Category Archives: religion

Once Again, Jose Feliciano Strikes Gold

I seldom listen to WEBE 108.

It’s playing holiday music now though, so it’s on my pre-sets. I have this ridiculous false hope that one day I’ll hear an actual Christmas carol — Luciano Pavarotti belting out “O Holy Night,” say — instead of the squintillionth rendition of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”

Yet last week, what to my wondering ears did appear but a yuletide song I had never heard before.

It was a Christmas miracle.

This was no longer background music, as I waited impatiently behind an idiot driver who did not know that since 1979, it has been legal in Connecticut to make a right turn on red. This time, I listened closely to the song.

The voice was familiar.

It was Jose Feliciano’s.

When the fresh, beautiful song ended, Danny Lyons said he had just played a  “world premiere.”

I had to know more.

I called Jose at his Weston home. He was off on tour somewhere. Hey, this is prime Feliz Navidad season.

But his wonderful wife Susan was happy to tell me the fascinating back story.

It begins 50 years ago, when Rick Jarrard was a staff producer for RCA Records in Los Angeles. He convinced Jose to record “Light My Fire.”

Jose Feliciano and Rick Jarrard

The young singer/guitarist was dubious. It had been a hit for the Doors less than a year before. What could he add?

Plenty, it turned out. It reached #3 in the US, and #1 in the UK, Canada and Brazil.

The duo collaborated on 6 best-selling albums, including one in 1970 of Christmas songs. It was filled with classics like “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night.”

Rick asked Jose to write an original song too. He didn’t think he could.

But he’d just gotten a cuatro — a Puerto Rican stringed instrument. He thought back to his childhood on the island.

So — in the middle of July — Jose wrote “Feliz Navidad.” It’s become one of the best-selling Christmas songs of all time.

A few years ago, Rick wrote “On This Christmas Night.” Jose recorded it in his Weston studio. It’s beautiful, inspirational and sing-along-ish. But it was never released, so Rick just put it on Spotify.

He and Jose basically forgot about it.

Somehow though, the creators and producers of “Hamilton” found it.

And chose it — out of hundreds of contenders — to be their curtain call finale during this holiday season.

Soon, their interpretation will be released on a CD — with music from other Broadway, off-Broadway and traveling productions — called “Carols for a Cure, Volume 20” to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

When they heard the news last month, Jose and Susan were thrilled — not for themselves, but for their longtime friend and collaborator Rick. Susan said she cried for 3 days, with joy.

Then — just before Thanksgiving — Jose did a “Countdown to Christmas Music” promotion for WEBE 108. Susan told program director/midday DJ Danny Lyons how “On This Christmas Night” had dropped from the sky, into “Hamilton” and Equity’s AIDS benefit.

Danny listened to the song. He called it “providential.” His minister’s sermon had just noted that most Christmas songs today completely miss the meaning of Christmas.

Which is how Danny came to play “On This Christmas Night” that day last week. The fact that I heard it on its world radio premiere was — well, providential.

Danny told Jose he’d pass the song on to his programming colleagues around the country. Which means it may join “Feliz Navidad” as another great holiday contribution to the world, from our neighbor Jose Feliciano.

Of course — this being the holiday season — Jose is in great demand.

He’s playing all over the world this month: Palm Springs, New York, England, Vienna (with the Boys’ Choir) and the Vatican (for — of course! — the Pope’s Christmas program).

But Jose always has time for us. He returns home December 23. The next night, he offers his annual gift of music at Assumption Church’s Christmas Eve mass.

Feliz Navidad indeed. And muchas gracias, Jose Feliciano!

(Click here, then scroll down to hear “On This Christmas Night.” The Broadway Cares CD can be bought after shows. It will be available after Christmas on iTunes.)

Unsung Heroes #77

In the Jewish religion, tikkun olam is the concept of improving the world. And mitzvah — Hebrew for “commandment” — is also used to connote a good deed that helps another.

Westport is filled with men and women who, every day, share time and energy to make a difference.

This Sunday (December 9 at Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport), 5 of them — 1 from each local synagogue — will join 9 others from around Fairfield County. They’ll be honored by the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County, as “mitzvah heroes.”

Simcha Cooper was nominated by Beit Chaverim.

Simcha Cooper

He wears many mitzvah hats — but most striking is his self-appointed community shomer. That’s the person who watches over someone recently deceased, until the funeral. In Jewish tradition, the soul of the recently departed hovers over the body until burial.

Cooper is on call 24/7. He meets Rabbi Greg Wall in the hospital, sits for hours in the morgue, then rides to the funeral home. He may stay up for 24 hours, reciting psalms. He leaves just before the grieving family is aware of the good deed done for their loved one.

Cooper also joins any shiva minyan (quorum of 10) needed, and attends nearly every class offered at the synagogue.

Steve Ulman was nominated by the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism of Fairfield County.

Steve Ulman

As chair of their Social Action Committee, he spearheads projects like the Zero Waste recycling effort at the Federation Food Festival. He has helped organize a creative enrichment program at Neighborhood Studios in Bridgeport; planted a garden for special needs people at the Trumbull Nature & Art Center; introduced Food Rescue to CHJ, and helps teens and parents make sandwiches and collect clothing for those in dire circumstances.

Eileen Glickman was nominated by Temple Israel.

Eileen Glickman

She visits local hospitals every week, to learn the needs of congregants and other Jewish patients.

She checks in with neighbors and friends she has not seen in a while, and leads shiva minyans.

And in times of crisis, Eileen is there. She buys gift cards, and asks clergy to distribute them to the needy.

Martha and Martin Rosenfeld were nominated by The Conservative Synagogue.

Each week, they volunteer at Norwalk Hospital. Martha has served in the Emergency Department for over 20 years, while Martin greets patients on their way to and from procedures.

Longtime members of their synagogue in New Rochelle, when they retired they looked for a community where they could continue to be active. At TCS they found a young community with many children, which they immersed themselves in.

Martha and Martin Rosenfeld

They assist in the office, shine the silver on the Torah scrolls, and provide Passover seders for people without a local family.

At the age of 70, Martin learned to read Torah for the first time. Now in his 90s, he is still going strong — and is the synagogue’s most prolific reader. He and his wife are avid attendees at adult education programs, inspiring all.

Congratulations to these mitzvah honorees. They don’t do all that they do for praise.

But it couldn’t hurt.

(Sunday’s event is part of the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy’s 1st-ever TzedakahFest. It includes an exhibit hall, a concert with the Nields, sessions on teen and elder health issues, and a community service project. For information, click here or call 203-226-8197.)

Pic Of The Day #596

Happy Hanukkah, from Wakeman Town Farm

Downtown Menorah Lighting Set For Monday

On Thursday, Westport lit the Town Hall Christmas tree.

This Monday, the Hanukkah menorah lights up downtown.

Four Jewish congregations — Beit Chaverim, Chabad of Westport, Temple Israel and The Conservative Synagogue — will gather at the corner of Main Street and Post Road East. Everyone — of any faith, or none at all — is invited too.

At 6:15 p.m. — on the 2nd night of Hanukkah — candles will be lit. Holiday songs will be sung, sufganiyot (jelly donuts) will be eaten, and dreidels will be spun.

Last year’s menorah lighting. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Kane)

It’s an important event.

“During a time in which we have seen a rise in anti-Semitism and darkness in the world, Hanukkah celebrates our survival against all odds,” says Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of The Conservative Synagogue.

“But it also reminds us of our responsibility to increase the light in our world.”

The 5th annual celebration is organized in cooperation with the Westport Downtown Merchants Association.

 

Name That Tree!

I guess we shouldn’t call it a “Christmas” tree.

A press release from the Selectman’s Office notes only that the town’s “annual tree lighting” ceremony will take place at Town Hall this Thursday (November 29, 5 p.m.).

Of course, the tree to be lit is a fir tree. You connect the dots.

It’s a fun, festive, kid-friendly event. The Staples High School Orphenians sing “seasonal” songs.

First Selectman Jim Marpe — and a bunch of little kids — lit the tree in front of Town Hall last year. Then came photo opps.

Speaking of Town Hall trees, this year the “Heritage Tree” — a longtime fixture in the building’s lobby — moves across Myrtle Avenue to the Westport Historical Society.

Each year, local artists add ornaments (yes, it’s that kind of tree). Past contributors include Mel Casson, Randy Enos, Stevan Dohanos, Hardie Gramatky, Howard Munce, Jim Sharpe, Leonard Everett Fisher, Jean Woodham and Hilda Kraus.

This year’s ornament comes courtesy of Victoria Kann. The author/illustrator of the popular “Pinkalicious” book series is a longtime Westporter.

Kids can help decorate the Heritage Tree this Saturday (December 1, 1 p.m.). Kann will read from one of her holiday-themed books (and sign them). Snacks will be served too.

The Heritage Tree — shown last year in the Town Hall lobby — moves across the street to the Westport Historical Society.

The next day — Sunday, December 2 — another tree lighting takes place. It’s at the Saugatuck Center plaza, between Saugatuck Sweets and The Whelk. Everyone is asked to bring unwrapped toys for children 10 and under. Al’s Angels wrap and deliver them to needy kids.

It’s set for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Santa arrives at 5:15 — so I’m on safe ground calling this an actual “Christmas” tree lighting.

And the 28th annual Tree of Light ceremony will be held Thursday, December 6, at 6:30 p.m. It honors the memories of family members and friends who have died.

The site is Saugatuck Congregational Church. So, yeah: That’s a Christmas tree lighting too.

Need A Ride To The Community Thanksgiving Feast?

Turkeys and trimmings? Decorations? Volunteers?

Check. Check. Check.

Everything is set for this Thursday’s Community Thanksgiving Feast (Christ & Holy  Trinity Church, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.).

But organizers want to make sure no one misses out. So they’re reminding anyone who would like to attend, but needs a ride: Please call!

The number is 203-227-1261. That’s Saugatuck Congregational Church — where the feast was held for many years. They’re happy to help match those needing rides with folks offering them.

You can call until noon Wednesday. Volunteers are standing by!

Photo Challenge #203

Last Sunday marked the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I. It was also Veterans Day.

In honor of all the Westport service members who gave their lives throughout American history, I posted a photo of a plaque. It lists the names of 14 Westporters who died in World War II.

It’s an important piece of who we are. But where is it?

Those names provided a clue. Many more than 14 from this town were killed in action, in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific.

Those 14 soldiers, sailors and airmen were members of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. The plaque hangs on the church’s back wall, just inside the rear entrance.

It must be unnoticed by many. Sadly, no one knew the correct answer. Linda Amos was thinking “a church,” but she did not know which one. She came closest, until hours later Mary Cookman Schmerker nailed it.

Hopefully though, the plaque won’t be overlooked much longer. Christ & Holy Trinity congregants should seek it out. And because the church is used by so many community groups, others should find it too. (Click here to view the plaque.)

This week’s photo challenge, by contrast, is passed by every day by many Westporters. Still, how many of us actually see it?

(Photo/Mark Jacobs)

If you know where in Westport you’d find this, click “Comments” below.

Community Thanksgiving Feast: New Look For Old Favorite

For nearly 50 years, Saugatuck Congregational Church has hosted — and done all the work for — the Community Thanksgiving Day Feast.

But just as traditions change — someone new in the family takes over the meal, somebody brings a great new dish — the longstanding Westport event has a different look this year.

Saugatuck Church is passing its turkey baster to the Inn at Longshore’s OnTheMarc catering. They’ll do the cooking — and the meal will be served at Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

Many hands help with the Community Thanksgiving Feast.

Dan Levinson and Monique Bosch have stepped up to coordinate the feast.

But many things have not changed.

For one, everyone is invited.

For another, it’s still free. Partners — including Main Street Resources, Saugatuck Congregational, Christ & Holy Trinity, the Unitarian Church in Westport and Temple Israel — are making the day possible.

And — perhaps most importantly — tons of volunteers are needed. All ages are welcome. To help in any way, click here.

PS: Need a ride? Just click here!

PPS: Homebound? The Senior Center is delivering Thanksgiving meals. Call Sue Pfister at 203-341-5098 to receive a turkey and trimmings.

(The Community Thanksgiving Day Feast is November 22, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

Labyrinth Day Election Walk

Stressed out by all the rhetoric leading up to Election Day? Bombarded by mailings, assaulted by robocalls?

The Westport Unitarian Church invites residents of all political persuasions — and none — to an Election Day labyrinth.

Open from 12 noon to 8 p.m. this Tuesday (November 6) at the handsome sanctuary on 10 Lyons Plains Road, the Blue Lotus Peace Labyrinth experience also includes contemplative music.

A typical labyrinth

According to the church, labyrinth walking is deeply calming. It challenges and shifts walkers’ perspectives.

Labyrinths are ancient and ubiquitous. They’re part of cultures and faith traditions from the early Americas to pre-Christian Europe, from Africa to India and ancient Greece.

NOTE: Labyrinths are not mazes — which are designed to get lost in. Labyrinths have only one path in to the center.

For more information, call 203-227-7205, ext. 14.

Unitarians Say: “Let’s Put On A Show”

Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney — and countless generations of kids in basements, attics and garages before and after them — have had the same creative, what-have-we-got-to-lose idea: “Hey, let’s put on a show!”

Jim Luongo is no kid. But 10 years ago the veteran  English and theater teacher had the same idea.

He was a longtime member of Westport’s Unitarian Church. So he contacted fellow congregants, found a cast and crew, and produced Doubt right there on Lyons Plains Road.

It was a hit. The next year, Luongo put on another show.

Jim Luongo, at the Westport Unitarian Church.

He’s been doing it ever since. Among his credits: Proof, The Curious Savage, Rabbit Hole, Dancing at Lughnasa, The (Female) Odd Couple, and American Daughter.

There’s no budget. Sets and costumes come from actors and techies’ homes and closets.

But the UU Players’ plays are now the church’s second biggest annual fundraiser. (The August tag sale is first.)

“We’re better than we have any right to be,” says actor Sarah Bell. The 14-year Coleytown Middle School educator and self-described “wannabe actor” calls Luongo “a great director.”

But, she adds, “no one else is in charge. We figure things out ourselves, together.”

The still-ad hoc troupe does not, she admits, advertise well. They’re happy just to have fun, performing in front of friends, family and church members.

Now, however, they want everyone to know about this weekend’s show.

Bakersfield Mist is based on a true story. Bell plays a bartender living in a trailer park who buys the ugliest picture she can find, for a friend’s birthday. It’s relegated to a tag sale, where an art teacher identifies it as a possible Pollack.

A snooty art authenticator comes to the trailer to inspect it. The play is stinging, funny and challenging.

Sarah Bell and Tom Croarkin examine a “Jackson Pollack” painting in “Bakersfield Mist.”

One reason the UU Players want broader audiences to know about Bakersfield is because it’s Luongo’s last play.

After a decade, the director is stepping down.

“He’s given us so much,” Bell says. “It’s time people heard about him.”

And about the UU Players, who really do put on a show.

(“Bakersfield Mist” will be performed at the Westport Unitarian Church, 10 Lyons Plains Road, on Friday and Saturday, November 2 and 3, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, November 4, at 3 p.m. Tickets are available at the door. The suggested donation is $20.)