This year’s Jewish Film Fest will leave you on the edge of your seat

by Shelley A. Sackett

MARBLEHEAD – Jewish film festivals are wildly popular, and according to, moviegoers had 170 to choose from worldwide in 2018 in locations ranging from Nebraska to Nepal. For the sixth year, local residents need travel only a few miles to Marblehead and Salem to view 13 films offered by the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore International Jewish Film Festival from April 28 to May 9.

While films about the Holocaust are natural candidates for a Jewish film festival, this year’s lineup features several films that – although set during World War II – are more character than history-driven. Bookending the 12-day festival are opening night’s “The Catcher Was a Spy,” a thriller starring Paul Rudd based on the true story of Moe Berg, the Red Sox catcher who became a WWII spy, and closing night’s “Prosecuting Evil,” a gripping documentary about Ben Ferencz, the remarkable 99-year-old and last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor.

Gordon Edes, an award-winning sportswriter and Boston Red Sox historian, will speak and answer questions following “The Catcher Was a Spy,” and both films include a post-screening reception.

The remaining 11 films are a well-balanced mix of documentary, drama, and comedy. In “Winter Hunt,” a riveting German contemporary psychological thriller, a young woman on a personal mission of vigilante justice goes to extremes as she seeks reprisal against a suspected ex-Nazi. Powerful performances, an edgy score, and a tight script fuel the suspense.

Jewish women are front and center in three films that look at dilemmas they face as they struggle to forge their own paths in a world complicated by religious tradition and social conformity. “Working Woman” addresses the complexity of contemporary life in Israel, chronicling the predicament faced by Orna (played by the remarkable Liron Ben-Shlush) as she juggles motherhood, marriage to a struggling restaurateur, and a meteoritic rise in the corporate real estate world. When her boss relentlessly sexually harasses her, her entire world is brought to the brink of disaster.

Life for women in pre-state Israel was no less complex, as illustrated by “An Israeli Love Story.” Based on a true story and set in 1947, the well-shot and edited film explores the relationship between an aspiring actress and a kibbutznik who is also a member of Palmach, an elite fighting force. In “Leona,” a young Jewish artist in present day Mexico City finds herself torn between her traditional, observant family and a forbidden love.

On a lighter but no less poignant note, the award-winning “Shoelaces” traces the relationship between Reuven, a surly parent, and Gadi, his charismatic adult son with special needs, as the two slowly develop a tender and life-affirming bond of devotion. The popular film is thought-provoking and unexpectedly funny.

Three documentaries reveal different facets of present-day Jewish life. “Chewdaism: A Taste of Jewish Montreal,” follows two local men on the cusp of middle age as they nosh their way through a series of classical eateries and share their community’s 100-year Jewish history. “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel” charts the underdog journey of Israel’s national team to the 2017 World Baseball Classic in a story of sports, patriotism, and growth.

“Sustainable Nation,” shown in partnership with CJP as a free community event in honor of Israeli Independence Day, follows three visionary Israelis as they bring water solutions to an increasingly thirsty planet.

Poland and France are the settings for the rest of the line up. “Who Will Write Our History” is a documentary set in 1940, after Nazis sealed 450,000 Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. The story of Oyneg Shabes, a group of journalists, scholars and community leaders who resolved to fight Nazi propaganda with pen and paper, is told through writings, new interviews, rare archival footage and dramatizations.

In her deeply personal documentary, “Chasing Portraits,” filmmaker Elizabeth Rynecki travels to Poland to find the remaining work of her great-grandfather, a prolific impressionistic painter who captured scenes of pre-war Jewish life.

“A Bag of Marbles,” based on a true story, follows two young Jewish brothers as they fend for themselves, making their way through German-occupied France to reunite with their families.

Many films have post-screening guests who will speak to issues raised by the films.

For information and to buy tickets, visit or call 781-631-8330.

Manna rains on Marblehead interfaith project


Pictured left to right: Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez and Pastor Jim Bixby

When Temple Sinai’s Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez and Pastor Jim Bixby from Clifton Lutheran Church first met at a Marblehead Ministerial Association meeting last summer, they both sensed a spiritual connection that went beyond them being among the youngest in the room.

“His church and Temple Sinai have a lot of similarities,” said Cohen-Henriquez, who is known as “Rabbi David” to his congregants. “Both are small. Both are in Marblehead. And both are dealing with contemporary theological challenges where people are not going to services like they used to. We are both striving to find ways to engage the new generations.”

Bixby, who congregants call “Pastor Jim,” grew up in Miami next door to many Panamanians, and he was fascinated when he found out Cohen-Henriquez was born in Panama. “I said to myself, ‘I don’t think I know anyone from Panama who is Jewish, let alone a rabbi, let alone a man with a hyphenated last name and a gift for storytelling,’” Bixby said with a chuckle.

The two spoke at length and realized their connection ran deeper than congregational size and demographics. Both aspired to engage their communities into social action while connecting personally and spiritually with their neighbors of different faiths.

Bixby learned of Temple Sinai’s decision to focus its social action on homelessness and of its support for Lynn shelters. He shared his church’s emphasis on helping recently arrived refugees and immigrants at Lynn’s New American Center.

With both congregations committed to providing food for marginalized people in need in Lynn, the two spiritual leaders decided to combine forces.

The result is “The Manna Project,” a joint mission with three components: a pulpit exchange, a Harvest Festival, and a food-packing event to benefit the needy in Lynn.

The September pulpit exchange was a huge success. Bixby addressed a Friday night Shabbat service and Cohen-Henriquez spoke at a Sunday morning church service. Both events drew congregants from both communities and thrilled the two clergymen.

Cohen-Henriquez had been in churches before, but had never been to a Sunday service, and certainly had never spoken to a congregation from a Christian pulpit.

The similarities between the two traditions impressed him. The Lutheran selected reading (similar to the weekly Torah parsha) during his appearance happened to be about the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, known to Jews as the parting of the Red Sea. He captivated the churchgoers with midrashim that retold familiar biblical stories in ways outside the traditional Lutheran framework.

“Seeing people react to these stories that fill in the blanks, appreciating and rediscovering treasures that were already there, was really satisfying,” Cohen-Henriquez said.

The communitywide Harvest Fest, timed to coincide with the end of Sukkot and Oktoberfest, was a fund-raiser with vendors, games, and food, which both communities prepared and sold together. Shepherded by Temple Sinai Executive Director Susan Weiner, and Clifton Lutheran Church UpReach Council member Pat Small, the event raised $2,000 toward its $5,000 goal. Each dollar raised buys a meal for a family of four.

To fill the fund-raising gap, The Manna Project will sell tickets for a monthlong daily raffle in January. Bixby and Cohen-Henriquez went to local Marblehead businesses soliciting donations. (“Seeing a pastor and a rabbi entering your store must be like the opening of a joke,” Cohen-Henriquez said with a laugh).

Both were struck by how generous the business owners were and by how much they appreciated seeing clergy from different traditions work together.

The Manna Project’s third and capstone event is a food-packaging gathering on March 4, which will involve both communities’ social action committees and many volunteers. “We will need as many hands on deck as possible in order to get out the 3,000 to 4,000 meals we hope to prepare. Many hands make light work!” said Small.

In the meantime, both the pastor and the rabbi are positive their collaborations will not end with The Manna Project.

“Our communities are getting to know each other. We even see our missions as intertwined,” Bixby said.

“It’s a consciousness that transcends how you pray,” echoed Cohen-Henriquez. “There are many more things that bond us than separate us.”

For more information on The Manna Project, call Temple Sinai at 781-631-2763 or Clifton Lutheran Church at 781-631-4379.

Marblehead’s Dolphin Yacht Club has survived stormy seas

By Shelley A. Sackett



George Freedman of Marblehead reflected on the history of the Dolphin Yacht Club. Photo by Steven A. Rosenberg/Journal Staff


MARBLEHEAD – John Smidt was a kid from Marblehead who loved sailing and being around the harbor. His dad, Phenny, bought a boat in 1948 and John remembers they joined the Salem Willows Yacht Club, even though his hometown harbor was miles closer.

“The way the story has been passed down, there was no place in Marblehead Harbor for a Jew with a boat,” John said over coffee and a muffin at an outdoor café on a recent sunny morning. “I didn’t know the politics of what was going on, but I watched what was happening.”

Although there was no written ban, realtors steered Jewish buyers away from Marblehead. “‘You probably wouldn’t be comfortable here’ was the phrase most commonly used,” said retired psychiatrist George Freedman, who grew up in Marble­head.

That discrimination extended to Marblehead Harbor and its yacht clubs, which in 1950 denied fuel, mooring, or launch service to Jewish boaters. Like Phenny Smidt, they either joined clubs in nearby harbors or had to moor at a spot unaffiliated with any of the Marblehead clubs.

Fed up with the status quo, a group of Jewish boaters decided to take matters into their own hands. In January 1950, 14 men formed the Dolphin Yacht Club and sent letters soliciting charter members “with the main qualification being a desire to participate in nautical activity as an avocation.” The stated purpose and scope of the club was to “promote and foster the nautical spirit among its members regardless of color, race, or creed.” Initial membership would be limited to 60.


The founding members of Marblehead’s Dolphin Yacht Club in 1950.


The list of founding members and tentative officers who signed the letter included Harry Weinstein, B. Frederick Yoffa, Morris Jaynes, Ben Myers, Arthur Rubino, Phenny Smidt, Irving Mann, Leo Sonnabend, Dr. Adolph Sandberg, Harry Simon, Nathan Cohen, Dr. Nathan Silbert, Hy Jaffee, and John Rimer.

Nine attended the club’s first breakfast meeting on January 15 at Lynn’s Hotel Edison, according to a $12.65 bill that itemized breakfast charges at 85 cents each and room rental at $5.

Smidt remembers going with his father to the Dolphin Yacht Club’s first location, a space under the Rockmere Hotel (now Glover Landing condos) with a gravel floor and metal lockers. Boaters would grab their dinghies and row out to their moorings.
In 1955, the Marble­head Harbor Yacht Club, adjacent to the Rockmere Hotel, merged with another club and its property became available. Lewis Athanas, brother of restauranteur Anthony Athanas, offered to act as a non-Jewish “straw” – or third party – to buy the Marblehead

Harbor Yacht Club and turn it over to the Dolphin Yacht Club. “He was just open-minded,” Smidt said. “Looking back, it took guts.”

Over the next six decades, the club fluctuated in its financial solvency, physical amenities, and members, but remained steadfast in its promise to be an inclusive presence on the previously exclusive Marblehead Harbor.

In 1964, 22-year-old John Smidt bought his first sailboat, a 16-foot Bullseye, and joined the Dolphin. By 1969, he and Marvin Frank put the club on the yachting map when they raced Frank’s boat, “Bat Yom,” in the 70-hour Marblehead to Halifax race, becoming the first Dolphin boat to compete in that prestigious event.

Colorful Sunset over Marblehead Harbor

The Dolphin Yacht Club looks out onto Marblehead Harbor. Photo courtesy of


By 1973, the club needed more income to remain solvent. Smidt tried to beef up membership numbers – and the club’s finances – by advertising the Dolphin as “a yacht club for all people.” He did the same thing in 1980 when membership had dwindled to 45. By the end of that season, the Dolphin had 75 members who represented a mixture of people and cultures.

“We took on a bunch of non-Jewish members,” Smidt said. But the club still struggled to make ends meet.

The situation was so dire that a 1986 article in the Jewish Journal was titled, “The Dolphin sends an S.O.S. to the Jewish community.” Marblehead pharmacist Elliot Strasnick, a member since 1975, dug in his heels, enlisted volunteers like Freedman, and “decided to go for it. We started to think outside the box,” he said. The club sold bonds, paid off its debts, and rebooted with more emphasis on social and kayak memberships and amenities.

Next, the club procured a liquor license, started offering food service, and offered social memberships. Today, social memberships far outnumber boaters, and non-Jews outnumber Jews. The club recently completed extensive renovations and hired Alan Knight, former executive chef at the Boston Yacht Club. On sunny weekends, dinner reservations on the deck are hard to get.

Despite the larger numbers and fancier digs, Freedman still feels the small club friendliness of the early years. But more than that, the 2017 Dolphin has come full circle, more closely fulfilling the original members’ intent.

“Although the club’s origins are Jewish, its original charter specifically stated that the club was open to all,” Freedman said. “Fortunately, we have lost the perception of being “the Jewish Club,” but the history is important, especially in these sensitive times.”

Too Many Unanswered Questions in Marblehead

The Jewish and Catholic communities of Marblehead dodged a bullet at the March 19 School Committee meeting. The Marblehead School Committee did not fare as well.

The state mandates 180 days of school, and teacher contracts dictate that school end by June 30. Traditionally, a calendar that plans for five snow days satisfies these terms.

This February, after a sixth snow day, the School Committee decided to revisit the 2015-2016 calendar it had just approved at its January meeting. Its goal was to trim days off to create a bigger cushion in case next winter turns out to be as harsh as this year’s.

The Superintendent emailed a survey to parents to find out if certain days off really “mattered” to them. The only days the School Committee put on the potential chopping block were the two days of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Good Friday.

When the committee posted the March 19 meeting agenda, it included discussion about the 2015-2016 calendar, presumably based on the results of the survey. After 150 people showed up to express their dismay and displeasure, the School Committee apologized and took no action, leaving both the High Holidays and Good Friday intact as days off by default.

Not only does this end not justify the means the committee used to gather its data, but there also remain too many unanswered questions.

Who drafted the survey and who approved it?

Why were Jewish and Catholic holidays the only days off considered?

Why wasn’t consolidation of February and April vacations an option?

Why wasn’t the Friday before Labor Day an option?

Why were all restrictions on the calendar that are based on teacher collective bargaining contracts not listed and addressed?

Why was a longer school day or shorter summer vacation not an option?

Most importantly, what might have happened had the Jewish community not rallied and showed up in force to protest?

The School Committee members apologized for the survey’s poor drafting and stated that their intent was not malicious and their action not based on religion. We want to believe them.

We hope they will prove that by reopening the calendar discussion and putting everything on the table, including February and April vacations (despite the inconvenience some student athletes might suffer) and that last Friday before Labor Day (when Marblehead Harbor is a sea of sailboats). Until that happens, the only real result of the March 19 meeting is the bad taste left in everyone’s mouth.

This originally appeared in the Jewish Journal on March 26, 2015.

He Wrote the Song

Last fall, when David Brook found out “Legacy,” a song he had co-written, would appear as track 6 on Eminem’s 2013 album “The Marshall Mathers LP 2,” he ran down Madison Avenue screaming at the top of his lungs. “It was the most exciting moment of my life,” the 2006 Marblehead High School graduate said.

That was true until February 8, when the album won the Grammy for Best Rap Album of the Year. “It was as climactic as it gets,” Brook said. “I’m still waiting for the alarm clock to wake me up and tell me it’s all a joke.”

The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States awards a Grammy Award, or Grammy, to recognize excellence in the creation and production of musical recordings.

Brook credits his mom, Bonnie Brook, and Steve Geyer, his Lynn music teacher during his adolescence, for his interest and success in the music industry. “David has always been an exceptional young man,” said Bonnie Brook. “Living in a small town, I took every opportunity to involve my kids in going to Boston so they felt they were part of the larger world.”

Music was one of the ways in which David expanded his horizons. He started writing songs as a middle schooler and made his first real demo while in high school. After learning that his cousin was friends with the wife of Atlantic Records CEO Craig Kallman, David begged her to pass his demo along. It was 2006 and Brook was a freshman at Northeastern University.

“I knew it was a little bit of a stretch, but I thought that maybe if his wife liked it, she would pass it off to Craig,” Brook said. “Maybe something would happen.”

Indeed, something did. The executive loved the song. He flew Brook to New York for a meeting which was leveraged to get a manager and collaborate with “some big writers and producers.” Upon graduating from college in 2011, David penned a deal with Universal Music Publishing Group.

One of his first writing sessions for Universal was with singer-songwriter Polina Goudieva. “We sat down and wrote this ballad on the piano. We thought it was a good song, but didn’t really know what to do with it.” Brook said. The song would become “Legacy.”

Polina played it for an Interscope Record executive who sent it to producer Emile Haynie, who had previously worked with rapper Eminem on his last album. Haynie loved the song and sent it to Eminem after production.

“We sent him that song in late 2011 and the album didn’t come out until fall 2013. There was a gap of two years when we didn’t know what was going on,” Brook said. The selection process is shrouded in secrecy; he knew the song was in the mix for inclusion on the album, but he didn’t know whether it was chosen. “With an artist as big as Eminem, the process is kept very close to a select few,” said Brook. “I later found out he recorded around 200 songs for the album; 16 made the cut.”

One day an employee at Universal called him and told him that the MMLP2 track list had leaked online and “Legacy” was included as Track 6 on the new album. The song included verses by Eminem, which told the story of his troubled childhood growing up in Detroit.

Brook heard the finished version for the first time when it was released to the public. “Eminem is one of my favorite artists of all time. I was expecting it to be great,” he said. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 Charts and had the second biggest first week sales of the year behind Justin Timberlake. It has sold over four million copies worldwide. “Legacy” peaked at number 44 on the U.S. Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-hop Charts.

Bonnie Brook was confident her son would succeed. “David is someone who really takes advantage of what’s there and is cognizant of how to work the system,” she said. “[Music teacher] Steve Geyer gave him incredible confidence in himself.”

Contrary to the glitz and glamor of the televised award announcements, many categories are announced via the internet on before the show begins. Brook found out the album won Best Rap Album of the Year when a fellow nominee texted him, “Dude, the album won.”

“My mom thought I would go on stage and be on TV for a half hour,” Brook said with a laugh.

Brook watched the Grammy Awards show with friends, his girlfriend, and his sister Alexandra (MHS ’03) at his downtown Manhattan apartment. He could have attended the event, but wanted to spend the night with the people closest to him.

When asked if he will receive the famous gold statue, David replied, “I think I get a certificate or a plaque that says, ‘Congratulations.’” The intangible benefits, however, are priceless. “I wrote a song that’s on the album that won a Grammy for Best Rap Album of the Year,” he said. “It’s been a cool year.”

To listen to “Legacy,” go to vimeo. com/78224432.

Dual Paths for Dual Hands

As the daughter of Holocaust survivors, Monique Illona was shaped by her parents’ pain and anguish. “My parents were traumatized and their experiences traumatized me and my siblings,” Illona said. “They didn’t have the opportunity or resources to learn how to deal with their problems.”

She, however, did. Her recently published book, “A Dual Path: Sacred Practices and Bodywork,” describes her path from pain, bitterness and anger, “the energetic matrix I inherited from my parents,” to an awakened life of transformation and sacredness.

She also offers a blueprint for how the integration of bodywork (massage) and spiritual practices can help one achieve a life that cultivates inner stability, connection and strength.

Monique Illona

Illona’s parents met in Paris after World War II. Her French mother had survived the war by hiding in Paris and her Czechoslavakian father had survived Auschwitz. They first lived in Paris, but her father could not get a work permit. They applied for visas in three countries, America, Australia and England. The visa to Australia came through first. Her two brothers were born there, but the family eventually settled in England where Illona was born in 1960.

Judaism was a foundation for her growing up. She and her brothers attended weekly Hebrew school, but her parents were conflicted about how to integrate Judaism with raising a family. “My father came out of the Holocaust believing there wasn’t really a God,” she said. One of her brothers wanted to have a traditional Jewish family life, which caused huge arguments at home. “My brother kind of won and we did do Passover and Shabbat and always went to synagogue for the High Holidays,” she said. Her brothers still lead actively Jewish lives.

When Illona was 12, her father discovered that his sister had survived the war and lived in Israel. She accompanied her parents on their first trip there and fell in love with the country. She went back every year from the age of 13 during summer vacations to volunteer at various kibbutzim or to do work study programs.

“A Dual Path” enables others to shorten their own paths from a painful to a more vibrant and meaningful existence.

Once she finished school, she joined an ulpan on a kibbutz to learn the language. She ended up staying, joining the Israeli Defense Forces and becoming a member of a kibbutz in the Golan Heights. “My connection to Israel became stronger than my connection to Judasim,” she said.

She married in Israel and she and her American husband lived in a kibbutz made up of three or four “garinim” (groups of people who serve in the army together and then go to the same community to help build and establish it). Her husband fought in the 1982 Lebanon War in Beirut; many of their fellow kibbutz members died in that war. She and her husband, who are now divorced, decided to leave Israel and give it a go in the U.S.

She completed a B.F.A. at the School of Visual Arts in New York and earned a Masters degree at Lesley University in Expressive Therapies. It was during this program that she began to examine herself and to understand the connection between the legacy she had inherited and the life she had been leading.

She started learning things her parents never had the chance to. “There was something in me that was strong, clear and focused. I realized I could go forward in a whole different direction,” she said, adding, “It was like giving up caffeine. I rejected who I had been until that time.”

Illona was also a self-defense instructor and an inductee into the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame. She met her soulmate and professional partner Blane Allen in 1990 when his martial arts school moved into the building where she lived and worked as a sculptor. They have offered professional massage bodywork since 1991, and created “Hand in Hand Massage” in Marblehead.

At their teaching facility, The Dual Path Institute™, located next door to Hand in Hand, they offer events, programs and workshops for massage professionals and the general public for personal transformation and professional growth. They also travel the country and the globe with their trainings and public speaking.

Illona wanted to write “A Dual Path” to enable others to shorten their own paths from a painful to a more vibrant and meaningful existence. “Once you have enough strength, it’s so much easier. I really feel we have that choice every day in every moment.”

Visit handinhandmassage. com and or call 781-639-4380.