North Shore religious schools struggle to engage parents

By Shelley A. Sackett

MARCH 29, 2018 – Carrie Dichter grew up in Marblehead, where she attended religious school at Temple Emanu-El through post-confirmation. She is parent committee chair of Temple Tiferet Shalom Hebrew School in Peabody, which her nine-year-old daughter has attended since pre-school. “My husband and I feel religious school is important,” she said.

Asked if there are any changes she would like to see, she answered with three words: more parental involvement.

“While life has always been busy, religion often falls between the cracks because of school, sports, clubs, arts and other special interests in addition to many families where both parents are working outside the home. Everyone is trying to navigate it in the best way possible,” she said.
Parents, teachers and rabbis from the North Shore’s religious schools who were interviewed for this article echo Dichter’s sentiment.

Over her 20-year career teaching different ages in three different schools, including her current position at Temple Emanuel in Andover, Marcie Trager has seen Hebrew School become less of a priority for parents. “Attending religious school has to come from their parent’s commitment,” she said.

Not only are parents today stretched thinner than their parents were, they also may not have fond memories of their own religious school experiences.

“When it comes to supplemental Jewish education, I have no doubt that parents who are more engaged with their child’s Jewish education will produce better results. Through anecdotal conversations, I’ve learned that a majority of adults view their own childhood experience with Hebrew school negatively. For some, they found it hypocritical that their parents forced them to attend Hebrew school, but did not engage themselves in meaningful Jewish practice,” said Rabbi Michael Ragozin of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott.

Many feel that the key to increased religious school enrollment and better attendance is family programming, beginning for toddlers long before they enter Hebrew School.

“Getting children started early with preschool, pre-K and programs like PJ Library, Tot Shabbat and other Lappin Foundation programs will help get more kids involved and enrolled,” said Allison Wolper, an educator at Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly who has taught religious school for 25 years.

To be successful, parents and educators believe that family programming at religious schools must also acknowledge the changing demographics of congregants, and stress inclusivity. At Gloucester’s Temple Ahavat Achim, according to Phoebe Potts, director of the temple’s Family Learning, 75 percent of the religious school families are intermarried.

Stephanie Band, who teaches grade K-2 at the Gloucester temple, points to many religious school offerings that are also open to parents and families. “The importance of learning together has grown significantly as many children are learning alongside their parents and caregivers,” she said. “Families need to model for their children what they want their Jewish future to look like.”

Band stresses the importance of inclusivity in religious school and the temple community. “These families need and deserve to be treated as equitable members of the community,” she said.

Lauren Goldman, who has taught at Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly for 16 years, also emphasizes the responsibility religious school teachers have to both honor sacred traditions and make all families feel welcome. “We must be inclusive of the LBGTQ community, children with disabilities and their families, mixed faith families – everyone,” she said. “Family programming is tantamount to involving the parents and other generations of the children’s families.”

Curricula that stress projects and social interactions – rather than traditional text-based learning – acknowledge another factor that plays a crucial role in getting parents to prioritize religious school attendance over other extra-curricular activitites: busy parents are more likely to transport their children to religious school if their kids enjoy it. “It’s very important today to make the parents happy by creating a kind of easy going environment,” said Rachel Jacobson, who teaches at Alevy Family Chabad of Peabody Jewish Center.

Stacey Chicoine, parent of third grade twins, appreciates Chabad’s innovative and hands on approach. “My Hebrew school growing up in Framingham was strict and I was slow in learning. I always felt uncomfortable asking for help,” said the Melrose resident. “Chabad is so intent on engaging the children and it has paid off. After a long day of school, my children look forward to attending.”

Parents also give religious schools high marks for establishing a sense of Jewish identity and kinship in their children. “I was hoping religious school would be a place where our kids would not only learn about Jewish tradition and history, but also make connections and feel part of a Jewish community,” said Rebecca Joyner, who attended religious school until her bat mitzvah and whose fourth and sixth grade daughters attend religious school at Temple Emanuel in Andover. “They are getting out of it what I had hoped. Some of our daughter’s closest friendships are at Hebrew school, and the temple has become a big part of their lives.”

Overall, once parents commit to sending their children to religious school, they and their children seem happy with the experience. Educators say the biggest hurdle is figuring out how to get more kids enrolled and, once enrolled, how to get their parents more involved in religious school and synagogue life.

Rabbi Meyer of Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead believes the key lies with a parent’s own Jewish practice. “The most important learning comes when our students are able to witness their parents’ valuing of Jewish education, and when what they are learning at temple comes to life in their own home and lives,” he said.

Rabbi Ragozin agrees and considers it the synagogue’s role to engage both parent and child. “Synagogues have a responsibility to offer a variety of gateways into meaningful and accessible practices, not only for the sake of adults, but also for the sake of educating children via their parents’ engagement,” he said.

Nonetheless, he is realistic about changing parents’ attitudes overnight. “Ultimately, we all need to have reasonable expectations,” he said.

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North Shore religious schools survive by adapting

MARCH 22, 2018 – When Rachel Jacobson started teaching at Hebrew schools on the North Shore in 1977, the conservative synagogues held classes three days a week with mandatory attendance expected on Shabbat. She remembers the curriculum’s concentration on learning to speak and write Hebrew, and on learning prayers at Shabbat. “The kids were comfortable with the language,” the Jerusalem native said.

“I won’t say the kids were extremely happy to be there, but on the other hand they learned and parents made sure their kids were there. Hebrew school was part of the family’s daily lives. I felt the parents were behind us,” she said.

After 40 years of teaching all age groups, from preschoolers to adults, at religious schools at reform, conservative and orthodox congregations, she is concerned that today’s religious schools are not preparing Jewish children for the future.

“I’m worried about this generation – that is not connected enough to Israel, to Jewish history and to the Hebrew language,” she said, noting that parental involvement and commitment to their children’s religious education has also decreased. “We need to get to our parents.”

Religious schools have always competed with secular activities (especially sports) for students’ limited after school time. Contemporary Hebrew schools face significant additional hurdles in attracting and keeping their students: intermarriage, diminished Jewish institutional affiliation, and the fact that in many families, both parents work full-time, making scheduling and involvement even trickier.

Despite these obstacles, total enrollment at religious schools in Andover, Peabody, Gloucester, Newburyport, Beverly, Marble­head and Swampscott is more than 750. The North Shore pedagogic styles span the gamut from structured and traditional to student-driven, interactive and contemporary. Their enrollment numbers range from 22 to 247 and schools meet from fewer than three hours to more than two times per week. Few go beyond B’nai Mitzvot ages.

Delving below the surface, however, reveals the schools have more in common than it might seem. They all share common goals of teaching their students Hebrew, Torah, prayer, Jewish values and Jewish history, and they all thrive by adapting to conditions that didn’t exist 40 years ago.

Raizel Schusterman, who directs the Alevy Family Chabad of Peabody Jewish Center’s Hebrew School of the Arts, focuses her curriculum on multisensory, hands on experiences. The age 3 to grade 7 school uses interactive stories, art projects and research to teach Hebrew, customs and Jewish history. “You’re not going to come into a classroom and see children sitting at a desk and writing,” she said. “Kids are up and moving.”

At Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead, 190 religious school students attend grades pre-K through 12. Liz Levin, Temple Educator, describes the reform synagogue’s curriculum as “emergent.” She explains that each grade has a topic of focus and the teacher creates lessons and projects based on what the students themselves find interesting within that topic.

“Our goal is to teach students how to ask questions about Judaism and how it affects their daily lives, and then help them learn how to find answers to those questions,” she said.
The preparation to go out in the world and make a positive difference resonated with Julie Zabar, who graduated as a 12th grade post-confirmation student two years ago. “The most important thing I learned in Hebrew school was how to be a person anyone would be proud of simply by following many of the Jewish values I was taught,” she said.

A mile down the road, Congregation Shirat Hayam’s Conservative Center for Jewish Education enrolls 95 students from pre-K through 7th grade. Religious School Director Janis Knight describes the curriculum as project-based learning with differentiated lessons that use more technology on non-Shabbat days.

Shirat Hayam recently changed its Sunday class day to Saturday, a challenge for younger grade teachers whose lessons could not include cutting, writing or drawing. However, parents are delighted with the change, despite kids sometimes dragging their feet on Saturday mornings. “My 6th grade daughter, Jasmina, feels very at home at Shirat Hayam and connected to the community. Our Saturday morning program, which brings the whole family to shul for various programs, services, music and lunch, has played a big role in that,” said Alex Shube.

Returning or beginning a model of Saturday Shabbat schools is a trend that Dr. Deborah Skolnick Einhorn, Assistant Professor of Jewish Education, has seen anecdotally in the thesis research of her master’s students at the Shoolman Graduate School at Hebrew College. “I see a lot of schools doing it, or at least playing with it. Part of it is embracing an orientation of experiential education,” she said. “It’s a way to create a more vibrant congregation and to bring the students’ families in with them.”

Facilitating family involvement in synagogue life has become an important function of today’s religious schools. A generation ago, families supported synagogue school for their children’s Jewish life; today, the synagogue school often supports the Jewish life of the family.

“In 75 percent of the families connected to the synagogue, one of the parents isn’t Jewish,” said Phoebe Potts, director of Family Learning at Gloucester’s Conservative Temple Achavas Achim. She sees her job as not only overseeing the 22 K-7 students in the religious school, but also helping parents to raise Jewish children. “With less of a Jewish influence at home, a synagogue and synagogue school becomes the majority of some students’ contact with Judaism,” she said.

Conflicting priorities of families and making religious school accessible to busy families are also topics Dr. Skolnick Einhorn overhears a lot of her students discussing. “There are at least one or two theses each year that try to attack that,” she said. Some proposed solutions have included adding one day that can be done on line, using a flex model of scheduling, and reducing the total number of hours.

At Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly, a “full service synagogue that follows the principles of the Conservative movement,” Educational Director Deb Schutzman has tried to accommodate scheduling challenges of working families. The school meets Sunday and students choose either Tuesday or Thursday. “We found offering just one day was too limiting. It’s so important to engage and educate the entire family,” she said.

Although many religious schools have teen “madrichim” (teachers/aides), post 7th grade classes are rare. Nonetheless, Temple Tiferet Shalom in Peabody, Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead and Temple Emanuel in Andover all have post-B’nai Mitzvot classes that include confirmation (grade 10) and, in Marblehead and Andover, post confirmation through grade 12.

Judy Matulsky, administrative director in Andover said changing classes to once a month and lowering the tuition brought back many of the grade 8-12 kids, with current enrollment at 50. “Once you get a few, the others seem to jump on board,” she said.

Many administrators and directors bristle at the suggestion that a religious school that changes its curriculum and schedule to adapt to families’ 21st century needs has “watered down” the Judaism taught in the more traditional Hebrew schools of previous generations.

“Parents are not looking for the same thing our parents were looking for. If we are to keep the kids and families engaged for the next generation, we need to be innovative, exciting and hands on,” said Schusterman, of Chabad of Peabody.

Schutzman, of Beverly’s Temple B’nai Abraham, agrees. “The whole idea behind Judaism and its beauty is the idea that it is open to change and interpretation. There are so many different ways to explore, teach and inspire spiritual growth and understanding.”

Community Seders bring us together on Passover – Dayenu!

MARCH 8, 2018 – As sunset approaches on Friday, March 30, and Saturday, March 31, Jews all over the world will observe the centuries-old tradition of sitting down to a Passover Seder, the ritual feast that commemorates the exodus from Egypt.

Some will host families and friends, setting the table with treasured dishes filled with recipes handed down from generations past.

Many living on the North Shore will choose to join one of over a half dozen community Seders led by spiritual leaders at synagogues in Beverly, Gloucester, Marblehead, Peabody, and Swampscott.

“A community Seder may be someone’s only opportunity to have a Seder. They may not have one at home, they may not have family, they may be out on their own,” said Rabbi David Meyer, who will lead 180 to 200 people at a Saturday night Seder that is already sold out at Temple Emanu-el in Marblehead. “While we like to say everyone has a seat at a table, it’s not always true.”

Rabbi Meyer credits the popularity of Temple Emanu-El’s Seder in part to the hard-working volunteers who cook all the food in the temple’s kitchen. “There is a very heimish [Yiddish for homey] feel that all the food has been cooked by your fellow congregants,” he said.

Heidi Greenbaum, one of the kitchen organizers, has volunteered at Temple Emanu-El since becoming a member 19 years ago, helping with the Seder for the last decade.

“Many people who have never met before come together to help shop, prep, cook, bake, set tables, and more,” she said. “You see new relationships forming and feel a strong sense of community.”

On the same night a mile down the road in Swampscott, Congregation Shirat Hayam will hold a Seder fully catered by Becky Convincer. Rabbi Michael Ragozin expects a mix of congregants without local family, and those who choose to attend a community Seder “because they enjoy it. We try to tell as much of the story through song, led by Cantor Elana Rozenfeld and the Ruach Band,” he said.

Rabbi Alison Adler will use the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov as the central theme when she leads between 80 and 100 congregants at Temple B’nai Abraham’s second night community Seder in Beverly, which will be catered by Levine’s Kosher Meat Market.

‘“The Exodus from Egypt occurs in every human being, in every era, and even in every day,’” she said, quoting Nachman, a great-grandson of the Hasidic movement’s founder, the Baal Shem Tov.   

Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman of Alevy Family Chabad of Peabody Jewish Center, agreed. “The theme of Passover is always Exodus. The question is, ‘What’s the definition of Exodus?’ For every person, their personal exodus is going to be different depending on what area of restriction or limitation they’re experiencing. This will be a journey of freedom from that.”   

Based on past years, Rabbi Schusterman expects from 45 to 75 people will attend the Chabad’s first night Seder, which his wife, Raizel, and volunteers will prepare. “Because Passover dietary laws are very specific and strict, this is one of the things you just can’t outsource,” he said.

At Temple Sinai in Marblehead, Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez, his wife Cynthia, and a volunteer congregant couple will cook and prepare their first night community Seder, which is capped at 50 attendees “to try to keep that homey, intimate feeling,” the rabbi said.

Born and raised in Panama, where his family has been a part of the Jewish community for 130 years, Rabbi Cohen-Henriquez has vivid memories of attending community Seders during his youth. Two international influences he will bring to Temple Sinai’s Seder are his family’s time-honored Sephardic Caribbean charoset recipe and a unique ritual he picked up a few years ago in Los Angeles from a Persian community he worked with: Participants whip each other lightly with leeks during “Dayenu” to imitate the Egyptian taskmasters who whipped the Jewish slaves.

Rabbi Steven Lewis and Temple Ahavat Achim are hosting a second night Seder in Gloucester. As a sign of our times and the welcoming spirit of the temple, both a chicken and a vegetarian meal are offered at the Seder, which is always a sellout.

The recent uptrend of community synagogue Seders does not surprise Jonathan Sarna, Brandeis University Professor of American Jewish History and Chief Historian for the 350th commemoration of the American Jewish community. He traces the rise, fall, and revival of synagogue Seders to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Reform Judaism de-emphasized outward ritualized worship (such as celebrating a Seder) in favor of a focus on beliefs and ethics.

By the time the tide turned in the mid 20th century, many Jews had never experienced a family Seder. “Synagogues really took on the role of teaching how to make a Seder,” Sarna said.

Years later, with the advent of more Jewish education, the convenience of kosher-for-Passover foods, and the availability of new haggadahs and “how-to” Judaism books, creating a Seder at home became less intimidating and the trend shifted away from the communal and back to intimate family Seders.

Although Sarna has not studied whether the trend is reversing yet again back to community Seders, he would not be surprised if that was the case, citing the rise of intermarriage and the increase in women working outside the home.

“Making a big Seder at home is very difficult, especially if you didn’t grow up with one,” he said.

While Rabbi Meyer acknowledged that many people attend a community Seder because they have nowhere else to go or don’t have the time to make a Seder at home, he stresses that many choose to come simply because they enjoy the camaraderie and the opportunity to learn more about the holiday.

“The communal Seder is one of the few occasions when the silos of participation in temple life are broken through,” he said. “Religious school families, seniors, young professionals, different aged groups – everyone sees everyone. Those kinds of opportunities don’t pop up that often during the course of the year.”

Community Seders

Most sell out, so try to reserve a seat early:

Temple B’Nai Abraham
200 E. Lothrop St., Beverly
Second Night:
$40/adult. Children: Free/ages 0-5; $10/ages 6-12; $18/ages 13-22
978-927-3211, tbabeverly.org

Temple Ahavat Achim
86 Middle St., Gloucester
Second Night:
$36/adult before March 16; $40/adult after March 16;
$18/Children ages 4-13; free/children 3 and under.
978-281-0739, taagloucester.org

Temple Emanu-El
393 Atlantic Ave., Marblehead
Second Night
Members: $25/8 years and older; $18/ages 3 to 7; free/ages 2 and under. Non-members: $36/8 years and older;
$25/ages 3 to 7; free/ages 2 and under.

781-631-9300, emanu-el.org

Temple Sinai
1 Community Road, Marblehead
First Night:
Members: $36/adult; $18/child under 12.
Non-members: $45/adult; $18/child under 12.
781-631-2763, templesinaiweb.org

Temple Ner Tamid
368 Lowell St., Peabody
First Night:
Members: $42/adult, $15/child (12 and under).
Non-members: $52/adult, $15/child.
978-532-1293, templenertamid.org

Alevy Family Chabad of Peabody Jewish Center
682 Lowell St., Peabody
First Night:
$40/adult reserve by March 20; $50 after March 20.
$25/child (12 and under)
978-977-9111, http://www.jewishpeabody.com

Congregation Shirat Hayam
55 Atlantic Ave., Swampscott
Second Night:
$60/adults; $25/children (ages 2-8); Free: (under 2)
781-599-8005, shirathayam.org 

Swampscott’s Saris takes LEAP into educating those in need

Above: LEAP for education cofounder and executive director Linda Saris (center) with brother and sister Josward Santana of Peabody (at left) and Idekelly Santana King of Lynn. Josward is a sophomore at Middlesex Community College and works full time at Citizens Bank. Idekelly graduated from Northeastern University in 2017 with a degree in mechanical engineering.

By Shelley A. Sackett

JANUARY 25, 2018 – SALEM – Linda Saris’ stellar resumé reads like every parent’s dream. A degree in economics and urban studies from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from the University of Chicago led to a career that culminated in the senior vice presidency of RSA Security, a fast-growing tech company with 1,300 employees and $320 million in worldwide sales. Her leadership and entrepreneurial skills reaped increasing responsibility and commensurate compensation.

Yet through her quarter-century career, she always felt something was missing. “As a mother and full-time employee who traveled a lot, there was little time for community engagement,” the Swampscott resident said. “I did work in support of women’s advancement opportunities in the workplace, but looking back, I should have done more.”

Her “wake up call to do something different” came in 2001, when the tech bubble burst after 9/11. Saris took advantage of a generous severance package and left the private sector to start a nonprofit with a mission to teach tech skills to young people and their parents.

“It was my time to give back and honor my family and cultural tradition of tzedakah,” she said.

Named Salem CyberSpace, the startup began as part of a larger nonprofit called North Shore Community Action Programs and served seven Salem students in 2003. Today, after going solo in 2004, it is known as LEAP for Education, and a $1 million budget allows it to reach over 800 students per year, primarily in Peabody and Salem.

With its mission to help low-income and first generation American students succeed in middle school, high school, and college, LEAP also educates parents on the college process and financing. It now has a staff of 17 and over 100 volunteers. Saris is understandably proud of LEAP’s 100 percent high school graduation rate and 85 percent college access and retention rates.

While LEAP continues to focus on teaching tech skills and emphasizes STEM – a curriculum based on science, technology, engineering, and math – it has adapted to changing demographics by also providing arts programs and English literacy for the growing immigrant population for whom English is a second language.

According to Saris, organizations like LEAP are especially important during this current administration. “LEAP helps to support, educate, affirm, and make feel welcome young people [and their families] from a variety of countries,” she said.

When new and longtime citizens meet and build connections across ethnic and cultural lines, Saris thinks the resulting familiarity and understanding creates respect, tolerance, admiration, and affection among a diverse citizenry.

“Those qualities are the antidote to prejudice, ignorance, and scapegoating,” she said.

Saris was raised in West Roxbury and attended Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Newton (now in Brookline), where she became a bat mitzvah in 1965 and attended Hebrew school through 11th grade. While her home life was “not overly religious,” her parents and temple educators stressed the importance of charity and community engagement.

As a high school student, she volunteered at ABCD in Dorchester, tutoring young children. “I talked incessantly about the inequities I saw in our community and my parents pushed me to put action behind my words,” she said.

Growing up during the 1960s empowered Saris. “It was a decade of citizen empowerment, of despair and of hope,” she said. “The events around me, my family, my Jewish cultural roots, all foreshadowed the path I decided to take.”

Her sister Patti Saris, older by 11 months, serves as chief judge of the federal court in Boston, and it is evident the sisters share views on immigration that are at odds with the current administration. Last September, Judge Saris issued a temporary order stopping the Trump administration’s deportation of Indonesians without due process.

At a hearing last week, The Boston Globe reported she compared the Indonesian Christians facing possible torture or death in their Muslim-majority homeland to Jewish refugees trying to escape the Nazis on the St. Louis, a boat that left Germany with 937 passengers, mostly Jews, that was turned away by the US government in 1939. Many were later killed in the Holocaust.

“We’re not going to be that country,” Judge Saris said in court, according to the Globe.

“My sister has always been a source of inspiration and someone I always looked up to,” Linda Saris said. “She was very supportive when I changed my career. However, the drive to do what I did came from within me, with a lot of help from my family and the events of the day.”

Guthrie’s love song to her Jewish and folk family

By Shelley A. Sackett

Above: Nora Guthrie, daughter of folk legend Woody Guthrie, recently spoke at Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody.

 

JANUARY 25, 2018 – PEABODY – About once a year, Nora Guthrie presents “Holy Ground: Woody Guthrie’s Yiddish Connection,” a multi-media program about Woody Guthrie’s creative and collaborative relationship with his Jewish mother-in-law, the Yiddish poet Aliza Greenblatt.

Last Monday, over 140 people attended Guthrie’s presentation, which was sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Organizations of the North Shore and CJP, and hosted by Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody.

The hour-long storytelling piece included writings, artwork, music from a two-disc Klezmer project, home movies, and Nora Guthrie, telling the surprising story about how her father and grandmother bonded as fellow artists when the family lived in Brooklyn’s Coney Island.

Guthrie says she always begins by answering the question she knows is on everyone’s mind: what in the world does Woody Guthrie have to do with Yiddish poetry? “It’s this crazy story about two people from completely different backgrounds. My father had never met a Jew in his life and my mother had never met a cowboy. He grew up Protestant in a small Oklahoma town. She grew up in Atlantic City and was a student of early Zionism,” she said in a phone interview.

Her parents’ romance started in New York City in the early 1940s, where Woody Guthrie caught the attention of folklorist Alan Lomax, who recorded the troubadour’s songs. Some were used in a Martha Graham Dance Company ballet called “Folksay,” a suite of dances set to American roots music. Marjorie Mazia was a dancer with the troupe. She jumped at the chance to meet the songwriter when she heard he was at his apartment in Greenwich Village. She was instantly smitten.

By 1942, the couple was living in Coney Island, the heart of Brooklyn’s Jewish community, across the street from Mazia’s mother, Aliza Greenblatt. By 1945 they were married and Greenblatt introduced her son-in-law to Jewish culture and, most importantly, to Jewish food.

Asked what growing up in Coney Island was like in the 1950s, Nora Guthrie laughs. “It was very Jewish. This was the Yiddish-speaking culture that left Hester Street and moved to Brooklyn. Everything was blintzes, borscht and knishes,” said Guthrie, who is the co-founder of the Woody Guthrie Archives and president of Woody Guthrie Publications.

On the other hand, she was barely aware that her grandmother was a renowned Yiddish poet whose poems were widely published in the Yiddish press and were also set to music and recorded by composers and performers including Abraham Ellstein, Solomon Golub, Theodore Bikel and Sidor Belarsky.

“Our relationship with her was purely bubbie and every aspect of bubbie. It was singing lullabies to us at night, it was taking us for walks on the boardwalk, it was feeding us every Friday night,” Guthrie said.

Shabbat meant family dinner at bubbie’s, and Nora and her brothers, Arlo and Joady, looked forward to the chopped liver, blintzes, sweet and sour meatballs, and liver and onions. In 1952, when Guthrie was just two-years-old, her father was hospitalized for Huntington’s chorea, the disease that killed him in 1967. She doesn’t remember anything special about her father and grandmother’s relationship.

“I was a kid. Bubbie was bubbie. My father was folksongs. When you’re little, you’re not paying attention to that stuff. I didn’t really have an awareness of them as artists and the depth of their creative collaboration, and so a lot of this program I am doing is really explaining the discovery I made as an adult about them,” Guthrie said.

The “discovery” is her father’s writings, drawings and journals that were put into boxes when he was hospitalized and sat unopened for forty years. As her mother moved from apartment to apartment, the unopened boxes went with her. When she died in 1983, they ended up in an office. Ten years later, Guthrie went to work in that office and started looking through her father’s papers. “I found over 100 songs that had to do with Jewish topics. I couldn’t believe my father wrote songs about blintzes and hamentashen,” she said.

Uncovering her grandmother’s legacy was equally happenstance. She received a call one day from Aaron Lansky, president of the Yiddish Book Center, and was informed that Greenblatt’s books had been digitized. Guthrie had no idea her mother had donated them to the center after her grandmother’s death. “I never even had the opportunity to learn of my grandmother’s story and her creative life’s work, especially her Yiddish poetry,” she said.

She created “Holy Ground” to draw attention to an unknown side to her father’s legacy and to the woman who inspired him. “It’s kind of my funny journey from a child knowing each of them as I’m growing up to now as I discover more and more about each of them as creative artists. As you get older, you want to learn more about what your parents did as adults. I didn’t put that together for a long time,” she said.

 

 

 

 

Marblehead, Swampscott congregations unite to study Israel’s history

DECEMBER 14, 2017 – Round tables in the Temple Emanu-El social hall were draped with white paper cloths. The coffee pot and cookies beckoned from the corner. Around five minutes before 7, a steady flow of adults greeted each other, staking out a seat within just the right view (and hearing range). They clutched textbooks and pens, and bore the excited, eager look that marks adult learners.

For four Tuesday nights this fall, 30 people attended a class co-taught by Rabbis David Meyer of Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead and Michael Ragozin of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott. Titled “Israel’s Milestones and Their Meanings: The Legacy of the Past and the Challenge of the Future,” the curriculum was developed by the Shalom Hartman Institute iEngage in New York and addressed three pivotal moments in Israel’s history: 1917, 1947, and 1967.

The rabbis alternated locations, with two classes at Shirat Hayam and two classes at Temple Emanu-El. While the class appreciated the readings and history, it was the interaction of the rabbis that most resonated.

“I love the idea of co-teaching between the two rabbis,” said Temple Emanu-El member Judy Mishkin. “They are wonderful together, they are wonderful separately.”

For Brenda and Shelley Cohen of Marblehead, these evenings were a way to share. “My husband is a history buff and he fills in everything I don’t know,” Brenda said with a laugh.

Asked what “Tuesday night date night” meant to him, Shelley, a Shirat Hayam member and retired dentist, deadpanned, “A quick supper.”

The rabbis stressed the importance of uniting a community challenged by divergent views toward Israel and American politics. “We thought we could do something that would bring a measure of healing and acceptability into the conversation around Israel,” Rabbi Ragozin said.

“There’s something inherently beautiful about bringing the two congregations together. The participants don’t necessarily know each other, so they might feel they’re in a safe setting to openly discuss and critique Israel.”

Rabbi Meyer agreed. “We really sought to create a fresh dialogue and a new conversation about Israel, about the role Israel plays in the world and in our lives,” Rabbi Meyer said.

The two also relished the idea of working together. “I’m always learning something from David. He’s a mentor and a mensch,” said Rabbi Ragozin, referring to himself as “the new young rabbi in town.”

“Our congregations are separated by only a mile and a half, but our programming tends to be separated, so it’s certainly allowed Michael and me to work together and get to know each other,” Rabbi Meyer said. “And that’s all positive.”

“It’s a luxury to have two rabbis teaching us,” said Margaret Somer, a Swampscott resident and Shirat Hayam member. Even more important to her, however, was thinking about the 1967 Six-Day War, especially as the celebration of another historical miracle – Hanukkah – approaches.

“It was a major, major moment in history, a transformation of how the Jewish people feel about themselves, the confidence and assertiveness,” she said, pausing as she searched for the exact words that summed up how she felt. She smiled broadly. “It’s OK to be Jewish,” she said triumphantly.

‘Arc Tank’ competition is changing lives of disabled through innovation

NOVEMBER 30, 2017 – In 2002, Jo Ann Simons and Steven P. Rosenthal happened to pick neighboring elliptical machines at the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead. During their workout, they chatted. Simons learned of Rosenthal’s interest in philanthropy; Rosenthal learned about Simons’ interest in intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Neither had a clue that 15 years later, they would partner to revolutionize the way their two fields could intersect.

It all started when Rosenthal was planning his 2017 donations. The Marblehead resident and former CEO of Northland Investment Corp. knew he wanted to do more than just write the traditional check to a nonprofit that supports his core values of “tikun olam” (repair the world). He wanted to inject innovation and creativity into the process, setting an example that might encourage other philanthropists to think outside the box.

He immediately thought of Simons, now CEO of Danvers-based Northeast Arc, which is at the forefront of providing innovative services, education, and training to 9,000 adults and children with disabilities each year.

“We are a thought leader. We want to establish ourselves as the most innovative, creative, strategic organization in our industry,” Simons said of Northeast Arc, which has 1,100 employees and a $250 million budget, and reaches 190 communities throughout eastern Massachusetts.

It was a good fit. Rosenthal, who now runs the Boston real estate investment firm called West Shore LLC, donated $1 million to Northeast Arc to launch The Changing Lives Fund. He, Simons, and the Arc board of directors then brainstormed to come up with a groundbreaking approach to spending that money.

“We thought, what a novel concept if — instead of keeping the money — we decided we were going to try to inspire the most creative ideas within our industry,” said Simons, who lives in Swampscott and is a Swampscott High School graduate. “Steve’s vision of philanthropy helps us identify a new, nuanced role.”

Borrowing from the name and competitive methodology of “Shark Tank,” the popular ABC television show, the team created “Arc Tank,” where anyone with a creative concept to aid people with disabilities can pitch an idea and compete for funding from The Changing Lives Fund.

“We realized we can develop initiatives that support our mission and leverage the money for a greater impact if we give it away,” Simons said.

Of the 100 proposals from all over the world that flooded in after the competition was advertised, 45 were selected for the “holding tank.” Outside reviewers recommended seven finalists.

The inaugural Arc Tank contest, collaboration between Northeast Arc and the JFK Library Foundation, took place on Nov. 15 at the JFK Presidential Library and Museum and awarded $200,000. Over 300 people attended.

A panel of judges awarded grants to three winners who “positively disrupted the conventional methods of providing services to persons with disabilities.”

• Pathways to Inclusive Healthcare,” submitted by Dr. Carolyn Langer, associate professor at UMass Medical Center in Worcester, received $80,000 to develop a pipeline of healthcare professionals to ease the transition from pediatrics to adult medicine care.

• The Center for Public Representation of Northampton, a public service law firm, received $85,000 for its proposal, “Disrupting the Guardianship Pipeline,” to create an effective alternative to guardianship, often the only option for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

• “Water Wise,” submitted by the YMCA of the North Shore in Beverly, addresses the fact that drowning is a leading cause of death for children with Autism spectrum disorder by developing a water safety program that targets specific needs. The $30,000 grant will fund the program in two locations next year, with plans to expand to eight sites by 2019.

In addition, two incubator proposals were awarded $2,500 each.  Andrew Holmes of Winchester, a junior at Olin College of Engineering in Needham, is developing “Shop, Drop and Roll,” a wheelchair attachment that simplifies the transport and accessibility of goods on the back of a wheelchair. Nathaniel Lorenz Galdamez, a freshman at Swampscott High School, is designing “The BIONIC hand,” a wrist device to assist computer usage.

Rosenthal couldn’t be more pleased with the first Arc Tank. “The event was a terrific success. I think we have started an important and much needed conversation about innovation and philanthropy,” he said.

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.

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.