Hillel to honor Knopfs

by Shelley A. Sackett

MARBLEHEAD – Every year since 1987, the Friends of the Hillel Library have recognized members of the community for their commitment to learning and the pursuit of knowledge by presenting them with The Edith Bloch Award. This year’s recipients, Swampscott residents Diane and Eddie Knopf, will be honored at “Food: The Ultimate Connector,” a celebratory event to be held on Sunday, May 19 at 6 p.m. at the Epstein Hillel School in Marblehead.

“All of us who have had the opportunity to work alongside Diane and Eddie Knopf have seen first hand that their dedication to the North Shore Jewish community literally knows no bounds,” chairs Maura and Paul Copeland said in a press release.

Edith Bloch was a founding member of the Friends of the Hillel Library and was renown as a consummate teacher and committed mentor.

The Knopfs have made an impact on their community in many areas. For 11 years, Diane was Director of Community Engagement at Epstein Hillel and has volunteered in a number of positions, including as president of the JCC of the North Shore and chair of the JCC’s Jewish Book Month Speaker series. Eddie served on the Temple Beth El-Temple Israel merger committee and on the executive board at Congregation Shirat Hayam, where he is a regular at morning minyan.

Both earned MBAs, Diane from Northeastern University and Eddie from Boston University, and met at a Christmas Eve party in 1987. “I had a broken ankle and was in a cast, and he had a horrible cold,” Diane recalled with a laugh.

They married the following Thanksgiving, and Diane moved from Brookline to Swampscott, where Eddie had been living since 1978. Their daughter Elyse graduated from (then) Cohen Hillel Academy in 2004 and went on to Washington University in St. Louis.

To the Knopfs, libraries and education are synonymous and have long been part of their lives as students and adults. Diane and her mother, a 2nd grade teacher, established the Miller/Knopf Resource Library at Simmons University, both their alma maters. “Libraries matter to us,” she said.

Cooking, entertaining and travel matter to them too, and choosing Joan Nathan as the evening’s speaker reflects that. The award-winning cookbook author, PBS television host and newspaper and magazine contributor has won the James Beard Award twice, co-founded New York’s Ninth Avenue Food Festival under then-Mayor Abraham Beame, and received an honorary doctorate from the Spertus Institute of Jewish Culture in Chicago.

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, she is the mother of three grown children and lives in Washington, D.C. and Martha’s Vineyard with her husband, Allan Gerson.

Nathan will speak about her culinary exploration of Jewish cooking from around the world and sign copies of her latest cookbook, “King Solomon’s Table,” after a light dinner reception featuring recipes from the book. The event is open to the community and is free of charge, although registration is necessary.

Diane readily admits Eddie is the cook in the family. “He first got involved watching his mom and aunt cook,” she said. His favorite dishes to cook are chili, chopped liver, and turkey and stuffing for a big crowd. Diane’s favorite dishes to eat are “all of the above” plus Eddie’s locally famous popovers.

They love entertaining and bringing people together for an evening of food and camaraderie and share the responsibilities seamlessly. Eddie handles the majority of cooking and cleaning up and Diane organizes, decorates and plans the menu, which often features ethnic foods. “I am a very experimental eater, perhaps because my mom instilled in me a love of traveling the world,” Diane explained.

The Knopfs are in awe of Nathan’s accomplishments and couldn’t be more thrilled that she is the featured speaker at their honorary celebration. They share her beliefs that food has the power to unite people, especially during challenging times. Born in Tiverton, R.I., Diane’s link is also personal. “Before all the current famous Israeli/Jewish chefs, there was Joan from Providence, the leading expert in Jewish cooking who embraced and promoted Jewish cooking in America,” she said with just a hint of her native Rhode Island accent.

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Salem Film Fest spotlights local filmmakers, adds new Peabody Black Box Theater venue

Hail,Satan!

Salem Film Fest will feature HAIL, SATAN? on Sunday, March 31 at 7:15 pm at The Cabot Theatre in Beverly.

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

On Friday, March 29, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m., Salem Film Fest, one of New England’s leading all-documentary film festivals, will launch its 12th year with a kick-off party at Salem Arts Association at 211 Bridge St. Visiting filmmakers will be on hand to mingle with filmgoers prior to the first two features of the 70 short- and full-length film fest

 

“SFF always focuses on our filmmakers—we do everything we can to make their visits easy, fun and rewarding,” SFF Co-Founder and Director Joe Cultrera wrote in the program liner notes. Filmmakers are scheduled to be present at more than half the screenings, affording audiences the opportunity to learn about the documentary process and engage in intimate, thought-provoking conversations.

 

SFF2019 runs from March 29 to April 4, with films from around the globe screening at CinemaSalem, the Peabody Essex Museum, and the National Park Service Visitor Center in Salem; The Cabot and Endicott College’s Manninen Center for the Arts in Beverly, and the new Black Box Theater in downtown Peabody.

 

Salem Trolley will provide free weekend rides between cities so filmgoers can easily journey through 2019’s stellar lineup. A complete schedule of films, filmmaker receptions and music events, plus information on how to buy passes and individual tickets is at salemfilmfest.com.

 

One half dozen films this year are by filmmakers or about subjects with local connections.

 

Salem is well known for its historical connection to witchcraft. With Lynn native and director Penny Lane’s Hail, Satan?, its contemporary roots in sorcery may eclipse even the Salem Witch Trials for notoriety. The film’s subject is The Satanic Temple, a non-theistic religious organization with active chapters worldwide that is headquartered in Salem on Bridge St. Its co-founder, Lucien Greaves, is the film subject. Lane’s SFF North Shore Spotlight film questions the meaning of religious expression in a secular nation when The Satanic Temple campaigns to place a Satanic monument on the Arkansas State Capitol lawn. Greaves will answer questions after the screening on Sunday, March 31 at 7:15 p.m. at The Cabot.

Councilwoman

COUNCILWOMAN is SFF opening night film on Friday, March 29 at CinemaSalem at 7 pm.

 

Opening night’s Councilwoman is the first feature documentary directed by Watertown, MA-based Margo Guernsey. The film is at CinemSalem at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 29, and tells the story of a Dominican immigrant and hotel housekeeper in Providence, Rhode Island, who wins a coveted City Council seat. Guernsey has worked as a freelance director and producer in the Boston area since 2012 and will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A.

Marcos Doesn't Live Here Anymore

MARCOS DOESN’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE will screen on Wednesday, April 3 at 8 pm at CinemaSalem.

 

Filmmaker and Tufts University alumnus David Sutherland (Kind Hearted Woman, The Farmer’s Wife) has won over 100 international awards and citations for his films. On Wednesday, April 3 at 8 p.m., the New England premiere of Marcos Doesn’t Live Here Anymore will screen at CinemaSalem. Sutherland tells the heartbreaking story of Elizabeth Perez, a decorated Marine veteran, who fights to reunite her family amidst the trauma caused by America’s immigration policy after her undocumented husband is deported to Mexico. Sutherland will be on hand for a Q&A.

CAMOUFLAGE: VIETNAMESE BRUSH STROKES WITH HISTORY will screen on Saturday, March 30 at PEM at 10:20 am.

 

On Saturday, March 30, filmmaker Bestor Cram will be at PEM for a Q&A following the 10:20 a.m. screening of Camouflage (Contemporary Vietnamese artists overcome obstacles that demand personal courage and artistic determination to document a little known side of the aftermath of America’s war in Vietnam). Cram, a Viet Nam Veteran, has over 25 years experience as director, producer and cinematographer and founded Northern Light Production, located in Allston, MA.

Also on Sunday, March 31 are:

GRIT

GRIT will screen on Sunday, March 31 at CinemaSalem at 2:30 pm.

 

Grit (directed by Western MA resident Cynthia Wade and Sasha Friedlander), the story of one of the world’s largest man-made environmental disasters — a tsunami of boiling mud that sinks 16 Indonesian villages — that transforms a teenage survivor into a political activist; and

Balian (The Healer) (directed by Boston- based Dan McGuire), which follows the 20-year rise and fall of Mangku Pogog, a “Balian” or traditional Indonesian healer who is equal parts trickster, scoundrel and saint. His “discovery” by Western tourists leads to serious consequences and McGuire returns 20 years later to learn about his fate. Both films show at CinemaSalem with filmmakers present for post-screening Q&A sessions.

 

Balian

BALIAN (THE HEALER) will screen on Sunday, March 31 at CinemaSalem at 5 pm.

 

 

Finally, SFF veterans will be relieved to know nine new Salem Sketches will be unveiled this year. The mini docs showcase portraits of the local scene with one Sketch screened before each feature film. And, new this year, there are five Shorts Blocks—and they are all free.

 

 

A complete lineup of films, listings of all events, and information on how to buy tickets is available at salemfilmfest.com.

Temple Emanu-El unveils stunning stained glass ark at rededication

by Shelley A. Sackett

MARBLEHEAD – When Rabbi David J. Meyer stood on the bimah facing a packed congregation at the Temple Emanu-El rededication ceremony on March 8, he felt like a moment of fulfillment was being shared with the entire North Shore Jewish community.

The lights came up in the newly renovated sanctuary, with its magnificent stained glass ark, and he could hear gasps of amazement. “I felt enormous gratitude for the blessings filling the moment,” he said.

Ingrid Pichler, the Swamp­scott artist who created the ark, was among the attendees at the Shabbat service who witnessed the Torahs being placed in their new illuminated home.

“It’s a very different feeling when the work is installed as it takes on its own identity, the one it was created for, in the place it was always meant to be,” said Pichler. “After months in my studio, the work has now gone home.”

Ingrid Pichler, the Swampscott artist who created the ark, working with stained glass in her studio. Photo courtesy of Ingrid Pichler

The renovation was a long road that started with discussions five years ago, as both the need and desire to update the sanctuary, social spaces, offices, and learning spaces became ever more compelling. The $1.8 million project, which addressed accessibility and inclusion, functionality, security, and the environment, also stressed artistic considerations, which is immediately evident upon entering the remodeled sanctuary.

During discussions of how to best capture the essence of their community, Temple Emanu-El members kept coming back to the idea of water. “It is fitting, especially for our synagogue which stands only steps from the Atlantic Ocean, that water is used as a visual theme for our sanctuary of worship,” Rabbi Meyer said in a statement last year.

Pichler was first contacted by Francine Goldstein, Renovation Committee chairwoman, who asked if she would be interested in submitting a proposal for the ark as part of a national search for artists. The only direction she received was that the theme was water and she had one week to come up with something.

There were no initial guidelines regarding color, shape, or content, which left it up to the artists to find their own interpretations and relationships with the theme of water and the architectural space. The committee also considered using mosaic, metal, and wood.

Pichler presented her preliminary designs, and Goldstein recalled overwhelming committee support for using glass as the medium to express the theme. “The flowiness of the glass really speaks to the whole idea of water without being too blatant,” she said.

Pichler received the green light to meet with the design team and submitted her first designs in February 2018. After a lengthy period of discussion and tweaking, the final design was approved last May.

A view of the ark from the aisle. Photo by Stuart Garfield

“Any site-specific installation has to successfully integrate the architectural space; honor the location, purpose, and light of that space and, in this case, be the focal point,” Pichler said.

Pichler admitted she was a bit apprehensive at first, since this was her first Jewish house of worship (she has created work for churches in the United Kingdom and Marblehead). However, as a visual artist working in glass, she reminded herself that she communicates through more than just words.

“The language of color, shape, texture, line, and light is universal,” she said.

Originally from northern Italy, Pichler has been working in architectural glass for almost 30 years. She cut, shaped, assembled, and fired each one of the several thousand pieces of glass for the ark.

“I consider each piece of glass as a brush stroke that makes up the final painting, and therefore I work solo,” she said. “Water for a sacred space demands a very different interpretation than water for a luxury spa or swimming pool, and my thoughts when designing and fabricating are matched accordingly.”

The stunning result evokes the ocean, waves, and flow of the tides with its hues of blues and refraction of light, accomplishing much more than just its functional goal.

“In the Torah, water is the primordial substance from which life emerged at the will of God,” said Rabbi Meyer.

Salem Film Fest screens ‘The Accountant of Auschwitz’

by Shelley A. Sackett

In 2015, a frail 93-year-old former Nazi officer made international headlines when he went on trial in Germany, charged with complicity in the murder of 300,000 Jews at Auschwitz.

Nicknamed “The Accountant of Auschwitz,” Oskar Gröning was hardly the architect of the Holocaust. He was a 21-year-old soldier, following orders to collect and account for the items taken from Jewish prisoners as they were herded off trains and ultimately sent to their deaths.

Nonetheless, he was there, witnessing and abetting a system where 1.1 million people died at the notorious Nazi camp.

On the stand over 70 years later, with some who had survived Auschwitz in the courtroom as witnesses and testifiers, Gröning unemotionally described what he saw and what he did. He wanted to speak out as a witness because more than anything, he said, he wanted to debunk Holocaust deniers. On the other hand, as a participant, his hands were hardly clean. The issues raised were murky ethically and morally, asking questions with no clear answers.

Gröning was found guilty but died in March 2018, before he could begin the four-year prison sentence he was given.

If this sounds like it would make a great documentary film, director Matthew Shoychet and producer Ricki Gurwitz agreed. They teamed up to make the award-winning “The Accountant of Auschwitz,” which will screen at Peabody’s Black Box Theater (located inside the ArcWorks Community Art Center, 22 Foster St., Peabody) on Saturday, March 30, as part of the Salem Film Fest.

Shoychet, who grew up in a “pretty secular household” in Toronto, always was interested in Jewish subjects, but felt a special link through film. His grandfather showed him the 1959 film, “The Diary of Anne Frank,” which opened his 7-year-old eyes to the Holocaust.

Years later, “Schindler’s List” had a strong effect on him, Shoychet said. Although he is not a grandchild of survivors, many of his cousins and relatives were murdered. “I knew, as a Jew, I was connected,” he said.

Gurwitz attended Jewish day school in Toronto in a family she describes as a mix of conservative and reform. A “history nerd,” she was always interested in how her Jewish community has persevered through the centuries in the face of constant persecution.

Their paths crossed and they became friends in 2013 during an International March of the Living, the annual educational program that brings individuals from around the world to Poland and Israel to study the history of the Holocaust and to examine the roots of prejudice, intolerance, and hatred.

Shoychet took the trip again in 2015, where he met and befriended Holocaust survivor Bill Glied, who had to leave early to testify at the trial of another former Nazi in Germany.

“I didn’t know Nazi trials were even possible anymore,” Shoychet said.

By coincidence, Gurwitz, who was working as a TV producer, called Shoychet two months later to tell him about a story she just covered: the German trial of the former “Accountant of Auschwitz.” The two combined forces, created a pitch, and started filming as soon as they could.

They faced many challenges. German law does not allow filming inside courtrooms, so animations and graphics fill in the blanks. But the biggest challenge to Shoychet was for people not to dismiss the film as “just another Holocaust film.” His unique storytelling resists a chronological approach, instead interweaving side stories that take history and relate it to Gröning’s trial.

“There is a feeling of a race against time. Soon, Nazi perpetrators and Holocaust survivors will be gone,” Shoychet said.

For Gurwitz, making the film was a “life-altering experience. Witnessing a former SS officer testify in court is something I will never forget,” she said. “I want to challenge preconceived beliefs about justice, punishment, and culpability. There are two sides here, and I could argue both of them. I want audiences to explore the complexities surrounding this trial and ask questions about how we punish war crimes, who is responsible, and what is the statute of limitations.”

Salem Film Fest 2019 runs from Friday, March 29 to April 4. For more information or to buy tickets, visit salemfilmfest.com.

Daughter offers glimpse inside private world of Leonard Bernstein

by Shelley A. Sackett

Leonard Bernstein, whose global 100th birthday celebration has invigorated his reputation as one of the great musicians of modern times, was best known as a composer, conductor, pianist, teacher, and humanitarian. With the publication of her memoir, “Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein,” oldest daughter Jamie Bernstein shifts the spotlight to his least examined – but to her – most important role: that of father.

Jamie, a writer, broadcaster, filmmaker, and concert narrator, paints a detailed portrait of a complicated and sometimes troubled man, plumbing the emotional complexities of her childhood and inviting the reader into her family’s private world of celebrity, culture, and occasional turmoil.

North Shore Leonard Bernstein fans will have a chance to hear Jamie speak about her book and answer questions at 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 7, at the newly renovated Temple Emanu-El, 393 Atlantic Ave. in Marblehead. In addition, there will be a screening of the documentary, “Leonard Bernstein, Larger Than Life,” followed by a dessert reception. The event is co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Center North Shore Jewish Book Month and International Film Festival committees.

One of Jamie’s goals in writing her memoir was “to answer the frequently asked question: WHAT WAS IT LIKE?!” she told the Journal by email. “What was it like growing up in that family, with that father? The short answer: not boring. The longer answer: read my book!”

In her 400-page memoir, chockfull of spicy details and intimate family pictures, Jamie paints an eyewitness portrait of the 1960s and 1970s she lived. “I grew up in amazing times. They were turbulent and shifting. It was a particularly intense time to be a young woman,” she said. She also dishes about the extraordinary circle of characters that populated the Bernsteins’ lives, including: the Kennedys, Mike Nichols, John Lennon, Richard Avedon, Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Robbins, and Lauren Bacall.

Her two siblings, Nina Bernstein Simmons and Alexander Bernstein, also have been involved in preserving their father’s legacy. Jamie showed them every draft of her memoir. “All along, I told them that they had complete veto power. They were amazingly supportive; I don’t think they ever asked me to take anything out,” she said.

Their mother, Chilean pianist and actress Felicia Montealegre, raised her three children to be bilingual, which serves Jamie well when she narrates concerts in Spanish in locations such as Madrid and Caracas. “Our mother was not only beautiful, elegant, and talented, she was also the stabilizing force for our family in general and [for] our dad in particular,” she said.

Giving new meaning to the phrase, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” Jamie communicates her own love affair with classical music through her roles as speaker and concert narrator. She writes and performs the script for “The Bernstein Beat,” a popular and successful program of family concerts about her father’s music modeled after his own groundbreaking “Young People’s Concerts.”

Leonard Bernstein conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood in 1970. Photo by Heinz Weissenstein, Whitestone Photo, BSO Archives

“I’m not exactly channeling him [her father], since I’m only doing half of his job – the writing and talking part,” Jamie said. “But I do feel a similar urge to reach out and communicate to my audiences. I love sharing the stuff I’m excited about.”

While on her book promotion tour (“a considerable amount of schlep”), she has talked to many people who experienced her father’s mystique, either through concerts at Tanglewood and the New York Philharmonic or through recordings, TV, and Broadway productions. “It has been incredibly touching. The attendees are curious and attentive and quite emotional. And so many of them have stories!” she said.

Izzi Abrams, president of the JCC in Marblehead, is among those with stories. Her family had an indirect relationship with the Bernsteins through her uncle, Rabbi Israel Kazis of Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Brookline, where the Bernsteins were members when Leonard was a boy. Abrams also taught a course on Bernstein last fall and winter. “I’ve been excited ever since I heard a couple of summers ago that Tanglewood was going to celebrate Bernstein’s 100th birthday in 2018,” she said.

With over 5,000 events worldwide, Jamie acknowledges that her book is just a small piece of the LB Centennial celebration that she and her siblings hope will remind those who lived in their father’s era of the enormous legacy he left behind.

“We also hope that young people will discover Leonard Bernstein, and be excited to know more about him, his music, and his music-making,” she said.

For information or to buy tickets to the April 7 event, visit jccns.org or call 781-631-8330.

 

Swampscott scientist lands top MIT award

On Thursday, March 21, Dr. Mercedes Balcells-Camp’s colleagues will recognize what they describe as her extraordinary contribution when she receives the MIT Excellence Award for Advancing Inclusion and Global Perspectives.

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

SWAMPSCOTT — As the oldest of six children growing up in an apartment in bustling Barcelona, Spain, Dr. Mercedes Balcells-Camps shared a room with her three sisters and took public transportation or walked to school. From grades 1 through 12, she attended La Vall School, a girls-only charter school that met from 9am to 5pm and required students to wear a brown uniform.

 

On the first day of seventh grade, Dr. Balcells-Camps’ life changed forever when her science teacher, Mrs. Ustariz, told the class that their textbooks were only the tip of the iceberg and that there were more things waiting to be discovered than were written in those books. “I became a scientist that day. I wanted to discover the unknown in nature,” she said from the Swampscott home she shares with her husband and two daughters.

 

And become a scientist she did, earning a BS in chemical engineering, an MS in organic chemistry and a Ph.D. in macromolecular chemistry before moving to the US for a post-doctoral fellowship at MIT. “I was supposed to be in Cambridge for three years and then return to Spain,” she said. Instead, she became good friends with a colleague who introduced her to both her husband and to Swampscott.

 

Today, some two decades later, Dr. Balcells-Camps is Principal Research Scientist at MIT’s IMES (Institute for Medical Engineering & Science), a hub that brings together the community of students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty who work at the convergence of engineering, science and translational medicine. Through dual appointments at MIT and her alma mater, Institut Quimic de Sarrià in Barcelona, she has promoted innovative research and educational exchanges between both institutions and countries.

 

As a result of this collaboration, she created the International MIT-Spain Program and co-founded the Spanish start-up Regenear. She also chairs the MIT IDEA2 Global program, which provides mentoring and connections to biomedical innovators around the world to develop and realize their project ideas. “Science doesn’t work in isolation. It requires multidisciplinary and international approaches,” she noted.

 

On Thursday, March 21, Dr. Balcells-Camps’ colleagues will recognize her extraordinary contribution when she receives the MIT Excellence Award for Advancing Inclusion and Global Perspectives. The award is presented in six categories and represents the highest honor presented to MIT staff.

 

Since the day she found out she won the award, Dr. Balcells-Camps has been thanking her family, extended family and collaborators inside and outside the US. “You cannot build a bridge if you don’t have help in each side,” she said. Professionally, she hopes to harness the visibility of the award to continue growing programs to tackle global health problems through culturally sensitive patient-centric approaches. “What works here in the US may not work in a rural place like Latin America,” she explained.

unnamed-1

Dr. Mercedes Balcells-Camps, far left, and her daughters Swampscott High School freshman Isabel and Swampscott seventh grader Sofia.

 

She credits her daughters, Isabel and Sofia, with the resiliency and sense of humor to embrace their mom’s work, which has had them cross the Atlantic over 50 times and host hundreds of exchanges students and faculty. “I’m glad I make them proud because there have been sacrifices along the way,” she said.

 

While the excellent public schools, proximity to family and ocean views lured her to Swampscott, the more serious opportunity to fight disease and discover new tools that physicians could use to solve unmet clinical needs is what brought her to MIT. “MIT is the paradise of science, engineering and innovation and full of extremely motivated students and faculty. Early in my career, it became a dream of mine to come here,” she said.

 

Working with physicians and clinicians and industry partners to accelerate the path of new technologies, Dr. Balcells-Camps’ work has focused on building artificial organs and tissues made of biodegradable materials and human cells from donors. “I hope that in the future, in the same fashion we replace a tire on our car, we can replace the diseased artery when we have a stroke because of a blocked artery,” she said.

 

Currently, her research focus is development of a new model to understand the blood-brain barrier. This work is important for treatments of brain disorders, certain diseases (ALS, Alzheimer’s and MS) and drug abuse, such as opioid addiction.

 

Remembering the importance of her seventh grade teacher’s encouraging words, she offers this advice to young people thinking about pursuing a career in science.

 

“GO FOR IT! It is humbling and hard work but it is amazing what you can do when you unravel ‘science mysteries.’ The impact on society is tremendous. We need young talent in science and engineering if we want to understand how cells work and defeat disease, find better solutions to generate clean energy or create new smart materials for a better daily life.”

 

 

Still Standing: A Musical Survival Guide’

By Shelley A. Sackett

While most of her 21-year-old colleagues were busy planning their post-college lives, Anita Hollander was undergoing chemo and radiation therapies after her first bout of cancer in her left leg.

When she returned to Carnegie Mellon University for her senior year, she played a cabaret evening of songs by popular singers. A favorite teacher who was in the audience changed the trajectory of her life when she challenged Hollander to use her recent life experience to write and perform her own material instead.

Hollander wrote “The Choice,” about the options one makes when faced with a deadly disease. By the time her cancer reappeared five years later in 1977 – this time necessitating amputation – Hollander was well on her way to creating her show, “Still Standing: A Musical Survival Guide to Life’s Catastrophes.”

The solo 15-song cabaret chronicles Hollander’s story, from her initial diagnosis to the post-amputation continuation of her career as a musical theatrical performer. Each song, packed with humor, intelligence, and musicality, describes resources that helped her endure and persist.

“Sense of humor, great imagination, chutzpah, perspective, family, love, children, art – there’s nothing you have to buy or get,” said Hollander by phone from her Manhattan home. “Anyone who sees the show can use these tools to get through difficult times, obstacles, whatever is in front of them.”

“Still Standing” has played at the Kennedy Center, the White House, Off-Broadway, and in theatres around the country.

The New Repertory Theatre at the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown will present it from Feb. 9 through March 3 during Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month.
Since 2009, every February has represented a unified effort among Jewish organizations worldwide to raise awareness and foster inclusion of people with disabilities. Last February, the Ruderman Family Foundation helped finance a performance of the show at Kerem Shalom, an inclusion congregation in Concord.

Hollander is as much a disability activist as a performer. “My whole career is playing roles that were not necessarily meant to be disabled, but I happened to be playing them with one leg,” she said. As national chair of the SAG-AFTRA Performers with Disabilities committee, Hollander keeps a “watchdog scorecard” of disabled people showing up in every form of media. While she thinks film still “woefully” lags behind, she is encouraged by the great strides theater and TV have made over the last 10 years.

Hollander and her three sisters grew up in Cleveland, the daughters of a part-time cantor who organized them into a four-part harmony group that “started singing before we could speak,” she said, doing shows at temple and singing at services. When Hollander married, she joined the Village Temple in New York, where she has been children’s choir director for 23 years.

She and the children collaborate to write songs about holidays and Tikkun Olam (“repair the world”). The kids came up with the idea for “Share the World,” a song that features them saying “welcome” in 20 languages that represent countries where Jews live (it’s available on YouTube).

“Working with the children’s choir has been one of the best things in my life,” she said.

Asked whether she could envision anyone else playing her part in such an intimate autobiographical piece, Hollander said she is writing a new show, “Spectacular Falls,” with the idea that someone else could perform it. However, she added that she is about to do 26 performances in a row of “Still Standing” without an understudy.

“It’s like being out on a wire without a net on one leg,” she said with a laugh.

The Mosesian Center for the Arts is located at 321 Arsenal St., Watertown. For tickets, visit newrep.org or call 617-923-8487.

Uptick in Swampscott seniors landing early acceptance

 

shs1

Pictured are some of the SHS seniors who have received early acceptances for college. Front Row, from left: Sarah Ryan (Vassar College); Chloe Howe (Bowdoin College); Sara Hamada Mohamed (UMass Boston, Stetson and St. Michael’s U.); Yelena Jeffries (Boston U.). Back Row, from left: Aveen Forman (Marist College); Grace DiGrande (Bucknell U.); Isaac Dreeben (Oberlin College); Kyle Lenihan (Syracuse U.), and Ivan Kadurov (Pratt Inst. And Wentworth Inst. Of Tech.)[Photo by SHELLEY A. SACKETT]

 

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

Aveen Forman was drawn to more than Marist College’s bucolic Hudson Valley campus when she decided to apply for early action to the Poughkeepsie, N.Y. school. What piqued her interest about the school was 3,140 miles away in Dublin, Ireland, where she will spend her first year as a member of the Marist College Freshman Dublin Experience.

 

“None of the other schools I applied to had anything like it. It was such a cool opportunity, I had to apply,” the Swampscott High School senior said. She needed to submit separate applications to the college and this special program. “Thankfully, I got into both. It was my top choice.”

 

For Maddy Foutes, one visit to Northwestern University was all it took to convince her it was the perfect fit for her. “The lakefront campus is stunning, with incredible access to Chicago. And Northwestern’s quarter system allows students to pursue several areas of academic interest at once,” she said. She returned home, applied early decision and was accepted. “I couldn’t be more excited!” she added.

 

Architecture is Kyle Lenihan’s passion and intended major, and the Syracuse, N.Y. native decided to return to his birthplace to pursue his interest in his “old stomping grounds. The Syracuse University School of Architecture gave a sense of challenge and prestige that no other school had. It consistently ranks among the best in the country for undergraduate architecture,” he said. His early decision application was accepted, based in part on a portfolio of artistic works he was required to submit. “I would not have been accepted to this program if it were not for the art program at SHS,” he added.

 

Early decision plans are binding — a student who is accepted as an ED applicant must attend the college. Early action plans are nonbinding — students receive an early response to their application but do not have to commit to the college until the normal reply date of May 1.

 

Director of Guidance Emily Zotto-Barnum noted a marked uptick in early acceptance application over last year. The Class of 2019 saw 15% of the senior class applying ED (vs. 6% in 2018) and 55% applying EA (vs. 37% in 2018). While she’s not sure why there was such a huge jump in the numbers, she suspects running more Naviance and Common App boot camps may have prepared students earlier than in past years. [The

Common App Recommender System and Naviance are on-line

systems used to submit recommendations and school forms].

 

“During these boot camps, we do a lot of hand holding and walk the students through each step of the process one on one. It has been a great opportunity for us to be with the students and really understand where they are at,” she said, noting that the 14 before school, after school and evening sessions all attracted robust attendance.

 

Yelena Jefferies, who will attend Boston University where she plans to study sociology, is thankful for the guidance she received in filling out her college applications. She strongly believes the opportunity SHS students have to take Advanced Placement and Honors classes is of equal importance in preparing them for college.

 

“I was able to build skills that I know will be useful in a college classroom setting,” she said. She equally praises her non-AP class experiences with preparing her to be more confident in the kind of discussion-based classes she expects in college. “One major example is Mr. Reid’s Media Lit classes, which has helped me articulate critical thinking skills in class discussions and improved my informal writing skills,” she added.

 

In 2018, one-third of eligible students (Grades 10-12) took at least one AP level course. Every student enrolled in an AP class must take the AP test. 162 students took 372 tests in 19 subjects and 80% of them scored 3 or better. Many colleges award college credit for AP scores of 3 or higher, saving students (and their parents) tuition expenses and permitting them to skip introductory level classes their freshman year.

 

While academics are arguably the most important prong to a student’s portfolio, Zotto-Barnum stresses that SHS values and supports students’ non-traditional choices, too. She has noticed an increase in students electing to take a GAP year between graduating from high school and entering college.

 

One student chose a Semester at Sea; another will teach skiing in Japan. “We’re all about the path,” Zotto-Barnum said, referencing the SHS Guidance Department’s philosophy — Embrace your path, make your own pace! “While not all students choose the same path, everyone does have a place. It’s important for parents and students to hear this message,” she said.

 

Other students who have received early acceptances include: Diego Lucruz (Suffolk U. in Madrid, Spain); Isaac Green (George Washington U.); Ivan Kadurov (Pratt Inst. and Wentworth Inst. of Tech.); Harry Katz (Stanford U.); Molly Delaney (Emerson, Keene State, Salem State, Suffolk and Whitworth U.); Grace DiGrande (Bucknell U.); Sara Hamada (St. Michael’s College, UMass, BU and Stetson U.); Isaac Dreeben (Oberlin College) and Chloe Howe (Bowdoin College).

 

Some student-athletes who have been accepted to college plan to continue their athletic careers. These include: Sarah Ryan (field hockey at Vassar College); Nikki Rosa (basketball at Roger Williams U.); Ryan Graciale (baseball at Salve Regina U.); Hannah Amato (field hockey at Salve Regina U.), and Tim Perlin (lacrosse at Franklin Pierce U.).

 

Lest anyone think these seniors are coasting through their last semesters at SHS, think again. In addition to their regular course loads and studying for their AP exams, these students are spending time participating in band and chorus concerts, participating in the SHS Spring Musical “Sweet Charity”, working at a preschool three days a week and, as Foutes said, “trying not to let senioritis affect me too much.”

 

 

‘Heartland’ goes straight to the heart

 

 

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Dr. Harold Banks (Ken Baltin) and daughter Getee (Caitlin Nasema Cassidy) enjoy each other’s company in Gabriel Jason Dean’s riveting new play, “Heartland.” [Photo by Christopher McKenzie. ]

By Shelley A. Sackett

Dr. Harold Banks has a guilty secret.

The renowned Afghan scholar and retired professor at the University of Nebraska lives in Omaha, the “heartland” of America, with his beloved adopted daughter, Getee. Orphaned in Afghanistan, Getee yearns to return to her birth home both to reconnect with her biological roots and to offer humanitarian aid by teaching children outside Kabul.

While there, she discovers a dusty box of old primary school textbooks from the 1980s with messages that promote violence, hatred, and jihad. Nazrullah (Naz), an Afghan Muslim math teacher she befriends, remembers using the same book as a child. To her horror, Getee learns that Americans authored these books.

To Harold’s deeply buried shame, he was on the CIA-led team from the University of Nebraska that created and imbedded those same propaganda-laden books in Afghanistan as part of a Cold War strategy to counteract the Soviet invasion.

Playwright Gabriel Jason Dean’s riveting and recommended new play, “Heartland,” presented by the New Repertory Theatre at the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown through Feb. 9, plunges its audience into the personal and political tornado that encircles these three people. The tormented history of the relationship between Afghanistan and the United States is the invisible but pivotal fourth character, and it casts its shadow over every scene.

The play opens as an elderly and ill Harold, wearing boxers, a tropical-themed shirt, a baseball cap and flip flops lays on a chaise dictating semi-comprehensible lecture notes into a mini-recorder. Naz (portrayed with equal parts humor and gravitas by the gifted Shawn K. Jain) shows up on Harold’s doorstep with a message from Getee (ably played by the perky Caitlin Nasema Cassidy). Harold mistakes Naz for the air conditioner repairman, setting in motion a common thread of false impression, mistaken identity, and misunderstanding that runs throughout the 105-minute intermission-less production.

 

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Dr. Harold Banks (Ken Baltin) and Nazrullah (Shawn K. Jain) get to know each other. [Photo by Christopher McKenzie]

Through flawlessly interwoven flashbacks and dramatized memories, the linked stories of Getee’s adoption, her nascent interest in Afghanistan, her romantic relationship with Naz, and her ultimate death in a Taliban-led attack unfold beside revelations about Harold’s unwitting complicity in creating a generation of ruthless fighters. Ironically, those children raised on Harold’s textbooks grew up to become the Taliban that killed Getee. With her blood on his hands, Harold is at last forced to face his involvement in a failed foreign policy that reaped great sorrow for so many, including himself.The intimacy of the Mosesian Center for the Arts’ 90-seat BlackBox Theatre and Afsoon Pajoufar’s spare but effective set provides an immersive experience for the audience, which is transported from Kabul to Omaha with the flick of spotlights. When Naz moves in and takes care of Harold, their increasingly honest conversations explore the consequences of misguided US foreign policy while exposing Harold’s emotional rollercoaster ride through love, loss, denial, and pain.

“The man thought he was performing tikkun olam [healing the world] for a country he had come to love. He realizes that while he solved one problem, he created another enormous problem,” said Ken Baltin, the Needham resident whose portrayal of Harold’s inner conflict is spot-on. “How to manage these kinds of circumstances and still live with yourself is one of the main points of the play.”

“Heartland” is Dean’s second play about Afghanistan. His self-described “obsession” with the country began in 2006, when his brother-in-law’s girlfriend and her family were shot down near Kandahar while visiting her father, a civilian contractor.

“It wasn’t until I was holding my sobbing brother-in-law that a conflict in Afghanistan became personal to me,” he said by email. While researching another play set in Afghanistan, he came across several articles about these textbooks. “I knew I wanted to write about them immediately,” he added.
He hopes audiences will leave the play questioning U.S. policy of intervention in foreign countries with a critical eye to examining how Americans address their culpability when those policies fail.

“If we had the courage to face our failures, to say we are wrong, we are sorry, ask for forgiveness, and actually commit to better policy, then that would be the first step to righting these wrongs we seem to have a habit of repeating,” Dean said.

However, the more complicated issue of whether good intentions can trump unforeseen bad consequences is never quite black and white, even when the contrast between objective and outcome is stark. Despite his patriotic and selfless motives, the sympathetic Harold suffers in agony in a gray limbo area between damnation and redemption, trapped in a personal spiritual struggle.

“We made decisions that were in the best interest of the U.S. and Afghanistan,” he explains to Getee when she discovers his collusion. “Hindsight makes it easy to have morality.”

The Mosesian Center for the Arts is located at 321 Arsenal St., Watertown. Visit newrep.org or call 617-923-8487.

Erasing gender and race barriers puts a new face on ‘1766’

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Bobbie Steinbach (as Benjamin Franklin) and Benjamin Evett (as John Adams). [All photos by Andy Brilliant/Brilliant Photography]

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

Digging deep into the history of the United States reveals a largely unrecognized fact: Jews played a role in the events that launched the American Revolution. Like their fellow early settlers, they were divided in their loyalties, but there is no denying they had skin in the game.

The most famous revolutionary Jew was Polish-born Haym Salomon, a successful foreign securities dealer who helped finance the American cause. Francis Salvador was the first Jew elected to public office in the colonies. He was also the first Jew killed in the American Revolutionary War, fighting in 1776 on the South Carolina frontier. Abigail Minis was a Savannah, Ga., businesswoman and landowner who helped supply provisions for the revolutionary forces.

 

Don’t hold your breath, however, waiting for these unsung Jewish patriots to appear in The New Rep Theatre’s production of the 1969 Broadway hit, “1776.” The Tony-award-winning musical now onstage in Watertown focuses exclusively on the tumultuous political machinations that led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4. Our Jewish revolutionaries are not even a footnote.

 

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The cast of 1776

 

Nonetheless, co-directors Austin Pendleton and Kelli Edwards (the same team that breathed new life into the thread-worn “Fiddler on the Roof”) manage to shake things up by launching the play into the 21st century and casting it as gender and race neutral. Women play men, men play women, and the racial diversity on stage rivals that of “Hamilton.”

The strategy is, for the most part, clever and effective. The always-outstanding Bobbie Steinbach is dazzling as Ben Franklin. She steals every scene she is in (which is most of them) with her impeccable timing and gestures. It also doesn’t hurt that her character’s lines are the script’s best crafted.

The three-hour show takes place during a long, steamy Philadelphia summer. The Second Continental Congress, an unruly, exhausted and petulant group of men representing the original 13 colonies, meets day after day in a stifling room ‒ the windows can’t be opened or the chamber would fill with flies. Front and center on their agenda is deciding whether to declare national independence and unite formally in rebellion against British rule or remain separate sovereign colonies.

John Adams of Massachusetts is desperate to persuade this ill-tempered and motley crew that time is running out. If Congress doesn’t act now as a united front to throw off Great Britain’s tyranny, he fears General George Washington’s ragtag and outnumbered army will suffer crushing and lethal defeat.

The stumbling block is that Adams (in a spot on performance by Benjamin Evett) is, even by his own admission, obnoxious and disliked. Few take him or his ideas seriously. As the days pass, the room temperature and tempers flare, threatening to derail Adams’ dream. “It’s a revolution. We’re going to have to offend someone!” he bellows as yet another delegate proposes a self-serving amendment.

The script, based on the book by Peter Stone, is at times a starchy history lesson, unwavering in its emphasis on facts and chronology. The lackluster score and competent but uninspired choreography and lighting do not lighten the load. Although the audience leaves chock-full of knowledge, the lingering aftertaste is of a snack chosen for nutritional value rather than flavor.

White men comprised the real Second Congress. In this modern version, half the delegates are women, dressed as ‒ and playing the roles of ‒ men. Although initially distracting, the novelty soon wears off and everyone becomes a co-equal delegate. Suddenly, what really matters are the words they speak, not how they look or sound.

 

The directors succeed in creating a truly representative body, one that is color blind and gender neutral, united by the simple commonality of humanness. Basking in that possibility, even if it is only make believe, is well worth the price of admission.

 

Through Dec. 30 at the Mosesian Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown. Tickets are $22 (student) to $72. Visit newrep.org or call 617-923-8487.