Category Archives: religion

Chabad Grows Into Its New Home

Three years ago, Chabad Lubavitch of Westport bought the old, abandoned Three Bears Restaurant. An “06880” story — including neighbors’ complaints of renovation work done prior to the permitting process — drew a record 217 comments.

Three years later, Chabad is preparing a moderate expansion plan. All is going smoothly — so well, in fact, that neighbors are ready to toast “L’chaim!”

Chabad Lubavitch's home -- formerly the Three Bears, as seen from Newtown Turnpike.

Chabad Lubavitch’s home — the old Three Bears, as seen from Newtown Turnpike.

Though it’s called “Chabad of Westport,” the local branch of the international group serves Weston, Wilton and Norwalk too. The old Three Bears property — at the intersection of Wilton Road and Newtown Turnpike — is centrally located for all 4 towns.

It was Chabad’s 1st true local home. The organization — whose aim is to enhance Jewish life through programs, social services and worship — had rented a variety of sites for 18 years, including Ketchum Street, the Westport Woman’s Club and Camp Mahackeno.

Chabad has flourished. It runs a religious school, teen and adult programs, and a summer camp (at Coleytown Elementary School). Recently, they hosted a festive Purim party.

Another view of Chabad, looking toward Wilton Road.

Another view of Chabad, looking toward Wilton Road.

The new addition will enhance Chabad’s services — and the neighborhood — say Rabbi Yehudah Leib Kantor and Peter Greenberg (a Chabad member and partner in Able Construction, who is doing the project at cost). The architect is Robert Storm.

The historic nature of the building — including, importantly, its street-facing facade — will be protected. New construction will be in “the New England vernacular” — fieldstone and shingles — blending in with what’s already there.

The additions and renovations — enlarging the current 9,000 square feet by 4,000 more — will take place in the back. A new 300-person sanctuary will double as a function hall for holiday events, and bar and bat mitzvahs (right now, Chabad rents the Westport Woman’s Club.) The religious school will be housed in the lower level.

A rendering of the addition.

A rendering of the addition, as seen from Newtown Turnpike.

Also planned: a new lobby, kitchen and elevator. The interior of the existing building will be “freshened up,” Greenberg says.

The 100-car parking lot entrance closest to Wilton Road has been closed. That should ease traffic by the light.

The back of the parking lot, meanwhile, will be raised slightly, to protect nearby wetlands.

Another rendering -- parking lot view.

Another rendering — parking lot view.

Chabad has already presented plans to Westport’s Flood and Erosion Control Board. Ahead are more panels, including Conservation, and Planning & Zoning.

A variance for coverage will be needed from the Zoning Board of Appeals. This is routine, Greenberg says, for nearly every church, synagogue, school and commercial property.

“This is a community project,” the rabbi notes. Funding comes entirely from area residents. Feedback from neighbors has been very positive, he and Greenberg say.

Chabad hopes for approvals within 3 to 4 months, with construction completed by next spring.

From their lips to you-know-who’s ears.

From Westport To Selma: 50 Years Of Activism

Denny Davidoff will be 83 years old tomorrow.  The longtime Westport Unitarian Church member and social justice fighter celebrated last weekend with a trip to Alabama.

She spent three days in Birmingham, at a Unitarian Universalist conference commemorating the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” beating of civil rights workers in Selma. Workshop topics ranged from history and racism to Ferguson, nonviolence and “the new Jim Crow.” Speakers included Dr. Bernice King, Rev. C.T. Vivian and Rev. William Barber.

The UU church was intimately involved in the 1965 voting rights struggle. Both Rev. James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo — a lay volunteer — were killed in Selma-related incidents.

On Sunday, Davidoff and several thousand other Americans — of all ages, races, religions and backgrounds — walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The emotional event featured songs, music, and loudspeakers that broadcast Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Selma speech from 1965.

Denny Davidoff took this photo, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The #IamViola sign refers to Viola Liuzzo, a Unitarian and mother from Detroit. In 1965 she was gunned down in Alabama, after offering African Americans a ride  after a civil rights rally.

Denny Davidoff took this photo, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. The #IamViola sign refers to Viola Liuzzo, a Unitarian mother of 5 from Detroit. In 1965 she was gunned down in Alabama, after offering African Americans a ride following a march.

It was an inspiring 4 days for Davidoff, who remembers watching the brutal events in Selma as they happened half a century ago, with her husband Jerry.

The weekend showed Davidoff “how far we’ve come, and how much there still is to do. We need to embrace more, and do some more butt-kicking.”

For Davidoff, Selma was another link in a lifetime chain of activism. One current project: She’s raising money to train a new generation of UU ministers to “understand the need to reach out beyond congregations, and work with our hearts with everyone.”

Denny Davidoff (right) and Rev. Olivia Holmes, in Selma. Rev. Holmes, a former Westporter, was ordained following a career in advertising. She now lives in New Hampshire. The bridge retains the name of Edmund Pettus, a Confederate general. After the Civil War he became Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan -- and a US senator.

Denny Davidoff (right) and Olivia Holmes, in Selma. Rev. Holmes, a former Westporter, was ordained as a Unitarian minister following a career in advertising. She now lives in New Hampshire. The bridge retains the name of Edmund Pettus, a Confederate general. After the Civil War he became Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan — and a US senator.

Randy Burnham was also part of the UU conference. A 1962 Staples graduate, now a psychologist with a practice in Westport, he’s a veteran of the 1963 March on Washington.

“I went down to get reinvigorated,” Burnham says. “I wanted to figure out how, as a white man, I can continue to assist as an ally in the freedom movement.”

In Birmingham, he was moved by discussions of recent attempts to cut back on voters’ rights — a key focus of the Selma marches, 50 years ago.

“This is not a black/white, rich/poor, Democratic/Republican issue,” he says. “It is a moral issue. We need non-violent resistance to make sure our rights are not stolen.”

Three Westporters gathered in Birmingham for workshops sponsored by the Unitarian Universalists. Rev. Barbara Fast (left) formerly served at Westport's Unitarian Church; she's now the minister in Danbury. Denny Davidoff (center) has been active in Westport's UU church -- and social justice issues -- for decades. Rev. Debra Haffner (right) is president and CEO of Westport-based Religious Institute, and community minister of the Westport Unitarian Church.

Three Westporters gathered in Birmingham for workshops sponsored by the Unitarian Universalists. Rev. Barbara Fast (left) formerly served at Westport’s Unitarian Church; she’s now the minister in Danbury. Denny Davidoff (center) has been active in Westport’s UU church — and social justice issues — for decades. Rev. Debra Haffner of Westport is on the right.

Late yesterday afternoon, Rev. Debra Haffner was still trying to process all she’d seen and heard. The president and CEO of Westport-based Religious Institute — and community minister of the Westport Unitarian Church — she had been to Selma before. She’d met people who were at the marches 50 years ago, and had known some of the men and women who were murdered.

“I had to go back,” she says.

Rev. Debra Haffner and Rev. Orloff Miller. He and Rev. James Reeb were beaten badly in 1965. Rev. Reeb died from his injuries.

Rev. Debra Haffner and Rev. Orloff Miller. He and Rev. James Reeb were beaten with clubs in 1965. Rev. Reeb died from his injuries.

On the Edmund Pettus Bridge — surrounded by over 600 Unitarians, all wearing yellow shirts — Haffner was “very aware of my role as an ally. I felt great pride that this movement I am now part of was there 50 years ago, too.”

Haffner took this message home yesterday: “Selma is now. We are not done. We do not live in a ‘post-racial’ society.

“People in communities like ours — like Westport — need to look at white privilege. We need to stand up, and stand with the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Just as the Unitarians — and many other Americans — stood, and marched, in Selma 50 years ago.

(Hat tip: Doug Davidoff)

 

Saugatuck Church Looks Ahead — And Back

Three years after a devastating fire, the Saugatuck Congregational Church is ready for its re-dedication ceremony. It’s set for this Sunday (March 8), with plenty of hope for the future.

And a special nod to the past.

A community-wide, inter-generational worship at 3 p.m. features Rev. Alison Patton, plus music by the Staples Orphenians, the Men’s Gospel Choir of First Congregational Church of Norwalk, and Saugatuck’s own youth and adult choirs.

Earlier — at 10 a.m. — Rev. Ted Hoskins returns as guest preacher. He served the church from 1971 to 1994.

That seems like a while ago. But it’s just an eye-blink in the long and storied history of the church, founded in 1832.

Tours of the newly reconstructed building begin at 1:45 p.m. Guides will probably mention that until 1950, it was located across the Post Road, and several hundred yards west.

Saugatuck Congregational has been through a lot, in 183 years. All Westporters welcome it back to its home — and wish it godspeed, for at least 183 more.

Saugatuck Congergational church

Music Rings Out At Jack Adams’ Memorial Service

Every Chrismas Eve for years, the Unitarian Church resounded with the sound of Jack Adams’ trumpet. Many of his students joined him, in memorable performances.

Music church rang out again yesterday, as family, friends and many fans gathered to pay tribute to the life of one of Westport’s most popular band leaders and teachers.

Jack Adams

Jack Adams

When Doug Davidoff realized that the exceptional acoustics of the Victor Lundy-designed church offered their own perfect tribute to the musician who died last month, he pulled out his iPhone and began recording.

The selections — played by a brass ensemble of 6 former students — provide a legacy as powerful as any of the heartfelt words spoken at the service.

Trumpeters Jon Owens, John Kirk  Dulaney, Andrew Willmott and Jon Blackburn, plus Dave Smith (French horn) and Jim Marbury (brass trombone), performed “Jesu Joy,” “Sheep May Safely Graze” and other brass favorites.

Speakers included former students who — inspired by Adams — went on to become music educators. Davidoff recorded the memorial statement offered by his mother, Denise Taft Davidoff. “It may have been been a ‘cornball’ thing to do, as Mr. Adams might say,” Davidoff conceded.

But it’s included in this tremendous tribute that Davidoff generously shares with “06880” readers — and Jack Adams’ countless fans, everywhere. Click below to hear it:

Food For Thought: Who Sits Where In The School Cafeteria

Martin Luther King said that 11 a.m. Sunday was the most segregated hour of the American week. He was referring to the segregation of white and black churches, of course.

But 11 a.m. weekdays may be the most segregated hour in American schools. That’s lunchtime — and day after day, week after week, the same friends sit at the same tables.

In Westport, the separation is not racial or religious. But it is segregation by friend groups.

In nearly every cafeteria, the same groups sit together every day.

In nearly every cafeteria, the same groups sit together every day.

That self-segregation is the basis for this year’s TEAM Westport “Diversity Essay Contest.”

Open to all high school students attending any Westport high school, and Westporters who attend high school elsewhere — and carrying prizes of $1,000, $750 and $500 — the contest asks entrants to describe barriers that prevent students from reaching out to others different from themselves. They should then “identify specific steps you and other students in your high school” can take to help students break down those barriers — “especially in the cafeteria.” Entrants are also asked to discuss the “risks and benefits” of making that effort.

TEAM-Westport-logo2The contest follows last year’s very successful inaugural event. Students were asked to reflect on demographic changes in the US — describing the benefits and challenges of the changes for Westport generally, and him or her personally.

Applications for the contest are available here. The deadline is February 27. “06880” will highlight the winners.

(TEAM Westport is the town’s official committee on multiculturalism. The Westport Library co-sponsors the contest.)

A Christmas Gift At Saugatuck Church

Yesterday marked the 1st day back at Saugatuck Congregational Church, following a devastating fire more than 3 years ago.

The bells sounded wonderful. The feeling was warm and loving. And the 1st service — a Christmas pageant — couldn’t have started better: A beautiful harp piece, played by Staples junior Nicole Mathias.

Merry Christmasand welcome home!

Saugatuck Church Celebrates Best Christmas Ever

Rev. Alison J. Buttrick Patton, pastor, and Alex Floyd Marshall, associate pastor, just sent this wonderful note to members and friends of the Saugatuck Congregational Church:      

Joyful greetings to you on this Christmas Eve!

Today, two long anticipated events converge: the birth of the Christ Child and our return to our restored church at 245 Post Road East.

The anticipation is palpable; we imagine all the joy and wonder associated with every Christmas Eve, magnified by our return to a sanctuary that is, for many of us, brimming with memories of Christmases past.

Saugatuck Congergational church

Of course, there will also be folks worshipping in this space for the very first time, including your pastors! Whether you are a first-time guest, newer member or returning after years away, you will recognize the work that has been poured into rebuilding Saugatuck Church over the last three years.

Many historic details of the building have been lovingly restored. We have also made changes to enhance our use of the space, improve accessibility, and support our unfolding ministries.

As with any move, our settling in will take time. We joyfully open our house for worship this Christmas Eve, but note that the building is not finished; there is yet work to do.

That’s OK. We are all works in progress….

Saugatuck Church logoSo, with deep gratitude to those who have worked tirelessly to make this return possible, including the members of our building team, contributors to our capital campaign, countless volunteers, faithful members – those who have labored, contributed and prayed on our behalf – we are delighted to say: Join us!…

See you tonight, in our star-studded sanctuary.

(Rev. Patton notes that the church — shut since a pre-Thanksgiving fire 3 years ago — hopes to welcome back various community partners who use their space sometime during the 1st quarter of 2015. A community-wide re-dedication worship and celebration is set for Sunday, March 8. There is still work to be done — but it will be done, finally, back at “home.” Merry Christmas indeed!)

In The Spirit Of Christmas…

Christmas is about many things — with family at the top of the list.

But some Westporters don’t have family nearby. And by late morning Christmas Day, plenty of people with families are ready to get out of the house.

So, for the 2nd year in a row, the Senior Center is the spot to go for a Christmas Day Community Reception (21 Imperial Avenue, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.). It’s free, and open to everyone — whether you celebrate Christmas with your family or not, or even if you don’t celebrate the holiday at all.

Last year’s event drew 90 guests. This year there’s a light lunch, treats, and music by the Bob Cooper Band. Support comes from the Senior Center, Homes With Hope and the Westport Department of Human Services.

But here’s the coolest part: The “hosts” are the Saugatuck Congregational Church, United Methodist Church, Unitarian Church — and Temple Israel.

No word on whether the “light lunch” includes Chinese food.

(Need a ride to or from the Senior Center for the Community Reception? Call the Saugatuck Church: 203-227-1261. To volunteer to help, or donate baked goods or stuffed animals (!), go to the Saugatuck Church website and click on the right side.)

Not Your Father’s YMCA

Despite this morning’s post, there are some holiday decorations downtown.

But they’re not Christmas lights.

And they’re not where you might expect them.

Alert “06880” reader Jeff Giannone sent along this shot:

Y menorah

A menorah stands ready for tonight’s celebration of Hanukkah — the “Festival of Lights.” Set for 6:30 p.m., it’s sponsored by the 4 synagogues in town. All Westporters — of all faiths — are invited.

So head down to the site of the recently vacated Y.

Or — as it was once known — the Young Men’s Christian Association.

 

 

Getting In The Candlelight Mood

Staples’ 74th Candlelight Concert is more than a week away. But the orchestra, choirs and bands are hard at work, rehearsing for the high school’s annual gift to the town.

Ever wonder what it’s like to be part of the “Hallelujah Chorus”? Here’s an up-close-and-personal view, from backstage behind the string section.

Hallelujah!