Category Archives: religion

Pic Of The Day #850

Saugatuck River, this evening (Photo/Sandy Rothenberg)

“Dr. King, The Rabbi And Me”

A recent “06880” story on the 70th anniversary of Temple Israel sent many longtime and former congregants — here and across the country — on trips down memory lane.

It stirred Carol-Anne Hughes Hossler too.

Now retired after a long career as an elementary school teacher, principal, Indiana University faculty member and coordinator of multicultural education for teachers, she is not a former Westporter. She’s not even Jewish.

Carol-Anne spent 5 years in Weston, before her family moved to California. They attended St. Michael’s Episcopal church in Wilton.

But it was the 1960s — the height of the civil rights movement — and at 13 years old, she was starting to pay attention to the world around her.

In October of 1963, the 5th and 6th grade wing of Weston’s elementary school burned down. Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein offered the use of Temple Israel. Carol-Anne and her sister were among the students who went to school there.

When she learned that Martin Luther King would speak at Temple Israel’s 5th anniversary celebration, she told her parents she wanted to go. They said no; it was wrong to take the seat of a member of that congregation.

“That was the first time I went against my parents,” Carol-Anne recalls. She wrote a script for what she wanted to say, called the temple, and talked to the secretary.

Rabbi Rubenstein called right back. He asked why this was important to her. She told him how the leader of her church youth group had gone to the August March on Washington, and that they’d recently asked some girls from New York City to a youth group party.

He invited her to King’s speech. And — in the parking lot before the service — he met her, and introduced her to King himself.

This newspaper clipping from 1964 shows Rev. Martin Luther King at Temple Israel. He’s flanked by Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein (left) and congregation president Dan Rodgers.

Carol-Anne still remembers exactly where she and her mother sat in the sanctuary.

For 20 years she considered writing a children’s book about that night, and the events that led up to it.

She thought she remembered what King had said. But she wanted her book to be true. As she researched his speeches, she realized that her recollection of King’s talk was accurate.

She began writing the book a decade ago. Her book is about how a black man and a Christian girl sat in a Jewish synagogue together, as brother and sister. “Why can’t it be like that everywhere?” she wonders.

There’s a subplot about white privilege. In September 1963, a bomb at a Baptist church in Birmingham, Alabama killed 4 little girls.

“I looked at my white arm,” Carol-Anne says. “I was aware of my privilege as a white person even then.”

In 1964, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King spoke at the 5th anniversary of the dedication of Temple Israel. He autographed this program.

“Dr. King, The Rabbi and Me” has not yet been published. But — with a renewed focus on white privilege and black-white relations, and a target audience of upper elementary school students — Carol-Anne says the timing is right.

She hopes for a January launch. That’s the month in which Dr. Martin Luther King — who was just 35 years old when he visited Westport — was born.

This coming Martin Luther King Day, he would have been 91.

BONUS FACT: Dr. King was not the only prominent black American to speak at Temple Israel in that era. Andrew Lopez discovered a talk by author James Baldwin in April, 1961. His topic — “The Negro Mood” — was also the subject of a piece he’d written recently for the New York Times Magazine. 

Batsh*t Bride Comes Home

First came “Groundhog Day.” Then “Independence Day.”

A new film takes place on April 1. It’s not called “April Fools Day” — the title is “Batsh*t Bride” — but the premise is clear.

Just before her wedding that day, a bride pranks her fiance by saying they should break up. Unfortunately, he feels the same way. Everything spirals out of control from there.

Jonathan Smith’s indie feature — starring Meghan Falcone as Heather — debuts August 26 at Stamford’s Avon Theatre. The venue is signifcant: “Batsh*t Bride” was filmed throughout Fairfield County.

Many scenes took place right here, including Christ & Holy Trinity Church and Longshore and Pearl restaurant. A number of Westporters had roles as extras.

The first scene the filmmakers shot was Heather’s failed wedding. Cinematographer Jason Merrin worked on it while in town for his own wedding.

A local blog posted the call for extras. Expecting only a handful of people, Smith planned his camera angles creatively. However, the Christ & Holy Trinity pews were packed.

Lights! Camera and action came later. (Photo/Ellen Bowen)

Many extras were then recruited for other background shots. One was even given a line.

The ballroom and hotel scenes were all shot at The Inn at Longshore. But the production was allowed in only on Monday through Wednesday, for 2 consecutive weeks.

Smith liked Longshore so much, he rewrote several sections to fit the grounds. He added in golf and kayak scenes.

Tickets to the premiere are $10. Chez Vous Bistro offers a $25 prix fixe 2-course dinner prior to the screening, while Flinders Lane Kitchen & Bar has happy hour drink prices and complimentary appetizers after the screening (with ticket stubs).

Email batshitbride@gmail.com for tickets and dinner reservations.

Pic Of The Day #843

Assumption Church, from Imperial Avenue (Photo/Patrick Goldschmidt)

Sam Goodman: A Bronx Tale

Sam Goodman spent the first 15 years of his life in the Bronx.

But in 1966 his parents read a New York Times story. “Grand Concourse: Hub of Bronx is Undergoing Ethnic Changes” described white flight from the borough, as African Americans moved in.

Sam’s mother Blossom took the article to her congressman, James H. Scheuer. His advice: move.

Three months later, the Goodmans bought a house in Westport.

The Bronx was certainly changing. When Sam became a bar mitzvah in 1965, his temple had 3,000 families. Three years later it was sold to Bronx-Lebanon Hospital, for less money than it cost to build — in 1924.

His father Arthur called himself a “Bronx refugee.” Not only were people urged to leave, Sam says. “Police were telling people how not to be victims of crime. Garbage was picked up less often. The city abandoned the parks.”

Bronx borough seal

It was, in New York Housing Commissioner Roger Starr’s famous phrase, “planned shrinkage”: the deliberate withdrawal of city services to blighted neighborhoods, as a means of coping with dwindling tax revenues.

Between 1970 and ’80, Sam says, 303,000 people “disappeared from” the Bronx.

Most people know about the fires, he continues. But most do not realize that landlords paid money to have them set. The insurance they collected was far more than the buildings were worth.

Sam found Westport to be “absolutely amazing — great. People were friendly and outgoing. They enjoyed life. There was a lot of space.”

Coming from an apartment, he thought he lived in a huge house. In retrospect, he realizes, it was small for Westport.

Sam made friends fast. He thrived at Long Lots Junior High School, then Staples.

High school was where he learned to think, and develop a philosophy of life. Principal Jim Calkins encouraged students to stand up for what they believed in.

His parents, and Temple Israel’s Rabbi Byron Rubenstein, were enormous influences too.

The Temple Israel confirmation class of 1969. Sam is 4th from left in the top row, next to Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein.

Sam’s involvement in Project Concern (bringing Bridgeport youngsters to Westport schools) and the Staples Governing Board (a unique, powerful collaboration between administrators, teachers and students) taught Sam about the importance of being a citizen. Done right, he says, “government works.”

At Kenyon College, Sam majored in political science. After graduation he returned to Westport to take care of his mother, who was sick. He drove school buses, Minnybuses and MaxiTaxis.

Sam earned a master’s in urban management and municipal planning from the University of Bridgeport, then spent 10 years as executive director of the Westport Transit District.

As Westport Transit District executive director, Sam Goodman was in charge of the Minnybus system. The hub and transfer point was Jesup Green.

But Sam could never forget the Bronx — or the political policies that had obliterated it.

In 1995 he got a job as an urban planner for the Bronx borough president. He’s been in that position ever since.

But it’s his side gig — Bronx tour guide — where Sam really shines.

He leads tours for the Municipal Art Society, Art Deco Society of New York, New York Adventure Club and Einstein Medical Center (for new pre-med students).

The tours cover history, architecture, urban planning, the politics and finances of rent control, and more.

Beautiful architecture remains in the Bronx.

As Sam talks, fields questions and shepherds groups in and out of buildings, they’re amazed. “People know pieces of the story,” he says. “But they’ve never heard it all connected. It gives them a new perspective. They can really appreciate what happened.”

Of course — the Bronx being less than an hour from here — Sam has Westporters on his tours.

One woman grew up there, but had not been back in many years. “She wanted to learn,” Sam says. “People told her she was crazy to go the Bronx.”

That’s a common stereotype. But, he notes, folks on his tours “see how pretty it is, and how friendly people are.” One man regularly invites Sam’s groups into his apartment — and gives them chocolates.

The Bronx today.

The “stigma hangover” lingers, though. “People still imagine it as it was in the 1970s and ’80s,” Sam says.

“The median income is low. There are many challenges,” he admits. “But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad place. It’s cleaner. There’s less crime than ever. People here are striving for something beautiful.”

His own co-op — of which Sam is treasurer — just spent $1 million to restore the lobby. Many other apartment buildings are being renovated.

His 1-bedroom is 900 square feet. He has parking, a doorman, and can get to midtown in 20 minutes. You could buy it for $300,000.

Sam Goodman in his Bronx apartment. A poster from Westport’s bicentennial celebration hangs on the wall behind Sam.

Prices like that attract young professionals from Manhattan and Brooklyn. Their mortgage and maintenance is half of what they pay for a small studio there.

Yet if you can’t take the Bronx out of Sam, you can’t remove Westport either.

He still owns the home he inherited from his parents. (He rents it out. A few years ago, he says proudly, his tenants’ twin sons were Staples’ valedictorian and salutatorian.)

Occasionally he takes the train here, rents a car and drives around. Westport, Sam says, “gets more beautiful each year.”

The Bronx tour guide — and one of its biggest boosters — concludes, “Westport still lives inside of me. It gave me the chance to grow into the person I am today.”

That person is a proud Bronx booster. There’s a lot more to the borough than just the Yankees.

Sam Goodman can tell you all about it. Just ask.

Or take his tour.

(Hat tip: Susan Thomsen)

Vital Organ At Saugatuck Church

If you haven’t been in the Saugatuck Congregational Church sanctuary for the past few weeks, you’re not the only one.

The historic pews and altar — where, in 1835, the town of Westport was officially formed — are filled with construction equipment.

It’s all good. The church — which spent a few years recovering from a nearly devastating 2011 fire — is in the midst of installing a new pipe organ.

It’s not easy.

A team of 3 men from Orgelbau Klais — one of Germany’s premier organ builders — arrived in early June. The organ — in many pieces — followed soon.

Organ pieces fill the Saugatuck Congregational Church sanctuary …

Since then, the crew has installed a tracker system, and associated parts. They added fire protection and lighting. Pipe installation is next.

The organ includes over 2,000 pipes, and 26 ranks. A blower apparatus can be pumped by hand.

Craftsmen from Germany are building the organ by hand.

The German team is here until at least the end of August. The church unveils the fantastic new instrument on September 8.

When it’s done, the organ will do more than make beautiful music. A Plexiglas window in the back of the console provides an inside view into how it works.

It will be the worth the wait. The organ is expected to last up to 200 years.

Which is the same pretty much how many years ago Westport was founded, in that very same sanctuary.

Progress!

Friday Flashback #149

First communion at Assumption Church, 1959 or ’60.

The fashions, cars and number of kids making communion has changed over the years.

The Riverside Avenue neighborhood has not.

Pics Of The Day #779

There’s something new at Westport’s venerable Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

(Photo/Chip Stephens)

For decades, worshipers have admired the stained glass windows in the sanctuary.

But — as shown above — they’ve been removed for restoration.

Until they’re back in place this fall, beautiful art has been replace by equally gorgeous, ever-changing natural scenery.

If you miss the stained glass (or never saw it): Here’s a photo.

Remembering Dan Long

Dan Long — noted artist, beloved diving coach, civic volunteer and longtime Westporter — died last month, while on vacation in Italy with his wife Priscilla.

They celebrated their 45th anniversary last summer. Dan would have been 71 years old on June 10. His daughter Kerry, and son-in-law David Roth, are co-directors of Staples Players.

Dan and Priscilla Long (Photo/Kerry Long)

Priscilla shares these remembrances of Dan, with his many friends and fans.

Dan Long was a good Midwestern guy. He was born on June 10, 1948, and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Son of a talented well-known regional landscape and portrait artist, Dan was exposed to art early in life. He also spent much time in the woods with his dad and brother Steve, learning to use their rifles and hunt food for dinner. It was a typical 1950’s way of life in Michigan.

Dan was a great swimmer. He took advantage of his small physique and started diving for his high school swim team. He was an amazing, fearless diver who was elected to the all-state team during his senior year at Ottawa Hills High School. He was the undefeated city diving champion. Dan loved Coach Collins.

Dan couldn’t afford a 4-year university, so after graduation in 1966 he went to the local junior college. He transferred to the University of Michigan for the remainder of his college career, and graduated with a BS in design in 1972.

A few days after graduation, Dan packed up his 1965 Fiat and drove east to New Haven. An ad firm there had offered him a job, based on a class project Dan had completed for Olin Skis. So began his 30-year career as adman (creative director).

Dan Long (Photo/Kerry Long)

Dan’s work spanned many agencies including NW Ayer, BBDO, Backer and Spielvogel, Lintas and Grey. He traveled the world creating award-winning TV commercials for the US Army, Lowenbrau, Miller Beer, Dodge, GE, Diet Coke, Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Campbell Soup, Starburst candy, Hasbro Toys and many others.

Although Dan was working and traveling during all those years, he still found time to draw and paint – often winning awards at the shows he entered.

This all ended abruptly in 2001 – and that is when Dan ‘s life really began.

He managed to create his own business and secure a lucrative account so that the bills could get paid and food was on the table. But he also took a giant leap of faith in 2003, when someone he met at a party in Fairfield learned he had been a diver, and said that Fairfield Ludlowe and Warde High Schools needed a coach.

Remembering how much he loved Coach Collins, as well as how much he loved flying through the air diving, he jumped in. He started coaching for Fairfield immediately, both girls and boys.

The following year he added the University of Bridgeport, plus a summer club or two. He was hooked. And what a coach he was!

A couple of years later, he added Staples High School to his plate. For many years he coached all 3 boys and girls  high school teams – even though they were competitors.

Dan Long, with 3 Staples High School divers.

It was his glory. He thrived, and the kids did as well. There is no question that coaching was what Dan was born to do. He cared about the whole kid: Not just their dives, but what was going on in their lives – their families, their hopes and dreams. He connected with kids on so many levels. It was wonderful to watch.

Aside from coaching and advertising, Dan dove headfirst into his art. He joined Rowayton Art Center, the Carriage Barn in New Canaan, and most recently the Artists’ Collective of Westport. He often won awards for his intricate drawings of old, gnarly trees (which he drew to come to terms with his own aging).

“Strangled Web,” by Dan Long

Dan also was an active member of Saugatuck Congregational Church. He served as a deacon for nearly 8 years. Most recently, he was vice moderator.

Dan was a good, kind Midwestern guy, with a great twinkle in his blue eyes. He loved beauty, nature, and most of all his family. His granddaughter Lucy was his heart.

(A memorial service for Dan Long is set for Saturday, June 15, 11 a.m. at Greens Farms Congregational Church. A reception will follow directly afterward, at Saugatuck Congregational Church. His art will be on display there.

(In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Saugatuck Congregational Church for Missions Work, 245 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880, or Staples Tuition Grants in memory of Dan Long, PO Box 5159, Westport, CT 06881-5159.)


Fellow Arts Collective member Miggs Burroughs adds:

I am proud to call myself one of Dan Long’s newest best friends. I met him only 7 or 8 years ago, but he had a great knack for making everyone he liked feel like family.

He created amazing pen and ink drawings of trees in crazy minute detail,  perhaps because he himself was a mighty oak of a man. Not necessarily a “towering” oak, (forgive me Dan), but a mighty one to be sure.

Sturdy and robust, he stood tall against so many of life’s challenges. Oak trees are not meant to disappear overnight. It is still so hard to believe that this man of such considerable talent, loyalty and kindness has left us.

His roots ran deep in the community, through his family, his church, the diving  team, and the Artists Collective of Westport, which cherished his dedication to the group (and his devilish sense of humor). We are all heartbroken.

Temple Israel Celebrates 70 Years

Before World War II, most American Jews lived in cities.

Other places did not always feel comfortable. So in Fairfield County, Judaism was centered in Stamford, Norwalk and Bridgeport.

After the war, suburbs boomed. By 1948, enough Jewish families lived here that leaders like Leo Nevas formed one of the first Reform congregations in the area: Temple Israel.

Members came from Westport, and newly suburban areas of Norwalk. They sought fellowship, community, and the chance to educate their children in the Jewish tradition.

For years they had no permanent synagogue. They purchased land near the current Whole Foods, but it proved not a good place to build.

Coleytown Road was much better. The cornerstone was laid in 1959. Just 5 years later, Martin Luther King preached on the bimah.

Temple Israel under construction, 1959.

This year, as Temple Israel celebrates its 70th anniversary, congregants look both back and forward.

Dorothy “Dood” Freedman remembers much of that 7-decade history. The niece of Leo Nevas, she joined Temple Israel in 1962. There were only a couple of hundred members. Both the sanctuary and religious school were small.

Temple Israel grew gradually but steadily through the early 1980s. The congregation included Conservative as well as Orthodox Jews. It was the only synagogue in Westport.

“But it was quite Reform,” Freedman recalls. “I loved it.”

Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein was a longtime activist in the cause. In June of 1964 — a month after Martin Luther King preached at the temple — the rabbi joined him at a protest in St. Augustine, Florida. Both were arrested.

Rev. Martin Luther King, before speaking at Temple Israel. He’s flanked by Rabbi Byron T. Rubenstein (left) and congregation president Dan Rodgers.

The Vietnam era was a testy — and testing — time. The congregation was divided politically. But — led by Rubenstein — they were united in their support for civil rights.

In the ’80s, ’90s and early ’00s, Westport’s Jewish population grew rapidly. Temple Israel did too. At one point, there were 900 family units (single individuals, and families of any size).

Today, there are about 750. Members still represent a variety of leanings. But there are now 3 other Jewish congregations in Westport too: the Conservative Synagogue, Beit Chaverim (modern Orthodox) and Chabad Lubavitch.

Freedman served as Temple Israel’s first female president, from 1980 to ’82. A lot was going on. The congregation was building a major addition to the sanctuary, and searching for a replacement for the legendary and long-serving Rabbi Rubenstein.

“The building campaign was a literal — and actual — symbol of the growth of the congregation,” Freedman says. So was a subsequent building project: expandiing the school wing in 2003.

Rubenstein’s legacy was “kindness, teaching and civil rights justice,” Freedman notes. His successor — Rabbi Robert Orkand — presided over great growth in numbers. The education and nursery school programs expanded greatly too.

Rabbi Robert Orkand, surrounded by young congregants.

Orkand was also one of 3 founders of the Westport-Weston Interfaith Clergy group.

He was very active on a national level too, Freedman says.

Orkand retired in 2014. He was succeeded by Rabbi Michael Friedman. It was a time of transition for the temple, as the longtime cantor and senior staff members also left.

The new chapter is “an opportunity to redefine the temple,” Friedman — only the 3rd permanent rabbi in the congregation’s history — says.

“It’s a period of creativity, growth and renewal,” Dood Freedman adds. “There’s a great feeling of the congregation being a family, working and worshiping together. There are lots of people in the pews on Friday nights.”

Temple Israel’s current clergy (from left): Rabbi Cantor Dan Sklar, Senior Rabbi Michael Friedman, Assistant Rabbi Danny Moss.

The 70th anniversary is marked by several events. Orkand came back to Westport for a scholar-in-residence weekend. He, Freedman and others shared stories, and re-examined the history of the congregation.

Volunteers are conducting video interviews with some long-time congregants — including Freda Easton, the longest-tenured member.

“We have not always done a good job of memorializing our past,” Freedman admits. “Now we’re creating a documentary and digital archive.”

Hebrew school students are involved too. They’re studying Jewish life through the years — including the fight for Soviet Jewry and the integration of women into worship — including a focus on Westport.

Of course, there’s a party. It’s this Saturday (May 18, 7 p.m.), and includes honors for all 12 living presidents.

Dood Freedman looks back with satisfaction on 7 decades of Jewish life here.

“I think we’ve got quite a presence in Westport,” she says. “When I joined, it was something just to have a temple here.”

Mazel tov! L’chaim!

Temple Israel today.