Bringing It Home: PJ Library Takes Parents to Israel

 

 

PJ-two

Sara Weisman of Beverly, at center with white hat, took part in the first PJ Library Parents to Israel Trip (PJLP2I). Photo courtesy of the Lappin Foundation.

Last May 11, on Yom Ha’azmaut (Israel Independence Day), Debbie Coltin was reading a story to a group of children and their parents as part of the PJ Library program when a little girl turned to her mother and asked, “Mommy, does Israel really look like that?”

 

The mom, who had never been to Israel, panicked and made eye contact with Coltin, the Lappin Foundation Executive Director.

 

“I thought to myself, ‘We’ve got to get these parents to Israel,’” she said. And get them to Israel she did, with the creation of the first PJ Library Parents to Israel Trip (PJLP2I).

 

“We get the teens excited about Israel [with Y2I, the Lappin Foundation teen trip to Israel], but this hits a different generation. If we didn’t organize it, when would they go? Our dream is to have this missed generation of young parents who didn’t do birthright, who are busy professionals, go to Israel,” she said.

 

Less than a year later, from April 25 through May 4, Coltin led the first PJLP2I trip with 29 participants, including ten interfaith families. The subsidized trip was open to PJ Library parents of all faiths who live in the Lappin Foundation’s service area and who had never been to Israel.

 

PJ Library is a Jewish family engagement program that focuses on the bond created between children and parents during story time right before bed. Jewish children ages six months to eight years old are eligible to receive a free Jewish book and CD-of-the-month. The Lappin Foundation partners with Cohen Hillel Academy as local funders of the international program created by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation.

 

The PJLP2I’s immediate goal is straightforward: to educate and empower parents to speak about Israel to their children from first-hand experience. According to Coltin, the bigger picture is to create ambassadors and advocates in the community for Israel.

 

“That generation is all about social media,” she said referring to the many participants who posted daily pictures during their trip. “Their friends and parents of other kids were already commenting on their postings. So it works,” she said.

 

Participants were from three distinct geographic areas — Newburyport, Marblehead/Swampscott and Beverly/Peabody. They and their families had three opportunities to meet prior to the trip. “It was a specular community building and growth experience,” Coltin said.

 

Sara Weisman, a Beverly mom and member of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, was very skeptical of Israel and hesitant to take the trip. She returned “totally blown away by the experience” with plans to return.

 

“This trip changed my impression of Israel completely. In some sense, I didn’t learn anything new, but I gained insight that can’t be learned at a distance or read in a book about the value of having a Jewish nation. What happens in Israel feels very personal in a way it didn’t before,” she said.

 

Al Pica from Swampscott is father of two young children and a member of Temple Emmanuel in Marblehead. He was most surprised by the unwavering patriotism among all Israeli people — Christians and Arab Israelis as well as Jewish Israelis — and how that differed from his preconceptions. He left the U.S. as an ambassador to Israel, but returned home “with a sense of duty to do even more — spread the good word, clear up myths and misconceptions about Israel, the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, etc.,” he said.

 

The trip affected both Weisman and Pica as parents. “I had previously been to other Holocaust museums, but a tour through Yad Vashem, and in particular the Children’s Memorial, had a tremendous impact on me as a parent of Jewish children,” Pica said.

 

Weisman feels she now understands Biblical history a lot better after visiting places where some Biblical events took place. “The mental scale I had of cities, distances, landscapes and so on wasn’t connected to physical places before. I want to share this with my children, as well as a sense of pride in the modern nation of Israel,” she said.

 

Coltin was most impressed by the sacrifices many had to make to participate. “Look at the demographics we were appealing to. One mom had four little kids. That’s brave, right?” she said.

 

She is delighted with the parents’ post-trip evaluation comments, especially the number who said the trip was “life changing” and “eye opening”. “The goal was to bring it home and instill it in your kids. I’m sure those conversations will take place,” she said.

 

 

 

 

Salem Artist Tapped as New ArcWorks Director

 

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Lifelong artist Susan Dodge loves her new position as Director of ArcWorks Community Center in Peabody. “The job I am doing now is just such a reward. I smile everyday. I’m happy to go to work. And I get to do so many things I really love, like curating shows, working with artists and envisioning what the next project will be,” the Salem resident said during an interview at The Bridge at 211 in Salem, where she currently has a piece on exhibit.

 

The Northeast Arc (NeArc) is a not-for-profit organization that helps children and adults with disabilities become full participants in the community. ArcWorks is its inclusive art center, which serves artists and viewers of all talents, skills, interests and backgrounds and provides artistic opportunity for people with and without disabilities.

 

In her role as its director, Dodge is responsible for scheduling gallery shows at both the art center and Breaking Grounds, the coffee shop in Peabody that NeArc runs. She also creates curriculum and teaches various art classes during the day to NeArc clients and in the evening to community members.

 

“I am happily tired at the end of the day,” Dodge said with a smile.

 

Tim Brown, Dodge’s supervisor and NeArc’s Director of Innovation and Strategy, couldn’t be more pleased to have Dodge on board.

 

“I have been a personal fan of Susan’s art for many years,” he said. “What I did not know was how each step in her personal journey fit so nicely into the model we wanted to develop.”

 

Dodge’s impressive resumé includes teaching art; a commission for 48 paintings at the famed Palm Beach, Florida property, The Breakers; a seven-year stint as Project Manager at a web design firm; a business career in sales and marketing at The Hawthorne Hotel; curating many art shows, and owning her own pottery studio, The Artful Dodger, through which she sold murals, tiles and signature pottery throughout the U.S. and the Virgin Islands.

 

She earned a B.F.A from Massachusetts College of Art and returned to school at age 48 for a certificate in digital graphic design.

 

According to Brown, the diversity of Dodge’s experience was exactly what NeArc hoped a new director bring to the position — the abilities both to develop an engaging class structure using a variety of mediums, and to manage the Gallery Shows and Shop within the ArcWorks program.

 

“Within her first four months at NeArc, she has curated five different gallery shows. Each show brought new artists and viewers, expanding our reach and recognition within the art community,” he said.

Prior to her current position, Dodge has always taught private art classes to children. This is her first time working with students with disabilities, but she sees more similarities than differences.

 

“I look at people with disabilities as just people. Creating art in so many ways is about honing a technique and seeing things. Everyone has their own vision of how they see things. Basically, making art is just translating that vision into an object or putting it on a canvas or a paper,” she said.

 

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Susan Dodge is working with Polyvios Christoforos on a painting that was ultimately featured in a collection of greeting cards handed out at the Ne-Arc “An Evening of Changing Lives Dinner and Fashion Show” on April 29

 

She works with 25-year-old Polyvios Christoforos twice a week. “He is a prolific painter. We work together really well,” she said. Christoforos’ work was featured in a collection of greeting cards handed out at NeArc’s “An Evening of Changing Lives Dinner and Fashion Show” on April 29.

 

“When you teach people with disabilities, you have to be really present, and compassionate and listen really well,” Dodge said, noting that many of her clients have speech-related issues. “I have developed different ways I work with people” depending on their needs.

 

Over the years and from her teaching experiences in the U.S. and abroad, Dodge has noticed a consistent and common thread among all her students: they share an eagerness to create something they can be proud of.

 

“In my core, I believe that everyone is an artist. It’s just a matter of letting yourself do it without judging what you’re doing,” she said.

 

For more information, visit ne-arc.org.

 

Rescuing Cats Is a Family Affair

Dedicated PALS volunteer marks fifteen years of service

 

 

The first thing Maryann Tapparro did when she left her childhood home in Rochester, New York was to get a pet. “My parents didn’t like pets; they weren’t animal people,” the Danvers resident said during a phone interview. “We were living in an apartment and so my first pet happened to be a cat.”

 

That was 54 years ago, and Tapparro has had cats ever since. “I don’t know why, but I’m just passionate about cats. They’re wonderful, intriguing animals,” she said, over the background mewling of a litter of recently born kittens.

 

Fifteen years ago, she found out about Pals Animal Lifesaver (known as “PALS”), a local all-volunteer no-kill cat shelter in Salem. The non-profit organization, founded in 1995, is dedicated to helping homeless cats and kittens find suitable, loving homes, and is funded fully by donations, adoption fees, and organized fundraisers.

 

Maryann and Cat

Maryann Tapparro with one of her many cats.

 

Since then, Tapparro has done every job there is at PALS and currently serves on its Board of Directors as Feline Coordinator. PALS has a team of rescuers on call 24-hours-a-day that responds to reports of a cat in the local area in need of rescue. As Feline Coordinator, Tapparro’s basic task is finding foster care for these rescue cats until they can be vetted and placed for adoption.

 

She has five cats of her own and has fostered hundreds over the years. “It’s very hard because we become attached to these cats, but then we are really happy that they do get adopted,” she said.

 

Some cats are sick or injured, so they may need medication or surgery. Some have chronic diseases, such as leukemia or thyroid issues, and need lifetime care. “We have some wonderful people out there who do adopt these animals and continue the medications for them,” Tapparro said.

 

She mentions educating the public as the biggest challenge PALS faces. First is teaching people to have their cats spayed or neutered. “Then there wouldn’t be so many strays,” she said.

 

Second is to educate cat owners about the importance of keeping their cats indoors because of the obvious safety hazards and because cats are not geared outdoor survival.

 

“If people move, they sometimes leave their cats thinking they can fend for themselves, but cats really are not used to eating birds and mice. It’s just a form of play for them,” she said. “That’s why we find a lot of cats in dumpsters trying to find food.”

 

They also need water, which is sometimes hard for an animal to find outdoors.

 

While fostering cats on her own, Tapparro also manages the database for all the other cats in other foster homes and initiates check-ups. All cats are followed up with and watched throughout all stages of rescue. Once well enough to enter the adoption center, a PALS Adoption Coordinator matches cats with the most suitable adopter for their needs.

 

Since 2003, PALS has been an adoption partner at PetSmart’s store at 10 Traders Ways in Salem. Hours for adoption are Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. and Fridays by appointment. The cats can be viewed in their cages during regular store hours.

 

According to PALS Volunteer Coordinator, Sandy Perry, the rewards of volunteering show no bounds. “Between the friendships made, helping adopters both past and present, and sharing the joys of their new family member and the wonderful felines we encounter every day, this is a wonderful, rewarding endeavor,” she said.

 

Maryann and Amanda

Maryannn Tapparro and her granddaughter and fellow PALS volunteer, Amanda Tapparro.

For Tapparro, it is also a family affair. Three of her granddaughters have followed in her footsteps and volunteer at PALS. Amanda Tapparro is the official PALS photographer.

 

Her three children have also inherited her love of animals, one going one step further. “They all have cats. One even has dogs too,” she said with a laugh.

 

For more information, visit palscats.org/ or call 978-531-7478.

 

 

Salem Film Fest Turns Ten!

The “little festival that could” celebrates with a Gala

When local filmmaker Joe Cultrera, businessman Paul Van Ness and Salem Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Rinus Oosthoek gathered at the fledgling CinemaSalem’s café in 2007, they all shared a common goal: to create an event that would be fair to documentary filmmakers and attractive to audiences. They presented a week of special film programming and live events in the middle of that same winter. “That’s about as fast as a festival can be put together once you have a venue,” said Van Ness who owns CinemaSalem. “I suppose you could call it a spring training for the big league festival that would inaugurate the next year.”

The 2008 Salem Film Fest drew 1,743 filmgoers; last year, more than 6,000 attended what has grown to be both one New England’s largest and among the nation’s most respected all-documentary film festivals. Each March, the festival presents a rich and diverse collection of the year’s best work from all over the world that helps sustain cinephiles through the long, bleak slog of New England winter.

This year the festival runs from March 2-9 and will kick off its tenth anniversary with a Gala on Thursday, March 2 at the Hawthorne Hotel that will combine presentation of the 2017 SFF Storyteller Award to Frontline founder David Fanning with a live music dance party. (Visit salemfilmfest.com/2017/gala-tickets for more information).

“Come to Salem, see the world” has been the Salem Film Fest catch phrase since its inception, both as an homage to old Salem merchant ships that established trade with the rest of the world and in tribute to the dozens of countries represented by the films the festival has screened over its ten years.

With a line-up of 35 feature and 13 short documentaries from more than 25 countries, SFF 2017 covers a lot of the globe: from the largest Syrian refugee camp in Jordan (“After Spring”) to Finland’s worst cheerleading team (“Cheer Up”); from the Mississippi Delta blues (“I Am the Blues”) to Mexico’s most famous tabloid photographer (“The Man who Saw Too Much”); from Jalalabad’s child street gangs (“Snow Monkey”) to a New York City’s West Village artist community (“Winter at Westbeth”). And everyplace in between.

Besides CinemaSalem, SFF partners with Peabody Essex Museum’s Morse Auditorium (PEM) and the National Park Service Visitor Center (NPS) as additional venues. With simultaneous screenings at all three sites, the streets of Salem feel like a mini Sundance as filmgoers greet each other on the street, making their way from one film to the next.

As in past years, SFF 2017 focuses on filmmakers as much as their films, and 19 filmmakers and/or their subjects will attend this year’s post-screening Q&A sessions, which promise to be as exciting and informative as festivalgoers have come to expect. “It’s great to see the growth of the festival while we also stay true to our roots. More and more filmmakers have found the festival to be a haven of sorts for their films, and they enjoy spending time in Salem,” said Jeff Schmidt, who has been SFF program director since 2014.

Cultrera, who handed the programming to Schmidt in 2013, agrees. “The thing I look forward to every year is getting a new crew of filmmakers to the festival: spending time interacting with them; introducing them to Salem; watching friendships build between them and some of our audience, and talking shop at after-hours gatherings,” he said.

Among this year’s line-up are three U.S. premieres: “The Day the Sun Fell” (surviving Red Cross doctors and nurses remember the day Hiroshima was bombed as nuclear disaster strikes Japan again); “Mattress Man” (an Irish 60-something-year-old creates a tacky YouTube persona to boost his failing business) and “Zimbelism” (one of the last working street photographers shares stories from his dark room). Both filmmaker Matt Zimbel and his subject and father, George S. Zimbel, will be present at the “Zimbelism” screening at PEM on Sunday, March 5 at 10:50 a.m.

The programming committee started looking for SFF 2017 films last June, and the richly varied menu of films has something to please every palette. To make planning easier, SFF offers a helpful guide that organizes the films into a number of “curated itineraries” to allow the audience to review films through specific lenses.

Three films that address complex socio-political issues through one person’s story are “Almost Sunrise”, Tickling Giants” and “Death by One Thousand Cuts”.

Filmmaker Michael Collins’ “Almost Sunrise” addresses “moral injury” by following two Iraq War veterans suffering from PTSD as they trek 2,700 miles in a last ditch effort to find the healing they both seek. Collins will attend the Q&A after the screening at PEM on Saturday, March 4 at 8:35 p.m.

“Tickling Giants” examines the aftermath of the Egyptian Arab Spring by showcasing Bassem Youssef, the “Egyptian Jon Stewart” who endangers his life and livelihood when the Morsi regime doesn’t appreciate his jokes. Filmmaker Sara Taksler will be available for a post-screening Q&A. The film is at PEM on Friday, March 3 at 8:10 p.m.

In “Death by a Thousand Cuts”, a brutal murder on the Haiti-Dominican border exposes the complex consequences of killing the Dominican forests, one cut at a time. The filmmaker will attend the Q&A after the screening at CinemaSalem on Sunday, March 5 at 5:10 p.m.

On the more whimsical side, “The League of Exotique Dancers” introduces eight unforgettable Burlesque Hall of Fame inductees who share the good, the bad and the ugly about the golden age of stripping with bawdy good humor and moving insight in a film that is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. It screens at CinemaSalem on Saturday, March 4 at 9:40 p.m.

Those most interested in the arts have plenty to choose from this year. “The Ballad of Fred Hersch” traces the foremost jazz pianist and composer’s journey from AIDS coma survivor to musical triumph (Friday, March 3 at CinemaSalem at 5:10 p.m.). “Yarn” introduces edgy, contemporary women who are revolutionizing the art of knitting and crocheting. (Saturday, March 4 at PEM at 11:50 a.m.). “I Am the Blues” gives an up-close-and-personal tour of the original southern juke joints with the aging blues musicians who still play its “Chitlin’ Circuit”. (Closing night feature on Thursday, March 9 at CinemaSalem at 7:00 p.m.).

Every year, regular attendees look forward to the premiere of “Salem Sketches”, a series of two-minute documentaries based in Salem and created exclusively for SFF by local filmmakers and SFF Planning Committee members Cultrera and Perry Hallinan. “We’re one of the few festivals that can claim to have our own original programing,” Cultrera said with pride.

SFF 2017 is also jam-packed with events, parties and the live music performances before many of the screenings at CinemaSalem by local musicians whose contributions add to the festival’s literal good vibrations.

While the community-driven, all-volunteer festival steadfastly remains true to its ideals of high-level programming and treating filmmakers like the stars they are, the “little festival that could” seems poised for even wider appeal and reach in its second decade. All agree that fundraising and broadening the volunteer base are two critical ingredients for generating this growth.

“The festival is special, but it could be on another level entirely if we had the resources and if there was a mechanism in place in Salem that better synchronized public, private and non-profit energies,” said Cultrera.

Nonetheless, the wildly popular and highly anticipated festival draws sell-out crowds to one of the liveliest and friendliest of Salem’s many festivities. Patrons return year after year and hugging reunions in the CinemaSalem lobby are commonplace. Clearly, the Salem Film Festival is about more than films. It’s also about community.

“Come to Salem, see the world. Come to Salem, meet the world,” Oosthoek said with a smile.

Salem Film Fest runs March 2-9 with screenings at CinemaSalem, Peabody Essex Museum and National Park Service Visitors Center. For more information or to purchase tickets or passes, go to the CinemaSalem box office or visit salemfilmfest.com/2017/.

Israeli Innovations Energize Mayor Driscoll

 

 

 

Israel had long been on Mayor Kim Driscoll’s bucket list. So when she was invited to participate in the American Israel Education Foundation’s (AIEF) educational seminar to Israel for members of Congress and other politically influential people last February, she jumped at the chance.

 

“We think Salem, which is almost 400 years old, has an embarrassment of riches, from the birthplace of the National Guard to the Witch Trials to the great age of sail. We’re a babe in the woods compared to what’s over there,” she said.

 

Although she is a practicing Catholic, she was more drawn into the history of the sites she visited than the bible stories. “I really value the role history plays in the character of a place. The commitment to never lose sight of that, whether it’s good history or history that’s more tragic, like the Witch Trials — that’s definitely moving,” she said.

Western Wall

At the Kotel (Western Wall)

At the Kotel, or The Western Wall (an ancient limestone wall in the Old City of Jerusalem), she also felt the weight of the region’s history and the thousands of years during which there have been sometimes violent disagreements. She came away with an even stronger commitment towards peace. “It is so complicated and so hard to achieve, yet so necessary,” she said.

 

She was also on the look out for Israeli ideas she could bring back to Salem, and she found more than she expected. “I was struck by the drive for ingenuity and innovation in Israel,” she said more than once during the hour-long conversation.

 

In particular, she marveled at Israel’s ability to recycle 80 percent of its water in a sustainable, thoughtful way. “It’s amazing what you can do when you have to. Water scarcity is a big issue in the Middle East. They don’t have a choice,” she said.

 

Israeli engineering firms that have developed ways of monitoring water leaks to help with water loss also caught her attention. “When you think about a water system as old as ours, well theirs is a thousand times older. I think there could be some shared alignment,” she said.

Granot Desalination Plant visit

At the Granot Desalination Plant

 

Urban agriculture, also tied to water, is another area of potential transferability. “I think we’re all going to need to think about that as more folks move into cities. There’s already a farm-to-table sustainability food industry here. I think there’s a lot we could learn,” she said.

 

She also sees potential applicability for Salem to adapt the way Israeli law enforcement communicates with residents. In Jerusalem, for example, a system of colored lights signal the current level of concern about potential attacks from Israel’s enemies. Although Salem doesn’t fear that kind of attack, Mayor Driscoll came away with ideas about how to expand the system already in place that flashes a blue light when there is a snow-parking ban.

 

“I’m talking more about if trash is delayed a day, or if there is other information we want to get out,” she said. “Right now we rely on phone calls or web sites. Their simple lighting system communicated a universal message to a city where people were from many different backgrounds and spoke many different languages. It was very clear to everyone what was going on.”

 

According to 2015 Census Bureau information, 23.3 percent of Salem citizens speak a language other than English. That is higher than the national average of 21%.

 

The February itinerary included briefings at the Gaza Strip and Lebanese and Syrian borders, and visits to the Granot desalination plant and the Knesset as well as to top tourist sites in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Capernaum.

 

Group photo at Visit to Sea of Galilee- Mt. of Beatitudes

Group photo at Mt. of Beatitudes- Sea of Gallilee

 

“I really felt like I was on a journey to better understand history and also how people interact in a time when there is trauma, stress and threats all around them. There is a real perseverance in Israel that you can see everyday,” she said in an interview soon after her return.

 

“We had immense opportunities to speak with everyone we met. We were told, ‘There is nothing you can’t ask. There is nothing out of bounds.’ That was very worthwhile,” she said.

 

The group was diverse, with members of state government, many of whom had been active in political campaigns and within different policymaking levels of government. “The discussions were really hearty. I appreciated being in a discussion with folks who had different lenses. I brought a lot of the local flavor, I would say,” she said.

 

What most impressed her, however, were two qualities she circled back to again and again: political consensus building and the perseverance of a people at perpetual risk.

 

“Israel has 26 different parties. It is very much a parliamentary form of government with lots of coalition building. Yet they can adopt a uniform policy that covers the whole country and it can have meaningful impact,” she said.

 

Although consensus building is harder in Israel than in the U.S., its power and effectiveness is greater. At the Knesset (Israel’s legislative body), she witnessed lots of party members expressing lots of opinions. “Yet I was struck by their ability to move something forward,” she said in reference to Israel’s policies of universal health insurance and national water conservation policy.

 

She contrasted that to the situation in the U.S. with our city, county, state and federal levels of government. “We get almost nothing done with two parties, yet with six parties influencing policies and legislation, they manage to get consensus,” she said, shaking her head.

 

On a more personal note, Mayor Driscoll described her visit to a kibbutz near the Gaza Strip where she met families who live under the constant threat of rocket attacks, yet would never consider living anywhere else.

 

“Seeing the bomb shelters, seeing the Egyptian border, and hearing first hand from individuals who lived there was very moving for me. The situation was normalized for them. It was normalized for their kids. If you heard the alarm, you had 19 seconds to get into a bomb shelter,” she said.

 

The impact that governmental actions can have on families’ everyday lives “hit me in the face. A peace process can be mind-boggling, trying to figure out who’s responsible for what and the role we Americans play in it. But the difficulties and complexities involved in that discussion didn’t matter to the kids sitting at the bus stop next to the bomb shelter,” she said.

 

The geography and diversity of the Israeli landscape, “mountains to coastline and everything in between” surprised Mayor Driscoll. So did the fact that she never felt unsafe for one minute. “I would encourage anyone who is remotely worried about safety to just go,” she said, pointing out that many Israelis she spoke to said they wouldn’t feel safe traveling to the U.S. with news reports of gun violence and school shootings. “We put into perspective the awful things that have happened here, normalizing them. We still haven’t passed gun control,” she added.

 

The AIEF trip was not all work and no play, and Mayor Driscoll thoroughly enjoyed getting better acquainted with Israel’s “awesome” food. “Shakshouka!” she exclaimed with a broad smile. “My new favorite, and they have it at Adea’s on Sunday right here in Salem!”

 

“I guess I had never thought of Middle Eastern food as the culmination of different places. It’s a little Syrian, a little Israeli, a little of everything. We were served small plates…but they just kept on coming,” she said with a laugh, adding, “we tried to walk as much as we ate.”

 

She was also surprised by the visit to a winery in the Golan Heights. “Who thought I’d be in a terrific winery in the Golan Heights? When I think Golan Heights, I think of ‘Duck for cover!’’ she said.

 

If invited back to Israel for a follow up trip, Mayor Driscoll would suggest the itinerary include digging deeper into Israel’s schooling and education. The February tour incorporated brief visits to schools that are trying to bridge Muslim and Arab and Jewish differences by bringing students and their families together in ways she found “smart and thoughtful”.

 

“We saw kids from different backgrounds being educated together and celebrating all holidays. This is sometimes under really difficult circumstances in neighborhoods where there may be a history of trauma or tragedy that exists between those with long-held beliefs or differences of opinion.

 

If they can figure that out, that younger generation might be the real key to achieving peace in the Middle East,” she said.

 

AIEF is the charitable organization affiliated with AIPAC, America’s pro-Israel lobby, and was created in 1990. For more information visit aiefdn.org.

 

 

Rosh Hodesh, Mother’s Day and Me

 

 

I am a mommy-in-the-middle: I have a mother and I am a mother. I get a lot of pleasure from both roles, but every year, Mother’s Day falls flat for me. I’m so busy being either mother or daughter that I never feel a personally meaningful or satisfying connection.

 

Yet, I certainly connect to being a mother. I just don’t connect to Mother’s Day.

 

So I decided that this year, rather than accepting and ignoring the hollowness of Mother’s Day, I would dig deeper until I discovered something that resonated with me in the way traditional Mother’s Day was supposed to, but didn’t.

 

Before discarding it out of hand, however, I thought I should learn more about Mother’s Day. It all started in the 1800’s when Ann Reeves Jarvis, an Appalachian social activist and women’s event planner, created “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to help educate women about how to care for their children and keep them healthy. After the war, she organized “Mother’s Friendship Picnics” to encourage Confederate and Union loyalists to ignore their differences and remember their common bond of motherhood.

 

When Ann died, her daughter Anna wanted to celebrate her beloved mother. She organized an honorary event in West Virginia on May 10, which soon spread to a number of states. In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson designated the second Sunday of May as Mother’s Day, declaring that the holiday offered a chance to “[publicly express] our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”

 

Anna’s idea was that children would spend the day with their mothers in appreciation of all they had sacrificed for them. When the day quickly turned into a retail gold mine, she was so disappointed that she spent the rest of her life fighting to have its holiday status revoked. She failed, and by 2014 Americans spent almost $20 billion on Mother’s Day goods and services.

 

While building personal bonds among mothers was a terrific legacy worth preserving, Anna Jarvis had correctly recognized that her original Mother’s Day had morphed into something commercial and trivial.

 

Many cultures and religions — including Judaism — have other ways for women to gather and pay homage to their unique feminine qualities.

 

We Jewish mothers are lucky to have Rosh Hodesh, the first day of the Jewish lunar month, which coincides with the new moon. It is a minor festival that has long been associated with, and sacred to, women. Midrash (biblical legend) holds the holiday was given to women as a reward for their refusal to give up their jewelry to help create the Golden Calf.

 

Women’s Rosh Hodesh groups started springing up in the 1980s as a way to revive its observance in a modern, more meaningful way.

 

My own introduction to Rosh Hodesh took place soon after moving to Swampscott in 2001 when I was invited to join a Hadassah evening of study and community. The focus was Rosh Hodesh. We each received a copy of “Moonbeams”, Hadassah’s guide to Rosh Hodesh modern practices. It still calls to me, the enchantment of its watercolor cover and thoughtful readings undiminished.

 

The next year, my daughter celebrated her Bat Mitzvah on Rosh Hodesh Sivan, which happened to fall on Mother’s Day. Rosh Hodesh and I had some sort of special bond, but the connection wasn’t yet clear.

 

Then, about five years ago, I learned to chant the Rosh Hodesh Torah parsha, which I have done almost every month since, always using my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah yad. Last week, at Rosh Hodesh Iyar, something felt different.

 

I felt a spark of kinship with the spirits of all women who ever stood where I stood, especially my daughter and my mother when the three of us shared the bimah in celebration of her Mother’s Day Bat Mitzvah 15 years ago. How had I forgotten?

 

That personal, spiritual way to connect with Mother’s Day I longed for was right in front of my eyes all along. All I had to do was to open them and notice.

 

This year, when I send that Hallmark card and buy that Mother’s Day gift, it will be with a full and grateful heart. Mother’s Day is my holiday too.

 

Former Czech Spy Tells It Like It Was

SSU panelists warn about dangers of “fake news”

Shelley A. Sackett

Dillon and M-B

Peggy Dillon, SSU Associate Professor and panel moderator, listens as Dr. Martin-Bittman talks about his years as a Czech spy.

 

What do a former Czech spy who served as a post-war intelligence officer specializing in disinformation for the Czech Intelligence Service and Earth Day have in common? According to Peggy Dillon, Associate Professor of Communications at Salem State University and member of the SSU Earth Day Committee, everything.

 

“This year’s Earth Day theme on campus is ‘It’s Your World, It’s Your Future: Get Involved,’” she said. “I thought a panel about media literacy — and fake news and disinformation in particular — would be a timely topic for media consumers in general, as well as for environmentalists.”

 

Dillon had agreed to create and moderate a panel about media literacy as part of SSU’s 2017 Earth Days events. The panelists would examine how disinformation and fake news have permeated the media landscape and discuss media-literacy strategies for telling the difference between truth and fiction in the news.

 

She titled the panel, “How to Recognize Disinformation and Fake News: Be a Media-Literate Advocate for your Cause” and invited SSU Communications professors Jane Regan and Cindy Vincent to participate. Regan, a lecturer in Multimedia Journalism who is also an investigative journalist, would address “both-siderism” and mainstream vs. “alternative” media coverage, particularly of environmental topics. Assistant professor Vincent would discuss filter bubbles, media distractions and the ability to discern credible sources.

 

But she still wanted a third panelist to round out the discussion.

 

As part of her “newly ramped-up political activism” following the 2016 elections, Dillon started attending meetings at the Rockport Unitarian Universalist Church of like-minded concerned citizens. There she heard about Lawrence Martin-Bittman, a Rockport resident whom a member knew from church.

 

Né Ladislav Bittman in 1931 in Prague, Martin-Bittman defected to the United States in 1968 after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Prior to that, he was an expert in creating and disseminating Soviet propagandistic disinformation, spreading anonymously and deliberately distorted information to deceive and manipulate public opinion.

 

“I met Dr. Martin-Bittman for lunch and heard his life story, and immediately invited him to join the panel. He agreed,” Dillon said. After all, who better to address the topic of fake news and disinformation than one who not only could talk the talk, but had also — literally — walked the walk?

 

And for nearly thirty minutes on Tuesday, over 30 students, faculty members and visitors were captivated by the 86-year-old ex-spy’s stories about how he came to be recruited by the Czech Secret Service and the kinds of disinformation campaigns he engaged in.

 

“It’s nice to be back again on academic soil,” the former Boston University professor and author said.

 

As a teenaged student of international law at Charles University in Prague, Martin-Bittman anticipated a career as a diplomat. Instead, upon graduation, he and 37 of his 42 fellow classmates were “invited” to the Central Committee of the Communist Party headquarters where they were told they would work in the Czech Intelligence Service. “I didn’t even know Czechoslovakia had an intelligence service,” he said.

 

Overnight, he became a spy.

 

Over the course of 14 years as an operative, he had 30 names and supervised hundreds of other agents, eventually becoming deputy commander of the disinformation department, leaking carefully constructed false messages to reporters in order to influence people and politicians.

 

In 1968, when the Soviet invasion Czechoslovakia effectively ended the Prague Spring and his country’s brief attempt to enact democratic reforms, Martin-Bittman realized he had spent the last14 years of his life “basically working for the Russians.” He decided to quit and defected to the United States later that year.

 

He was tried in absentia in a military court in Czechoslovakia, which convicted him of treason. “I was treated as a defector and hunted for decades,” he said. One of his students at Boston University was even recruited to spy on him, he discovered later to his dismay. His death sentence was recently revoked. “I never thought the Communist regime would collapse in my lifetime,” he said.

 

No stranger to the concept of “fake news”, Martin-Bittman is alarmed by the current state of global media with reports of cyber warfare, information weaponization and information wars. “We live in a world of deception and manipulation,” he warned.

 

“For the United States or any other democratic country with a free press, spreading propagandistic information might be a dangerous, self-destructive weapon, a ticking time bomb that can explode in the perpetrator’s backyard,” he continued.

 

He is quite concerned about the Russian doctrine of information warfare and its implications in the U.S. presidential election campaign of 2016, which he feels demonstrated the importance of developing new defenses in protecting the American democratic system. “Misinformation is information that is bad, wrong or mistaken. Disinformation is deliberate and malicious,” he said.

 

Dillon believes journalists and media educators have an important role to play right now in helping the public understand the difference between fact and fiction in their media diet, and she hopes people came away from the panel discussion with a heightened awareness about the prevalence of false or distorted information in our media diet. Martin-Bittman goes one step further.

 

“People must realize that there is an urgent need to educate the new generation of journalists about the new information environment and the dangers of disinformation,” he said. “The best protection against any kind of propaganda is strong analytical press capable of professional analysis of all suspicious information, wherever it comes from.”

Chef Joe Raises the Bar at Village Tavern; New Menu Offers More than Just Bar Food

Ingemi and Peterson

“Chef Joe” displays his technique while preparing one of his signature dishes, Beef Strogonoff. PHOTO CREDIT: Shelley A. Sackett

Joseph Peterson — “Chef Joe” — can pinpoint the exact moment he knew he wanted to be a chef. He was a 12-year-old boy living in Dryden, New York, about an hour south of Syracuse. It was 10 o’clock at night, his mother was at work, and he was hungry. “I made stir fry beef with noodles and it tasted so good,” he said with a broad smile. “I had so much fun making it that the next day I thought, ‘this is what I want to do.’”

Right around that time, Dryden got its first cable service. Peterson wasted no time discovering cooking shows and famed chef Ming Tsai’s “East Meets West” program particularly captivated the tween. “He showed people how he cooked inside his restaurant, which was French-American-Asian. As a kid, I watched that show every Saturday and wanted to grow up to be just like him,” Peterson said.

Fast forward to 2009 when Peterson, fresh out of Boston’s Cordon Bleu cooking school, went to work for his idol at Tsai’s acclaimed Wellesley restaurant, Blue Ginger. After training under the celebrity chef, he went on to become executive chef at Jerry Remy’s, the downtown Boston restaurant near Fenway Park.

That’s where “Chef Joe” was working when Andrew Ingemi, who co-owns Village Tavern with his father, Arthur, realized that he would be a perfect fit for their Salem restaurant. “Jerry Remy’s gave him experience with volume,” Ingemi said. “I needed someone who would have no trouble with an October crowd. With Joe’s experience of a busy restaurant with Red Sox games multiple times a week, it was an easy choice.”

Ingemi hired Peterson last fall and the two unveiled an overhauled menu last month.

Peterson in the kitchen

Village Tavern co-owner Andrew Ingemi and Chef Joseph Peterson at a quiet moment in the bar.    PHOTO CREDIT: Shelley A. Sackett

Part of Ingemi’s dream was to make Village Tavern known for higher end tavern fare rather than just bar food. The new menu features such dishes as Sweet and Sour Duck and 28-day dry-aged grass fed sirloin, which “may be the very best steak you’ll ever have, other than at a fancy steakhouse in Boston,” he said.

Peterson is equally excited about the fusion side of the menu, which mixes traditional appetizers and Asian touches in such inventions as Philly Steak Egg Roll and Buffalo Chicken Ragoon.

Dear to Peterson’s heart is his Beef Strogonoff, which is a hearty and tasty dish his mother used to make once a week. His special secret? He adds sour cream at the end to give it a “zing” (his mom used heavy cream).

“A lot of cooking is about technique,” Peterson said as he prepared this dish for the Salem Gazette. “Stroganoff is simple, but hard to make it taste well.”

Ingemi’s family has been in the restaurant business in Salem since the 1970’s. His great-grandfather is the Steve of Steve’s Market and his father and grandfather have owned many eateries over the years. Ingemi didn’t join them until 2012, when his father and brother were opening the Village Tavern and asked him to help out. At the time, he was working in Boston at State Street Bank. He thought he would stay a year. Five years later, he’s still there.

“I fell in love with working with my family and making the restaurant better. It’s so rewarding,” he said. “It’s kind of fun — we have a big history in Salem.”

He’s also proud of “Chef Joe” and all the staff for “kicking it up a notch” to be up to Joe’s standards in the kitchen. “We’re able to give guests the overall experience we’ve been wanting to give them for the last couple of year,” Ingemi said.

Peterson is delighted to be in Salem after many years in Boston. While he’s looking forward to making an impact with his food, he is just as eager to take a leadership role among his employees in his kitchen. In the six months he has been at Village Tavern, he has already promoted many from within and has built a team spirit and loyalty among his staff.

“Taking a cook and making him sous-chef or taking a peeler and making him a prep chef, that the kind of stuff that excites me. I like growing people. I could do everything myself back there, but that’s not the idea,” he said.

Salem First Muster Soldiers on Despite April Fool’s Day Storm

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More than 100 uniformed National Guardsmen and women, members of Veteran’s organizations and civilian onlookers braved the heavy snow and fierce winds Saturday morning to mark the 380th Anniversary of the first military muster in the United States in the very birthplace of the National Guard — Salem.

Soldiers and senior leaders of the Massachusetts National Guard, Veteran’s organizations, military re-enactors and living history groups were on hand to lend an authentic and solemn air to the event.

The first muster —or military drill — took place in Salem Common in 1637, the year after the National Guard was formed. Saturday’s event was a yearly celebration commemorating significant moments in the history of the Massachusetts National Guard as well as the origin of the Army National Guard.

In January 2013, President Barak Obama signed legislation initiated by Massachusetts Congressman John Tierney designating Salem as the birthplace of the National Guard.

Sponsored by the Second Corps Cadets Veterans Association, this 380th milestone anniversary kicked off at 9:30 a.m. with a wreath-laying ceremony at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and at the nearby gravesite of Captain Stephen Abbott, founder and first commander of the Second Corps. All stood as a single trumpet played a plaintive “Taps” in the acoustically splendid church. Each note seemed to hover weightless above the pews.

Chief of the Guard Bureau, 4-star General Joseph Lengyel, was this year’s guest of honor. He addressed the crowd at St. Peter’s Church before venturing outside to lay the wreath and lead the procession. “It’s good to be home,” the Peabody native declared. “I am proud of who we are and what we mean to this country. I am proud of all these people — doctors, lawyers, store owners, teachers, policemen and women — who have committed to keeping our country safe abroad and at home.”

Lengyel serves as the 28th chief of the National Guard Bureau and as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He is a military adviser to the President, Secretary of Defense, and National Security Council.

Captain Phillip Jenkins, Battery Commander C Battery 1/101 Field Artillery, followed, raising a chuckle when he said, “This is the first time you’ll see a Captain following a 4-star General.” He gave a brief but informative history of the National Guard and what the term “citizen soldier” means, also praising the Second Corps Cadet Veterans Association for “maintaining camaraderie and service to fellow soldiers.”

Colonel Cheryl Poppe, a Salem resident, looks forward to Salem First Muster every year. She retired from the Massachusetts National Guard in 2008 and is now Superintendent of Chelsea Soldiers’ Home, where she oversees 136 long-term care and 194 dormitory residents. “I am delighted to see the press here and to see how many intrepid residents and members of the Second Corps ventured out on this snowy day,” she said, adding, “I am very proud to have been part of this. There is a lot of benevolent work here.”

Captain Jim Sweet, who joined the National Guard in 1977 and was battery commander of the 102nd battalion, rang the St. Peter’s Church bell, the same one that has rung after the death of every United States President since George Washington. A gift from King George to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, the original bell arrived in Salem in1733 and was replaced in 1740. “Salem was at the seat of government during the Revolutionary War,” he reminded the crowd.

After a ceremony at Armory Park on Essex Street, participants marched to the Salem Common, where troops on horse back, some wearing vintage uniforms, re-enacted the first muster with: formations of troops, presentation of honors, inspection of troops, honors to the nation and remarks from Governor Charlie Baker, General Joseph L. Lengyel and Major General Gary W. Keefe. Tents billowed in the gusts that sent wind chill factors below freezing and caused a smaller turnout than in 2016. For those who stuck it out, there was the promise of a late-morning cannon salute.

One such resolute fan was Jerry Schmitt of Salem, who looked at his heavy coat, boots and gloves and laughed remembering last year’s commemoration in almost 70-degree weather. Although he never served in the National Guard, he tries to attend the Salem First Muster every year. “I’m just here to support the troops,” he said.

Celebrating Ten Years with a Bubbly Brew

Far From the Tree Launches special Salem Film Fest Cider

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Alex Snape brewing a special batch of craft cider.

 

When Salem Film Fest, the week-long all documentary film festival that runs from March 2-9, celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, it will be even more special because of Alex and Denise Snape, co-owners of Far from the Tree, a craft cider company specializing in unique, high-quality hard cider made from local ingredients.

 

They will create a special SFF Brew (stay tuned for its official name) that will reflect the film they are co-sponsoring, “First Lady of the Revolution”, the remarkable story of Henrietta Boggs, an Alabama Southern belle who takes a life-altering journey through marriage, civil war and audacious democratic reforms to become the First Lady of Costa Rica.

 

“When we think of documentary film, we think of raw, powerful emotion and beauty in storytelling. We hope to make a cider that will boast strong flavors and a lot of personality that people will enjoy from the first sip to the last,” Alex said.

 

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Jeff Schmidt, SFF program director, couldn’t be more pleased with the collaboration between the two local mainstays. “I think the handcrafted artisan nature of the cider produced by Far From the Tree pairs up in a really interesting way with the artistic process of filmmaking. Henrietta Boggs is quite a character, and creating a tribute to her seems like a great fit!” he said.

 

Alex plans to launch the new cider on Sunday, February 26, days before the festival opens. He is working with the SFF committee to show the short films from the previous festivals in Far from the Tree’s tasting room that night, and he’d like to collaborate with Popped! Gourmet Popcorn in Salem to provide popcorn for his guests.

 

“Whenever we release a new cider, the response has always been very great. We hope the launch on February 26th will be just as successful,” he said.

 

Far from the Tree makes a craft hard cider based on a philosophy that respects tradition by controlling the entire production process from apple pressing straight through to bottling. The cider is made with local apples and exclusively natural ingredients. Over the almost three years they have been serving up their delicious hard cider, they have crafted other special brews, including Husk Cider, a small-batch fermentation designed to complement Island Creek oysters, and four brews inspired by inspired by the works of New England horror author, H.P. Lovecraft and released in October 2015 to coincide with Salem’s month-long celebration of all things Halloween.

 

Alex isn’t the only film fan at Far from the Tree. Erik Pudas, its head cider maker, is a former cinema projectionist who has worked at film festivals in the past and still enjoys the unique films only a festival setting can offer. Jen Tran, the tasting room manager and head of sales, has attended the festivals for the last several years. “As a growing Salem business, we have developed several connections and relationships with community leaders, volunteers and organizers, and are happy to help support them,” Alex said.

 

Salem Chamber of Commerce Executive Director (and a Salem Film Fest co-founder) Rinus Oosthoek echoes Alex’s enthusiasm. “I think the special brew is a fantastic way both to celebrate Salem Film Fest’s 10th Anniversary and to help promote the festival and FFTT at the same time. Our film fest audience will be very receptive to the idea, so we should be able to get FFTT some new customers,” he said, adding in his native Dutch, “Proost!”

 

 

Far from the Tree is located at 108 Jackson Street in Salem. For hours and more information, visit farfromthetreecider.com.

 

Salem Film Fest 2017 runs March 2-9. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit salemfilmfest.com.