Category Archives: religion

MLK

This story has become a Martin Luther King Day tradition on “06880.” After the events of the past several months, this year — more than ever — we should think about the history of our nation before Dr. King was born.

And where we are, more than half a century after his death.

Today is Martin Luther King Day. Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work. Some will sleep in; others will shop, or go for a walk. 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 Halper (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

Roundup: Dan Sklar’s Sh*tshow, Young Woman’s League Wine, More

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Dan Sklar is a beloved rabbi, cantor and musician.

Now he’s an author too.

All those identities come together in “Sh*tShow: A Memoir & Mixtape: The Tales of a Reluctant Rabbi.” It’s an insightful, deeply human expression of past and present.

This past year has been challenging for everyone. Sklar was particularly affected. “Reluctant Rabbi” explores how inherited family trauma — and trauma experienced first hand — shape the people we become.

A Spotify playlist of 29 songs that provoke and inspire accompanies the book (you’ll see when and where to play the tracks). Artists include Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon, Lyle Lovett, Theodore Bikel, the Indigo Girls, the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, Rascal Flatts — and Sklar himself.

Click here for the paperback. Click here for the Kindle edition. Click here for the Spotify playlist.

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It’s called “Galentine’s: Wine Night and Bingo Fundraiser.” It’s sponsored by the Westport Young Woman’s League.

But you don’t have to be a woman to participate in this virtual event. All are welcome!

“Galentine’s” (February 4, 7:30 p.m., Zoom) raises funds for local charities. Last year, the WYWL handed out $90,000 to organizations that end hunger, and promote education and health.

The League has partnered with the female-owned vineyard Aquila’s Nest. The $65 ticket price includes 2 bottles of wine, bingo spot and fun surprises. Click here to purchase a ticket, and for more information.

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And finally … happy 53rd birthday to rapper/producer/actor/author/ entrepreneur/Kennedy Center honors winner LL Cool J.

Which, I just found out today, stands for Ladies Love Cool James.

 

Restoring Historic Homes, One By One

Teardowns gets tons of publicity. The loss of familiar streetscapes — and their replacement by (often) bigger, more modern homes — is hard to miss.

Renovations are harder to see. Much of that work goes on inside. But they’re an important part of Westport life too.

Tracey Ialeggio Kelly was born and raised in Westport. Her father Tony Ialeggio — an architect for over 40 years — instilled in her a love for historic houses.

She graduated from Staples High School in 1991. Nineteen years later, she purchased a 1927 home on Colonial Road that was a prime candidate for demolition.

She restored it beautifully. In 2012 the Historic District Commission honored her with a Westport Preservation Award. It noted her sensitivity to the mass and scale of the historic Greens Farms Congregational Church neighborhood.

Tracey Ialeggio Kelly’s Colonial Road home … (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

“It is an example of how a small, modest house can be successfully preserved, expanded and adapted to the needs of a modern family on a small parcel of land,” the award said.

But Tracey was not through. Last July, she bought another historic house, on Sylvan Road North.

She asked Westport Museum of History & Culture house historian Bob Weingarten to research it. He found that the property was purchased by Charles and Frederick Fable — brothers who created Fable Funeral Home — in 1939, from Edward Nash.

… and her house on North Sylvan. (Photo/Megan Kelly)

Frederick died a few months later. His son — also named Frederick — continued to build the house, with his uncle Charles. It remained in the family until 1985.

Tracey’s friend Andy Dehler surprised her on Christmas with a historic house plaque. It’s one of many that remind everyone who passes that history continues to live in town.

We just have to know where to look.

Tracey Ialeggio Kelly, with her historic home plaque. (Photo/Megan Kelly)

Roundup: Winter Sports, Papal Prayer, Youth Survey, More


Staples High School’s winter sports season moved a step closer to a (long-delayed) reality yesterday.

The state Department of Public Health told the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference — the organizing body for high school sports — that low- and moderate-risk sports (basketball, ice And fnahockey, indoor track, swimming and gymnastics) can begin practicing a week from today (January 19).

The CIAC will meet Thursday to approve the plan. The first games could be played February 1, though that date may be pushed back.

Safety protocols include masks at all times, including competition, social distancing on the sidelines, and perhaps no spectators other than parents. There can be no multi-team indoor track meets.

High-risk sports (wrestling and cheer) will be allowed only small-group practices, with no competitions.

Still, for winter athletes and coaches — whose seasons were canceled abruptly last March, when COVID first struck — the fact that abbreviated seasons may begin soon was welcome news.


Janine Scotti writes:

I was almost home yesterday morning, my heart still heavy from the events of the last week, when I saw what appeared to be a bag’s worth of garbage strewn along Riverside Avenue.

I knew that if I had called Public Works, they could not arrive before some of the trash ended up in the Saugatuck River. With no other option, and inspired by the images of Congressman Andy Kim on his hands and knees cleaning the floor of the Capitol, I hurried home to grab gloves and a trash bag.

When I returned, a passerby walking a beautiful golden retriever said the garbage had probably fallen from a vehicle on its way to the dump.

As I loaded the mess into the bag I had brought, I realized it had been collected from the nearby church. Amid the papers were handfuls of small cut-out hearts.  As a collector of hearts of all shapes and sizes, I smile as I continued my work.

As I was getting ready to head home, I found one last item: a 3 x 3 laminated card. On the front was an image of Pope John XXIII. On the back, was this prayer:

I am certain it was no accident that the litter caught my attention yesterday, as a way for me to find this message and share it.

After this tragic week in our democracy, this unexpected find gave me the reassurance I was looking for. I hope that no matter what your political party or faith, it also brings you comfort and hope, today and in the future.


Bullying. Lack of non-car transportation. Lack of affordable activities. Vaping, drinking and drugs. Apathy. Gender issues.

Those are some of the things Westport youngsters deal with.

How important are they to kids, and adults? The Westport Youth Commission wants to know.

They’ve developed a needs survey, broken down into elementary, middle, high school and post-high school/college ages. Anyone can take it; you can identify yourself as a student, parent with kids in schools, adult without students in schools, or a professional working with Westport youth.

The goal is to understand what the community wants, to better cater to those needs. Click here for the survey.


A multiracial, intergenerational cat of more than 60 performers — including Westporters — celebrates Martin Luther King Day every year, at Bridgeport’s Klein Auditorium.

COVID changed those plans. This year’s event next Monday (January 18, 2 p.m.) is virtual

Connect-Us — the non-profit suburban and urban partnership that provides after-school opportunities for Bridgeport youth, which sponsors the celebration, notes:

“Dr. King had a dream that inspired the world to create more harmonious, developmental, and humane communities, cities, and countries.” Each year, the Connect-Us community creates performances and writes letters to Dr. King letting him know what their dreams are — or why they don’t have dreams.

This year’s show is called “Bridgeport Has a Dream: Building Bridges Across Fairfield County.” It will be streamed for free on Facebook and the Connect-Us website. It will also be available on those platforms after the event.


And finally … today is National Kiss a Ginger Day. Unfortunately the world’s most famous ginger — Baker — died in 2019.

MLK Celebration: A Week Of Introspection And Inspiration

This year more than ever, it’s important to celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

And — now more than ever — it’s vital to do it on more than just Martin Luther King Day.

Layla F. Saad

The town is already gearing up for next Sunday’s conversation with Layla F. Saad, author of the compelling “Me and White Supremacy.” The livestreamed event is set for 12 noon. (Click here to register. Click here for more details.)

But that’s just the start of a week-long series of virtual events. For the first time, Westport is expanding its MLK celebrations beyond a single keynote.

Rev. Alison J. Patton of Saugatuck Congregational Church says, “In recent years we have shifted the focus of the Dr. King celebration from a remembrance of his groundbreaking leadership to an occasion to deepen our understanding of the continuing impact of systemic racism. There’s a need to equip ourselves to more effectively unmask and dismantle racism in our lives and community.”

Saad’s talk will be followed 2 days later by a panel discussion on “Me and White Supremacy: What Can I Do Next?”

The January 19 session (7 p.m.) focuses on the process outlined in Saad’s best-selling workbook, a 28-day challenge “to combat racism, change the world and become a good ancestor.” Click here to register.

The week culminates with “New Works/New Voices,” an evening of original monologues in response to Saad’s “Me and White Supremacy” (Thursday, January 21, 7 p.m.). It’s a world premiere, with Gracy Brown, Tenisi Davis, Tamika Pettway and Terrence Riggins sharing new works exploring themes surrounding racial justice. Click here to register.

Monologue authors ready for world premiere.

There’s more next month. February will include many opportunities for “profound personal engagement on the impact of white supremacy and privilege,” says TEAM Westport’s Bernicestine McLeod Bailey. Details will be announced soon.

TEAM Westport is co-sponsoring the Martin Luther King celebration, with the Westport Libraray, Westport Country Playhouse, Westport Weston Interfaith Council and Westport Weston Interfaith Clergy.

Friday Flashback #226

This could be one of my favorite “old Westport” photos ever. And not just because it shows the spot where I live today.

Westport Country Playhouse public relations manager Pat Blaufuss found it in the archives. There is no photographer’s credit, but it’s dated 1969.

There’s the Playhouse, midway up the right side of the photo. (Click on or hover over to enlarge). It’s been modernized, but looks pretty much the same.

Saugatuck Congregational Church on the left has not changed much. Neither have the gas stations: the one that is now Quality just east of the church, and the (now) Mobil across the Post Road. The buildings with (among others) Winslow Park Animal Hospital were there then too (lower right).

But the rest of the area is unrecognizable.

The big Victorian at the top was the Pine Knoll Inn. It was demolished in the early 1980s, making way for Playhouse Square and the Playhouse Condominiums behind it.

The long rectangular building with a white facade directly opposite the gas pumps was a car wash. I’m not sure what the white building set back from the Post Road in the entrance to Pine Knoll was, though I dimly recall the original Viva Zapata’s restaurant being somewhere around there.

And the smaller white structure to the immediate right of the Quality (then Tydol, later Getty) gas station, on the Post Road?

Originally a Dairy Queen, in the 1960’s it became the Crest Drive-In. It was a classic hangout for Staples students, a place for guys to show off their cars and girls to get guys to pay for their burgers.

Eventually the Crest gave way to Sam Goody, Alphagraphics and Qdoba. Today it sits as empty as the lot behind it was, that day in 1969 when an unknown photographer took this time capsule shot.

Roundup: Community Gathering, Authors Way, Car Heist, More


In response to yesterday’s assault on the US Capitol by a mob, Temple Israel Senior Rabbi Michael Friedman writes:

“Where the rule of law reigns, Jews have flourished. Where lawlessness spreads, we have suffered.

“Similarly, the ancient sage Rabbi Joshua ben Levi taught: ‘Great is peace… if the Holy One had not given peace to the world, sword and beast would devour up the whole world.’

“The Jewish community of Fairfield County will gather tonight (Thursday, January 7, 7 to 7:30 p.m.) online to find comfort in the strength of our community, and to offer prayers for our nation and prayers for peace.”

Click here to register for the webinar.


“Authors Way” is the name of a new subdivision of 4 homes, planned at #14 Hillandale Road.

That’s a nod to Westport’s many famous writers — including A.E. Hotchner. The novelist/playwright/biographer — known for his books about friends like Ernest Hemingway and Paul Newman (with whom he founded the Newman’s Own philanthropy) — died last February. He was 102, and had lived more than half his life — 67 years — here.

His property included a large house. Built in 1928, it was originally part of a 40-acre estate, including a long allée.

Plans call for the homes to be built on 1-acre plots, between Wakeman Road and Ellery Lane. Hotchner’s home — with high ceilings and large rooms — may be torn down as early as Monday (January 11). An application for demolition was made before the Historic District Commission on July 15. They upheld a 180-day delay.

14 Hillandale Road


Police report that at 9:04 a.m. yesterday, the driver of a BMW was pumping gas at the Post Road Exxon station by South Maple Avenue.

A male jumped in and drove off, at a high rate of speed.

GPS tracked the vehicle. West Haven officers tried to pull the driver over. After striking several vehicles in heavy traffic, he finally stopped.

As one of the 2 occupants was taken into custody, the other entered a patrol car. He slammed it into reverse, striking several officer.

The cruiser became disabled after being driven through a nearby cemetery. The second suspect — like the first, a juvenile — was apprehended without further incident.

Westport police remind all motorists to secure their vehicles, even when stepping out for a moment.

For a video of the apprehension of the suspects, click here.


Congressman Jim Himes says:

As part of the recent COVID relief package, qualifying individuals will receive an Economic Impact Payment of up to $600, and up to $600 per dependent child under the age of 17. You can check the status of your EIP by clicking here.

Individuals who make an annual income of $75,000 for an individual and $150,000 for a household will receive the full $600. EIPs will be reduced by $5 for every $100 of annual income above $75,000 for individual and $150,000 for household. To receive an EIP, you must have a work-eligible Social Security Number. Click here for additional information, including information on new provisions on eligibility for U.S. citizens who file their taxes jointly with a non-citizen.

Some eligible individuals and families did not receive their initial Economic Impact Payment. The IRS is instructing these Americans to claim their payment when they file their 2020 taxes in 2021. Eligible individuals can claim the so-called “Recovery Rebate Credit” on their 2020 Form 1040 or 1040-SR.

Many people, including recent college graduates, may be eligible to do so. Taxpayers whose incomes fell in 2020 from 2019 can also claim a credit on their 2020 federal income tax return for the difference between the amount they are entitled to under the law and the amount they received as an advanced payment.

For more information, click here.


Beginning Monday (January 11), the yard waste site at 180 Bayberry Lane will begin reduced winter hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Saturdays from 7 a.m. to noon.

Regular hours resume March 8.

Christmas trees will continue to be accepted from Westport residents during winter hours.

Yard waste at 180 Bayberry Lane.

The Parks & Recreation Department has introduced a “Winter Wonderland Walking Challenge.”

Residents are invited to walk, jog or run a distance of their choice, and track their progress.

It runs now through March 31. To register, click here.

Go for it! (Photo/Rowene Weems)


And finally … on this day of outrage, mourning and reflection, we can also be uplifted by Phil Ochs’ stirring anthem.

Here is a land full of power and glory
Beauty that words cannot recall
Oh her power shall rest on the strength of her freedom
Her glory shall rest on us all (on us all).

WestportREADS About Racism

Community reading programs have been around for a couple of decades.

A local organization — usually the library — picks a book. The entire town is encouraged to read it. Book clubs and other groups discuss it. The result is dialogue, awareness around a particular idea, community spirit.

We do things differently here.

For years, WestportREADS has centered not around one book, but a theme. Last year it was the 19th Amendment, and the centennial of women gaining the vote. Before that, it was immigration.

In 2019 folks of all ages read, discussed, thought about and grew through “Exit West,” Moshin Hamid’s novel about two refugees who find life and love on the run. 

Unlike other places, our event does not last a week, or even a month. This year — well, 2021 — WestportREADS runs from January through May. There are speakers, films, art exhibits, music performances, educational opportunities — you get the idea.

Not even COVID can slow it down.

The Westport Library — longtime driving force behind WestportREADS — has announced the topic, and the books.

This year’s theme is “Towards a More Perfect Union: Confronting Racism.”

The books are The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (fiction); Caste (Isabel Wilkerson, nonfiction); Class Act (Jerry Craft, young adult), and I Am Every Good Thing (Derrick Barnes, elementary school).

Programming kicks off on Sunday, January 17 (12 noon). Layla F. Saad — an East African, Arab, British, Black, Muslim woman and author of Me and White Supremacy — headlines the 15th annual Martin Luther King Day celebration. TEAM Westport’s Bernicestine McLeod Bailey will lead the discussion.

 

Layla F. Saad

Click here to register. More programs will be announced soon.

In past years, the Library has bought hundreds of copies of the book selections. They’ve distributed them throughout town, and made them available in their building.

The coronavirus complicated that task. So the Library has invested in digital versions and audiobooks. They are, however, providing hard copies to The Residence at Westport, the Gillespie Center, and schools.

“It’s called a ‘community read’ for a reason,” says Library executive director Bill Harmer. “All I did was pick the theme. This year it was a no-brainer. We really count on our partners to help plan what we do.”

WestportREADS is co-sponsored by the Westport Country Playhouse, TEAM Westport, the Westport Public Schools, Westport Weston Interfaith Council and Clergy, and Westport Museum for History & Culture.

Sam Zuckerman: Staples High Senior, International President

In the spring of 2017, Bedford Middle School 8th grader Sam Zuckerman got an email from Annie Glasser. The Conservative Synagogue youth group director said there was an opening for a 9th grade representative on the local United Synagogue Youth board.

Sam was not the only one Annie contacted. But he was the only one to respond. He got the job.

Sam spent his Staples High School freshman year watching older members lead. In 10th grade he was named to a religion and education position on the board. It was out of his comfort zone, but he learned a lot more about leadership.

Sam Zuckerman

Last year, as a junior, he became chapter president. Despite challenges like staff turnover and the pandemic, he grew the group.

Last January, Sam broadened his involvement beyond Westport — way beyond.

He applied for a spot on USY’s international general board. He’s not the first Westporter on it — senior Even Siegel served too — but it was “eye-opening” to have an influence far beyond his home town.

In May Sam added another post: president of the New England USY region. He helped organize a convention with upstate New York and eastern Canada chapters, and worked on outreach.

All of that work prepared him to run for the top USY job: international president.

Sam got signatures. He videotaped a speech. He developed a platform, stressing inclusion of smaller regions, addressing mental health issues of members, and opening communication with other Jewish youth groups.

And he won.

He’s now in charge of 15 regions, with over 350 local chapters. There are 20,000 members in USY.

“A year ago, I was only a Westport chapter president,” Sam says. “I didn’t see myself being where I am. But I’m looking forward to leading an organization I love.”

United Synagogue Youth logo

“Let There Be Peace On Earth”

Though their buildings are in Norwalk, Temple Shalom and St. Matthew Church include many parishioners from Westport.

Plenty of choral members too.

Last month — for the institutions’ Interfaith Thanksgiving service — Westporter Martin Gitlin and his daughter Kayla (Staples High School Class of 2015) produced a virtual choir video.

“Let There be Peace on Earth” was conducted by Temple Shalom’s Alice Lipson. She’s revered in Westport for her years as a Staples and Long Lots music teacher.

Whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah — or any other day — this is music, and a message, worth hearing.