Tag Archives: The Conservative Synagogue of Westport

Roundup: Grounded Boat, Beach Food, THC …

A boat ran spectacularly aground yesterday at Compo Beach, near the cannons.

(Photo/Pete Powell)

For the rest of the day — as the tide went out — it sat there, stuck on the jetty rocks.

(Photo/Jamie Walsh)

Two people on board the New York vessel, “Andiamo” — motoring, not sailing — were rescued by Norwalk police. Neither was injured.

One observer — among the many who flocked to see the unusual sight — said the pilot had tried to avoid lobster traps.

(Photo/Karen Como)

As evening drew near, the boat remained. A salvage crew was expected to attempt a rescue, at midnight’s high tide.

(Photo/Michael Diggin)

Nearly everyone who was there sent photos to “06880.”

Thanks to all who submitted shots. Sorry I could not use them all!


Two applicants have submitted additional material, in advance of Monday’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting (7 p.m., Zoom; click here for the link).

Bluepoint Wellness is in the pre-application process to allow sales of “hybrid” (medical and recreational) marijuana sales at its 1460 Post Road East location. Currently, recreational cannabis sales are not allowed in Westport. Click here for their materials.

There is also a pre-application on a proposal for a change from a single family residence in a residential area into a home offering services for up to 12 unrelated seniors in need of memory care. No specific location has been identified. Click here for those materials.

And the P&Z will hear a request for a “fitcore extreme” (ropes-style) course at Coleytown Middle School, and will discuss a modification of standards of accessory dwelling units. Click here for those materials.

Bluepoint Wellness, at 1460 Post Road East, is in the same shopping plaza at Bevmax. There is no large scene above the medical marijuana dispensary.


Last month, Bedford Middle School 7th graders wrote letters, drew pictures and created posters for youngsters in Lyman, Ukraine — Westport’s sister city.

In a couple of weeks, Ukraine Aid International will deliver them all to boys and girls in that embattled town.

Now, every other Westport student can do the same.

It’s a great project for families and friends. Letters, drawings, posters of encouragement — all are welcome. They’ll be combined with the BMS project, for delivery to Lyman soon.

They can be dropped off on the front porch of 2nd Selectwoman Andrea Moore’s house: 2A Baker Avenue (between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue). Blue and yellow balloons (Ukrainian colors) will be on the mailbox.

The deadline is May 5. Questions: Email amoore@westportct.gov.

One of the Bedford Middle School 7th grade pieces of writing and art, for students in Lyman.


Parks & Recreation director Jen Fava reports that Hook’d — the Compo Beach concession stand — will open April 28.

From then through the Friday before Memorial Day, it will operate from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

From the Saturday before Memorial Day through Labor Day, hours will be weekdays, 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; weekends and holidays, 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Hours of operation from the Tuesday after Labor Day through October 1 are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; from October 2 to October 15, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.


Yesterday, Old Mill Grocery & Deli was named as one of 10 Preservation Award honorees, by the Westport Historic District Commission.

Today they added another. The century-old spot at the foot of Compo Hill is one of 7 Award of Merit winners, from Preservation Connecticut. The ceremony is May 4, at the New Haven Country Club.

For more information, click here.

A small group of Westporters marshaled a massive effort to save the building from developers, and open Old Mill Grocery & Deli. (Photo/Matt Murray)


Westport Police made 2 custodial arrests between April 12 and 18.

One arrest followed a January complaint by a customer of First County Bank, alleging someone had cashed a fraudulent check for $2,940 using their identification, after her car had been broken into and her purse stolen.

The bank provided surveillance photos of the suspects, and said the same women were involved in similar incidents at banks in other towns. A suspect was arrested in New Jersey, extradited to Connecticut, and charged with larceny, conspiracy to commit larceny, identity theft and conspiracy to commit identity theft. The whereabouts of the other suspect are unknown.

The other arrest came after an officer noticed a vehicle traveling on Post Road East at an extremely slow speed, with flashers activated. He later saw the vehicle in a parking lot. While speaking with the driver, he suspected the use of drugs or alcohol. The driver failed field sobriety test, and was arrested for driving under the influence.

Don’t leave your purse in the car!


Phases 1 and 2 of the Long Lots Preserve project are completed.

Phases 3 and 4 are underway. And Sustainable CT has offered to match ever dollar donated.

Funding will support the purchase — wholesale — of trees, shrubs, wildflowers and grasses.

They range from $6.50 hyssop wildflowers and $45 viburnum shrubs to $115 pin oaks and $245 grey birch trees.

Plantings will be spaced densely, to out-compete invasives, and maximize habitat and food resources for migrating birds and other wildlife.

Click here for more details, and to donate.

Earlier work at the Long Lots Preserve.


Tuesday was Yom HaShoah, the Day of Remembrance of the horrific deaths of more than 11 million people –including 6 million Jews — during the Holocaust.

A town-wide memorial service was held Monday night at the Conservative Synagogue. Over 200 attendees heard readings by students, followed by a memorial candle lighting and Holocaust prayer led by Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn, to remember those who were lost.

The evening included a video discussion with Bill Sperber of Detroit and Albert Hersh of Cleveland. They were imprisoned at Auschwitz at the same time, but had never met previously.

They described life in the concentration camp, their release and journey to the United States, and their lives since. It was an emotional and inspiring evening for Westporters — and, 77 years later, for Bill and Albert.

Click below for the video: “Two Survivors, One Conversation.” (Hat tip: Dick Kalt)


The Y’s Men of Westport and Weston took a field trip this week to the Wilton Library.

Michael Bellarosa, curator of its Dave Brubeck Collection, provided a tour of the largest collection of artifacts dedicated to the memory of the legendary jazz pianist and composer, a long-time resident of Weston and Wilton until his death in 2012 at 91.

Michael Bellarosa, Brubeck Collection curator.


Scott Haimes — the CEO and artistic director of New York’s Roundabout Theater, who helped rescue it from bankruptcy and become one of America’s largest nonprofit theaters, died on yesterday. He was 66, and had lived with cancer for over 20 years.

Earlier in his career, Haimes was managing director of the Westport Country Playhouse. Click here for a full obituary.

Todd Haimes (Photo courtesy of the NY Times)


The grounded boat wasn’t the only unwanted visitor at Compo yesterday.

Check out these “guests,” in today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo:

(Photo/Dinkin Fotografix)


And finally … yesterday’s action at the Compo Beach jetty brings to mind:

(One more Roundup, once again jam-packed with stuff. Please click here to support this daily “06880” feature. Thank you!)

Roundup: Israel Talk, Beach Sign Gone, Rugby Hosts …

With tensions high in Israel, Westport is hosting an important Zoom conversation.

“Israel’s Gravest Crisis Ever: How We Got Here and Can We Get Out?” is set for this Sunday (April 16, 5 p.m.).

Dr. Daniel Gordis — a National Jewish Book Award-winning author, podcaster, and a Jerusalem Post pick as one of the world’s 50 most influential Jews — is the guest.

He recently co-wrote an “Open Letter to Israel’s Friends in North America.”

Rabbis Jeremy Wiederhorn and Michael Friedman will facilitate the discussion.

Their Conservative Synagogue and Temple Israel congregations, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Fairfield County, are sponsoring the event.

Click here to register.

Daniel Gordis


The Westport Garden Club did its usual bang-up job recently, cleaning the “beach bud” entrance to Compo.

(Photo/Nathalie Fonteyne)

As they worked, they noticed something: the much-reviled and very large electronic sign detailing the status of parking spaces was missing.

The sign, last year. (Photo/Matt Murray)

There is an electronic sign, noting that dogs are not allowed on the beach.

But it’s portable.

It’s far less intrusive.

And it does not sit plumb in the middle of a gorgeous, well-maintained garden.

(Photo and hat tip/Nathalie Fonteyne)


The Staples rugby team makes history this Saturday,

The Wreckers host St. Andrew’s, of Grahamstown, South Africa. They’re the first high school from that country to tour the US — and they’ve chosen Staples as an opponent.

St. Andrew’s has played rugby for nearly 150 years — about as long as Staples has been a school.

St. Andrew’s rugby team.

The sport has a much younger history here. But the Wreckers are one of the top squads in the country, so the match should be a great one. Match time on Saturday is noon, at Paul Lane Field (football stadium).

It’s the first time Staples rugby has hosted an international squad. In true rugby spirit, St. Andrew’s players are hosted by local families. 

Staples High School rugby team.


Take heart:

Part 2 of the Westport Library’s important cardiac education series is this Monday (April 17, 7 p.m.). The topic is atrial fibrillation.

What is this rhythmic disturbance? Why is it so important?

Dr. Robert Altbaum explains. Dr. Murali Chiravuri discusses the causes, complications, treatments and therapies. Dr. Mitchell Driesman adds insights too.

Afterwards, attendees can be tested quickly for heartbeat irregularities. Sm

Dr. Robert Altbaum


Johnny Cash is coming to Westport.

Well, not exactly. The Man in Black has been dead nearly 20 years.

But Johnny Folsom 4 — a great tribute band — headlines the next “Supper & Soul” concert. It’s Saturday, May 13, at the Westport Library.

The Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event is tons of fun.  For $85 a ticket, you get a 3-course dinner at one of 11 downtown restaurants, plus the show.

After the concert, show your ticket at any of the restaurants, and get happy hour pricing on drinks.

Participating restaurants include 190 Main, Arezzo, Basso, Capuli, Casa Me, De Tapas, Don Memo, Nômade, Spotted Horse, Goji and Walrus Alley.

Click here for tickets, and more information. (Concert-only tickets are available too — they’re $35.

Johnny Cash was famous for playing in prisons. This may be his — well, his tribute band’s — first library gig.



The state Department of Transportation is providing Connecticut residents with a free subscription to Transit Royale, an upgrade to the mobile app Transit.

Transit helps public transportation users plan and track their bus and train trips, using schedule information and real-time vehicle location. It is available on iOS and Android.

Connecticut riders can access routes outside of their immediate area without encountering a paywall, and schedule trips in advance

Riders wishing to use the Westport Transit District’s Wheels2U on-demand, door-to-train station service should continue to use the Wheels2UWestport app for that purpose.

However, the Coastal Link service through Westport on the Post Road, all Norwalk Transit District and Greater Bridgeport Transit District fixed route services, CT Transit services in Stamford, and Metro-North New Haven Line services are available in the Transit app.


Any way you spell it, the Westport Police Department keeps us “saf.”

Two Westport youngsters — Owen and Georgia — thanked our officers yesterday, with some healthy snacks, and handwritten notes.

Both were greatly appreciated.


State Senator Ceci Maher, and State Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Dominique Johnson, invite their Westport constituents for “coffee and conversation” next Tuesday morning (April 18, 7:30 to 9 a.m.).

They’ve picked a great spot: Mrs. London’s Bakery.

Senator Ceci Maher, Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Dominique Johnson.


Alison Patton took an Easter walk. She reports: “The buffleheads appear to have moved north; the swans have a nest, and the great egrets have arrived. This morning we saw a bald eagle and 2 osprey fishing over the Saugatuck River.”

She sends today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo: a very close-up shot of one of the great egrets.

(Photo/Alison Patton)


And finally … ABBA guitarist Lasse Wellander died Friday, at 70. He played on many of their studio albums beginning in 1974, and toured frequently with them.

He was recently diagnosed with cancer. Click here for more details.

(From Compo Beach to Israel, “06880” brings you information you need. Please click here to support our work. Thank you!)

Sam Zuckerman: Staples High Senior, International President

In the spring of 2017, Bedford Middle School 8th grader Sam Zuckerman got an email from Annie Glasser. The Conservative Synagogue youth group director said there was an opening for a 9th grade representative on the local United Synagogue Youth board.

Sam was not the only one Annie contacted. But he was the only one to respond. He got the job.

Sam spent his Staples High School freshman year watching older members lead. In 10th grade he was named to a religion and education position on the board. It was out of his comfort zone, but he learned a lot more about leadership.

Sam Zuckerman

Last year, as a junior, he became chapter president. Despite challenges like staff turnover and the pandemic, he grew the group.

Last January, Sam broadened his involvement beyond Westport — way beyond.

He applied for a spot on USY’s international general board. He’s not the first Westporter on it — senior Even Siegel served too — but it was “eye-opening” to have an influence far beyond his home town.

In May Sam added another post: president of the New England USY region. He helped organize a convention with upstate New York and eastern Canada chapters, and worked on outreach.

All of that work prepared him to run for the top USY job: international president.

Sam got signatures. He videotaped a speech. He developed a platform, stressing inclusion of smaller regions, addressing mental health issues of members, and opening communication with other Jewish youth groups.

And he won.

He’s now in charge of 15 regions, with over 350 local chapters. There are 20,000 members in USY.

“A year ago, I was only a Westport chapter president,” Sam says. “I didn’t see myself being where I am. But I’m looking forward to leading an organization I love.”

United Synagogue Youth logo

Roundup: Hybrid Schools, Hugh Jackman, Irrigation Ban, More

The current hybrid model — 2 days in person, 3 out for middle and high schoolers; morning and afternoon sessions for elementary-age youngsters — will continue at least through December.

Superintendent of schools Tom Scarice announced that decision last night, at a Board of Education meeting. It was driven by an uptick in coronavirus cases — a trend expected to rise this fall.

Public sentiment is divided. But Scarice called this “the prudent” and “correct” approach, based on current infection numbers, future models, the ability of educators to adapt to both in-person and distance learning, and input on how the hybrid model has worked so far.

Sure, it rained earlier this week. But Aquarion has announced a mandatory irrigation ban in southwest Fairfield County. The area — including Westport — has hit its 3rd “drought trigger” this fall.

Effective immediately, the ban includes automatic irrigation systems and hose end sprinklers. (Hand-held watering, soaker hose and drip irrigation continue to be permitted for new plantings.)

The ban will help ensure “an adequate water supply for everyday needs, and give reservoirs time to recover for the spring,” the water company says.

Click here for water conservation tips.


 Last Friday, Hugh Jackman stopped by the Remarkable Theater.

Okay, the Australian actor was not actually at the Imperial Avenue parking lot.

But he did send a special message, introducing a screening of “The Greatest Showman” (and it had nothing to do with the music, by Staples High School graduate Justin Paul).

A video message from the movie’s creator and screenwriter Jenny Bicks also greeted the audience. The screening was in support of Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities.

Next up: “Playhouse at the Drive-in,” this Saturday night.

The Milken Institute Global Conference is in the midst of 8 days of inspiring talks and panels. This year’s topics are (of course) the global pandemic, and social injustice.

And (of course) it’s virtual. Over 4,000 of the world’s leading thinkers have tuned in.

There’s a solid Westport presence at the prestigious, 22nd annual event.

RTM member Kristin Schneeman is a director at FasterCures, part of the Milken Institute. Théo Feldman is an associate director, innovative finance there.

Bridgewater founder Ray Dalio was featured in a conversation, while the hedge fund’s CEO David McCormick spoke on a panel called “Leadership: Moving Beyond Conventional Thinking.

Feldman adds: “During last year’s Global Conference in Beverly Hills, I met a fellow Westporter: Russell Sherman. We realized his sister — Suzanne Sherman Propp — taught my daughter at Greens Farms Elementary School. And his niece did a play with my other daughter.”

As the weather turns cool, a pair of local religious institutions are sponsoring a coat drive for Person to Person.

Clothing should be bagged, and sorted by gender and age (adult or youth). Donations can be dropped off in a blue bin labeled “Coat Donations” on the side elevator entrance at Saugatuck Church, or The Conservative Synagogue.

Donation pick-ups are available too. Email alexandrawalsh9@gmail.com for arrangements.

Speaking of help: last week’s Longshore Ladies 9 Hole Golf Association annual fundraiser brought in plenty of groceries for the Westport Woman’s Club food closet. The event also raised over $1,170, which will go to gift cards for food insecure Westporters.

Donations for the Longshore golf food drive.

And finally … in honor of Hugh Jackman’s Westport “appearance” (and Justin Paul’s music):


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.

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.)

A Neo-Nazi Story, In Westport

A police car sat outside The Conservative Synagogue of Westport. A police officer stood inside the front door.

Those are signs of the times. Near-daily bomb threats have rattled Jewish Community Centers and Anti-Defamation League offices around the country.

But the only threat last night was to disrupt stereotypes and assumptions.

A full house heard Frank Meeink talk about his life.

Frank Meeink’s book cover shows a swastika tattooed on his neck.

At 13 years old, the Philadelphia native was a skinhead. By 18 he was roaming the country as a neo-Nazi recruiter. He hosted a TV show called “The Reich.”

In prison — convicted of kidnapping and beating a member of a rival skinhead gang — he befriended men he once hated. Slowly, his world view — and life — changed.

Today the 41-year-old is a noted speaker, author and founder of Harmony Through Hockey (he’s also a youth coach). He travels the country talking about tolerance, diversity and mutual understanding, in race, politics and throughout society.

Meeink — who has been featured in a film with Desmond Tutu, appeared in a music video with country singer Jamey Johnson and been interviewed by Katie Couric — was part of the inspiration for the movie “American History X.”

His talk last night was riveting. It was also preaching to the choir. I doubt anyone came to the synagogue hoping to have his or her neo-Nazi views reinforced.

But Meeink’s message of openness, and his story of how hatred can be turned to love, was powerful and inspiring. It was also eye-opening to hear his raw words spoken inside a temple, before an audience that included men in yarmulkes.

Frank Meeink speaking last night at The Conservative Synagogue.

Last night’s event was the culmination in a long day. Earlier, Meeink spent 2 hours with the sophomore and junior classes at Staples High School. They listened raptly as he discussed “The Truth About Hate.” After Meeink spoke, a number of students talked in an open mic session about their experiences with bullying — as bullies, victims and bystanders — and pledged to work toward greater acceptance for all.

Meeink later met with members of the Westport Police Department.

When he was 15 years old, Meeink tattooed a swastika on his neck. Two decades later, a resurgence of hatred sweeps our nation.

The police presence at The Conservative Synagogue last night served as a grim reminder of that. But Frank Meeink’s strong words — delivered to various Westport audiences all day long — overpowered every image of fear.

(Frank Meeink’s appearance last night was sponsored by The Conservative Synagogue, the Anti-Defamation League of Connecticut, TEAM Westport, Hadassah, the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy and the Westport Inn.)