Category Archives: religion

Debra Haffner Prays With The President

The email was exciting: President Obama invites you to the annual Easter Prayer Breakfast, held in the East Room the day after Palm Sunday.

“White House invitations are always a little mysterious,” says Rev. Debra Haffner, president of the Westport-based Religious Institute. She thinks it may have been because her multi-faith organization — which advocates for sexual health, education and justice — has supported contraceptive coverage in the Affordable Care Act.

This was Rev. Haffner’s 3rd trip to the White House. But it was the smallest gathering — 150 clergy — and, in many ways, the most moving.

“Some people call these events ‘window dressing,’” she said. “But it was very profound.”

Rev. Debra Haffner sat this close to President Obama (and George Washington) in the East Room.

Rev. Debra Haffner sat this close to President Obama (and George Washington) in the East Room.

President Obama opened his remarks by citing the shootings the previous day at 2 Jewish facilities in Kansas. He said that no one should be fearful when they pray, and called on members of all faiths to combat the ignorance and intolerance that leads to anti-Semitism, hatred and violence.

Rev. Haffner — who laughs that she may have been “the 1st Jewish-Unitarian Universalist minister” at the event — had walked over from her hotel with Pastor Joel Hunter. He leads a 20,000-member mega-church in Orlando, and gave the opening prayer.

“People across the theological spectrum prayed together,” Rev. Haffner notes. “There was a very inclusive message, in a very diverse room.”

Dr. Otis Moss — who took over at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ after Rev. Jeremiah Wright stepped down — gave a powerful sermon. The black theologian tied together Anne Frank, Martin Luther King and the Easter celebration in a “spellbinding” way, Dr. Haffner says.

She was seated very near the front. Her table included Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, head of the 40,000-plus Hispanic Evangelical Association. Rev. Haffner told him about the Religious Institute’s Safer Congregations movement — keeping children and vulnerable adults safe from abuse and harassment — and says, “There’s a good chance we will work together on it.”

Rev. Debra Haffner with Gene Robinson, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.

Rev. Debra Haffner with Gene Robinson, retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.

Also at their table: Bishop Vashti McKenzie, the 1st female head of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

At the end of the breakfast, President Obama looked around. No one was scheduled to give the closing prayer, so he asked Rev. Gene Robinson — the retired openly gay Episcopal bishop — to give the benediction. He was as surprised as anyone, but spoke movingly, off the cuff.

“Starting with Joel and ending with Gene really shows the broad theological spectrum” of the day — and the administration — Rev. Haffner says.

After the breakfast, President Obama greeted the clergy. Rev. Haffner’s table was 1st — and she was the 1st member of her group that he spoke with.

Returning to Westport from Washington, Rev. Haffner reflected on the day — and all that came before it.

“My grandparents immigrated from Poland and Ukraine,” she says. “I don’t think they could ever have imagined this.”

(If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.)


This h communities and society.

Happy Palm Sunday!

A bagpiper and clergy led congregants out of Christ & Holy Trinity Church this morning. They marched up and down Myrtle Avenue, then returned inside.

The festive procession marked Palm Sunday — the beginning of Holy Week — celebrated by thousands of Westporters.

Music and religious rites combined as the Palm Sunday procession began.

Music and religious rites combined as the Palm Sunday procession began.

The procession continued down Myrtle Avenue.

The procession continued down Myrtle Avenue.

Among the celebrants: Jessica Branson, daughter of former minister Rev. John Branson and his wife Judyth.

Among the celebrants: Jessica Branson, daughter of former minister Rev. John Branson and his wife Judyth.

If your browser does not link directly to YouTube, click here.



Remembering Susan Wynkoop

Susan Wynkoop died last night, of pancreatic cancer. She was 60 years old.

Susan Wynkoop

Susan Wynkoop

Susan was a special Westporter: one of those passionate, always-ready-to-help, very effective yet down-to-earth people who quietly (and in so many ways) make this town special.

Susan had a fascinating life story. She was past president of the Westport Historical Society, a deacon at Southport Congregational Church, and among the 1st 200 women hired by the FBI. After 12 years with the agency, she became director of the FBI Foundation’s Oral History Project.

From 1990 until yesterday, she lived in the oldest house in Westport. Built around 1683, it’s the only pre-1700 structure in the entire town.

Passionate about preservation, she gained WHS “local landmark” certification for the home. As a result, it can never be torn down.

Susan Wynkoop did many things in her too-short life. That may be her greatest legacy of all.

The Wynkoops' home: 187 Long Lots Road. (Photo by Larry Untermeyer)

The Wynkoops’ home: 187 Long Lots Road. (Photo by Larry Untermeyer)

(To read about Susan’s FBI career, click here. For a story on her historic Westport house, click here.)

4 Jewish Women Walk Into A Google Hangout…

…and 8 weeks later, come out with a cookbook.

But bubbe, not just any cookbook. This one is 4 Bloggers Dish Passover: Modern Twists on Traditional Flavors. The recipes cover the whole megillah — traditional, vegetarian, gluten-free; appetizers, soups and salads, main courses, sides, desserts. From beet latke with cucumber jalapeño relish, through “nuts for you” chicken schnitzel, to creamy vanilla cheesecake with matzah nut crust, these are not your grandmother’s recipes.

Though she would be very, very proud.

And– we have to kvell — one of the 4 authors is longtime Westporter Liz Rueven.

Liz Rueven (Photo/Emily Hamilton Laux)

Liz Rueven (Photo/Emily Hamilton Laux)

She got her 1st taste of writing at the Westport Writers’ Workshop. She contributed to CTBites. Then nearly 3 years ago she began Kosher Like Me. Like many who keep kosher at home and honor its rules in restaurants by eating vegetarian, she craved “exhilarating, varied” choices — not always the same ol’ salmon.

Her recipes, restaurant and product reviews, personal profiles and calendar listings drew a devoted audience. Not all keep kosher — or are even Jewish. Many readers just love Rueven’s great vegetarian style.

(It sounds meshugenah, but named her 1 of the top 5 Jewish bloggers, thanks to her post-Thanksgivukkah recipe for beer-braised turkey tacos. It was to die for.)

Kosher Like Me also catapulted Rueven into the wide world of food bloggers (and the smaller niche of kosher and vegetarian writers). There she met Sarah Lasry of the Patchke Princess (“my crazy kosher life!”), Whitney Fisch of Jewhungry (“recipes and stories from my shvitzin’ kitchen”), and Amy Kritzer of What Jew Wanna Eat (Henny Youngman they ain’t.).

Through a series of circumstances, the women decided to collaborate on a Passover cookbook. But they only had 8 weeks, from the moment they agreed to the deadline.

Oy veys mir!

Liz Rueven - coverWorking through Google Hangouts — they’ve never all been in the same space together — they wrote and edited feverishly. They were brutally honest with each other. If any woman couldn’t stand the heat, she would have left the kitchen.

But none did. The result — an e-book, fitting today’s fast-moving world — hit #1 in 2 Kindle categories. (Jewish Foods and Kosher Cooking. You had to ask.)

Some of Rueven’s favorite contributions are a slow-roasted salmon with easy beet relish appetizer; a French onion soup with cheesy matzah crackers, and a cheesy spinach matzah lasagna. (The lasagna uses local greens, and is topped with a traditional French sauce to stay moist. “Matzah can get pretty dry,” Rueven notes.)

Every recipe, from all 4 women, offers a twist. Even the cover shows mini-potato kugels — not the usual heavier-than-a-bowling-ball variety.

So which of Rueven’s recipes will she make for her own Seder?


“I’m going to Israel,” she says. “My in-laws are there. They do it all. I can rest and relax. It will be great!”

(Click here for sample recipes. But then click here to buy 4 Bloggers Dish Passover from Amazon. Hey, big spender: It’s $3.99!)

Cheesy matzah lasagna -- mmmmm! (Photo/Liz Rueven)

Cheesy matzah lasagna — mmmmm! (Photo/Liz Rueven)





The Daily Meal (ho ho) has just posted its list of “America’s 10 Best Jewish Delis.”

Included are Carnegie Deli and Katz’s in New York City; Langer’s in LA, and Shapiro’s in Indianapolis. Indianapolis?!

Not on the list: Gold’s. Or Oscar’s.

Let the kvetching begin.

Golds deli

Oscar's Delicatessen (Photo/Videler Photography)

(Photo/Videler Photography)

Saying Goodbye To Michael Goodgame

Christ & Holy Trinity Church was jammed yesterday, for the funeral of Michael Goodgame.

Mourners filled the pews long before the start of the 4 p.m. service. Later arrivals were seated downstairs, and watched on closed-circuit TV.

Michael Goodgame

Michael Goodgame

Michael — the former Staples High School Student Assembly president and swimmer; the Carleton College Ultimate Frisbee player and newspaper writer; a deep thinker and good friend, killed a week ago in an automobile accident on an icy Minnesota road — was honored by a varied crowd.

His brothers and father spoke movingly of accomplishments and potential. Several female Westport friends recalled their close-knit group, to which Michael offered a special male perspective. His Carleton teammates lent a particularly poignant touch to the proceedings.

A New Orleans-style jazz band played before the funeral began, and their music accompanied his casket out. That was in keeping with Michael’s upbeat character.

The many friends of Michael’s parents — journalist Dan Goodgame and Westport Library communications coordinator Marcia Logan — have been to funerals before. That’s life, when you’re an adult.

But for most of Michael’s friends — young men and women in their early 20s — it was their first funeral. Their first brush with the death of a peer.

We older folks wanted to tell them, “It gets easier with time.”

But it never does.

Thursday Service Set For Michael Goodgame

The funeral for Michael Goodgame — the 2011 Staples graduate killed Friday in an automobile accident near Carleton College — is this Thursday (March 6, 4 p.m.) at Christ & Holy Trinity Church in Westport.

Michael Goodgame

Michael Goodgame

How Great They Art! Gospel Music Is Here

Westport might seem an unlikely place for a gospel choir concert, but there’s good news.

As in, the  Good News Gospel Choir.

Based in Weston — a place even less gospelly than Westport — the group has performed often here, since their founding in 1982. They’ll do so again tomorrow (Sunday, January 12, 4 p.m.) at Green’s Farms Congregational Church.

Good News will also appear (ecumenically) on Martin Luther King weekend. They’ll be at Temple Israel on Friday evening (January 17), and St. Luke’s on Sunday the 19th.

That’s good news for the choir’s many local fans, who don’t have much to shout about on most Sundays.

Chris Coogan

Chris Coogan

GNGC was founded by Chris Coogan, a Weston native and jazz pianist. He went to Amherst College to study jazz, but fell in love with gospel. The group performs his arrangements of traditional gospel standards, as well as Coogan’s original, jazz-influenced compositions.

Good News is “a family,” says longtime choir member Marcy Juran of Westport.

“Music touches us all in a way that is profound, that transcends but also connects us as a community. As a group we support each other, through our music and through life events.”

After each rehearsal, members share significant events in their lives.

Choir members bring their children to rehearsals. The youngsters often sing with the group too, sometimes moving into solo roles.

Good News Gospel Choir tenors.

Good News Gospel Choir tenors.

Notable Good News alum include Justin Paul — recently nominated for a Tony Award, at age 28 — plus his brother Tyler and mother Rhonda. Sally Eidman and Mia Gentile — both making their way on Broadway — are former choir members too.

Tomorrow’s concert is a benefit for a former member of both Good News and BASIC, a Norwalk gospel group that will also perform. The singer suffers from a catastrophic illness, and health insurance does not cover enormous hospital bills.

Out of that bad news, comes Good News indeed.

Oprhenians In Action

Snow knocked out yesterday’s Candlelight Concerts.

But the Orphenians — Staples’ elite singing group — spread their special holiday cheer this morning. They performed at the 11 a.m. mass at St. Jean Baptiste Church.  

Forty singers took an 8:23 train to New York this morning. For teenagers, 8:23 a.m. Sunday is a time that usually does not exist.

But that’s the magic of the holiday season.

And of Orphenians.

Orphenians rehearsing before their mass at St. Jean Baptiste Church. Luke Rosenberg is the conductor.

Orphenians rehearsing before their mass at St. Jean Baptiste Church. Luke Rosenberg is the conductor.

(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to this YouTube video of the Orphenians’ rehearsal.)

Newtown Prayer Vigil Is Canceled

Bad weather has canceled the Newtown candlelight vigil, scheduled for this evening on Veterans Green.

Rev. Alison Patton of Saugatuck Congregational Church sends along these remarks, which she had planned to deliver tonight:

On this anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings, we hold in our hearts:  families still heartbroken and a community still struggling to heal; siblings and classmates, teachers, pastors and first responders; community members working together to forge a way forward; all those for whom today stirs up fresh waves of grief. Holy One: wrap us in your powerful, comforting embrace.

And God? Even as we mark this anniversary, bullets continue to fly and children continue to fall (another 26 children every three days!), so we also ask for the courage to turn this world around. We give thanks for courageous voices; for all those working to overcome fear, reduce violence and nurture compassion.

Lend us all resilient spirits and hearts filled with hope. Turn our dismay into determination. As the people of Newtown struggle to find their footing and claim a future defined by more than the events of December 14th, 2012, help us all to craft a future in which all children can thrive. Amen.

Candlelight vigil