Tag Archives: Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn

Roundup: Post-Election, Police Reports, NY Post …

The League of Women Voters welcomed Westport’s registrars of voters — Democrat Deb Greenberg and Republican Marie Signore — for post-election coffee yesterday, at VFW Post 399.

The registrars said that nearly 65% of eligible Westporters voted in last week’s election The statewide average was 57%.

They noted an increase in young voters, and hailed the efforts of Staples High School students — many of them not yet eligible to cast ballots — for their work at the polls.

“We have amazing poll workers,” Greenberg said. “The first things we do after an election are thank them, and pay them.”

Connecticut LWV president Laura Smith said that for registrars everywhere, Election Day is long, but satisfying and worthwhile.

Smith also hailed the voting process in Connecticut. “It’s safe and secure,” she said. “There are so many checks and balances.”

Though it may mean more work for registrars, there was praise that a ballot measure to allow the General Assembly to provide for early voting passed, by about a 60-40 margin.

If legislators approve, details like where exactly to vote, and for how long, would be ironed on. Connecticut is one of only 4 states — with Alabama, Mississippi and New Hampshire — to not provide early voting.

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The Westport Police have released arrest reports for November 9-16.

Six people were detained in custody.

One had many counts: larceny, 1st degree; conspiracy to commit larceny; forgery; conspiracy to commit forgery; telephone fraud; conspiracy to commit telephone fraud; criminal impersonation; conspiracy to commit criminal impersonation; illegal use of credit card; conspiracy to commit illegal use of credit card; fraudulent use of automated teller machine; conspiracy to commit fraudulent use of automated teller machine; identity theft; conspiracy to commit identity theft. and failure to appear.

An accomplice was charged with larceny 4th degree; forgery; telephone fraud; illegal use of credit card; criminal impersonation; fraudulent use of automated teller machine; identity theft — and conspiracy to commit all those acts.

There was one arrest for identity theft; receipt of money, goods, services by illegal credit card use; larceny, 2nd degree; forgery, and criminal impersonation.

One person was arrested for possession of controlled substance (narcotics); drug paraphernalia; tampering with or fabricating physical evidence, and interfering with an officer/simple assault.

One person was charged with 2 counts of both larceny, 6th degree, and conspiracy to commit a crime.

One person was charged with violation of a restraining order (threatening).

The following citations were issued:

  • Traveling unreasonably fast: 9 citations
  • Operating an unregistered motor vehicle: 4
  • Stop signal violation: 2
  • Insurance fails to meet minimum requirements: 2
  • Failure to grant right of way; 1
  • Stop sign violation: 1
  • Failure to obey control signal: 1
  • Failure to keep plates readable: 1
  • Improper passing: 1
  • Simple trespass: 1
  • Public disturbance: 1
  • Breach of peace: 1.

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Arline Gertzoff was a proud 1964 Staples High School graduate. After her death this fall, Staples Tuition Grants has created an award in her honor.

STG encourages Arline’s many friends — from her work with the jUNe Day United Nations hospitality committee, to the Representative Town Meeting and local politics — to donate in Arline’s honor. Click here for that link; click here to learn more about Arline.

Staples Tuition Grants provides over $400,000 a year, to over 100 graduating seniors and alumni already in college. Click here to learn more about STG.

Arline Gertzoff

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The long Thanksgiving weekend will be filled with activities at Earthplace. They’re perfect for visiting relatives and friends (and everyone else).

Two miles of trails are open from dawn to dusk. Walk off your Thanksgiving turkey — or see one in the wild. The 62-acre wildlife sanctuary includes fields, forests, ponds and a stream. Some trails are accessible for wheelchairs and strollers. Click here for a trail map.

“Saturdays at Earthplace”: Explore the sanctuary, create art, climb trees, identify flora and fauna, get dirty, catch bugs and enjoy the great outdoors. All ages. Click here for details.

Family campfire (Saturday, November 26, 1:30 to 3 p.m.). A guided activity with s’mores and animals. Click here for details.

“Story and Animal Program” runs Mondays through Saturdays, 10:30 a.m. For children 5 and under. Click here for details.

Birds of prey feeding takes place daily at 11 a.m. Learn about diets, behavior and care.  Click here for details.

Earthplace also offers holiday shopping (reusable water bottles and travel straws, t-shirts, hoodies, hats, stuffed animals, books, honey and more), and science box kits with themes like acids and bases, birds, ecosystems, plants, pollution and polymer ($35 per box; call 203-557-4400 or email info@earthplace.org).

One of Earthplace’s many trails. (Photo/Rowene Weems)

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The New York Post does not often cover high culture.

But the tabloid takes note of Beechwood’s Arts & Innovation Series — as well as Beechwood itself.

The Weston Road home of internationally renowned pianist Frederic Chiu and his wife, artist Jeanine Esposito, is on the market for $2.59 million. Built in 1806, the magnificent 7-bedroom home on 2.63 acres has been the site of a decades-long series of events, bringing together creative people from the worlds of music, art, dance, design, food and more.

The Post recounts some of Beechwood’s history too, from visits by Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Frederick Law Olmsted (and possibly Buffalo Bill and Rock Hudson).

Click here for the full New York Post story. Click here for the real estate listing.

Beechwood

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The Staples High School girls soccer team is getting ready to defend their state championship.

The Wreckers got 3 goals from the Chudowsky sisters — 2 by Natalie, 1 from Evelyn — to shut out Glastonbury 3-0 last night, at Naugatuck High. Staples was ranked 3rd in the state “LL” (extra large school) tournament. The Titans were 2nd.

This Saturday or Sunday (day and time TBD) at Trinity Health (formerly Dillon) Stadium in Hartford, coach Barry Beattie’s squad will face top-rated Cheshire. They edged Ridgefield 2-1 in the other semifinal.

Last year the Wreckers and Ridgefield shared the title, after tying 0-0 through 80 minutes of regulation play, and 30 minutes of overtime.

This year, one team will definitely win. State tourney rules have been changed, adding penalty kicks to decide a winner instead of co-champions.

The Staples girls soccer team. (Photo/JC Martin courtesy of Westport Local Press)

In other Staples sports news, sophomore Annam Olasewere broke 2 state records in the girls swimming state meet.

Her 1:47.86 finish at 200 meters smashed a 17-year-old mark. Annam then busted her own record by .26 seconds in the 100 freestyle with a 49.88 time.

Overall, the Wreckers finished 5th, with 431 points. Ridgefield won the team title, with 761.

Annam Olasawere

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Greens Farms Academy’s new theater director Kellie Comer is getting ready for her first musical there.

The Upper School’s “The Lightning Thief” opens tonight (Thursday, 7:30 p.m.). Shows continue tomorrow and Sunday at 7:30, with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $5 at the door. Click here to read more about the show, and its director.

Kellie Comer (Photo courtesy of GFA Dragon Digest)

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Fitness studios are not often known for the art on their walls. But TAP Strength is not your average health-and-wellness spot.

The downtown space was filled last night for an art show. Miggs Burroughs, Bonnie Edelman and Alex Silver displayed their work.

Today at TAP, it’s back to working out.

Ola Bassio (left) ws the model for artist Miggs’ Burroughs sign-language work. (Photo/dan Woog)

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Also last night: The Conservative Synagogue‘s Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn and his wife Riki were feted by the New York Board of Rabbis. The couple received a 2022 Humanitarian of the Year Award, at the Pierre Hotel.

A former president of the board, Rabbi Wiederhorn’s most recent humanitarian effort was delivering clothing, food and other aid to Ukrainian refugees in Poland, in the early days of Ukraine’s war with Russia.

The rabbi and his wife were in good company last night. Former US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer received the same Humanitarian of the Year honor.

Rabbi Jeremy and Riki Wiederhorn, at last night’s awards ceremony. (Photo/Avi Kaner)

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Neither Matt Murray nor I know what kind of bird this is.

But we’re sure “06880” readers can identify today’s “Westport … Naturally” image, taken on Hillspoint Road.

(Photo/Matt Murray)

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And finally … in honor of today’s Great American Smokeout:

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Roundup: Voters’ Guide, Traffic Study, Halloween …

The print version of the Westport League of Women Voters’ voter guide has gone the way of much of the print media: It’s disappeared..

But the LWV still provides important information. And it works for anyone, anywhere in the United States.

Just click on vote411.org. Enter your address. You’ll see every race being contested at your polling place. Clicking any office and candidate’s name brings up plenty of background information.

It’s a rich resource. And a lot better way to decide who to vote for than yard signs. (Hat tip: Charles Wiseman)

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In August, the Board of Finance unanimously approved funds for a traffic and safety study of Cross Highway, at the North Avenue and Bayberry Lane intersections.

Monitoring devices have been installed. They’ll measure things like traffic volume and patterns.

No — they’re not cameras catching stop sign violators.

Although that might not be a bad idea.

Traffic monitoring device at North Avenue/Cross Highway stop sign. (Photo/Matt Murray)

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Westport Chinese Takeout — the bare bones, simply named but popular restaurant on Saugatuck Avenue at Franklin Street, closed recently.

The location is historic. It was the original site of the Arrow Restaurant. The Nistico family eventually moved their famed Italian eatery to larger digs on Charles Street.

When the Arrow’s run ended there, it became Jasmine — a Chinese restaurant. When that closed, the owners opened the much smaller Westport Chinese Takeout — in the Arrow’s first spot.

Jasmine then became Blu Parrot, and later Mystic Market. Now it too is gone.

And the original Chinese Takeout owners sold to others too.

For now, a phone message says: “We’re sorry. Westport Chinese Takeout is no longer in business. In the meantime, we’re getting ready to bring you the best of Peruvian food at this location. We’ll see you soon!” 9(Hat tip: 

Westport Chinese Takeout is now closed.

Halloween alert: Tomorrow (Saturday, October 29, 2 to 4 p.m.) — not Monday — the United Methodist Church of Westport and Weston hosts their annual (and very popular) “Trunk or Treat,” 

The parking lot will be filled with car trunks from church and community members, Staples PRIDE, and more, decorated for (non-scary) Halloween. Kids (up to age 12) can pick up candy and other goodies.

It’s free for the community — but there’s a chance to give back too. The church is collecting canned goods for the Person to Person food pantry. A donation of 5 cans of food per child attending is requested.

All (kids up to age 12) are indeed welcome at the United Methodist Church’s “Trunk or Treat” tomorrow. (Photo/Dan Woog)

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Speaking of Halloween: Wednesday’s downtown parade was a smashing success.

We can’t ask the kids — they’re still devouring their candy — so here’s the perspective of a parent. Tyler Errickson writes:

“Westport is a special town, and my son Henry had a special time at the Halloween parade. He was proud to mount the Westport fire truck, on a very special day.”

Henry Errickson, on a fire truck at the Halloween parade. (Photo/Tyler Errickson)

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Jonathan Alloy reports on a long-running projecct:

“The bridge on Bayberry Road North Extension saw major progress on Thursday: The deck rails arrived.

“Each of the 7 concrete and steel rails is more than 50 feet long, and weighs over 19 tons.

“They came from Vermont, each on its own special 24-wheel trailer truck. A portable crane lifted them into place.

“Instead of being flat, the rails are built with a camber (arc) to allow for flex with weight and weather. Inside the concrete, steel cables allow for that bending.”

The trucks caused a traffic mess on Bayberry. Westport Police soon straightened things out.

Plenty of work remains. But yesterday marked a big step forward.

Trucks line Bayberry Lane yesterday morning …

… and work is completed yesterday afternoon. (Photos/Jonathan Alloy)

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Everyone in the world knows about TED Talks.

Everyone in Westport should know about TEA Talks.

The free Thinkers, Educators, Actors — “TEA” — event returns to the Westport Library on Sunday, November 6. Among the notables: an Emmy-winning composer, Oscar-nominated filmmaker, former Westport Teacher of the Year, and many more.

They’ll share the Trefz Forum stage, to explore provocative, topical subjects in the arts. Particularly apt for an event impacted for 2 years by COVID, they’ll consider the effects of recent history on creativity in film, music and visual art.

Were home-bound artists more or less creative? What new ways were discovered to express one’s creativity? Does the public now consume the arts differently from the way it did before?

Westport textile and fashion designer Shobana Mani converses with Oscar-nominated New York City filmmaker Kevin Wilson Jr.

Dr. Richard Epstein (Westport musician, dentist and WPKN radio host) speaks with Emmy Award-winning composer, music supervisor and pianist Michael Whalen

Westport 2013 Teacher of the year Cecily Anderson discusses the state of the arts with Westport artist Tom Berntsen and Norwalk street-muralist 5ive Fingaz.

TEA Talks is sponsored by the Westport Arts Advisory Committee. An audience Q-and-A and refreshments follow the presentation. For more information, click here.

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There’s a big honor ahead for The Conservative Synagogue‘s Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn and his wife Riki.

Next month, the New York Board of Rabbis presents the Westport couple with  Humanitarian Award.

They’ll be in good company. Receiving the same award: former US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

The event is November 16, at the Pierre Hotel. Click here for tickets and more information. (Hat tip: Avi Kaner)

Riki and Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn.

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Speaking of honors: The Westport Garden Club earned several honors at this week’s Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut’s 93rd annual awards luncheon.

The club received the Certificate of Achievement – Arboreal for planting a swamp white oak at Grace Salmon Park for “Oaktober 2021.”

They also won a Certificate of Achievement – Historic, Memorial and Public Gardens for their 2022 renovation of the Nevada Hitchcock Garden at the Cross Highway/Weston Road intersection.  The garden — established in 1941 — was reworked to focus on native and pollinator plantings.

Two members received individual awards. Andi Turner was given a Certificate of Individual Achievement for her work as horticultural chair. At each meeting, she shares well researched and informative best practices .

The Tribute Award in Landscape Design went to Ellen Greenberg, a Westport Garden Club past president, for her leadership in the club and community, involving a diverse array of partners including the Waltersville School Garden Project with Pivot Ministries, Wakeman Town Farm Pollinator Gardens, a Kaboom playground project in Bridgeport, and  Aspetuck Land Trust’s Green Corridor Initiative and Haskins Preserve Project.

Westport Garden Club members at the Nevada Hitchcock Garden.

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Many Westporters know Pippa Bell Ader for her environmental activism.

She’s also a talented potter. Next Thursday (November 3, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), she’ll sell her work at the Westport Farmers’ Market (Imperial Avenue parking lot).

All money raised at the “Urban Farming and Food Justice” fundraiser go to Green Village Initiative. The non-profit grows food, knowledge, leadership and community, through urban gardening and farming, to create a more just food system in Bridgeport.

Can’t make it to the Farmers’ Market, but interested in helping Pippa and GVI? Email bellader@gmail.com.

Pippa Bell Ader’s pottery.

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MoCA Westport’s next 2 “Cocktails and Conversation” events are set.

On November 3 (6 p.m.), Diana Mashia — founder and CEO of Invest In Her Art — discusses “the power of story, and the role that narratives play in shaping identity, fandom, advocacy and positive social impact.” She’ll lead a conversation around “how to better utilize stories and the arts to build awareness and advance women and non-binary people.” Click here to register.

On November 10 (6 p.m.), exhibition co-curators Tom Berntsen, Liz Leggett and Ruth Mannes describes the design and installation of MoCA’s current exhibition, “From the Pen to the Knife,” and the fascinating story of artist Marian Christy. Click here to register.

Both events are free; advance registration is requested. Access to the exhibit beforehand is free; cocktails and drinks are available for purchase.

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You may have to slow down to read this Halloween-themed sign on Bridge Street, near the Cribari Bridge:

(Photo/Andrew Colabella)

It says “Fast Drivers are Scary.”

That’s true all year round. But especially now when it gets dark early, but people are still out walking, running and riding bikes.

Slow down — particularly on Halloween!

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Here’s another Halloween photo:

(Photo/Anne Bernier)

Anne Bernier explains: “Anyone has seen ‘Stranger Things 4’ episode 3 (or has heard the Kate Bush song ‘Running Up that Hill’) will understand the floating Halloween decoration my 8th grader Luke created. Hopefully it won’t scare off any potential trick-or-treaters.”

Beware: It’s in the Old Hill neighborhood.

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Yogi Bear has appeared in “06880” before.

But never like. Cathy Malkin snapped this great “Westport … Naturally” photo the other day.

Because what’s more natural than a pair of skeletons hanging out in lawn chairs on Fairfield Avenue?

(Photo/Cathy Malkin)

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And finally … Charlie Daniels was born on this day, in 1936. The singer/ songwriter/guitarist/fiddler died in 2020, at 83, after a stroke.

(Once again, “06880” is jam-packed with stuff. Once again, we hope you’ll click here to support our work.)

Unsung Heroes #233

The drumbeat of news from Ukraine is relentless. It’s tragic, horrific, frightening  — there really are not enough words to convey how Westporters feel.

Sitting safely thousands of miles away, we wonder what we can do.

Some, like Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn and Buck Rosenfeld, travel overseas to help.

Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn, with supplies.

Others, like Stephan Taranko and Mark Yurkiw — both with Ukrainian heritage — use their words and art to keep the plight of their countrymen in the forefront of our minds.

Mark Yurkiw, with his Ukraine installation on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge.

Still others, like Darcy Hicks and Bean Corcoran, organize rallies.

Miggs Burroughs at last weekend’s rally. The QR code provides quick access to donations through Save the Children Ukraine. (Photos/Rowene Weems Photography)

And many, many more — our neighbors and friends — respond to requests by organizations like Wakeman Town Farm to collect clothes, toys, medical supplies and money.

Those who help are not doing it to be heroic. The true heroes are on the ground, 4,500 miles from Westport.

But many people here do what they can. If you’ve done anything over the past month — organized or attended a rally, donated needed goods or funds, posted information on social media, flew a flag, whatever — thank you.

It’s a small gesture, but it speaks volumes. Mark Mathias has changed his outdoor lights, to show support for the embattled nation of Ukraine. (Photo/Mark Mathias)

And keep doing it. It does make a difference.

(Photo/Susan Woog Wagner)

 

Rabbi Wiederhorn’s Mission

Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of The Conservative Synagogue is a man on a mission — to Ukraine.

He reports:

Our group of 18 rabbis arrived in Warsaw [yesterday] afternoon with huge duffel bags of medical supplies and luggage filled with clothing, food, and other humanitarian items.

After leaving the airport, we traveled to the JCC in Warsaw where we were met by the Chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Shudrich, and other members of the Jewish community. Rabbi Shudrich explained how the community quickly formed a Crisis Management Center to address the refugee crisis.

Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn, with supplies.

We learned that there are 3 types of Jewish refugees who come to Poland: those who plan to make Aliyah to Israel; those who have friends or family in Poland or other countries and are looking to join them, and those who really don’t know where there want to go.

This third category of refugees are the most vulnerable and in need of assistance. Throughout the day, while we encountered the work of the Jewish community in Poland, we were told repeatedly that they are helping everyone, whether they are Jewish or not. Nobody is asked whether they are Jewish when they come seeking help.

Next, we went to Novotel, a hotel that is serving as the center for the Jewish Agency for Israel, and where refugees can obtain visas in order to make Aliyah. We met with several refugees who are making Aliyah on Tuesday. Their stories are heartbreaking.

Among the people we met was “Katya,” who recently crossed the border with her 9- and 4-year-old sons, leaving her husband behind to fight in Ukraine. She said until the Russian tanks got close to her town, they didn’t believe they would have to leave their home — they simply could not imagine this happening just a couple of weeks ago.

The volunteers who are working around the clock said that the refugees are coming with lots of strollers and very little luggage. They are overwhelmingly women and children (the men are in the army), and they are arriving with essentially the clothes on their back.

From Novotel we headed towards Lublin, stopping at Srodborow along the way. There, at a refugee transit center, we delivered the non-medical supplies we brought with us.

We also met with the President of Warsaw Jewish community, Leszek Piszewski, who explained how they have organized the community to help. My wife’s 4th and 5th grade classes at Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy had made cards. I delivered them to the refugees who are making Aliyah, as well as the children at the transit center in Srodborow.

Delivering cards, from the Bi-Cultural Hebrew Academy.

In Lublin we went to Yeshivat Chachmei Lublin, a yeshiva that was one of the largest in the world in the 1930s. Today the Yeshiva is Hotel Ilan, which serves as a refugee donation center and temporary housing facility.

We met Agnes Littman, a young Jewish woman from Lublin who runs a dance school during the day and helps run the refugee donation center at night. She hasn’t slept much since the end of February. Agnes told us that many of the refugees not only come to “receive,” but they also offer to help others as well, however they can.

Now back at the hotel after a late night, we are getting on the bus at 6 a.m. to travel to the Ukrainian border. We will deliver medical supplies while visiting a train station and border crossings.

B’virkat Shalom (with blessings of peace),
Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn

(Hat tip: Avi Kaner)

Scarice Offers Update On Cheshire Football Game Bias Allegations

Superintendent of Schools Thomas Scarice provides this update on allegations of antisemitism and racism at last Friday’s Staples High School football game, at Cheshire High: 

As the community is aware, there were allegations made on social media Friday evening including: antisemitic and racist comments made in the stands, the presence of a Confederate flag, and the waving of an Israeli flag. Since that time,  the voices of individual students throughout this investigation have given us a clearer picture of events and a constructive plan to move forward.

School administrators and law enforcement from both Cheshire and Westport immediately commenced investigations. From the outset the Anti-Defamation League, through Connecticut Regional Director Steve Ginsburg, offered and provided their support to both communities.

Over the past 5 days the town’s respective athletic directors, high school principals, first selectmen and police chiefs communicated directly with each other. I have spoken to the Cheshire Superintendent nearly every day since Friday.

The Cheshire Public Schools administration and police departments have shared their findings with our administration as a result of their interviews with eyewitnesses, including the 2 students who brought the Israeli flag to the game. Seven Staples cheer team students were interviewed by Staples principal Stafford Thomas, as well as a student of color who was the recipient of disgusting racial slurs via social media.

Screen shot of the Israeli flag, in the Cheshire High School student section. It was later removed.

Along with Chief Foti Koskinas, First Selectman Jim Marpe and Steve Ginsburg, I had the opportunity to meet with Westport area rabbis and Jewish communal leaders on Monday, as well as a group of Westport community Black leaders yesterday. This proved to be critically important, as Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of The Conservative Synagogue followed up by speaking directly to Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Scolnic of Temple Beth Shalom in Hamden, who knows the students who brought and waved the Israeli flag.

Finally, the time between last Friday night and today provided Westport community members the opportunity to share any eyewitness accounts, as well as their thoughts and concerns.

From the beginning, the Westport Public Schools fully committed to finishing our investigation by speaking with every student or community member personally impacted by these events. The process was thorough and comprehensive. I am confident that we have clarity on what happened Friday night, as well as a constructive plan to move forward.

An Israeli flag was waved throughout much of the game Friday night by 2 Cheshire students, particularly when Cheshire scored or Staples committed a penalty. After halftime, members of our cheer team approached the Cheshire Police to ask that the Israeli flag be taken down. Although the Cheshire Police and administration confirm they directed the students to take the flag down, there are Staples student reports of the flag waving later in the game.

After the game the social media account, “Wreckers SuperFans,” and the Staples cheer team, posted an image on Instagram of the Israeli flag waving in the Cheshire student section with a message about anti-Semitic and racist remarks and insulting chants throughout the game, as well as the waving of the Confederate flag.

Staples Superfans waved a banner in 2018.

Both school administrations confirmed that chants of “Daddy’s money” were directed at Staples students and players.  This was not done in unison with the waving of the Israeli flag. Racist or antisemitic chants were not corroborated.  There is no corroboration of the presence or sighting of a Confederate flag.

The Staples and Cheshire “SuperFans” respectfully communicated late Friday evening through social media, and the “Wreckers SuperFans” took down the post following that discussion.  The cheer team post was taken down following a communication with the Staples cheer coach.

Saturday morning, a Staples student of color who was not at the game posted a comment on a friend’s Instagram responding to the earlier post about the game.  He posted, “The audacity.” What transpired in response was a series of horrific and unspeakable racial slurs directed towards this Staples student. The source of the slurs was an untraceable “burner” account, which is a social media account used to post anonymously to avoid having posts traced. This is most disturbing, and we offered to provide support for this student.

In the investigation, the Cheshire administration shared that the 2 students who waved the Israeli flag are Jewish. and that they brought the flag to the game because it was a school spirit “Red, White & Blue Nite” in the student section. In response to doubts about this claim, in my meeting with the Westport area rabbis and Jewish communal leaders on Monday, Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of The Conservative Synagogue offered to speak directly to the Rabbi of Temple Beth David in Cheshire to offer his services in resolving this matter.

Rabbi Wiederhorn was referred to Temple Beth Shalom in Hamden, where the 2 boys worship, and spoke directly to Rabbi Dr. Benjamin Scolnic. Rabbi Scolnic shared that he has known the boys their entire lives, that he knows them very well, that they are not mean-spirited,  and that they are very proud Jews. Rabbi Scolnic is completely confident that there was no malice or antisemitism intended, and that unfortunately these accusations have mischaracterized the 2 boys.

Based on feedback from the Cheshire administration, the Cheshire police department, the Westport area rabbis and Jewish communal leaders, Rabbi Scolnic, and our partners with the ADL, I have no reason to question these conclusions.

High school sporting events can be raucous and intense. The school spirit from these events can be palpable. However, for visiting teams, these types of events can be intimidating. Traditionally in high school sports, the goal of the fan section is to vigorously cheer for the home team, while at times taunting and making the visiting team uncomfortable.

Some members of our community have questioned the intent of the waving of the Israeli flag. In fairness, our Staples athletes and fans have experienced antisemitism at athletic events in the past. Westport has a considerable Jewish community, and approximately one-third of the cheer team is Jewish.

The waving of the Israeli flag at a high school sporting event played against a town with a considerable Jewish population is peculiar. It is not necessarily right or wrong, but in my 25+ years in education, I have never witnessed the Israeli flag, or any other national flag except the U.S. flag, waved at a high school sports event.

The series of events, the history of antisemitism directed towards our students, the peculiarity of the waving of the Israeli flag at a football game, along with the intensity of the night, contributed to a considerable sense of threat on the part of Staples students. It is critically important to affirm the impact of the night on our students and to support them as we constructively move forward, and to meaningfully learn from these events.

Again, I have no reason to question the conclusions of the Cheshire administration, the Cheshire police department, the Westport area rabbis and Jewish communal leaders, Rabbi Scolnic of Temple Beth Shalom, and our partners with the ADL.

However, it is important to note again that heinous, racist, untraceable messages were indeed sent through social media to a Staples student of color in the aftermath of this game. These messages have been turned over to the police, and we will continue to offer support to this student.

In discussions with Cheshire Superintendent Dr. Jeff Solan, and with valuable feedback from the Staples cheer team parents and Connecticut Regional Director of the ADL Steve Ginsburg, Dr. Solan and I will offer an invitation to the Cheshire and Staples students involved to convene, facilitated by the ADL, so that amends can be made and appropriate closure can be provided to both groups of students. In dealing with young adults, there are opportunities for learning experiences in events such as these.

Finally, we invite all of the students involved to participate together in the “Walk Against Hate” on October 10 in Hartford.

The administration is committed to encouraging and supporting students who come forward with concerns about how they, or others, are treated.  Going forward, the district will clarify the reporting process for students with concerns at athletic events and extracurricular activities.

Again, it is critical that the community understands the level of transparency and thoroughness that we have taken to address this matter. We remain committed to fighting antisemitism and racism in any form.

A Tu B’Av To Remember

The email heading yesterday was “Look what you started.”

Uh oh. I’ve tried to do my best in this crazy post-Isaias world. What had I done now?

Instead, alert “06880” reader Ken Kantor’s message made my day. If not my week, month and year. Sure, the bar is low in 2020. But read on:

Dan, I want to share a special moment from today that was partially your doing.

I am a Staples High School grad (Class of 1986). I moved back to Westport 10 years ago with my wife and 2 daughters.

I read your “06880” post this morning about charging stations and WiFi at The Conservative Synagogue. My family went over to charge all our devices and let our girls update their Tik Toks. The building was closed due to COVID-19, but they had charging stations setup under a tent outside.

I soon realized that we were at temple on our 16th wedding anniversary, standing under a tent (which can double as a “chuppah” — a Jewish ceremonial canopy under which a Jewish couple stands during their wedding ceremony). So, I thought: What a perfect moment to renew my wedding vows with my beautiful wife Rachel!

I knocked on the door to see if Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn would be willing to perform an impromptu ceremony. The staff said the rabbi had left, but they would call him.

He very graciously came back to the temple. During the mini-ceremony, Rabbi Wiederhorn noted that this is also the week of a small Jewish holiday, Tu B’Av. In modern Israel it is celebrated as a holiday of love, similar to Valentine’s Day. So, another good sign!

From right: Rachel and Ken Kantor, with Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn.

Thank you to Rabbi Wiederhorn for the wedding ceremony and the WiFi! Thank you Dan for unknowingly setting this up! And thank you to my wife for marrying me again — in a parking lot, while charging our devices, while social distancing, and while completely embarrassing our 2 teenage daughters, Ruby Kantor (grade 9) and Emma Kantor (grade 8)!

Happy anniversary — and Tu B’Av!

 

Unsung Hero #132

It might sound strange to call Bill Mitchell an Unsung Hero.

The public face of Mitchells of Westport — son of founders Ed and Norma, brother of Jack, father and uncle of the 3rd generation to lead 8 upscale men’s and women’s stores, on the East and West Coasts — his generosity is boundless.

He and the entire Mitchell family open their stores, their checkbooks and their hearts to a breathtaking variety of organizations and causes. Very quietly too, they help countless individuals, in any kind of need.

They’ve been honored often (though not enough) for all they do. But this Saturday (January 25, 6:30 p.m.), a special event will be particularly meaningful.

The Conservative Synagogue of Westport holds a “funraiser” — and Bill Mitchell is the guest of honor.

Bill Mitchell

The reason dates back 25 years. Founders were trying to get permission to build a synagogue on Hillspoint Road. Though near the Post Road, the zoning was residential. Some neighbors opposed the plan.

Unsolicited, Bill stood up at several meetings. He’s not Jewish — his family has long been associated with the Saugatuck Congregational Church, and he’s a longtime supporter of various Catholic charities — but he talked about the importance of the synagogue.

After he spoke, the Planning & Zoning Commission passed the proposal. Unanimously.

Bill’s support of The Conservative Synagogue did not stop there. On the High Holidays, he opens Mitchells’ parking lot to congregants.

He and Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn have become great friends. It’s a good bet that when the rabbi offers “mazel tov” on Saturday, Bill will not be at a loss for words.

In Hebrew.

A 2nd Selectman, A Rabbi And A Pope Go Into New York…

Westport 2nd Selectman Avi Kaner was crossing 72nd Street earlier today. Look what he saw:

Meanwhile, Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of Westport’s Conservative Synagogue had an even closer encounter with Pope Francis.

As he wrote his congregation earlier today:

This morning, I had the distinct honor of attending the Multi-Religious Gathering with Pope Francis at the 9/11 Memorial Museum. It was truly a day in my life that I will never forget.

Pope Francis, at the 9/11 Memorial. (Photo/Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn)

Pope Francis, at the 9/11 Memorial. (Photo/Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn)

In a room filled with clergy and representatives of all religions, the positive energy was palpable and contagious. I sat next to an amazing woman from the Sikh community, and we were surrounded by fellow Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jewish clergy. The symbolism of sitting together at Ground Zero–where so many lives were lost due to baseless hatred and terror-and instead joining hands in the spirit of peace, was nothing short of awe-inspiring. The humble presence of the Pope and his simple yet powerful plea for unity and reconciliation among all people left our hearts filled spirit and with hope.

As we approach Shabbat and look forward to celebrating Sukkot next week, let us all look forward to the day in which God spreads a sukkat shalom (shelter of peace) over the entire world.

Warm wishes for Shabbat Shalom and Hag Sameach.

Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn and Bishop James Massa, auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn.

Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn and Bishop James Massa, auxiliary bishop of Brooklyn.

Candlelight Vigil Commemorates Sandy Hook

The Interfaith Clergy Association of Westport and Weston will commemorate the 1-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy with a candlelight vigil tomorrow evening (Saturday, December 14, 6 to 6:30 pm.).

Clergy of all faiths will gather on Veterans Green — opposite Town Hall — for a series of readings and prayers, to remember the lives that were lost.

Candlelight vigil“This is an opportunity for us to come together, one year later, in prayer, reflection, and hope,” says Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of The Conservative Synagogue, and current president of the Interfaith Clergy Association.

Last year, the organization held a similar vigil following the tragedy, attended by several hundred people.

If it snows (as predicted), the vigil will take place on the steps of Town Hall.