Over the past few days, IRIS welcomed 40 Afghan evacuees. Forty-six more will arrive this week. That’s 96 people — 24 or families — in 17 days.
All came with just 48 hours’ notice to iRIS.
They join 42 Afghans who came in August. Another 100 are scheduled to be here next month — and 100 more in December.
An Afghan father and daughter, resettled in Connecticut.
A few arrivals spent a couple of nights in hotels. One stayed with a church. Some are living with Afghan families they knew back home, while IRIS tries to find apartments.
Many went directly into housing that IRIS signed leases for in August.
But 43 people — mostly mothers with children — remain hiding in Afghanistan. IRIS is organizing money drops to keep them fed.
Twenty-seven community groups around Connecticut are welcoming refugees. But 50 to 60 more groups are needed (including the rest of New England). For information on sponsorships, click here.
To learn more, watch the video below:
IRIS notes that paperwork to get Afghan families employed takes a long time. The organization feeds them, and pays rent, until work papers are finalized. IRIS needs funds to help — and to pay their own staff.
To mark the occasion, Westport’s International Hospitality Committee and the UN Association of Southwestern Connecticut are hosting a ceremony on the Town Hall front steps. It’s set for next Monday (October 25, 3:30 p.m.).
UNASWCT president and International Hospitality Committee member Bill Hass will read a message from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Aye Aye Thant — a Westport resident, and daughter of former UN Secretary-General U Thant — is the guest speaker.
Flags of UN countries will fly on the Ruth Steinkraus-Cohen Memorial Bridge.
For more information, call Bill Hass (203-454-7685).
Paul Lane Field — the new name for Staples High School’s football stadium — will be dedicated officially on Friday, November 12.
A host of former players will be on hand, including Matt MacVane, Bill During, John Bolger, Buzz Leavitt and Lance Lonergan, as well as relatives of the longtime Wrecker coach. Festivities include a tailgate in the north parking lot before the 7 p.m. kickoff against Ridgefield High, and a halftime ceremony.
The original date for the dedication was this Friday (October 22). Instead, that’s Homecoming.
There’s plenty of action in what’s known — now and forever — as Paul Lane Field.
Paul Lane (center) flanked by his sons Peter (left) and Skip. Both played for him.
It was a tough call. But MoCA Westport canceled this fall’s in-person fundraiser due to COVID concerns.
Of course, like any museum they still need support. They’ve pivoted to an online auction., to help with exhibitions and music, community events and outreach to the underserved.
The auction features over 50 items, including original artwork (like art by Devon Troy Strother and a Joel Sternfeld photo from the 1980s), one-of-a kind experiences (an NBA VIP draft experience), and curated products from local businesses (Stephen Kempson London, Stacy Bass Photography, JL Rocks, Pure Barre and Imperial Dental Associates, among others).
The auction begins November 1, and ends November 15. To pre-register, click here. For more information, click here.
MoCA Westport’s Newtown Avenue building is unique. Its online auction is special too.
TAP is dedicated toward fitness and preventive care in all forms.
On Tuesday (October 26, 7 p.m., 180 Post Road East) they host author Adam Piore. He’s the author of a recent Newsweek cover story on clinical trials using psilocybin, the active ingredient in “magic mushrooms,” to treat depression. He’ll talk about neuroscience, research and stories shared by patients.
To register and for more information, email Nancy@tapstrength.com.
Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice provides this update on allegations of antisemitism and racism at last Friday’s Staples High School football game, at Cheshire High:
As the community is aware, there were allegations made on social media Friday evening including: antisemitic and racist comments made in the stands, the presence of a Confederate flag, and the waving of an Israeli flag. Since that time, the voices of individual students throughout this investigation have given us a clearer picture of events and a constructive plan to move forward.
School administrators and law enforcement from both Cheshire and Westport immediately commenced investigations. From the outset the Anti-Defamation League, through Connecticut Regional Director Steve Ginsburg, offered and provided their support to both communities.
Over the past 5 days the town’s respective athletic directors, high school principals, first selectmen and police chiefs communicated directly with each other. I have spoken to the Cheshire Superintendent nearly every day since Friday.
The Cheshire Public Schools administration and police departments have shared their findings with our administration as a result of their interviews with eyewitnesses, including the 2 students who brought the Israeli flag to the game. Seven Staples cheer team students were interviewed by Staples principal Stafford Thomas, as well as a student of color who was the recipient of disgusting racial slurs via social media.
Screen shot of the Israeli flag, in the Cheshire High School student section. It was later removed.
Along with Chief Foti Koskinas, First Selectman Jim Marpe and Steve Ginsburg, I had the opportunity to meet with Westport area rabbis and Jewish communal leaders on Monday, as well as a group of Westport community Black leaders yesterday. This proved to be critically important, as Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of The Conservative Synagogue followed up by speaking directly to Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Scolnic of Temple Beth Shalom in Hamden, who knows the students who brought and waved the Israeli flag.
Finally, the time between last Friday night and today provided Westport community members the opportunity to share any eyewitness accounts, as well as their thoughts and concerns.
From the beginning, the Westport Public Schools fully committed to finishing our investigation by speaking with every student or community member personally impacted by these events. The process was thorough and comprehensive. I am confident that we have clarity on what happened Friday night, as well as a constructive plan to move forward.
An Israeli flag was waved throughout much of the game Friday night by 2 Cheshire students, particularly when Cheshire scored or Staples committed a penalty. After halftime, members of our cheer team approached the Cheshire Police to ask that the Israeli flag be taken down. Although the Cheshire Police and administration confirm they directed the students to take the flag down, there are Staples student reports of the flag waving later in the game.
After the game the social media account, “Wreckers SuperFans,” and the Staples cheer team, posted an image on Instagram of the Israeli flag waving in the Cheshire student section with a message about anti-Semitic and racist remarks and insulting chants throughout the game, as well as the waving of the Confederate flag.
Staples Superfans waved a banner in 2018.
Both school administrations confirmed that chants of “Daddy’s money” were directed at Staples students and players. This was not done in unison with the waving of the Israeli flag. Racist or antisemitic chants were not corroborated. There is no corroboration of the presence or sighting of a Confederate flag.
The Staples and Cheshire “SuperFans” respectfully communicated late Friday evening through social media, and the “Wreckers SuperFans” took down the post following that discussion. The cheer team post was taken down following a communication with the Staples cheer coach.
Saturday morning, a Staples student of color who was not at the game posted a comment on a friend’s Instagram responding to the earlier post about the game. He posted, “The audacity.” What transpired in response was a series of horrific and unspeakable racial slurs directed towards this Staples student. The source of the slurs was an untraceable “burner” account, which is a social media account used to post anonymously to avoid having posts traced. This is most disturbing, and we offered to provide support for this student.
In the investigation, the Cheshire administration shared that the 2 students who waved the Israeli flag are Jewish. and that they brought the flag to the game because it was a school spirit “Red, White & Blue Nite” in the student section. In response to doubts about this claim, in my meeting with the Westport area rabbis and Jewish communal leaders on Monday, Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of The Conservative Synagogue offered to speak directly to the Rabbi of Temple Beth David in Cheshire to offer his services in resolving this matter.
Rabbi Wiederhorn was referred to Temple Beth Shalom in Hamden, where the 2 boys worship, and spoke directly to Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Scolnic. Rabbi Scolnic shared that he has known the boys their entire lives, that he knows them very well, that they are not mean-spirited, and that they are very proud Jews. Rabbi Scolnic is completely confident that there was no malice or antisemitism intended, and that unfortunately these accusations have mischaracterized the 2 boys.
Based on feedback from the Cheshire administration, the Cheshire police department, the Westport area rabbis and Jewish communal leaders, Rabbi Scolnic, and our partners with the ADL, I have no reason to question these conclusions.
High school sporting events can be raucous and intense. The school spirit from these events can be palpable. However, for visiting teams, these types of events can be intimidating. Traditionally in high school sports, the goal of the fan section is to vigorously cheer for the home team, while at times taunting and making the visiting team uncomfortable.
Some members of our community have questioned the intent of the waving of the Israeli flag. In fairness, our Staples athletes and fans have experienced antisemitism at athletic events in the past. Westport has a considerable Jewish community, and approximately one-third of the cheer team is Jewish.
The waving of the Israeli flag at a high school sporting event played against a town with a considerable Jewish population is peculiar. It is not necessarily right or wrong, but in my 25+ years in education, I have never witnessed the Israeli flag, or any other national flag except the U.S. flag, waved at a high school sports event.
The series of events, the history of antisemitism directed towards our students, the peculiarity of the waving of the Israeli flag at a football game, along with the intensity of the night, contributed to a considerable sense of threat on the part of Staples students. It is critically important to affirm the impact of the night on our students and to support them as we constructively move forward, and to meaningfully learn from these events.
Again, I have no reason to question the conclusions of the Cheshire administration, the Cheshire police department, the Westport area rabbis and Jewish communal leaders, Rabbi Scolnic of Temple Beth Shalom, and our partners with the ADL.
However, it is important to note again that heinous, racist, untraceable messages were indeed sent through social media to a Staples student of color in the aftermath of this game. These messages have been turned over to the police, and we will continue to offer support to this student.
In discussions with Cheshire Superintendent Dr. Jeff Solan, and with valuable feedback from the Staples cheer team parents and Connecticut Regional Director of the ADL Steve Ginsburg, Dr. Solan and I will offer an invitation to the Cheshire and Staples students involved to convene, facilitated by the ADL, so that amends can be made and appropriate closure can be provided to both groups of students. In dealing with young adults, there are opportunities for learning experiences in events such as these.
Finally, we invite all of the students involved to participate together in the “Walk Against Hate” on October 10 in Hartford.
The administration is committed to encouraging and supporting students who come forward with concerns about how they, or others, are treated. Going forward, the district will clarify the reporting process for students with concerns at athletic events and extracurricular activities.
Again, it is critical that the community understands the level of transparency and thoroughness that we have taken to address this matter. We remain committed to fighting antisemitism and racism in any form.
The “critical race theory” war on education has come to Westport.
A group calling itself “Westport Parents” has created a website: “WP06880.” There were links to it on several local Facebook sites yesterday morning; they soon disappeared.
There are no names associated with the project, and no means of contacting the organizers beyond subscribing to updates.
The website describes the group as 37 parents who got together in June. They wanted to share concerns about “the increasing focus on assertions of racism in our community, especially after our new Superintendent of Schools made these assertions in his Strategic Plan.”
That’s a reference to a statement by Thomas Scarice about systemic racism in Westport. He hired the NYU Metro Center to perform an equity audit.
One screenshot of the “WP06880” website …
The website says:
We were alarmed by the ideology and methodology of the Metro Center, which we could access on its website, and which was clearly based in Critical Race Theory.
Those of us who were familiar with CRT know it to be a Marxist based ideology that seeks to divide people by separating them into groups based on power dynamics, with white people seen as white supremacist being dominant and all others being the marginalized groups of oppressed victims. This oppressor vs oppressed division into identity groups would necessarily create division and be harmful to our school aged children.
Another page on the website says that Critical Race Theory has “connections to Marxism, past and present. The group hopes to “arm Westport parents with strong counter-arguments when CRT apologists try to bully CRT critics with insinuations of racism.”
… and another.
The mission, according to the website, is to “stop the proponents of false and destructive narratives from implementing their political agenda to transform our schools.” The group wants to focus on academic achievement, and “reject political activism and moralizing intrusions in the classroom.”
There are quotes — also anonymous — from parents:
My wife and I believe that some things are best taught at home and in our church. We want the schools to focus on the academic skills necessary for our children to succeed in a global economy. Equal OPPORTUNITY for all, not equal OUTCOMES! (“Long Lots Elementary School father”)
Let’s keep this toxic doctrine where it belongs: far away from our children and schools. (“Saugatuck Elementary School parent”)
I send my kids to school to learn how to read and write, add and subtract. They are not there to be guinea pigs in some “anti-capitalist” sociology experiment. (“Staples mom”)
Among the suggested action steps:
Put up a yard sign
Demand an end to the relationship with NYU Metro
Get the RTM to adopt a proposal that Westport is diverse and welcoming
Demand parent access to current school curriculum.
Last night, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice provided an update on Friday’s allegations of antisemitic and racist behavior in Cheshire, at the Staples High School football game. He wrote:
As the community is aware, there were allegations made on social media Friday evening, including: antisemitic and racist comments made in the stands, the presence of a Confederate flag, and the waving of an Israeli flag. School administrators and law enforcement from both Cheshire and Westport immediately commenced investigations.
Because of the rise in reports of antisemitic and racist incidents, we also immediately sought input from the Anti-Defamation League office in Connecticut. ADL works with schools and law enforcement to help ensure incidents are addressed appropriately.
The Cheshire Public Schools administration and the Cheshire Police Department have been most collaborative and in constant communication with our administration and police department, sharing information and supporting each other’s investigation. We are most grateful for this cooperation.
Today, we were informed by Cheshire Superintendent Jeff Solan and Chief of Police Neil Dryfe that their investigation has determined that the Israeli flag was not intended to intimidate Jewish people or motivated by antisemitism. Police reports indicate that the students who brought and waved the flag are Jewish, and have shared that they brought the flag to the game because it was a school spirit “Red, White & Blue Nite” in the student section.
Screen shot of the Israeli flag, in the Cheshire High School student section. It was later removed. (Photo/Jenny Bradshaw for Inklings)
At this point in the ongoing investigation — which includes the review of photos, video, and interviews with numerous students, staff, and police officers – there is no corroborating evidence to substantiate the presence of a Confederate flag.
Additionally, we were informed by the Cheshire Superintendent and Police Chief that when Staples High School cheerleaders observed students in the stands waving an Israeli flag, and made a complaint to a Cheshire police officer, the officer informed the Cheshire High School administration and an administrator directed the students holding the Israeli flag to put it away. Fortunately the use of police body cams have confirmed this finding.
That said, the Westport Public Schools is fully committed to finishing our investigation by speaking with every student or community member personally impacted by these events. We will listen to each first person eyewitness account of these events and will reserve actions before concluding our investigation. Receiving this information from our Cheshire colleagues is helpful, yet we must fulfill our obligations to listen to each and every account. The administration will continue these efforts and provide ongoing updates to the community.
It is critical that the community understands the level of transparency and thoroughness that we have taken.
The Westport Public Schools and ADL, along with the Cheshire Public Schools, remain committed to fighting antisemitism and racism in any form and remain united in that effort. School administrators will be available to discuss this situation with any students who wish to do so. We are continuing to gather facts from eyewitnesses, so please allow us the time needed to fully assess what occurred and determine the appropriate response. Please contact us if you have relevant information.
Social media exploded last night, with allegations of antisemitic and racist behavior by Cheshire High School students at last night’s football game against Staples.
Images of an Israeli flag, and charges of racist chants, were shared widely. Host Cheshire defeated the visiting Wreckers in a non-league game, 42-14.
This morning, Westport Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice promised to investigate fully, and take action if necessary. At the same time, he urged caution and no rush to judgment, until all the facts are clear.
“Late last night I was made aware of a number of social media posts alleging antisemitic and racist actions and comments directed towards Staples players and students during the Staples/Cheshire High School football game in Cheshire. I want to assure the community that any allegations such as these are taken with the utmost seriousness.
“I’d like to share some of the steps we’ve already taken. I received a message from the Cheshire Superintendent at 11:40pm last night, and he assured me that the district and Cheshire law enforcement are investigating this matter. We will continue to communicate until we have reached a resolution.
“I have spoken to Stafford Thomas, Staples principal, and Marty Lisevick, Staples athletic director, and they will speak with each and every Staples student or adult who has factual information about this matter. “First Selectman Jim Marpe and I spoke this morning, and it is confirmed that our police chief, Foti Koskinas, will be in contact with the Cheshire police chief.
“Perhaps most helpful in addressing this matter is the instant support that I received from the Director of the Connecticut Regional Office of the Anti-Defamation League, Steve Ginsburg. Steve has already spoken with me and Chief Koskinas, and to representatives from Cheshire, including their superintendent and police chief. We are all committed to cooperating, investigating, and addressing this matter.
“This incident was brought to light by some damning images and posts on social media. Given the volatility of social media, I caution all members of the community to take a measured approach in addressing matters such as these. It is necessary for the school administrations, and police departments when necessary, to gather facts before taking punitive action. If we confirm acts of anti-Semitism or race-based hate, we will assertively act. If there are misunderstandings, we will work together to learn from these events.
“Our school administration will continue its investigation and follow up at the end of the day on Monday. If you were present at the game and have information of any acts of antisemitism or race-based hate, please contact the Staples administration.”
The Saugatuck Congregational Church’s front lawn — broad, green and very “New England” — has hosted social justice gatherings, plant sales and a labyrinth.
On October 3 (noon to 1:30 p.m.), it’s the site of a Blessing of the Animals.
The event will be led by Rev. Alison Buttrick Patton. Pets should be leashed or safely contained.
“At this time of environmental upheaval, pesticide use and habitat destruction, there will be blessings bestowed upon the wildlife that share our planet, as they struggle to survive,” says co-sponsor Westport Animal Shelter Advocates.
Attendees will also consider how to be a blessing to other creatures.
Peter Reid, outreach coordinator at Wildlife in Crisis, will speak about protecting habitat for wildlife, and provide tips for the peaceful co-existence between wild animals and pets.
Earth Animal will provide treats for dogs and cats. Light refreshments will be served for humans.
To learn more, call 203-557-0361 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Blessing of the Animals at Saugatuck Congregational Church.
This Saturday’s MoCA Westport event by the same name is no laughing matter. But it will be tons of fun.
Parents are invited to drop off their pre-K through 2nd grade youngsters this Saturday (September 25), from 6 to 9 p.m. Staff members will lead them in art activities, a dance party and games. Pizza is provided; pack a water bottle. (You can provide your own, nut-free food in a labeled bag.)
Ten years later, the killing of Osama bin Laden still resonates.
Next Tuesday (September 28, 7 p.m.) Mary DeRosa — deputy assistant and deputy counsel to President Obama, and National Security Council legal adviser in his administration — discusses her role during the planning and execution of the Navy Seal raid.
She’ll be interviewed by Westporter Steve Parrish. The event will be held live (click here for a seat) and via Zoom (click here to watch).
Many Westporters support Neighborhood Studios. The Bridgeport non-profit transforms lives, through high quality art, music, theater and dance instruction to underserved children.
The latest addition: Yvette Trujillo Rose. The longtime resident is the organization’s new development director. She’ll be reaching out to Westport businesses and residents to get involved in Neighborhood Studios’ many programs. Click here for more information.
Yvette Trujillo Rose
Pippa Bell Ader and Diane Yormark were kayaking near Saugatuck Shores’ Bermuda Lagoon yesterday morning. They stopped long enough for Pippa to snap this beautiful “Westport … Naturally” photo.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb’s new book will not be released until tomorrow. But — based on pre-orders — Uncontrolled Spread: Why COVID-19 Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic — is already a best-seller.
The book by the former FDA commissioner (and our Westport neighbor) describes how the coronavirus raced through our nation. Gottlieb had a front row seat: he was in regular contact with President Trump, key players in Congress, and the drug industry.
Meanwhile, new dangers lurk around every corner. Gottlieb addresses our preparations for the next virus. Are we ready?
Click here for more information, and to order his book.
Speaking of kids doing good: In August 2020, 10-year-old Suzuki violin students Isabella and Alexander Mariani — with help from their mom, Carole Chinn Mariani — created “Make Music Feed.” The small, socially distanced concert raised money for the Connecticut Food Bank. The young musicians are products of Westport’s Suzuki School of Music.
A year later — with food insecurity still rampant — Isabella and Alexander once again gathered friends. On Saturday, a second concert was held on the Marianis’ front lawn. The beneficiary was Connecticut Foodshare.
Joel Pitkin accompanied his children Mia and Noah Jung-Pitkin, and Grant Zimmerman.
A special guest was Staples High School sophomore Janna Moore. She was Alexander’s “Practice Buddies” partner. The program pairs Staples musicians with 5th grade orchestra students.
Contributions are still being accepted. Click here to help.
Suzuki concert musicians (from left): Alexander Mariani, Noah Jung-Pitkin, Isabella Mariani, Mia Jung-Pitkin, Grant Zimmerman, James McNamara, Julie McNamara and Janna Moore.(Photo: Carole Chinn Mariani)
Aye Aye Thant is a longtime Westport resident — and the daughter of former UN Secretary General U Thant. She writes:
This Thursday (September 23, 6 p.m.), the United Nations Association of Southwestern Connecticut celebrates the International Day of Peace at a “Meet, Greet, and Celebrate” event. at the Ned Dimes Marina at Compo Beach.
The event — also known as World Peace Day — was established in 1981 by a unanimous UN resolution. It is observed around the world each year tomorrow (September 21).
Today, in the aftermath of COVID-19, there is another pandemic: hunger. The World Bank has estimated that COVID has pushed as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty (living on less than $1.90 a day).
We need extraordinary efforts and global cooperation to tackle and deal with today’s challenges. With that goal, the United Nations has dedicated this year’s Peace Day to the theme “recovering Better for an Equitable and Sustainable world.”
The UN “invites all nations to celebrate the day by spreading compassion, kindness and hope in the face of the pandemic and as we recover.”
Each year as Peace Day approaches, I reflect on my father’s vision for peace. He said: “Peace is dependent, to a large extent on the achievement of social progress and a higher standard of living. To have lasting peace, there has to be economic and social advancement for all people, and a recognition of the need to bring down the number of human beings living in conditions of poverty, disease, hunger and illiteracy.”
I moved to Westport 20 years ago. I liked to tell Ruth Steinkraus Cohen, the founder of our UNA –USA Southwestern Connecticut Chapter. that I came here because I learned about the activities of the chapter and the International Hospitality Committee of Fairfield County. She loved that.
I was a regular at Wednesday weekly meetings at her home, and was active in all activities of the organization. Ruth was an inspirational figure to many of us, and touched so many lives as a mentor and a friend.
Several years ago Aye Aye Thant spoke at Town Hall, for Westport’s United Nations Day ceremony.
She wrote, “Westport s a port where one meets the world.” She founded jUNe Day. Westport hosted 500 United Nations staff for a day of fun and sun with the mission of fostering friendship between the people of the UN, the international community, and the American people as hosts.
She believed that it would help to build a bridge between cultures and, in turn, develop an understanding and respect of our differences while taking pride in our own cultures. In recognition of her vision, the bridge crossing the Saugatuck River on Post Road is named in her honor.
After Ruth passed away in May 2002, I was honored to serve as president of the chapter. As Ruth wrote, “As we become better informed about the UN and develop a better understanding of the practical problems involved in building a world community of nations, we will become more UN-minded in our political activity and in the long run will help strengthen public opinion and political support for the United Nations, which after all, is a key element of US foreign policy.”
By understanding the work of the UN, especially in the economic and social sectors, we recognize the interdependence of our existence and how strong multilateral cooperation is needed to achieve peace.
I hope you will join us on September 23, and become members of the UNA-USA to learn more about the role of the UN in advancing peace in the world.
Through a small measure, we shall contribute toward a larger goal: peace for all!
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Or Zelle: email@example.com. Thanks!)