedmans’s “low maintenance and user friendly” approach to scheduling recognizes that many families plan summer vacations and may need childcare on an irregular basis.

For more information and to register, visit nsjewishcamp.com.

 

For the wee ones from 6 weeks to 5 years old, NSJCC in Peabody offers a state-of-the-art childcare facility and “Summer Play” camp activities for toddlers and pre-kindergarten aged children from June 26 to August 18. With flexible 2-3-4 or 5-day options and summer theme days and water play, children enjoy gardening, exploring bugs, having camping adventures and exploring edible science. For more information or to register, visit nsjcc.org.