Category Archives: religion

Photo Challenge #164

I’m not a playground person.

But Anne Bernier and Peter Boyd are. Which is why they were the only “06880” reader to correctly identify last week’s photo challenge. It was a closeup of part of the playground at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. (Click here for Thomas Quealy’s shot.)

Located right downtown — directly across from Aux Delices — it looks very inviting. Little kids romp there during the day.

But no one knows whether it’s open to the public, or limited only to the pre-school.

Maybe that’s why no one — besides Anne and Peter — knew the photo challenge answer.

Here’s this week’s image. If you think you know where — or what — it is, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Gene Borio)

Welcome The Stranger

Nearly every faith tradition includes a command to welcome strangers.

So — because nearly every faith leader in town is a member of the Interfaith Council of Westport and Weston — that’s the topic of that organization’s next panel.

“Welcoming the Stranger” explores the role that houses of worship — and entire communities — can play in providing sanctuary. It’s set for this Sunday (February 11, 3 p.m.) at the United Methodist Church on Weston Road.

With tens of millions of refugees around the world, organizers say, “it is imperative that we learn about those who have been displaced, and explore creative, faithful ways to respond to this crisis.

“We do this not as members of one political party or the other, but as people of faith, collectively responding to the call to ‘welcome the stranger.'”

Panelists — including immigration attorney Alicia Kinsman, social justice activist Rev. Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull and sanctuary leader Lynn Taborsak will discuss issues including DACA, sanctuary cities, and the historical and current roles of religious institutions in providing sanctuary.

The event is free, and open to the public.

Pic Of The Day #287

Assumption Church (Photo/Ellen Wentworth)

Mitzvah Heroes Earn Honors

Financial support is vital to most non-profits — especially those that fund causes those groups support.

So organizations tend to honor men and women who donate the most money. It’s the way the world works.

But, David Weisberg realized over a decade ago, plenty of good people do great deeds that have nothing to do with fundraising.

At the time, he was working to make the Jewish community of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania a better place. “Mitzvah Hero Awards” was born. (“Mitzvah” is a Hebrew word meaning “a good deed done from religious duty.”)

When David moved to Westport, he brought her idea along. Which is why this Sunday (January 28, 5 p.m., Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Campus, Bridgeport) the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County will present its 1st-ever Mitzvah Hero Awards.

There are 14 honorees, from throughout the county. Four are Westporters. That’s plenty of mitzvahs.

Robert Bolton

For example, after his bar mitzvah (which means, literally, “son of the commandment”) 2 years ago, Robert Bolton vowed to attend Beit Chaverim every Friday night and Sunday morning. The small Westport synagogue does not always assemble a minyan (quorum of 10 men age 13 or older).

“Robert’s warm and caring personality raised the experience for all attendees as well,” praises Rabbi Greg Wall. And the teenager has the best attendance record of any congregation member.

Allyson Gottlieb

Allyson Gottlieb chairs Temple Israel’s Social Action Committee. Leading with energy, enthusiasm and insights, says Rabbi Michael Friedman, she often asks, “How can we do more?” Among the activities: strengthening the temple’s commitment to Homes With Hope, expanding its regular food drives, and revitalizing the annual Mitzvah Day, engaging hundreds of congregants in projects of every stripe.

Marilyn Katz

Since joining the Conservative Synagogue as one of its early members, Marilyn Katz has volunteered in many ways. Most outstanding, says Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn, is her 30-year commitment to the Sunday morning minyan.

Every Sunday she is the first person in the building, opening the kitchen to prepare breakfast. She makes the congregation “a caring community committed to taking care of one another.”

Howie Schwartz

Chabad’s Howie Schwartz serves special needs families through the Friendship Circle. He is a role model and inspiration for other adults and teens — including his own children — says Rabbi Yehuda Kantor, thanks to his hands-on help, and his “heart and soul passion” in projects like the Friendship Walk, family bowls, holiday parties and Pump It Up.

The honorees’ award quotes Pirkei Avot, the sacred Jewish text on ethics: “It is not what one says, but rather what one does, that makes all the difference in the world.”

Mazel tov!

(For more information on Sunday’s event, click here.)

MLK

This story has become a Martin Luther King Day tradition on “06880.”

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work.  Some will sleep in; others will ski, or take part in a Staples basketball clinic for younger players. Few will give any thought to Martin Luther King.

Twice, though, his life intersected this town in important ways.

Martin Luther KingThe first was Friday night, May 22, 1964. According to Woody Klein’s book Westport, Connecticut, King had been invited to speak at Temple Israel by synagogue member Jerry Kaiser.

King arrived in the afternoon. Kaiser and his wife Roslyn sat on their porch that afternoon, and talked with King and 2 of his aides. She was impressed with his “sincerity, warmth, intelligence and genuine concern for those about him — our children, for instance. He seemed very young to bear such a burden of leadership.”

King’s sermon — to a packed audience — was titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.” He analogized his America to the time of Rip Van Winkle — who also “slept through a revolution. The greatest liability of history is that people fail to see a revolution taking place in our world today.  We must support the social movement of the Negro.”

Westport artist Roe Halper presented King with 3 woodcarvings, representing the civil rights struggle. He hung them proudly in the front hallway of his Atlanta home.

Artist Roe Harper (left) presents Coretta Scott King with civil rights-themed wood carvings.

Within a month Temple Israel’s rabbi, Byron Rubenstein, traveled south to take place in a nonviolent march. He was arrested — along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

In jail, the rabbi said, “I came to know the greatness of Dr. King. I never heard a word of hate or bitterness from that man, only worship of faith, joy and determination.”

King touched Westport again less than 4 years later. On April 5, 1968 — the day after the civil rights leader’s assassination in Memphis — 600 Staples students gathered for a lunchtime vigil in the courtyard. Nearby, the flag flew at half-staff.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

A small portion of the large crowd listens intently to Fermino Spencer, in the Staples courtyard.

Vice principal Fermino Spencer addressed the crowd. Movingly, he spoke about  his own experience as an African American. Hearing the words “my people” made a deep impression on the almost all-white audience. For many, it was the 1st time they had heard a black perspective on white America.

No one knew what lay ahead for their country. But student Jim Sadler spoke for many when he said: “I’m really frightened. Something is going to happen.”

Something did — and it was good. A few hundred students soon met in the cafeteria. Urged by a minister and several anti-poverty workers to help bridge the chasm between Westport and nearby cities, Staples teachers and students vowed to create a camp.

Within 2 months, it was a reality. That summer 120 elementary and junior high youngsters from Westport, Weston, Norwalk and Bridgeport participated in the Intercommunity Camp. Led by over 100 Staples students and many teachers, they enjoyed swimming, gymnastics, dance, sports, field trips, overnight camping, creative writing, filmmaking, photography, art and reading.

It wasn’t easy — some in Westport opposed bringing underprivileged children to their town — but for over a decade the Intercommunity Camp flourished.

Eventually, enthusiasm for and interest in the camp waned. Fewer Staples students and staff members wanted to devote their summer to such a project.  The number of Westporters willing to donate their pools dwindled. Today the Intercommunity Camp is a long-forgotten memory.

Sort of like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Even on his birthday.

MLK speech

Pic Of The Day #268

Saugatuck Congregational Church (Photo/Storm Sorrentino)

Lalie’s Lullabyes

Years ago, Saugatuck Congregational Church drew Lalie Madriguera in.

She loved co-pastor Marty McMane and Alan Johnson’s sermons. The community of worshipers embraced her.

And the choir was wonderful.

The Saugatuck Congregational Church choir.

That was important. Lalie (it’s pronounced “Lah-lee”) was a singer.

She discovered her talent years earlier. Living in New York — but unsure of what to do in life — she heard a little boy screaming in a grocery store.

Without thinking, Lalie sang “Pennies From Heaven.” Instantly, the child stopped.

His grateful mother invited her to sing at the boy’s 3rd birthday party. Then she invited Lalie to share her talent with others.

“If you can calm a special needs child,” the mother said, “every parent will love you.” So Lalie embarked on a singing career that featured many children’s shows. She called her performances “Flash! Bam! Alakazam!”

At last, Lalie has recorded some of those comforting songs. “LalieByes” — a play on the word “lullabies” — is her debut CD.

I should mention here that Lalie is 76 years old.

And a great-grandmother.

“LalieByes” is strictly a cappella. After all, Lalie notes, “when a mother sings to her child, there’s no piano, guitar or orchestra.”

The songs are from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. She hopes they will soothe not only infants and small children, but elders and those with special needs.

Some of the tunes– recorded at New York’s St. Michael’s Church — are from her children’s shows. But many are different.

“They have to be calming,” Lalie explains. So she sings “Summertime,” and one her own mother sang to her: “You Were Meant For Me.”

Lalie says she is “carrying on the great American songbook. I’m trying to pass on this music to the next generation.”

Lalie Madriguera

She knows her musical history. Lalie’s father Enrico was a Spanish-born violin prodigy whose orchestra performed at New York’s Biltmore and Waldorf Astoria hotels, and on WNYC. Her mother — vocalist Patricia Gilmore — hosted a weekly radio show on NBC. And Lalie’s aunt married guitarist Andres Segovia.

Lalie’s daughter, Linda Couturas, lives in Westport. She’s a Black Duck regular, performing with Cinderella Saturday or a big band.

Earlier this month, Lalie offered “LalieByes” to Saugatuck Church parishioners — where she sings in Heather Hamilton’s magnificent choir. You can buy the CD here.

Of course, Lalie notes, many people today don’t own CD players. So it’s available to download too: just click here.

We’re in an exciting new musical world. And — thanks to Lalie Madriguera — it’s a comforting old one too.

BONUS FUN FACTS: Lalie performs her original composition “Mother’s Song” every Earth Day at the Saugatuck Church. And — as in past years — she’ll sing with Chris Coogan’s trio at the Seabury Center this Sunday, as part of Westport’s First Night.

Pics Of The Day #252

Greens Farms Congregational Church ,,, (Photo/Candace Dohn Banks)

… and St. Luke. (Photo/Julie Mombello)

Tina’s Cousins Come To Town

A year ago, Westport said goodbye to Tina Wessel.

Over 150 people gathered in Christ & Holy Trinity Church to mourn the homeless woman who for years had limped around town. She died — alone — in a shed she frequented near the Senior Center.

Photos of Tina Wessel, from her memorial service.

A few days ago, Westport welcomed Cornelia Kunzel and Rolf Rabe. They live in Germany, and are Tina and Ludy Wessel’s first cousins. Ludy — Tina’s brother — died in 2012.

Cornelia and Rolf came to see where their cousins had lived. They wanted to meet Tina and Ludy’s friends and acquaintances; thank Human Services, and give a donation to Homes With Hope.

Cornelia Kunzel and Rolf Rabe at Christ & Holy Trinity Church, where Tina Wessel’s ashes are interred.

Accompanied by Ellen Naftalin (who helped Tina) and Larry Ritter (a close friend of Ludy’s), they traced Tina’s frequent routes through town.

They saw the shed she called home, and toured the Senior Center nearby.

They had lunch at Rye Ridge Deli — the new downtown spot that replaced Oscar’s. Late owner Lee Papageorge always fed and looked out for Tina.

They visited Christ & Holy Trinity Church, where Tina’s ashes are interred.

And they drove all around Westport. At the end of their meaningful day, they watched the sun set — crimson red — over Long Island Sound.

Cornelia, Rolf and Tina.

Remembering Denny Davidoff

Denny Davidoff — a Westporter and pioneering advertising agency owner whose work with the Unitarian Universalist church helped shape liberal religion in North America, and inter-religious dialogue globally — died on December 7.

She was 85. In July she was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma in her brain.

Denny moved to Westport in 1959 with her husband Jerry — a lawyer and civil liberties advocate. They knew the town well: Both their parents had summer homes here.

In 1960 Denny joined Westport’s Unitarian Church. She became a leader locally, then nationally, fighting for gender equity and against racism. In 1973 she was chosen to be president of Unitarian Universalism’s Women’s  Federation. Her work helped lead to pioneering gender-inclusive language.

From 1992 to 2000 — as moderator, the highest lay position in national leadership — Denny wielded the gavel in what the church itself calls “sometimes unruly” debates. She preached in more than 100 congregations, and mentored generations of ministers and lay leaders.

Denise Davidoff speaks at this year’s General Assembly in New Orleans, her 50th consecutive annual meeting. (Photo/copyright Christopher L. Walton)

Denny held many other leadership positions. Until her illness, she worked for Meadville-Lombard Theological School in Chicago, supporting development of new UU ministers.

Denny was a board member and founder of the Interfaith Alliance, and its foundation. As a director of the Alban Institute, she consulted for congregations of many denominations.

Besides her role in religion, Denny was a leader in Connecticut business and politics. She founded her ad agency in Fairfield in the mid-1960s — the “Mad Men” era. She specialized in advertising for financial institutions.

Denny volunteered for non-profits, including the Westport Library, the NEON anti-poverty agency, and a mental health association in Norwalk. Her longest community service — beginning in 1992, and lasting to her death — was as a director and executive community member of The WorkPlace, helping create and manage programs in Connecticut and nationally.

Denny graduated from Vassar College. After running errands during the 1952 Democratic convention, she remained active in politics — and met her future husband on an election campaign.

In 2006 Jerry and Denny Davidoff received the Award for Distinguished Service to the Cause of Unitarian Universalism. (Photo/copyright Nancy Pierce)

Denny served on the Westport Democratic Town Committee, and ran ad campaigns for candidates throughout Fairfield County. She also provided advertising for Ella Grasso, the first American woman elected governor without being married to a previous governor.

She and Jerry enjoyed cruising the New England coast on their 38-foot sailboat. At home, she played show tunes and classical compositions on the piano. Jerry died in 2009.

Denny is survived by her sons Douglass of Bridgeport and John of Evanston, Illinois, and 4 grandchildren. A memorial service is set for February 3 (3 p.m.). Of course, it will be held at Westport’s Unitarian Church, on Lyons Plains Road.