Even in a city known for its arts scene, Richard Michelson is a standout. Author of more than 20 books for adults and children and owner of R. Michelson Galleries, he is also Northampton’s Poet Laureate – even if he’s not sure how the appointment came to be.
“First of all, I am thrilled to live in a city that takes the arts seriously enough that they even have a Poet Laureate. My selection was an honor and a lovely surprise. I am not certain of the back room politics that went on during the ‘secret Northampton Arts Council meetings,’ but since I did not know any of the folks on the selection committee, I hadn’t had a chance to offend anyone personally, so maybe that had something to do with it,” he said.
While there are no official duties to the position, Michelson said that he takes “the responsibility seriously,” striving to be “a visible cheerleader for the written word.”
His largest project so far was this spring’s EAT LOCAL/READ LOCAL initiative. During the month of April, 43 Northampton restaurants featured a poem by an area poet on their menu or in their window.
“You couldn’t eat out in the city without encountering poetry,” said Michelson, who also has a segment on WHMP’s Bill Newman show where he interviews local and nationally known poets, including four United States Poet Laureates to date.
“I hope to continue to be a bridge between different poetic and artistic communities, and we have many in Northampton,” he said. “I got to host — in drag as Emily Dickinson — the area Transperformance Festival, an all-day rock concert with over 30 bands playing to raise money for the local school art programs… I also gathered my laureate predecessors, and we took our gig on the road, reading together and spreading the Northampton poetic tradition in Boston and Salem at statewide gatherings. And I continue to visit schools to share my love of poetry, something I have been doing for years in my role as an author of children’s books.”
Michelson has just finished a children’s book about Eliezer Ben Yehuda, who, he said, “basically reinvented Hebrew against all the odds.”
“Since Hebrew had ceased to be a living language and was only used for prayer, it did not have a single word for anything invented in the intervening 2000 years. Yet Ben Yehuda coined thousands of words and lived long enough to see Hebrew become the official tongue of the Holy Land.”
Michelson has been a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award and the National Jewish Book Award (three times). He received a Sydney Taylor Gold and Silver Medal from the Association of Jewish Librarians, the only author to be honored with their two top awards, in the organization’s history. The New York Times, Publishers Weekly and The New Yorker have all listed his books among their Ten Best of the Year, and As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom was among Amazon’s 12 Best Children’s Books of the Decade.
Michelson writes for a variety of reasons. “Like many writers, I write to discover what I think about things, to help me make sense of my life and the world we live in, and to explore new subjects,” he said. “I did not have a bar mitzvah and I grew up with no Jewish education of any kind, so when I was commissioned to write A is for Abraham: A Jewish Family Alphabet, which is now used in many Jewish day-schools, I had the chutzpah to take on the task of figuring out the 26 things every Jewish child should know about their culture and religion. It was a most wonderful writing experience to learn about my own heritage.”
For the past two years, Karen Kaufman of Worcester has served as the chair of the Pardes School Committee.
She was the founding director of the Temple Emanuel Nursery School, successfully running it for 13 years. She later became a counselor working with high school students with special needs.
Two years ago, Kaufman, 60, was asked to chair the school committee for the newly formed Pardes Community School.
“In year one, the focus for Pardes was on building a curriculum that was strong in both Judaica and Hebrew, and integrating staff, families and children from our three participating congregations. A tall order!” Kaufman said. “We learned a lot from our first year, and were able to hit the ground running when we began classes this past October under the able direction of Talia Mugg, a powerhouse of energy, dedication and experience. At present, we have in place a school of 115 students from kindergarten through 7th grade, representing the Reform congregation, Temple Emanuel Sinai, and the Conservative synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel.”
Pardes, which holds classes on Monday and Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings, also has monthly Shabbat services at the JCC where a specially designed pluralistic Siddur (created by Rabbi Matthew Berger) is used.
Kaufman highlighted some of Pardes’ projects, including “PARDES PERFORMS” an arts-based method of bringing Judaism aliive. So far the school has held “Chagall Shabbat”, an art exhibition featuring the work of Pardes students (inspired by the work of Chagall) and hosted “Shorty” – an Israeli Rap artist who worked with students to create Hanukkah raps.
“When I look back at one of the main reasons my husband and I first moved to Worcester, it was because it boasted a thriving Jewish community with exciting educational opportunities for our children,” Kaufman said. “Childhood friends from the JCC, Solomon Schechter, and Temple Emanuel Religious School, and also their parents have remained near and dear to our family to this day. I hope that I can give back to our community by helping to lay the groundwork for Pardes to continue to grow and evolve as a school that inspires Jewish learning, identity and a sense of community – whatever our specific affiliations. There is no doubt in my mind that the successful melding of both Conservative and Reform traditions in our school will ultimately lead the way toward strengthening our larger Jewish Community. I hope that each subsequent year will see more and more connections forged and that the Worcester Jewish community’s board members of the future will be those individuals who have had the seeds of inclusion and collaboration planted during their years as Pardes students and parents.”
A year ago Kaufman also began to work as a hospice volunteer for the Jewish Healthcare Center. When Kaufman was 22, she lost both parents to cancer within five months of each other. “In those days, things like cancer were not talked about… Everything was a big secret,” recalled Kaufman.
“I remember after that happened deciding that one day this would be an area I would be interested in. I wanted to give back and make a change.” Now Kaufman visits a hospice patient every week and provides whatever is needed – support, companionship – she even has made memory books for some of the patients and their families.
“It just feels so right like I can use all of the different pieces of my life and all the different experiences I’ve had. People have said to me, ‘Why would you want to do that?’ But I find it easy to make a connection with people if you are not afraid to just be with them where they are. Some of the patients I have worked with I spend a lot of time with the family. That is gratifying because people have a need to talk and to share memories. I find it nourishing.”
Dalia Davis of Longmeadow is a thoroughly modern rebbetzin. The wife of Rabbi Max Davis of Congregation B’nai Torah, she is a dancer and choreographer and one of the most active Jewish educators in the Springfield area. “In my role as Max’s wife, we do a lot of hosting. We host almost every Shabbat. So that is kind of my role in terms of what comes with being married to a rabbi,” Davis explained. “But the rest of my work, I feel is my own and separate.” As founder of Beit Midrash in Motion, Davis has designed workshops that blend movement, meditation, and text study inspired by her passions for both dance and Jewish study. She also is the creator of Mishpacha in Motion, a similar model for children and families. She recently led a Chanukah-inspired Mishpacha in Motion class.
“First we do all of these different movement explorations. So for Chanukah, there will be candles and we move like we are light. We might spin like dreidels, and do all the different movements so they are basically putting together the story they are about to read. And it is all with parents so it is also a family-bonding experience,” she explained.
Davis serves as Jewish educator at the Springfield JCC. In that capacity, she runs a weekly children’s Dance Fusion class and also meets with the preschoolers weekly for Jewish programming and leads Shabbat programming. She and Israeli Young Emissary Daniel Inbar are working together to form a weekly Hebrew club for JCC students. Davis also teaches four classes at the Melton Adult Mini-School – including classes for both year one and graduate students.
After dancing and performing throughout her childhood, Davis went to Barnard College, where she double-majored in dance and Jewish history. She co-founded Nishmat Hatzafon, the Jewish Women’s Performing Arts Company, which has now been re-formed into a dance company called La’ad. She also serves as dance educator for the Foundation for Jewish Summer Camps and last summer worked as a Jewish Educator at Camp Ramah in Palmer.
“What I strive for most when I go into a Melton class or when I do a Beit Midrash in Motion workshop is for people to think. I want to engage people with whatever the material is, such that it feels relevant to them and it impacts them in some way. I don’t have particular, ‘I want you to do X or I want you to think X.’ It is really about how your life is impacted by this, what is the relevance? Each student can have their own answer to that. So some type of transformative experience is what I am going for.”
In November Rabbi Kevin Hale of Leeds traveled to Poland to participate in the Bearing Witness Retreat at Auschwitz, a non-denominational retreat where participants learn about what happened there during the Holocaust, meditate and recite the names of those murdered at the camp. During his time there, Hale said memorial prayers for members of his family and the many others who died in the camp. “Basically all of the downtime I was spending saying “El Malei Rachamim” for members of my family, my wife’s family — and also people gave me names of people — in the places there, the closest thing to a burial site.”
When he was planning his trip to Poland, Hale had decided that he wanted to do something meaningful while there.
“I thought that this was a time to go to Auschwitz and pay respects to the dead and then I thought, ‘What can I do that is affirming life there?” So I thought, well, I am a scribe, I should write a mezuzah there.”
After trying to think of various places for which he could write a mezuzah, he learned from a Facebook friend about a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the Café Oshpitzin, which is being built as part of the Auschwitz Jewish Center (an arm of the New York Museum of Jewish Heritage). The museum and cultural center is attached to the Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot Synagogue in the town of Oswiecim. The synagogue, built around 1913, was one of 20 that stood in the town before World War II. Taken over by the Nazis, then turned into a carpet warehouse by the Communists after the war, the synagogue was returned to the Jewish community in 1998. Today the restored synagogue has no rabbi or congregation, but Jewish visitors to the area often use it to hold services. The Oshpitzin Café is in a neighboring building that belonged to the last pre-war Jewish resident of the town, Szymon Kluger, who died in 2000. When the Café Oshpitzin (the name Jews used for the town before the war) opens it will offer a dairy menu to visitors of the synagogue and cultural center.
“I think it is really visionary of the director there [Tomek Kuncewicz] to take a building and essentially say, ‘Oh, here is a way to feed Jewish souls by turning it into a restaurant.”
Before his trip, Hale contacted those in charge of the center and asked if they would like for him to write a mezuzah for their café. “They were delighted,” he said.
At first, his idea was to actually write the mezuzah at Auschwitz, but he said he realized that it wasn’t appropriate once he got there. “It’s just a place of death. It’s a cemetery.”
Instead he began to write it in the Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot Synagogue. “I realized this was such a powerful thing — here is this synagogue that has been restored, even though there are no Jews who live there. What a great experience to write the mezuzah there. It felt like I was helping to build Jewish life.”
While he wasn’t able to finish the mezuzah scroll during his short time at the cultural center, he plans to finish it back home and possibly raise funds for the Auschwitz Jewish Center by having people sponsor Hebrew letters on the mezuzah.
Hale said he is so excited about the project at Auschwitz because, “It’s really about affirming Judaism, the Jewish people and history. And being alive.”
Most people know how Aly Raisman has made an impact on the gymnastics world. Fewer know another local who’s making a name for herself, Olivia Sinrich, who even trained with Raisman when she prepared for the Olympics.
Olivia, a 9th grader at Wachusett High School, trains at Brestyan’s American Gymnastics Club in Burlington, a 2 1/2 hour commute from her Worcester home. She trains six days a week for four hours each day. Her coaches are Mihai and Silvia Brestyan, former Romanian and Israeli national team coaches.
Olivia has competed nationally, and this past summer participated at the Maccabiah in Israel, the world’s largest sporting event of the year. She competed on the U.S. junior gymnastics team in all four events: bars, vault, beam and floor.
“On the first day of competition, the U.S. junior gymnastics team won the silver medal, and I placed 4th overall and also qualified for the event finals by placing in the top eight on each event. The next day of competition, I won the silver medal on vault and bronze on balance beam,” Olivia said.
Olivia got her start doing gymnastics as a toddler, participating in Mommy and Me classes with her mom, Debbie, as well as doing gymnastics with her older sister, Hannah. (She also has a younger brother, Max, and a younger sister, Alexandra.)
Her father, Scott, explained how tough the competition is. “She joined a local team starting at Level 3 and has progressed over the years. She has done very well in team gymnastics and now competes at Level 10 in the Junior Olympic program (J.O.) run by the USAG (United States Gymnastics Association) which also runs the Olympic program for the U.S. Level 10 is the highest. J.O. level is just under the elite level, those closest to competing for the U.S. in international and Olympic competitions,” he said.
“To give you an idea of numbers, there are about 100,000 kids doing gymnastics in the U.S. Of those, only about 2-3000 ever make Level 10 and about 100 become elite gymnasts. Last year, Olivia was one of the top seven gymnasts for her age in Region 6; that region is made up of New England and New York; and was invited to compete at the J.O. National Championships in Minnesota where the top 400 Level 10 gymnasts in the country competed at Nationals.”
Olivia’s competition season begins in November and goes through the spring, although, she said, “practice is year round and increases in the summer. This year, I am trying to qualify for the second time to the national championships in May. My dream is to compete in collegiate gymnastics.”
She and her teammates were among the youngest participants of the U.S delegation of 1200 athletes that went to the Maccabiah games in July. They spent three weeks competing and touring the country, including visiting Jerusalem and Masada and living on a kibbutz.
“My favorite part of participating in the games was all the incredible people I met and the friendships I made,” said Olivia. “The Maccabiah World Games is an experience I would recommend to any Jewish athlete and I definitely want to also participate in the Pan American Maccabi Games. The Pan Am Games will be December 2015 in Chile.”
Olivia had her bat mitzvah last year at Congregation Beth Israel in Worcester and celebrated the one-year anniversary by reading the Torah portion in shul. She also attends Prozdor in Newton Centre.
Olivia puts in very long days between school and training.
“Balancing school and gymnastics is a challenge,” she said, “but I have learned to be extremely efficient and prioritize in every aspect of my life.
As the overall chair of the 2013 Centennial Celebration of Temple Beth El in Springfield, Craig Kazin says he ran a “stiff meeting.”
“By that I mean I run a brisk meeting. We don’t dilly-dally around. We get stuff done. So I really saw myself as a coordinator, a facilitator and a nagger,” he laughed.
His hard work paid off, as nearly a dozen events were held over a year-long period to commemorate TBE’s 100 years. The celebration got started on Simchat Torah of 2012 when longtime ritual director Rev. David Aminia was honored. The annual Sandi Kupperman Memorial Weekend and Past Presidents’ Dinner also marked the anniversary. In April of 2013, the temple presented “Soul to Soul: Yiddish and African-American Music Meet in a Celebration of Two Cultures.” Several other events will be held this year at TBE as part of the celebration, including the opening of the Springfield Museum Exhibit, “From Shtetl to Suburb: 100 Years of Jewish Life in Springfield,” a symposium on the synagogue’s noted art and architecture, and a gala evening held in November.
“All in all, I guess the quote that I use is that ‘I stood on the shoulders of giants.’ Because there were a lot of people with a lot of expertise, time, love and devotion that they put into these efforts,” Kazin said.
Kazin’s family has long roots at Temple Beth El. His grandmother served on the board of trustees when ground was broken for the new synagogue building in 1953. His parents were longtime members, and Kazin was bar mitzvahed, married and named his children there.
Kazin served as president of TBE from 2002-2004, and after that he served as chair of the ritual committee. In the late ‘90s he served as president of the Brotherhood. Still active in the ritual committee, he can often be seen ushering on Shabbat mornings.
Kazin is also a Mason and a Shriner. As a Shriner, Kazin said he tries to represent all that the Masons hold dear – “relief, truth and brotherly love, you know — helping our fellow man, but channeled into the support of a really awesome charity, which is Shriner’s Hospital for Children.”
As a member of the Melha Shriners in Springfield, Kazin dresses up as a clown more than 60 times a year to walk in parades and to visit and entertain sick children in the local Shriners Hospital for Children.
Kazin said that although the Masons and Shriners are not religious organizations, their tenets tie in closely with some of the basic tenets of Judaism.
“One of the tenets of Freemasonry is a basic core belief that if you give freely of yourself and expect nothing in return, you will get back many times over what you put in. I try to embrace that with the synagogue and I try to embrace that with the Shriners.”
Becky Pins and
Pins, who lives in Holden, joined Temple Sinai in 2004 along with her husband and two kids. Shuster, of Worcester, joined Temple Emanuel 25 years ago, along with her husband (who had grown up there) and their two children.
Just prior to the congregations coming together, Pins was a first vice president of Temple Sinai. Before that she was chair of the religious school committee for two years and she also chaired the Tot Shabbat Committee.
At Temple Emanuel, Shuster was vice president of finance just before the integration, and she also served on the executive committee and the board.
When the two congregations began going through the integration process, several committees were formed to look at what each congregation did and how to best bring the two together. Pins and Shuster met in the Spring of 2012 when they both joined the Imagining Committee — “which was the committee that was pushing the other committees to think outside the box,” explained Pins, who later became a part of the Steering Committee overseeing the whole endeavor.
“The decision to have two co-presidents came from the Steering Committee who felt that the first board, the first set of leaders of the new congregation should be made up of equal numbers of members from both former congregations, and that there should be co-presidents so that members of both former congregations would feel that they were being listened to equally – that their opinions and perspective would be equally considered,” Pins said.
Both Pins and Shuster were asked by representatives of their former congregations to act as co-presidents and they said they didn’t go into it lightly.
“We asked a lot of questions and we had conversations with each other and other people, and thought long and hard about it,” Shuster said. “We knew coming in that this was not going to be an easy couple of years.”
The two worked hard on administrative and staffing issues at the beginning and are still working out some kinks.
“I would say it is going at least as well if not better than I would have hoped,” Shuster said.
One challenge they worked through together was that the High Holidays fell early this year – just two months after the integration. “We were running from the beginning to try to prepare for that, but the High Holidays went so very well and people generally felt like we had really come together at that point,” Pins said. “I feel like our differences are much fewer than our similarities in terms of our communities. So I feel like we are making good strides in terms of coming together as a single congregation.”
“We got a lot of positive comments during the High Holidays when people who maybe hadn’t been to a weekly Shabbat service or hadn’t been since the last High Holidays saw how wonderful it was to have a full sanctuary and all the people at the oneg,” Shuster said. “It was a really meaningful High Holiday.” Carol Goodman
Carol Goodman Kaufman of Worcester is the founder and chair of the New England HealthFest of Worcester, a program of the Hadassah New England Chapter. The event was held in Marlborough last April.
“It started when I was the national programming chair for Hadassah,” said Kaufman, a former regional president of Hadassah. “Hadassah’s centennial was coming up and I wanted to do something really big. Healthcare has always been a major part of what we do. We started sending public health nurses over to Palestine in 1913, that was always the foundation of what we did – education and healthcare. So, I thought, ‘We have 10 different healthcare initiatives, why not highlight them all? That is how it started and it just grew!”
Nearly 800 people attended last spring’s HealthFest, which featured 40 booths with health and wellness programs, exhibitors, sponsors, and partner organizations. Attendees participated in hands-on demonstrations and examinations focused on preventing diseases such as osteoporosis, heart failure, breast and testicular cancer, among others.
A writer by profession with a PhD in psychology and counseling, Kaufman penned 2003’s “Sins of Omission” about the Jewish community and domestic violence. She is currently working on three books – a study on formerly violent extremists who have turned their lives around, a book on food history and cooking, and a murder mystery.
Kaufman, a member of Congregation Beth Israel, also runs the 92nd St. Y Live Broadcasts, an adult education program partnered by Beth Israel, Temple Emanuel Sinai, the JCC of Worcester, and the Jewish Federation of Central Mass. She is chair of the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts’ Community Relations Council and also is chair of the Latino Jewish Roundtable which consists of local leaders from both the Latino and the Jewish communities in Worcester. “Dialogue is a very good way to reduce misunderstanding and prejudice,” she said. “Our focus has been on getting to know one another.”
Kaufman said that the multiple goals of the community relations council – media relations, interfaith and inter-ethnic relations, emergency response and Israel advocacy – are important ones for the Jewish community.
“I think it is really important that we have someone speaking out on behalf of the Jewish community and reaching out to other communities,” she said. “We can’t be insular.”