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.)

Former Positano’s Finally Goes Down

Last month — when “06880” reported that Peter Nisenson flood-proofed, refurbished and saved 201 Main Street, the “little red house” on the Saugatuck River that had been slated for demolition — readers rejoiced.

Now Nisenson and his PEN Building Company are about to start work on another property. It’s a new structure — but it sits on one of the most visible corners in Westport.

For decades, 233 Hillspoint Road has been the site of commercial ventures, in the heart of the Old Mill residential neighborhood. First a grocery store, the 2-story building later housed restaurants, including Cafe de la Plage and Positano’s.

This morning, it became Westport’s latest teardown.

The view from Old Mill Beach, as the former Positano’s and Cafe de la Plage was demolished this morning. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Over the next year, Nisenson will build a new home there. He and the owner have spent a couple of years planning how best to utilize the awkward-shaped lot — while maintaining the neighborhood character, and views admired by all Westporters.

“It’s a very public property,” Nisenson notes. “It was important to create something that blends in.”

The new house will be pushed back from the road. A dense buffer zone with native plants will provide privacy in back for the owners. But it’s on a public beach. The property ends where the sand begins — so Old Mill will remain the same as it’s always been.

The sidewalk in front will remain too.

The former restaurant has been vacant for nearly 4 years. Neighbors — and everyone else who loves the beach area — hope that Nisenson’s new project will be as well received as his Little Red House.

America’s Story. In Just 6 Words.

No matter what your political views, it can feel as if there are no words to describe America’s current situation.

But all you need are 6.

Ernest Hemingway wrote the most famous 6-word story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

Since then, writers of all types have tried their hand at the 6-word exercise.

Karin Kessler wants to hear yours.

She’s the upbeat, indefatigable owner of Backspace, the typewriter shop/writing space on Church Street South, behind Little Barn.

Karin Kessler, in her Backspace space.

Customers always talk about the political climate, Karin says. They usually throw their hands in the air, and say they have no voice.

So this month, she invites everyone to come to Backspace and write their own 6-word story on any typewriter. There’s no charge.

(You can also write at home, and drop it off at Backspace. You can email it in too — backspacewestport@gmail.com — or post it on a special Facebook page. But if you haven’t seen the shop, you really should.)

Any and every viewpoint is welcome (except hate-mongering).

The 6 words should have something to do with the political atmosphere — and be a thought-provoking reflection of the times.

“We can show that right and left can coexist, and respectfully disagree with one another,” Karin says.

This is not a competition between parties, she notes. She’s looking for “a description, statement or feeling about politics today.”

Karin offers her own suggestion: “United we stand. Divided we fall.”

She hopes to compile the stories, to promote both thought and conversation.

December can be a stressful month. She hopes this can be a fun exercise, done during downtime on the train, while stuck in traffic, or anywhere else. (Except, I guess, watching Fox or MSNBC.)

“Let’s start a wave from Westport, using our right of freedom of speech,” Karin says. “Let’s all hear what everyone says.”

In exactly 6 words.

Pic Of The Day #596

Happy Hanukkah, from Wakeman Town Farm

323 Closes

323 — the Main Street restaurant opposite Coffee An’ — closed suddenly today.

Employees arriving for work were given no notice. Neither were musicians who had been booked for upcoming gigs.

323 was known for live music. Last month, Aztec Two-Step played there.

Last summer, 323 made headlines when the bar featured a drink called the Tuskegee Experiment. There was no connection at all between the cocktail, and the shameful 40-year period in American history when US Public Health officials tracked the progression of untreated syphilis in black men.

A representative of the landlord said, “There is lots of interest in this property. Something will open here soon.”

In 2013, this sign said that 323 restaurant was coming soon. Five years later, it closed.

(Hat tip: Ellen Naftalin)

Moms’ Moms Meet

It’s a familiar story.

Merri Mueller and her friend Antonia Landgraf both encouraged their mothers — one widowed, one divorced — to move out of their longtime homes, and to Connecticut.

Merri’s mom Joan

The women would be closer to their daughters and grandchildren. But they left behind many friends, and decades of familiarity.

In many ways, the moves worked out well. But Merri and Antonia realized that their mothers were a bit lonely.

“When you’re retired and live in a new place, it can be hard to make friends,” Merri says.

“If you’re super-outgoing you can join a club or play bridge. But if you’re on the shy side, it can be tough.”

So she and Antonia created a “Moms’ Moms” club.

One Facebook page and one get-together later, the feedback has been amazing.

Anotnia’s mom Maryan

The group first met for coffee. Another is planned for this Friday (December 7, 10 a.m.). After New Year’s, they’ll organize a book club, walking club, movies, dinners and more.

Women are thrilled to meet other women their age — their 60s and 70s — at the same stage of their lives.

“What a blessing!” one said after the first gathering. “Thanks for the gift of new friends that you young ladies offered these moms’ moms. And a lovely feast you provided! I look forward to another one — only next time let us help with the treats.”

One woman who brought her mother said they both enjoyed making new friends.

Now they’re looking for other “moms’ moms” new to town, ready to join them.

(Click here for the Moms’ Mom Facebook page. For more information — including the location of Friday’s meeting, email merrim3y@gmail.com)

Moms — and their moms — at the first Moms’ Moms meeting.

Pic Of The Day #595

After an all-night work session by Al’s Angels volunteers beginning just before midnight Sunday, the William F. Cribari Bridge once again lights up the holidays. (Photo/JD Dworkow)

Committee Offers 3 Options For Coleytown

The future of Coleytown Middle School became a bit clearer this morning.

The school was closed in September, due to mold. Since then, 6th and 7th graders have attended Bedford Middle School; 8th graders are at Staples High.

Meeting today, the Community Advisory Committee whittled 9 options for the future down to 3.

The CAC sent these recommendations to the Board of Education tonight (7:30 p.m., Staples High School cafeteria):

  • All elementary schools become K-6, with the addition of flex space and/or portables, until CMS is reopened or new space is found. All 7th and 8th graders attend Bedford Middle School.
  • Find a rental location to house the 6th graders, and keep all elementary schools K-5. All 7th and 8th graders attend Bedford Middle School.
  • Find a rental location to house Coleytown Middle School.

One more parent feedback session is set for this Thursday (December 6, 7:30 p.m., location to be determined).

Coleytown Middle School is currently closed.

Meanwhile, here are links to documents posted online by the Westport school district today:

Co-Workers Swarm To Westport’s Hive

Co-working sounds like a high-tech concept. Folks sit hunched around their laptops, earbuds in, collaborating remotely with people they may never actually meet.

Nope, says Luke Scott. That’s not it at all. Co-working is all about being together, with other intriguing folks, in a space that is not an actual office.

Luke should know. The 1991 Staples High School graduate — whose real gig is owner of MadisonMott, a funky, kick-ass branding, advertising, digital and social media agency– also created, developed and runs B:Hive. That’s the cleverly named 5-year-old co-working space that’s helped bring great energy and creativity to downtown Bridgeport.

Luke just opened his 2nd co-working Hive. This one is in an even more cool, fun space: the old Sasco Mill, straddling the Westport/Southport line.

B:Hive — the rear view, from Sasco Creek and Bulkley Pond.

Over the decades the historic structure morphed from a cider mill to a yarn shop. Now it’s ready for its 21st century turn.

Owner Gerard Bernacchia had been looking to convert part of his building into a co-working space. David Cusa of Peoples Bank connected Gerard with his Staples classmate and longtime friend Luke.

Things moved quickly. Designers Madeline Rhodes loved the interior space. She worked with tech director Jordan Rabidou and creative director Marcella Kovac (Luke’s wife). Their design brilliantly blends features of the mill with the demands of technology.

There are 2 levels — both bright and airy, all equipped with high-speed WiFi.

The Hive boasts original beams — and the latest video conferencing technology.

When Luke gives a tour, he starts on the street level. He shows off the big individual desks, conference rooms, private phone booths (for cell calls), printer, storage space and kitchen.

It’s an inviting space — perfect for folks who work on their own but find a home office too limited and/or distracting, and crave just-enough contact with other human beings. (The business connections made with other co-workers is worth the monthly fee itself.)

But when Luke takes visitors downstairs, the Hive really hums.

There’s a long communal work table. Just beyond, large windows look out on a spectacular Sasco Creek waterfall.

The communal table looks out on a gorgeous waterfall.

If that doesn’t inspire you, you deserve your miserable fluorescent-lit cubicle.

The Hive opened just before Thanksgiving. The first co-workers, Luke jokes, were a great blue heron and white egret.

Humans quickly followed. They include writers, advertising and PR pros, an event planner, an apparel businessperson, a media consultant and a non-profit executive.

There’s an intriguing mix of ages and backgrounds. Right now, women outnumber men.

Among the features and amenities they enjoy: 24/7 access; free coffee and snacks; guest visits; access to the Bridgeport B:Hive; onsite printing; networking and social events, and mail service.

Oh, yeah: Kayaks and bike sharing.

And an Airbnb upstairs (for guests).

Luke Scott. Don’t be offended — this sign is in the bathroom.

Luke is a huge Bridgeport booster. That’s where he opened his first co-working space — just around the corner from his MadisonMott agency.

But he also loves his home town.

He’s excited to bring his 2nd Hive to the beautiful mill and waterfall on the Southport border.

And proud to offer a co-working space that is Westport’s latest buzz.

(For more information, click here; email swarm@bhivecoworking.com, or call 203-873-2008.)

Pic Of The Day #594

The “skateboarding” part of this sign — in the back of the CVS parking lot, near Whitney Street Extension — is clear. The “etc.” — not so much. (Photo/Molly Alger)