Tag Archives: Temple Israel Westport CT

Former Westport Rabbi Takes National Stand Against Hatred

On Thursday, a front-page New York Times story reported on the reaction of 4 major rabbinical groups to Charlottesville.

The organizations — representing a variety of Jewish religious practices — strongly criticized President Trump’s reaction to the carnage. They also announced they would not participate in a traditional High Holy Days conference call with the president.

The Times quoted Rabbi Jonah Pesner —  director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism — as saying that Jews were appalled by Trump’s equivocal response to the events.

Rabbi Jonah Pesner

Pesner — who participated in 2 High Holy Days calls during the Obama administration — said there was “a lot of sadness” about the decision not to speak with Trump.

Westporters remember Pesner as assistant rabbi of Temple Israel from 1997 to 1999.

“Those of us who were privileged to work with and learn from him knew that he was destined to accomplish much,” recalls former senior rabbi Robert Orkand.

“Indeed, he went on to serve with great distinction at Temple Israel in Boston, and as a senior vice president of the Union of Reform Judaism before assuming his current position.”

Orkand is “proud to call Rabbi Pesner my friend, colleague and teacher. And I am proud that his leadership has led the religious movement I served for more than 40 years to take a courageous stand in opposition to bigotry and hatred.”

(Hat tip: Susan Farewell)

Winter Solstice Labyrinth, “Blue Christmas” Service And More At Saugatuck Church

Winter begins at 11:48 p.m. this Monday (December 21). The weather gets colder — but the days get longer.

To celebrate, Saugatuck Congregational Church invites the public to a winter solstice labyrinth blessing (Tuesday, December 22, 6-8 p.m.).

Labyrinths are a series of concentric circles with many turns all leading to a center. They’ve been important spiritual parts of many cultures for thousands of years. Walking a labyrinth provides a calming meditative state that re-energizes, reduces stress, helps re-focus and nourishes the soul.

Liam Borner, in the labyrinth he helped create.

Liam Borner, in the labyrinth he helped create. (Photo/E. Bruce Borner)

Saugatuck’s 7-ring labyrinth spans 50 feet. The path is lined with over 1500 bricks. The church says that “world-renowned dowser Marty Cain assisted in determining the optimal location of the rings, the spine and its entrance. We hope it will become a spiritual retreat for the entire community.”

The labyrinth was an Eagle Scout project by church member and current Staples High School senior Liam Borner.

During several October weekends, members and friends of the church — along with Boy Scout Troop 36 — dug trenches and installed bricks (left over from the recent renovation project) in a special tree-lined section off the front lawn.

That’s just 1 of 3 special events to which Saugatuck Church invites the entire community.

Tomorrow (Sunday, December 20, 4-5 p.m.), a “Blue Christmas” candlelit worship service is open to anyone who is lonely, grieving or feeling down.

“Are you grieving, struggling, unemployed, uninspired — or just plain blue?” the church asks. “Do you feel disconnected from the holiday spirit? You are not alone.”

The event — co-sponsored by the United Methodist Church — includes music, prayer and reflection by the glow of candlelight.

As he did last year, Santa will again appear at the Saugatuck Community Church's Christmas Day reception.

As he did last year, Santa will again appear at the Saugatuck Community Church’s Christmas Day reception.

On Christmas Day (Friday, December 25, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.), Saugatuck Church hosts a free community reception, with a light lunch and holiday treats. Bob Cooper and Suzanne Sheridan provide live music.

That event is co-sponsored by the United Methodist Church, Unitarian Church and Temple Israel. Saugatuck Church calls this “a happy result of our years spent with no church home of our own,” following a devastating Thanksgiving week fire 4 years ago.

Transportation to the church on Christmas Day — or food delivery to your home — can be arranged by calling 203-227-1261. To volunteer or make a donation, go to www.SaugatuckChurch.org. Then click on the Christmas tree — and smile.

MLK

Today is Martin Luther King Day.  Westporters will celebrate with a day off from school or work.  Some will sleep in; others will ski, or take part in a Staples basketball clinic for younger players.  Few will give any thought to Martin Luther King.

Twice, though, his life intersected this town in important ways.

The first was Friday night, May 22, 1964.  According to Woody Klein’s book Westport, Connecticut, King had been invited to speak at Temple Israel by synagogue member Jerry Kaiser.

King arrived in the afternoon.  Kaiser and his wife Roslyn sat on their porch that afternoon, and talked with King and 2 of his aides.  She was impressed with his “sincerity, warmth, intelligence and genuine concern for those about him — our children, for instance.  He seemed very young to bear such a burden of leadership.”

King’s sermon — to a packed audience — was titled “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.”  He analogized his America to the time of Rip Van Winkle — who also “slept through a revolution.  The greatest liability of history is that people fail to see a revolution taking place in our world today.  We must support the social movement of the Negro.”

Westport artist Roe Halper presented King with 3 woodcarvings, representing the civil rights struggle.  He hung them proudly in the front hallway of his Atlanta home.

Within a month Temple Israel’s rabbi, Byron Rubenstein, traveled south to take place in a nonviolent march.  He was arrested — along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

In jail, the rabbi said, “I came to know the greatness of Dr. King.  I never heard a word of hate or bitterness from that man, only worship of faith, joy and determination.”

King touched Westport again less than 4 years later.  On April 5, 1968 — the day after the civil rights leader’s assassination in Memphis — 600 Staples students gathered for a lunchtime vigil in the courtyard.  Nearby, the flag flew at half-staff.

Vice principal Fermino Spencer addressed the crowd.  Movingly, he spoke about  his own experience as an African American.  Hearing the words “my people” made a deep impression on the almost all-white audience.  For many, it was the 1st time they had heard a black perspective on white America.

No one knew what lay ahead for their country.  But student Jim Sadler spoke for many when he said:  “I’m really frightened.  Something is going to happen.”

Something did — and it was good.  A few hundred students soon met in the cafeteria.  Urged by a minister and several anti-poverty workers to help bridge the chasm between Westport and nearby cities, Staples teachers and students vowed to create a camp.

Within 2 months, it was a reality.  That summer 120 elementary and junior high youngsters from Westport, Weston, Norwalk and Bridgeport participated in the Intercommunity Camp.  Led by over 100 Staples students and many teachers, they enjoyed swimming, gymnastics, dance, sports, field trips, overnight camping, creative writing, filmmaking, photography, art and reading.

It wasn’t easy — some in Westport opposed bringing underprivileged children to their town — but for over a decade the Intercommunity Camp flourished.

Eventually, enthusiasm for and interest in the camp waned.  Fewer Staples students and staff members wanted to devote their summer to such a project.  The number of Westporters willing to donate their pools dwindled.  Today the Intercommunity Camp is a long-forgotten memory.

Sort of like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.  Even on his birthday.