Tag Archives: Beit Chaverim

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.)

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.

 

Mitzvah Heroes Earn Honors

Financial support is vital to most non-profits — especially those that fund causes those groups support.

So organizations tend to honor men and women who donate the most money. It’s the way the world works.

But, David Weisberg realized over a decade ago, plenty of good people do great deeds that have nothing to do with fundraising.

At the time, he was working to make the Jewish community of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania a better place. “Mitzvah Hero Awards” was born. (“Mitzvah” is a Hebrew word meaning “a good deed done from religious duty.”)

When David moved to Westport, he brought her idea along. Which is why this Sunday (January 28, 5 p.m., Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Campus, Bridgeport) the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County will present its 1st-ever Mitzvah Hero Awards.

There are 14 honorees, from throughout the county. Four are Westporters. That’s plenty of mitzvahs.

Robert Bolton

For example, after his bar mitzvah (which means, literally, “son of the commandment”) 2 years ago, Robert Bolton vowed to attend Beit Chaverim every Friday night and Sunday morning. The small Westport synagogue does not always assemble a minyan (quorum of 10 men age 13 or older).

“Robert’s warm and caring personality raised the experience for all attendees as well,” praises Rabbi Greg Wall. And the teenager has the best attendance record of any congregation member.

Allyson Gottlieb

Allyson Gottlieb chairs Temple Israel’s Social Action Committee. Leading with energy, enthusiasm and insights, says Rabbi Michael Friedman, she often asks, “How can we do more?” Among the activities: strengthening the temple’s commitment to Homes With Hope, expanding its regular food drives, and revitalizing the annual Mitzvah Day, engaging hundreds of congregants in projects of every stripe.

Marilyn Katz

Since joining the Conservative Synagogue as one of its early members, Marilyn Katz has volunteered in many ways. Most outstanding, says Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn, is her 30-year commitment to the Sunday morning minyan.

Every Sunday she is the first person in the building, opening the kitchen to prepare breakfast. She makes the congregation “a caring community committed to taking care of one another.”

Howie Schwartz

Chabad’s Howie Schwartz serves special needs families through the Friendship Circle. He is a role model and inspiration for other adults and teens — including his own children — says Rabbi Yehuda Kantor, thanks to his hands-on help, and his “heart and soul passion” in projects like the Friendship Walk, family bowls, holiday parties and Pump It Up.

The honorees’ award quotes Pirkei Avot, the sacred Jewish text on ethics: “It is not what one says, but rather what one does, that makes all the difference in the world.”

Mazel tov!

(For more information on Sunday’s event, click here.)

From Compo Inn To Chaverim

For several years, plans to build a synagogue on Ludlow Road have stirred controversy.

beit chaverimBeit Chaverim would like to move across the street and up the hill from its present, cramped quarters on Post Road West. Some neighbors fear increased traffic and congested parking.

This is not the first time a new use for Ludlow Road has been proposed.

In 1977 — according to a Norwalk Hour story unearthed by Mary Palmieri Gai – a developer proposed building a 3-story, 17,540-square foot office building on the corner of the Post Road and Ludlow.  There would be parking for 41 cars, plus another 16 spots in a new underground garage.

The office was planned for the site of the old Compo Inn. Back in the day, the Inn was a popular gathering spot for teachers, Famous Artists Schools employees, and others who worked nearby.

A very popular spot. And it had been for a long time. According to this photo (courtesy of Paul Ehrismann), it featured “dancing, music, cafe and grill room.” The telephone number was simply “98.”

Compo Inn

From the looks of it, there’s nothing like it today.

If the synagogue is approved, the last vestiges of the Compo Inn — and the nearby Marion Levy apartments — will finally meet the wrecking ball.

A later view of the Compo Inn.

A later view of the Compo Inn.

Worship And A B&B

If you’re one of the 99 percent (the Westporters who left town for the schools’ winter break last week — haha, the weather was gorgeous!), or simply haven’t read the local papers in a month or so, there are a couple of stories you may have missed.

Both involve Westport’s most contentious subject: dogs bad drivers zoning.

The first is in the planning stages. Jarvis and Coke Anne Wilcox own an 1813 home on 25 Turkey Hill South that they hope to convert to a 3-room B&B. They’ve owned it since 1986, and rent it out — they live in another home not far away — but in a “dismal” real estate market, the couple believe a small B&B makes more sense.

The Wilcoxes owned a Hamptons inn (as opposed to a Hampton Inn) from 1992 to 2008.

The potential B&B at 25 Turkey Hill South.

A text amendment is needed to permit a B&B in a residential zone. The last such establishment like it here  was the Cotswold Inn, at 76 Myrtle Avenue. Surrounded by residences, as well as medical and law offices in converted homes — not far from Town Hall and the Westport Historical Society — the Cotswold Inn was such a low key presence, many Westporters had no idea it was here.

On the other hand, it was so quiet many others don’t realize it closed years ago.

The Wilcoxes hope their B&B will be similar to the Cotswold Inn: a low-key, low-impact spot that will nevertheless provide work for a few folks, and bring tourist dollars to town.

Meanwhile, across the river, another zoning battle looms. Beit Chaverim Synagogue hopes to move from its rented quarters on 85 Post Road West — in a small house just down from Lincoln Street — across the street and up the hill, to property it owns at 24 Ludlow Road. They would raze the structure — built in 1868 — and build a new synagogue.

The potential Beit Chaverim synagogue at 24 Ludlow Road.

The issue here is not zoning. All places of worship are located in residential zones, says attorney Lawrence Weisman. (I thought I had him on the Saugatuck Congregational Church, but he pointed out that the back part of the property extends into a residential area.)

The issue here is parking. Beit Chaverim has a “positive traffic study,” Weisman says, and offered to request that “No Parking” signs be posted on the street. They’ll also request a “Left Turn Only” sign at the exit, forcing traffic to the Post Road and not north to King’s Highway, and will arrange for off-site parking during peak holiday and event times.

Neighbors are skeptical. They worry about overflow parking on the narrow street. A related issue involves current parking regulations for houses of worship, new ones proposed by Weisman, and what power the fire marshal should have in determining parking standards for churches and synagogues.

As with all things zoning, both the B&B and Beit Chaverim are a long way from opening the doors to their new homes. Chances are good, though, that you’ll read much more about both issues in the months ahead.