Category Archives: religion

Islam In Westport

Thirty-five years ago, Wafaa Naggar’s husband was transferred to Stamford. As the couple searched for a home in Fairfield County, she got the impression that realtors in towns like Darien were taking them to less-desirable areas.

Their Westport real estate agent, by contrast, was “amazing.” She showed them great houses. Neighbors seemed very welcoming. The beach and shops were appealing. They bought here, and have never regretted it.

In many ways, the Naggars are typical Westporters. Their 3 children had great experiences; all graduated from Staples. Wafaa got involved in the community. Today she is director of finance and HR administration for the Westport Library.

In other ways, the Naggars are not at all typical. They’re part of Westport’s small — and often invisible — Muslim community.

Wafaa Naggar, at work in the Westport Library.

Wafaa Naggar, at work in the Westport Library.

Events in distant places — Paris, San Bernardino — have shined a light on Muslims living where other religions dominate.

That’s never been an issue here, Wafaa says. “We’ve always enjoyed Westport. Our kids were welcomed. We have good friends, and always felt supported. We’ve had zero issues.”

During Ramadan — when the Naggars fast — friends save food for later. If people feel uncomfortable eating around her, Wafaa puts them at ease. If they have questions about any aspect of her religion, they ask. And she answers.

Wafaa pauses. Once, it turns out, Staples friends called her son Taher’s car “The Camel.” She notes, “Everyone has nicknames and fun. It was not anything bad at all.”

The Naggars worship at mosques in Stamford. They choose which one depending upon who is conducting prayers or speaking that day. There are mosques in Bridgeport and Orange too. A Norwalk group has just purchased property, following lengthy negotiations and controversy.

Wafaa says the Stamford mosques draw Muslims from many different backgrounds. She adds that it’s hard to characterize the Muslims in Westport because there is no central meeting place in town. However, she believes that most are from non-Arab countries. (The Naggars are Egyptian.)

I told Wafaa that an “06880” reader had emailed me, wondering if there was a mosque in town. The woman said her fitness trainer — who works on Sylvan Road South — told her that a small group gathers for prayers every morning at 5, at a suite in the same office complex.

A personal trainer says this Westport office suite is the site of morning prayers. Muslims in Westport have never heard of it.

A personal trainer says this Westport office suite is the site of morning prayers. Muslims in Westport have never heard of it.

Wafaa has never heard of that. Neither has Dolores Paoli, Born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New York City, she married a Pakistani man and “accepted Islam.”

She’s lived in Westport for 24 years. In the last couple of years, she says, several more Muslims have moved in — some from Iran. She estimates the town’s Muslim population at 25 families or more.

Most Westport Muslims are affluent, she says — and “pretty secular.” Worship is done primarily in the home.

The Muslims who move here come for “the same reason everyone else does: good schools, a nice environment, the beach,” Dolores says. She has not heard of any overt prejudice.

“You see Muslims every day,” she notes. “A few businesses here are Muslim-owned, and there are Muslims who work in town. If they wear hijab they stand out. But if they don’t, you wouldn’t know.”

Dolores adds that not wearing head covering does not make anyone “less Muslim. It’s like a yarmulke — not wearing one doesn’t make you less Jewish.”

Like many Muslims in America, she says, those in Westport are “cautious and careful. We just want to live our lives. Like African American parents, we tell our kids to be careful.”

TEAM-Westport-logo2Dolores is a member of TEAM Westport — the town’s multicultural organization. (Wafaa Naggar is a former member.)

 

“We work at getting different groups together,” Dolores says. “It’s challenging. We do live in a bubble.” At a recent interfaith Thanksgiving service, 2 Muslim families gave readings. She says the town’s interfaith clergy organization is looking into sponsoring a Syrian family.

Dolores is not worried about Donald Trump — the loudest voice in the current wave of Islam-bashing. “America will come around and do the right thing,” she insists. “It’s important to have these conversations.”

Though Dolores’ background is different from Wafaa’s, she has a similar conclusion about her life in Westport, and other Muslims’ lives: “We’re here. But we’re just like everyone else.”

Winter Solstice Labyrinth, “Blue Christmas” Service And More At Saugatuck Church

Winter begins at 11:48 p.m. this Monday (December 21). The weather gets colder — but the days get longer.

To celebrate, Saugatuck Congregational Church invites the public to a winter solstice labyrinth blessing (Tuesday, December 22, 6-8 p.m.).

Labyrinths are a series of concentric circles with many turns all leading to a center. They’ve been important spiritual parts of many cultures for thousands of years. Walking a labyrinth provides a calming meditative state that re-energizes, reduces stress, helps re-focus and nourishes the soul.

Liam Borner, in the labyrinth he helped create.

Liam Borner, in the labyrinth he helped create. (Photo/E. Bruce Borner)

Saugatuck’s 7-ring labyrinth spans 50 feet. The path is lined with over 1500 bricks. The church says that “world-renowned dowser Marty Cain assisted in determining the optimal location of the rings, the spine and its entrance. We hope it will become a spiritual retreat for the entire community.”

The labyrinth was an Eagle Scout project by church member and current Staples High School senior Liam Borner.

During several October weekends, members and friends of the church — along with Boy Scout Troop 36 — dug trenches and installed bricks (left over from the recent renovation project) in a special tree-lined section off the front lawn.

That’s just 1 of 3 special events to which Saugatuck Church invites the entire community.

Tomorrow (Sunday, December 20, 4-5 p.m.), a “Blue Christmas” candlelit worship service is open to anyone who is lonely, grieving or feeling down.

“Are you grieving, struggling, unemployed, uninspired — or just plain blue?” the church asks. “Do you feel disconnected from the holiday spirit? You are not alone.”

The event — co-sponsored by the United Methodist Church — includes music, prayer and reflection by the glow of candlelight.

As he did last year, Santa will again appear at the Saugatuck Community Church's Christmas Day reception.

As he did last year, Santa will again appear at the Saugatuck Community Church’s Christmas Day reception.

On Christmas Day (Friday, December 25, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.), Saugatuck Church hosts a free community reception, with a light lunch and holiday treats. Bob Cooper and Suzanne Sheridan provide live music.

That event is co-sponsored by the United Methodist Church, Unitarian Church and Temple Israel. Saugatuck Church calls this “a happy result of our years spent with no church home of our own,” following a devastating Thanksgiving week fire 4 years ago.

Transportation to the church on Christmas Day — or food delivery to your home — can be arranged by calling 203-227-1261. To volunteer or make a donation, go to www.SaugatuckChurch.org. Then click on the Christmas tree — and smile.

Laugh Laugh

Fifty years ago today, the Beau Brummels played at Staples.

They were not the biggest rock band in the world — though they’d had big hits with “Laugh Laugh” and the follow-up “Just a Little” — but their appearance in the high school auditorium jump-started a concert series that included the Doors, Yardbirds, Cream, Animals, Rascals, Byrds, Peter Frampton and many, many more.

(Poster courtesy of Ellen Sandhaus/via Mark Smollin)

(Poster courtesy of Ellen Sandhaus/via Mark Smollin)

I was at that concert — though I was just a Long Lots Junior High student — and I remember it mainly because it was so cool seeing a group that had appeared on Hullabaloo and Shindig.

What I do not remember — if I ever knew it — is that the New York Times covered the concert. But they did not talk about the set list.

On December 18, 1965 — according to info unearthed by alert “06880” reader and amateur historian Fred Cantor — the Times reported:

A Congregational minister termed “highly inappropriate and in poor taste” the scheduling of a high school rock ‘n’ roll show Sunday night that forced him to cancel a Christmas meeting of a youth group.

Rev. Edmund R. Strait of Greens Farms Church had to scrub the weekly Pilgrim Fellowship event, when 30 Staples students said they were going to the concert instead of his group. All 1,500 seats in the auditorium, the Times said, were sold out.

30 Greens Farms Congregational Church youth group members went to see the Beau Brummels at Staples. Ellen Sandhaus' photo of the Staples concert (above) comes courtesy of Mark Smollin.

30 Greens Farms Congregational Church youth group members went to see the Beau Brummels at Staples. Ellen Sandhaus’ photo of the Staples concert (above) comes courtesy of Mark Smollin.

Rev. Strait said he “had nothing against rock ‘n’ roll.” However, he called it “poor judgment on the part of the school” to schedule the Beau Brummels for Sunday night. He added that it was particularly inappropriate because Staples had held its annual Candlelight Concert on Friday and Saturday, and “churches in town have special Christmas programs” on Sunday.

If you know the name Rev. Strait, it’s because he also served as chairman of the Recreation Commission. The marina at Longshore is named for him.

And if you recall the Beau Brummels: big props.

Share The Pie!

Despite an up-and-down year, much of Westport enjoys far more than its share of the economic pie.

Which is why, as Thanksgiving looms, the Conservative Synagogue and Homes With Hope team up to “Share the Pie.”

The annual effort is simple:  Apple, pecan and pumpkin pies sell for $22 each. All are kosher.

Proceeds help Homes With Hope provide permanent affordable housing, casework and support services, emergency shelter, food, meals, and life skills training.

Donations also provide pies for local Thanksgiving feasts in our community (Saugatuck Congregational Church) and to families in need (Carver Center).

Individuals and families order pies.  So do local businesses; they give them to their employees as thanks, while at the same time aiding a great cause.  Last year, 500 pies were ordered. Can Share the Pie beat that record this year?

There is no better — or more nourishing — way to give thanks.

(Deadline for ordering is tomorrow — Monday, November 16.  Order forms are available at www.sharethepie.net. Ordered pies can be picked up on Monday and Tuesday, Nov. 23 and 24, at the Conservative Synagogue, 30 Hillspoint Road. Corporate orders will be delivered. For more information, call 203-454-4673.)

Thanksgiving Feast Returns Home

Four years ago, a devastating fire forced Westport’s Thanksgiving Day  Community Feast out of its longtime Saugatuck Congregational Church home.

Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church opened its doors and heart on extremely short notice. It happily hosted the next 3 dinners too.

This year, the feast finally returns home.

It truly is a community event. Saugatuck Congregational partners with Temple Israel, the United Methodist church and Unitarian Church to produce the dinner.

Over 100 volunteers are needed. They shop, set up, prep in the kitchen, cook, drive, clean up, and handle dozens of other tasks. They’re the lifeblood of the much-loved Turkey Day feast. Click here to see what jobs are available, and sign up.

Donations are welcome too, to defray expenses. Checks payable to “Saugatuck Congregational Church” can be sent to 245 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Put “Thanksgiving Feast” on the subject line.

We have a lot to be thankful for in Westport. The Community Feast stands at the top of any list.

(The Saugatuck Congregational Church Community Feast takes place Thanksgiving Day — Thursday, September 26 — from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. For details, click here.)

A small part of last year's Thanksgiving Feast.

A small part of last year’s Thanksgiving Feast.

Helium Brothers Land In Westport

Toad’s Place may be Connecticut’s favorite indoor music venue.

But that’s New Haven. Westport once had live music too. Anyone living here in the 1970s and early ’80s remembers 3 great spots: Grassroots. Players Tavern. Tin Whistle.

Each was different. Grassroots was a folk-oriented coffee house next to National Hall (then Fairfield Furniture), on the Post Road just over the river.

Players Tavern was a rockin’ place, with great bands and a less-than-observant attitude toward things like legal IDs.

Tin Whistle was a restaurant/bar (now the site of Westport Hardware Mumbai Times), with a variety of music.

This undated menu from Players Tavern mentions upcoming gigs by Papa John Creach, James Montgomery, Pat Metheny , James Cotton, Gil Scot Heron, Dave Edmonds, Nick Lowe -- and the Helium Brothers.

This undated menu from Players Tavern mentions upcoming gigs by Papa John Creach, James Montgomery, Pat Metheny , James Cotton, Gil Scot Heron, Dave Edmonds, Nick Lowe — and the Helium Brothers. (Click on or hover over to enlarge.)

Nowadays, you can hear live music on Bobby Q’s roof (in summer), the Black Duck (occasionally), and the Levitt Pavilion (but that’s not the same).

And, from time to time, at places like the Unitarian Church.

Every so often, they sponsor the Voices Cafe coffeehouse. There’s one this Saturday (November 14, 8 p.m.). What makes it “06880”-worthy is that the headline act is the Helium Brothers.

Thejazz/bluegrass/country/rock group has been around for 40 years. Recently, they performed a reunion show at Toad’s Place.

But they’re no strangers to Westport. Back in the day, they opened for former resident Johnny Winter.

And they performed regularly at — yes — Grassroots, Players Tavern and Tin Whistle.

Whatever goes around, comes around.

Even if it’s helium, brother.

Helium Brothers

Love And Marriage And Westport

A few weeks before moving to Westport 4 years ago, Théo Feldman told her next door neighbor in Los Angeles: “I’m moving to Connecticut, to a town called Westport.” To her shock, Feldman’s neighbor said that their mutual friend who lived nearby, Stephanie Landon, was moving there too, in just a few weeks.

Feldman and Landon exchanged walks in L.A.’s Fryman Canyon for ones at Compo Beach. They also became involved in the community, joining the board of a local charity. Now the 2 women are co-chairing Hadassah of Westport’s Fall Fundraiser: ¨Love and Marriage — An Evening of Comedy.¨ It’s set for Saturday, November 14 at Temple Israel.

But the coincidences don’t stop there.

Dani Klein Modisett

Dani Klein Modisett

“Love and Marriage” is based on the new book “Take My Spouse, Please,” by Dani Klein Modisett. She’s a Los Angeles comedian and author — but also a Staples High School graduate.

Feldman and her husband David had frequented Klein Modisett’s comedy shows in Hollywood. When they heard she was doing a show in New York for her book launch, they went to see it (and her). Feldman quickly realized she had to bring the show to Westport.

The show also includes Marla Schultz, Emmy Laybourne, Elisa Zuritsy, Alyssa Reiner, David Alan Basche and others. They’ll tell hysterical stories about marriage (maybe love, too).

Klein Modisett is excited to return to her hometown. Even though — with all those connections — she could almost as easily have done the show in LA. And had a full Westport audience.

(For ticket information and more, email hadassahcomedynight@gmail.com)

Get Your Judaica Here!

Westport Auction is one of those easy-to-miss local businesses.

Located in the former Saugatuck post office — just steps from the train station — it’s where owners Travis and Kate Worrell run monthly estate auctions. With experts who span centuries, styles and continents, customers are always sure to find something new — er, old — and interesting.

Right now, it’s Judaica.

An enormous 407 lots are being auctioned off soon. They’re from Moriah Galleries in New York, which is closing. Items — many quite rare — come from around the world.

Bids will come from around the globe too.

Continental silver circumcision set.

Continental silver circumcision set.

Among the Jewish ritual objects — called “the largest and finest collection of antique Judaica offered for sale”– are:

  • A 19th century Persian amulet with Kabbalistic charts for pregnant women
  • Silver circumcision shields
  • A Polish Kiddush goblet
  • A Galician silver Torah pointer
  • A Dutch Sabbath lamp
  • Also: Chanukah lamps, dreidels, Purim plates, seder trays, rugs, mezuzah cases, kosher seals, and much more.

The auction is set for Tuesday (October 27, 5 p.m.). Bids will be accepted in person (615 Riverside Avenue) and online (click here). Previews are Monday and Tuesday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

Need another reason to go bid? Refreshments are provided by Mendy’s Kosher Catering.

Randy Herbertson’s Very Local Visual Brand

Randy Herbertson is a Midwesterner. His wife grew up in California — where she had no idea that ancestors named Barlow and Hurlbutt had roots in this area dating back centuries.

In 1997 Herbertson — a talented, creative marketing executive — was transferred east by Conde Nast. He lived in Westport and commuted to New York, where for many years he owned a branding agency.

In 2013 he had a revelation. “Am I stupid?” he asked himself. “Why can’t I work in Westport too?” (His wife — the lead designer at Terrain — already did.)

Randy Herbertson

Randy Herbertson

He and his business partner, fellow Westporter Geoff Shafer, opened their multimidia design and promotion firm, The Visual Brand, downtown. In the 2 years since, Herbertson — who makes his living observing consumers’ behavior — has saved hours of commuting time each day.

He knew that would happen. What he did not expect was that he’d become part of a flourising, fun downtown community.

Operating out of reclaimed space on Church Lane — a building behind SoNo Baking Company — Herbertson and Shafer have found plenty of local clients. They hang out in cool places.

Herbertson has joined local business organizations. He’s hired Connecticut designers. “I’d never even heard of Western Connecticut State University,” he admits. “But they’ve got a great program, with really good people.”

Herbertson and Shafer found other businesses founded by former New Yorkers. Neat coffee and cocktails and Luxe Wine Bar are two. Westport Wash & Wax and Quality Towing are 2 more. Not everyone aspires to work in New York forever,” Herbertson says.

The Visual Brand office: inside and out.

The Visual Brand office: inside and out.

From his office — the mail sorting room of the very first Westport post office — Herbertson watches Bedford Square rise.

“It’s a bit of a pain,” he says of the construction. “But it’s exciting. It will be very good overall.”

His marketing eye has been caught by Anthropologie, which will do “some very cool stuff” with their repurposed space.

But, he says, “it’s important to keep the local element downtown — not just the big corporations.” He cites SoNo Baking as “very focused on what this community needs.”

His vision is stirred by the possibilities across the street. A choir member of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church, Herbertson would love to find an investor, buy the adjacent Seabury Center, and turn it into a performing arts center like the Ridgefield Playhouse.

“I’m really bullish on downtown,” he notes. “We have an opportunity to be really creative. My son lives in West Hartford. They’ve done some pretty cool stuff up there, in an area that used to be not so good. I hope we can do it better.”

This photo on the very intriguing home page of The Visual Brand's website was taken just a couple of miles from the firm's office.

This photo on the very intriguing home page of The Visual Brand’s website was taken just a couple of miles from the firm’s office.

After 2 years, Herbertson says, he’s found “no downsides” to working in Westport. (He still has clients in the city. They’re just a train ride away.)

“It’s completely possible to do everything we did in New York — at a fraction of the cost.”

Plus, there are all those wine bars, coffee shops — and maybe even a performing arts space — just steps away.

 

Remembering Lou Barrett

Lucille “Lou” Barrett — a member of that great generation of post-war Westporters who helped define this town for half a century — died early today. She was 92 years old.

Lou was a lifelong educator. She began in Greenwich Village in the 1940s, and spent many years in the Westport school system. After she retired, she became a sought-after writing coach. Perhaps best known as a Staples High School English teacher, she was beloved by colleagues and students for her deep wisdom, gentle nature, and genuine concern for everyone she met.

Lucille "Lou" Barrett

Lucille “Lou” Barrett

As a founding member of Temple Israel, she helped create one of the town’s most active social justice institutions. As first principal of its religious school, she made sure that there was as strong an emphasis on current affairs as on Jewish education.

Lou was also a gifted poet. She was published frequently — including 5 collections that explore fearlessly and with intensity her Jewish heritage, her childhood in Brookly, and her maturing to adulthood and old age — and never missed a chance to pass on her love for the craft.

Her son George says:

Mom was humble, fierce in her convictions, devoted, and always focused on the needs of others. I have heard over the years many stories from people I don’t even know about how my mother transformed their lives, or started their careers, or pushed them to take a chance on something in which they believed.

She believed in her students, her children and her friends, and strove to help them see in themselves the strength and beauty she saw in them. She treated every one with honesty and respect.

She was also the connecting tissue for an enormous family ecosystem that now spans 4 generations, and multiple continents.

Lou’s husband, Herb, died this past May, at 93. The Barretts were married for 73 years. Lou is survived by 5 children, 10 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is set for Tuesday (October 6, 12:30 p.m.), at Temple Israel, with private burial service to follow. The family will sit shiva after hte burial at the home of Marvin and Joan Frimmer in Westport. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Congregation Kol Ami, Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, or Temple Israel, Westport.