Tag Archives: Rabbi Greg Wall

Candlelight Vigil: “The People Of Israel Live”

As darkness fell last night, over 300 Westporters lit Jesup Green with candles.

In the chill October air they stood shoulder to shoulder in support of Israel, and prayed for the safe return of hostages held by Hamas.

They gathered, Rev. Heather Sinclair of the United Methodist Church said, for “comfort, support and reassurance,” and in “sadness, grief, anger, fear and frustration.”

Rabbi Yehudah Kantor of Chabad of Westport and Weston noted, “Some rise up in arms. We rise up by linking arms.”

They sang the Israeli national anthem, and America’s.

They observed a moment of silence. And then, spontaneously, they sang “Am Yisrael Chai.” The words mean: “the people of Israel live.”

The vigil was non-partisan. No politicians spoke.

But the words of the multi-faith clergy — and the size of the crowd — spoke volumes.

(From left): Rabbi Greg Wall of Beit Chaverim, Rabbi Michael Friedman of Temple Israel and Rev. Heather Sinclair of the United Methodist Church, before the vigil.

Organizers of the vigil distributed flyers of many of the 200 hostages held by Hamas. Like other Westporters, Lauren Soloff and Wes Malowitz (above) have relatives and friends in Israel.

Staples High School seniors Jeremy Rosenkranz (left) and Eitan Eiger.

Andrew Colabella, during the national anthem.

(From left): Police Chief Foti Koskinas, 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Bill Mitchell. Westport Police provided security for the event.

(All photos/Dan Woog)

Scarice: After Terror Attacks, Schools Care For All Students

Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel earlier this month is an international event.

But it has local implications.

At the beginning of last night’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice spoke heartfully about what the incident means, for our students — and for him.

I can speak on behalf of the Board when I reiterate that our hearts are broken for the unspeakable acts of violence and terror that occurred in Israel the weekend of October 7, and now the continued violence that is sure to engulf the region, and world, for the foreseeable future.

Together with the community, the Westport Public Schools stand against all forms of hate and violence, including of course the desecration of human life, the murder and the kidnappings of innocent citizens in Israel.

With the Board, we stand in solidarity in condemnation of these acts, and ready to support all those impacted by these atrocities.

This week I had the fortune of meeting with 4 of our local rabbis: Rabbi Wiederhorn, Rabbi Friedman, Rabbi Kantor and Rabbi Wall. This will be followed by a subsequent meeting with the Interfaith Clergy Association of Westport and Weston

I asked for this meeting in search of wisdom and knowledge … but also in search of thought partners in how to best support our Jewish students, and the Jewish community of Westport.

As Rabbi Kantor pointed out to me, there are 15 million Jews in the world, and 7 million live in Israel.

It is not just a high likelihood … it is a fact that many of our Jewish students have a direct connection to family, friends and loved ones in Israel.

That puts our schools in a position where we must provide necessary school- based supports

As Rabbi Wiederhorn pointed out to me, Israel is at war with the terror group Hamas. Collectively our local rabbis want, and pray for, peace with all neighbors, here, and internationally.

I also had the opportunity to connect with former executive director of the Connecticut ADL, Steve Ginsburg.

I had the chance to work with Steve in confronting a very public issue a couple of years ago. We became friends. And as a friend, Steve shared some wisdom with me that I would like to share with the community.

As the local rabbis cautioned me about historical increases in antisemitism following international incidents such as October 7, they noted concern for all students.

Steve also wisely advised that we remain on high alert for incidents of Islamaphobia. He indicated that historically, incidents of Islamaphobia rise following international incidents such as October 7.

We are a public education system.  We have a lane.  Although I am comfortable expressing my moral clarity on violence directed towards innocent children, elderly, families, etc. anywhere, I am mindful of my professional lane when speaking publicly on these matters. And I am quite confident that my comments will not be received with unanimous support.

That said, in my lane, I am the same exact superintendent for each and every one of our approximately 5,400 students.

Our job as public educators is to support the growth and development of our students.

That work is optimized in an environment marked by physical and emotional well-being, one in which students feel safe, and an abiding sense of belonging and affiliation. This is the foundation of all learning.

As I said in my message to the community, as much as we try, the chaos and evils of the outside world penetrate the walls of our schools. When this happens, we respond to the best of our abilities.

Rather than divide and scatter, as chaos and evil can do, we work to pull closer together as a wider Westport school community to serve our students.

This means every student. We won’t be perfect, but it will not be due to a lack of caring.

Roundup: Pride Celebrations, Rabbi Wall’s Invocation …

June arrives Thursday — and with it, Pride Month.

Westport Pride — our town’s LGBTQ+ organization — is celebrating with an array of activities.

June 1: Volunteers will install a temporary rainbow crosswalk at Taylor Place and Jesup Road. It’s sponsored by Dr. Nikki Gorman and Galia Gichon.

June 2: The Westport Public Schools’ Pride Coalition hosts celebrations at Staples High School, and Bedford and Coleytown Middle Schools.

June 4: Westport Pride’s 3rd annual celebration (12 to 4 p.m., Jesup Green). The community-wide event includes a few speeches, performances by members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies, kid-friendly activities, vendors and food trucks.

Following the celebration, Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church hosts a Pride Eucharist (5 p.m.), in the courtyard. All are welcome to come together in a spirit of inclusivity and faith.

Temple Israel holds a Pride Shabbat later in the month, further emphasizing religious acceptance and unity.

June 15: Westport Pride and the Westport Book Shop present Jo Wenke, a prominent writer, social critic and LGBTQ+ rights activist. She shares insights from “The Human Agenda: Conversations About Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” and her other works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry (6 p.m.).

June 17: MoCA hosts “All for Drag and Drag For All,” its family-friendly drag show “Light Up the Night.” Great talent — and food trucks (5 p.m.).

Throughout June, the Westport Museum for History & Culture will conduct an LGBTQ+ Oral History Project. Participants can book time slots for video or in-person oral history interviews with the museum’s staff. Email cmenard@westporthistory.org.


One of the highlights of yesterday’s Memorial Day ceremony on Jesup Green was Rabbi Greg Wall’s inspiring, thought-provoking invocation.

Several readers asked me to reprint them. Great idea! Here they are:

Good morning friends,

I am truly humbled to be addressing you on Memorial Day, as I spent a great deal of my life ignorant of the significance of this day. When I was a child growing up in suburban Boston, Memorial day was the 30th of May. We would see parades of veterans, civic leaders, and even students marching to honor the fallen heroes of the United States Armed Forces. I was innocently unaware of the gravity of the day.

But in 1971, Memorial Eay was moved to the last Monday in May, and for me, like many Americans today, Memorial Day was now the beginning of summer, a day for relaxing with family, a day by the beach, or pool, or by the grill.

It wasn’t until much later, as a I developed an interest in the roots of my religious tradition and took my first trip to Israel, did I recognize the weight and intensity of a memorial day.

On Israel’s Yom HaZikaron, the solemnity of the day hits home, as just about every citizen has served in the army, most veterans have lost comrades, and  there are few families that have not experienced their own parents, children, sisters and brothers making the ultimate sacrifice.

My tradition records the words of a biblical King named Solomon, who said

טוֹב שֵׁם מִשֶּׁמֶן טוֹב וְיוֹם הַמָּוֶת מִיּוֹם הִוָּלְדוֹ׃/ Tov shem m’shemen tov, v’yom hamavet miyom hevvaldo.

“A good name is better than precious oil, and the day of death than the day of birth” (Eccl. 7:1)

Although there is an element that loses something in the translation, as the Hebrew words for “name and “oil” are related, there is a strong parallel in English.

There are two names a person has- the name they are given, and the name they make for themselves.

A person’s birth merits a given name, but only at the end of a life can we learn of the name a person has made for themself.

Hero is the name that is earned by someone rising above all odds for the sake of the greater good, disregarding what is normal, expected, or even reasonable. In other words, exhibiting the courage that is the greatest possible display of our humanity.

In the digital age, the advent of AI, of artificial intelligence is perhaps the greatest challenge to our awareness of the unique power of human intelligence.

The first technological innovation in human history, the ability to create and control fire, was a double edged sword, capable of elevating mankind’s potential to improve the world, or in the hands of tyrants and dictators, caple of unleashing horrible firepower on civilian populations.  With AI, we are witnessing the emergence of  a yet another double edged sword. Yes, we now have the seemingly unlimited power of data, the power to instantly access the recorded wisdom of the world, from wherever we may be, at any time, on any device.

But this technological sword can be also be used as the weapon of conventional wisdom, resulting in the dulling of the creative spirit, and extending a hand to mediocrity.

It is at these times is incumbent on us to recognize the absolutely unique human quality of heroic action. A computer is incapable of making sense of what all of us are uniquely capable of appreciating, especially on Memorial Day.

Today our lovely Westport Village Green is a sacred space to honor the fallen heroes who represent all faiths and backgrounds. Let us remember the contributions of those who gave their lives, knowing that in their sacrifice, they exemplified the highest ideals of service, honor, and love for their fellow human beings. In short, we remember their humanity.

In their memory, we find inspiration and a call to action—a call to foster understanding, bridge divides, and work collaboratively for the betterment of our society.

I’d like to acknowledge the members of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 399, who have dedicated themselves to preserving the memories of our fallen and supporting those who have served. We honor their unwavering commitment to service and their tireless efforts to ensure that the sacrifices of our heroes are never forgotten.

As we remember the fallen heroes, we also recognize the families left behind, who have shouldered the weight of loss and grief. We pray for comfort and healing for all those who have lost loved ones in service to our nation. May they find solace in the knowledge that their loved ones’ bravery and selflessness have left an indelible mark on our community and nation.

We also extend our gratitude to the men and women who currently serve in our armed forces, risking their lives to protect our freedoms.

The essence of memorial day is not beaches, BBQ’s or bargains. The essence of memorial Day is memory. As Nobel prize winner Elie Weisel said, “Without memory there is no culture, without memory there would be no civilization, there would be no future.”

Finally, I want to acknowledge all of the volunteers who worked so hard at organizing today’s events, everyone who marched in the parade, those we are about to hear from in this program, and all of you here on the Green. You keep the memory in Memorial Day, and thanks to our collective memory of the past, our  future is secure.

I’ll conclude with the words of the prophet Isaiah, who spoke of the day that “…Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more.”


Today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo is a first: a pigeon.

Nancy Vener explains: “This double-banded homing pigeon stopped by and made himself at home in the middle of a family gathering this weekend. He just walked around the deck for 4 hours, had some water and left.

“Hope he won his race.”

  (Photo/Nancy Vener)


And finally … today is the birthday of legendary clarinet player and bandleader Benny Goodman. “The King of Swing” was born today in 1909, and died in 1986.



Standing Up, Speaking Out Against Anti-Semitism

The recent national surge in anti-Semitic acts — including the New York area — has rattled many local Jews.

Then there was one right here in Westport.

A congregant of Beit Chaverim — born in Israel, but a longtime Westporter — arrived home to find eggs splattered on her front door.

In his sermon last weekend, Beit Chaverim’s Rabbi Greg Wall told his Post Road West congregation that the only way to fight what’s happening is to be more visible.

“Keep your yarmulke on,” he said. “If you’re intimidated, the anti-Semites win.”

Rabbi Greg Wall

Noting the importance of community involvement, he adds, “Anti-Semitism is a communal issue. As Jews, we have stood with any group that’s been denied their rights — other religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations. Now we need them to stand publicly with us.”

Working with the other rabbis, including Jeremy Weiderhorn of Westport’s Conservative Synagogue, and Evan Schultz of B’nai Israel in Bridgeport, plus the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County, they’ve created a very visible event.

Next Wednesday (June 2, 7 p.m.), a “Standing Together Against Anti-Semitism” rally is set for Jesup Green.

Approval came yesterday. Organizers meet this morning to plan the speakers.

Rabbi Wall knows he wants a wide range of voices.

“We hope other faiths will be involved,” he says. “Whenever anything has happened in our community, I’ve gotten support from the imam in Norwalk. I’m sure there will be many people standing with us.”

He thinks about previous rallies on Jesup Green — in the past year alone, for Black Lives Matter and against Asian-American violence — and shakes his head.

“Hate effects everyone. I look forward to a time when we won’t need rallies like this.”

(If you can’t attend, you can participate online. Click here to register.)

Beechwood Arts Concert Streams Into Your Home

Today — 2 weeks before Christmas — is a busy day for many of us.

We’ve got holiday parties to go to, trees to buy and trim, football games to watch. There aren’t enough hours in the day.

But if you can manage to be free for just an hour — starting at 5 p.m. — you won’t regret it.

Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu, in their Weston Road home.

Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu, in their Weston Road home.

Beechwood Arts and Innovation — the unique immersive salons sponsored by Frederic Chiu and Jeanine Esposito at their amazing Weston Road home — is staging another event.

But this time, on this cold day, you don’t have to leave the comfort of your home.

You don’t even have to live around here to attend.

All you need is Facebook.

The idea is to replace the “me” in social media with “we,” Chiu explains. “We hope to bring people together to inspire a sense of unity on a global scale.”

Igor Pikayzen

Igor Pikayzen

Today’s salon is a virtual one. Held on Facebook Live, it’s a stream of an actual salon to be held at the couple’s home (called Beechwood). Igor Pikayzen — a 2005 Staples High School graduate, 2007 Westport Arts Horizon winner, and internationally known violinist, will perform.

Fairfield neighbor Orin Grossman will play favorites from the Gershwin songbook on piano, and Brahms’ “Hungarian Dances” with Chiu.

Greg Wall — Westport’s unique “jazz rabbi” — will show off his rarely seen classical side.

“The goal is to create unity around the world, through the universal language of music,” Chiu says. “Facebook Live is the perfect platform, because it’s interactive.

beechwood-arts-logo“People can join us on their phone, computer, tablet or smart TV. They can communicate with each other using Facebook comments — emojis are fine!”

Hundreds of intimate gatherings of friends and families have already been planned (thanks to Facebook, of course). But individuals can join too. Everyone’s invited.

Today’s Beechwood salon is music at its finest — and most accessible.

That football game can wait.

(Click here to join the Beechwood Arts Salon Facebook Live event, or search Facebook for “Beechwood Arts and Innovation.”)

Greg Wall, the "jazz rabbi," plays classical music today.

Greg Wall, the “jazz rabbi,” plays classical music today.