Category Archives: religion

After Pittsburgh, Community Gathers At 1 pm Today

In the wake of yesterday’s tragic shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, the entire Westport community is invited to a gathering this afternoon. It’s set for 1 p.m., at the Conservative Synagogue (30 Hillspoint Road).

First Selectman Jim Marpe, Police Chief Foti Koskinas and other town officials will attend. This morning, they meet with Jewish leaders of Westport at police headquarters.

The Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County says:

This past Shabbat, a day intended for peace and rest, for family and prayer, has been a tragically sad one.

Some of us heard the news as it happened, others as they left morning services, and others not until sundown, of the horrifying shoots at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. The loss of lives due to a blatant and hateful act of anti-Semitism stands as the most fatal act against the Jewish community in American history.

At times of great sadness, we find strength in standing together — in solidarity with the Tree of Life Congregation and the Jewish community of Pittsburgh, and in comfort to each other.

Today, the Jewish Federation and congregations from throughout Fairfield County will come together at The Conservative Synagogue in Westport for a special community gathering at this very difficult time. While no words can erase the tragic loss of life and our sadness because of it, our Jewish tradition shows us the value in being together to share sorrow and to find hope.

In light of yesterday’s incident, we will of course work to ensure sufficient security for this event. We hope that you join us.

 

Anne Frank’s Step-sister Brings Holocaust Education Here

With a fading generation of Holocaust survivors — and a rise in anti-Semitism, both here and abroad — the need to educate the next generation about that horrific chapter in history is crucial.

Chabad of Westport is doing its part. The Jewish outreach and social service organization sponsors “Holocaust Studies” for teenagers. Alexander Troy — a Holocaust studies teacher at Bi-Cultural Day School in Stamford — is the teacher.

Eva Schloss after Auschwitz.

Part of the 4-session curriculum — which examines Jewish life in Europe; what happened in Germany; the world’s reaction, and lessons learned — is a meeting with Eva Schloss. She’s a Holocaust survivor, world-renowned Holocaust education advocate — and Anne Frank’s step-sister.

But teenagers are not the only ones privileged to hear Eva Schloss. This Sunday (October 28, 5 p.m., Klein Memorial Auditorium, Bridgeport), she’ll speak at a public event.

It’s a rare opportunity for area residents. And it could not come at a more important time.

(Tickets for Eva Schloss’ talk are $25 for adults, $10 for students. Premium seating and VIP tickets — which include a private reception — are also available. For details, click here.)

Crumb Together: Baking Challah, With A Twist

Of Maimonides’ 8 levels of charity, the highest is giving someone a job. That way, he or she is no longer dependent on others.

The Jewish scholar died nearly 1,000 years ago. But he would be proud of the Crumb Together cafe.

He’d find its food fantastic too.

The newly opened bakery is the latest gift from Circle of Friends. That’s the very active, very cool group of more than 150 teens in Westport, Weston and nearby towns who spend at least one weekend a month with special needs children, teenagers and young adults. 

Together, they do the usual friend activities: Play games. Bowl. Bake cookies.

That last activity is particularly important.

“Baking is always a favorite,” says Circle of Friends founder Freida Hecht.

“It’s a chance to socialize. It’s fun. It’s productive. Once you’ve baked challah or a chocolate chip cookie, you feel a sense of accomplishment and comfort. Plus, it tastes good!”

Challah is a Crumb Together specialty.

For 2 years Hecht, Circle of Friends supporters Bill and Andrea Pecoriello and others worked to open an actual bakery. Westport pastry chef Becca Nissim provided crucial culinary help.

The group found temporary space at Beth Israel synagogue, just over the border on 40 King Street in Norwalk. The not-for-profit bakery opened in April.

There, Circle of Friends members with special needs bake 3 varieties of challah, chocolate crumble cookies and snickerdoodles. Others help with packaging, sales, marketing and clean-up.

Chef Becca Nissim (left) and her crew.

Job coaches help make Crumb Together a happy, social place. It’s as joyful as its play-on-words name is clever. (The tagline is cute too: “Always Rising.”)

As Crumb Together grows, Hecht hopes to add more bakers. She’s also looking for permanent space, with the dream of opening an actual cafe.

“This is amazing to see,” Hecht says. “These are not ‘special needs’ people. They have regular needs: employment, opportunity, compassion and friendship.”

Maimonides would agree. He’d really love the poppy seed challah too.

(A special ribbon-cutting, with Westport 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, is set for November 1, 11 a.m., at Crumb Together, 40 King Street, Norwalk. Click here for the website.)

Greens Farms Church Signs “Bad News Bears” Minister

It’s been more than 40 years since aging, down-on-his-luck ex-minor leaguer Walter Matthau coached a team of misfits.

But even current Little Leaguers — whose grandparents saw the movie when they were kids — knows that the “Bad News Bears” are not exactly the New York Yankees.

There were 2 sequels to the sports comedy. Only 5 actors appeared in all 3. David Stambaugh is one.

David Stambaugh, then …

His character — Toby Whitewood — is the son of councilman Bob Whitewood, who secretly paid Morris Buttermaker to coach the team.

Stambaugh — whose career began at age 4 (he was in commercials for, among others, Bazooka gum and Tide), and continued with a decade’s worth of appearances on the soap opera “Love of Life” — put all that behind him before he was out of his teens.

“At 15, acting becomes very competitive,” he says. “Especially if you don’t look as cute as you did at 9.”

An avid church youth group member since junior high, Stambaugh attended Messiah College. It’s a Christian school, but he did not want to be a pastor. He majored in communications.

Yet religion was important. So Stambaugh went on to earn 2 master’s degrees, in theology and divinity.

His undergrad major actually came in handy. “I communicated as an actor,” he notes. “As a pastor, I communicate when I preach, and do weddings and funerals.”

… and now.

He became a youth and young adult minister in New Jersey, then a solo pastor for 5 years at a church on the Shore.

Stambaugh returned to Hollywood — but not as an actor. He got the call from the United Methodist Church there.

However, his family was all on the East Coast. When Stambaugh’s wife was hired as children’s pastor by the First Congregational Church in Guilford, they eagerly moved back.

The minister there introduced him to Jeff Ryder, senior minister at Greens Farms Congregational.

Last month, Stambaugh was ordained as the 307-year-old church’s minister of faith formation. He works with the 8th and 9th grade confirmation classes, and with adult education. He teaches Bible studies, and preaches once a month.

Stambaugh knows Westport’s heritage as an arts community. He’s played drums for years, and looks forward to meeting fellow musicians.

He’s also intrigued that Jason Robards once lived here. Stambaugh was in “The Thanksgiving Treasure” — a 1973 film — with him.

Three years later came “The Bad News Bears” — David Stambaugh’s Hollywood home run.

The Life And Loves of Horace Staples

Jeanne Stevens is an amateur genealogist. Before retiring this year, she was also an AP US History teacher at Staples High School.

So it was natural that when she learned about the condition of school founder Horace Staples’ grave — it, and those of his wife Charrey Crouch, son Capt. William Cowper Staples and daughter Mary were cracked, broken, knocked over, and overgrown with weeds and brush in Greens Farms Congregational Church’s cemetery — she vowed to help.

The grave of the founder of Staples High School, before restoration.

The cost for restoration was $10,000. (By comparison, Wilbur Cross — Horace Staples’ 2nd principal — was paid $700 for the year. Of course, that year was 1885.)

With the help of graduating classes and fellow teachers, she raised some of the funds. In August, Horace and Charrey’s stones were reinstalled.

Horace and Charrey Staples’ graves today. (Photo/Jeanne Stevens)

Meanwhile, in retirement, Stevens headed to the Connecticut State Library in Hartford. She had found a reference to the diary of Eliza Ann Hull Staples — Horace’s first wife — and wanted to see it.

Eliza began writing when she was 14. The last entry was on May 5, 1832, 2 days before William was born and a few weeks before her own death.

Horace Staples’ entry in his wife Eliza’s diary, after she died.

Stevens calls Horace’s entry underneath Eliza’s final one “heartbreaking.” He wrote: “Thus ends the diary of her whose worth was counted more than all this world by her unworthy partner. [She lived] 28 years, 3 months & 3 days.”

On the next page he added:

3 ½ OClock [sic] A.M. 10 June 1832 an hour never to be forgotten by me being an hour which brought upon me an irretrievable loss in the death of my beloved and affectionate wife. Although she was resigned to her fate & felt sure of entering the gates of Heaven until her last breath yet it seems more than I can bear to say Oh, Father thy will be done. Her disease was of that nature that brot [sic] death gradually upon her in the space of 5 weeks – she has left me 2 small children the eldest 3 years & 7 days old youngest 5 weeks whom I consider as dear pledges of pure and life lasting affection and may God bless them.

A few years later, Horace Staples married Charrey. They enjoyed another half century together.

Horace Staples

He became Westport’s wealthiest citizen, running a lumber and hardware business, and general store. He bought sailing vessels, a silk factory, and part of an axe factory. He owned a farm, a thriving pier on the Saugatuck River and helped found a bank.

In 1884 — well into his 80s — he established Staples High School. He lived another 13 years. He died in 1897 in his Riverside Avenue home — age 96 — of pneumonia.

His house still stands. Now — restored once again — so does his grave.

Saul Haffner’s Legacy Lives On

When Saul Haffner died in November at 87, he left quite a legacy.

He served on the RTM, was a member of the Y’s Men, and taught photography and writing at the Senior Center and Norwalk Community College.

Haffner was a US Army veteran. Professionally, he was an engineer who worked on NASA’s Gemini program, as well as a professor of business and marketing at Sacred Heart University.

He was perhaps best known as a justice of the peace. He may have been the nation’s foremost authority on the subject.

Saul Haffner

His legacy continues. The Congregation for Humanistic Judaism —  where Haffner was a longtime member and former president — has established a memorial fund in his name.

It will organize the types of programs Haffner embraced: those benefiting the CHJ and broader Jewish community, and that bring together people of different faiths.

When he retired, Haffner wrote stories about his life. “Just a Boy from Brighton Beach” was completed by his wife, Barbara Jay. Contributors to the Memorial Fund will receive a complimentary copy.

Contributions made payable to “CHJ,” with “Saul Haffner Fund” on the memo line,  may be sent to the Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, PO Box 82, Westport, CT 06880.

George Weigle Memorial Service Set For Saturday

A memorial service for George Weigle — the longtime and beloved Staples High School choral director who died last month at 90 — is set for this Saturday (September 22, 2 p.m.) at the United Methodist Church on Weston Road. In addition to his Staples tenure, he served as choral director there for 43 years.

Dr. Weigle’s many friends — and countless former singers — are warmly encouraged to attend. A reception follows the service in the Fellowship Hall.

George Weigle (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

100 Teens, 370 Pounds Of Trash

Longshore is a beautiful park.

It’s well-cared-for, lovingly maintained — almost spotless.

Yet you’d be surprised what you’d find there.

Or rather, what the Assumption Church youth group and Staples High School AP Environmental Sciences classes found yesterday.

Over 100 teenagers gathered nearly 370 pounds of trash and debris. Their haul included plastic, golf balls (a huge maritime hazard), part of a car windshield (!), and what appeared to be a rusted piece of a large boat engine.

That last piece of junk was too heavy to carry. So 2 boys borrowed a cart from the E.R. Strait Marina, and added it to the items they disposed of.

The event was part of Save the Sound‘s Coastal Clean-Up Day.

Marine life, golfers, and everyone else in and around Longshore thanks all who helped!

A large tire was one small part of yesterday’s Longshore trash haul.

(Hat tip: Michele Harding)

Sam’s Mobil Self-Serve Closes Soon

A couple of years ago, a big snowstorm closed local roads.

Concerned that Samer “Sam” Hiba — owner of the Mobil Self-Serve next to Barnes & Noble — might not make it home to Trumbull, a nearby customer called and invited him to sleep at her house.

Not many gas station owners develop those kinds of bonds with their customers.

As of Thursday, there will be one less in Westport.

Tomorrow (Tuesday, September 18) is the last day for Sam’s station.

He explains:

The gas company informed me that they decided to withdraw from this location only after carefully analyzing the numbers and determining that, unfortunately, the station’s projected long term revenues are not sufficient to justify investing the additional resources necessary to do the mandatory upgrade to the tanks, along with the corresponding improvements to the canopy, pumps and store.

Sam will shut off the pumps at 10 p.m., then spend Wednesday and Thursday cleaning out the station he loves.

He is devastated. So are his many customers — many of whom prefer the word “friend.”

Sam Hiba, in his Mobil Self-Serve gas station.

From the day Sam bought the business 5 years ago, his life has been intertwined with the men and women who come in for gas, coffee, snacks and conversation.

He has brightened their days. They’ve supported his major community work: caring for Syrian refugees.

Sam left his native country 25 years ago. He’s now a proud American citizen — as are his 5 children, all of whom were born here. But he’s never forgotten that war-torn nation.

His long list of friends include Westport residents, local businesses, even St. Luke Church. Sister Maureen and the entire staff has been particularly strong supporters of Sam’s Syrian relief efforts.

“From the first day, I loved my customers,” Sam says. “They are part of my family now. They know about my life, and I know about theirs. We chat all the time. I will miss them, big time.”

As customers hear that Sam’s Mobil Self-Serve is closing, they’re shattered. Today and tomorrow they’ll fill his small but well-stocked mini-mart, and say thanks.

“I see their tears and concern for me,” Sam says. “That’s very special.”

He promises to keep in touch with his customers — er, friends. He knows they’ll do the same.

Yet life on that stretch of the Post Road will never be quite the same.

 

All That Jazz

For over 3 years, “Jazz Rabbi” Greg Wall and his cohorts have created a thriving community.

Every Thursday night, they’ve played at a local restaurant.

But — according to an email sent to fellow musicians and fans — a “deteriorating environment for both the audience and the artists” is causing the Jazz Society of Fairfield County to seek a new home.

The goal is to ensure that “live, world class jazz music remains a key part of our area’s cultural life.”

Greg Wall, the Jazz Rabbi.

This week, the Jazz Rabbi invited everyone to his “other pulpit” — Beit Chaverim Synagogue — for top-notch music, food (this week, sushi), drink and good cheer.

The Jazz Society does more than play. In just 3 years they’ve raised funds to buy the famous Steinway piano from the historic Village Gate Jazz Club in New York. They’ve gotten not-for-profit status, conducted workshops for local students, and produced a benefit concert for Bridgeport’s Neighborhood Studios at the Bijou Theater.

Meanwhile — until an appropriate venue emerges — the musicians are looking for hosts for Thursday night house parties. If interested, email jazzrabbi@gmail.com.