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Donna Newman

North Shore residents of different religions gathered at the Islamic Association of Long Island in Selden March 28. Photo by Kate Jones Calone

By Donna Newman

The Village Times Herald and The Times of Middle Country April 4 covers “United we stand,” and the article by Rita J. Egan reporting on the interfaith gathering held March 28 at the Islamic Association of Long Island in Selden, were an important community service. The event itself was extraordinary.

Donna Newman. File photo

Members of the Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association presented a panel discussion highlighting the many similarities of the various belief systems it encompasses. Comments from the attendees focused on the necessity of doing more than just coming together in solidarity when terrorists target faith communities around the world. We need to come together often and work together to build bridges between our different faiths and realize that there is more that unites us than divides us.

There was a break in the proceedings on March 28 when the call to prayer was heard. Non-Muslims were invited to observe men and women in prayer. It was an extremely generous gesture to welcome outsiders into a very special and spiritual space.

After the panel discussion and a Q&A, the audience divided into small groups, bringing individuals of different faiths together to talk and get to know each other. My group included Christians, Jews, Unitarian Universalists and a Muslim who happily answered lots of questions — and asked a good number as well.

The evening struck a chord with many who experienced it, and I’m certain that plans began to form to expand the experience so more Long Islanders could benefit.

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky and Cantor Marcey Wagner of Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook have announced two upcoming events that build on this idea of bringing people together.

The temple will hold its Day of Good Deeds, or Mitzvah Day, Sunday, May 5. Social Action Committee Chair Iris Schiff reached out to other faith groups to invite them to join in various community-minded activities, culminating in an afternoon cleanup of West Meadow Beach.

A breast cancer screening van from Stony Brook Medicine will offer state-of-the-art 3-D digital mammograms from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. to females 40 and over who schedule an appointment. For more information, call 631-638-4135.

On Friday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. Sidlofsky will replicate an Invite Your Neighbor to Shabbat service that he originated at his previous congregation in Wilmington, North Carolina. Congregants are encouraged to bring non-Jewish neighbors and friends to a service, at which they may experience and learn about Jewish prayer, including a look at an open Torah scroll. The rabbi will be available during the social time after the service to answer questions.

The more we learn about each other’s faiths — their origins, practices and traditions — the more we will understand that we have shared values of peace, love and justice. We all want to be treated with dignity and respect, and we feel others should be as well.

The April 4 article quoted Building Bridges in Brookhaven member and former Ward Melville High School teacher Tom Lyon. As he so eloquently put it: “The most radical thing we can do is to introduce people to each other.”

Donna Newman is a freelance writer and former editor of The Village Times Herald.

Mort Rosen, pictured at last year’s Spirits Tour, will be bestowed the Gayle Becher Memorial Award. Photo by Anthony White

By Donna Newman

On Wednesday, March 27, the Three Village Historical Society will host its 42nd annual Awards Dinner honoring volunteers, local businesses, society members, area residents and youngsters who have made significant contributions helping to preserve the shared heritage within the Three Village area. 

After four decades, one might wonder if it is getting more difficult to find honorees, especially because a person may only be honored once in a given category. TVHS President Steve Healy said it wasn’t a problem. 

“You would think that,” Healy said, “but it’s not difficult to find honorees. The Three Village area is packed with people who help others and contribute to their community. We are truly blessed. The society has just over 450 members … and we run more than 30 events and functions per year that bring in new volunteers and first-time attendees. Our membership grows organically through these events.”

Steven Fontana is this year’s recipient of the R. Sherman Mills Young Historian Award. Photo by Anthony White

Nominations come from TVHS members as well as the general public. Awards are given in a variety of areas, from significant contributions to the preservation and conservation of our natural environment, to fostering interest in local history, to the advancement of quality of life and pride of place, to dedicated service and generosity of volunteer time.

Nearly 30 nominations were received, according to Janette Handley, co-chair of the Awards Committee. She noted that the Robert Cushman Murphy Memorial Award, inaugurated in 1987, has only been bestowed 10 times.  

“That’s the award that we find difficult to give out,” Handley said. “We’re very careful to whom we give that award.” 

As described on the awards dinner invitation, it is made “in recognition of significant contributions to the preservation and conservation of our natural environment and to the fostering of a personal identification with the natural heritage of the Three Villages.”

It will be awarded this year to the Setauket Harbor Task Force, formed with the goal of improving water quality in Setauket Harbor, and whose members have held three Setauket Harbor Days to raise awareness for that endeavor.  

TBR’s own Michael Tessler will receive the Kate Wheeler Strong Memorial Award for his creation – together with TBR News Media – of the film “One Life to Give.” This historical re-enactment of little known events during the American Revolution does much to publicize the important role played by area residents. Handley spoke of how pleased Tessler was to receive the notification email.

“Not having a current address, we emailed him,” Handley said. “He’s in California. We got a wonderful email back saying he’s very sorry he can’t come, but he would like to do a video ‘Thank You.’ That’s the first time we’ve had anything like that.” 

“Though I’m far away living in Los Angeles, the spirit of Setauket and its citizen spies remain a guiding compass on my own personal journey to preserve history through multiplatform storytelling,” said Tessler.

According to the Awards Committee report, the TVHS Community Award, when bestowed, is “in appreciation of valuable contributions to the advancement of the quality of life in the Three Villages and the fostering of pride in the rich historical heritage of our homes and lands.” This year it will go to Leah Dunaief, publisher of TBR News Media, but Handley clarified that the recipient is the individual, apart from the position she holds. 

“Leah has received many awards on behalf of the paper, but this award is not for the paper. Leah is still there – and expanding,” said Handley. “She’s involved in so many things, and we feel very strongly that this award is for her.” 

The Maggie Gillie Memorial Award goes to a society member. This year Patty Yantz will be recognized for her many years of service. Yantz has held the offices of president and vice president, and has co-chaired the society’s biggest annual fundraiser – the Candlelight House Tour – for the last five years. 

The Gayle Becher Memorial Award goes to a volunteer. It will honor Morton Rosen for his generosity of spirit, taking part in many society events over the years, including the annual Spirits Tour, where he has enacted at least 11 historical figures. 

“The award is especially meaningful to me,” Rosen said, “because [my wife] Bernice and I worked with Gayle when she organized the Discovery Camp Days program of summer activities for children.”  

Steven Fontana, a sophomore at Ward Melville High School, is this year’s honoree for the R. Sherman Mills Young Historian Award, presented for contributions to the society by a young person. Steven has assisted with traffic flow at many society events over the past four years.

Four community award certificates will be handed out as well. 

The first, for repurposing a building used as a commercial structure in a way that contributes to the historic beauty of the area, will be awarded to The Reboli Center, 64 Main St., Stony Brook for the conversion of a historic bank building to a community center for the enjoyment of art and history. 

The second, for house restoration or renovation and preservation in keeping with original architectural integrity, will be awarded to Maura and Matthew Dunn for their home, The Holly Tree House, at 246 Christian Ave. in Stony Brook. 

The third award, the President’s Volunteer Certificate, goes to Marcia Seaman for her dedication to her volunteer bookkeeping position at the society for the past five years. 

The fourth, a Special Community Service Award, will go to David Prestia and his family, owners of Bagel Express and Express Catering in East Setauket, for their generous donations of food for many society events over the years. 

The Awards Dinner will be held at the Three Village Inn, 150 Main St., Stony Brook from 6 to 9 p.m. on March 27. A three-course dinner will be served, including a Caesar salad with rosemary focaccia croutons, choice of entree (pan-seared salmon with baby spinach and beurre blanc sauce, seared breast of free-range chicken with haricots verts and saffron potatoes or sliced Chateau steak with red wine sauce with Yukon Gold potato puree and baby carrots) and an apple crumb tartlet with whipped cream for dessert. The evening will feature a cash bar and eight raffle prizes. 

Please join TVHS in honoring these worthy awardees. Tickets are $65 per person, $60 members. To order, visit www.TVHS.org or call 631-751-3730.

 

From left, Rabbi Aaron Benson and Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky address the audience at the Jan. 27 screening. Photo by Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

The Suffolk County Jewish community experienced a unique event on Jan. 27, co-sponsored by North Shore Jewish Center of Port Jefferson Station and Temple Isaiah of Stony Brook.

The documentary film “Who Will Write Our History” about life in the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland during World War II had its global premiere in hundreds of venues in more that 41 countries around the world – and the Jewish Center was the only venue in Suffolk.

The film offers a detailed account of the conditions and atrocities faced by Jews imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto from November 1940 to mid-May 1943, at which time the Nazis destroyed the ghetto following an uprising by its inhabitants.

Thanks to the members of a secret society – code named Oyneg Shabes (joy of the Sabbath) – led by historian Emanuel Ringelblum, an extensive archive was created to chronicle the day-to-day horror of life in the ghetto. One cache was unearthed in 1946; another in 1950. A third is believed buried on the grounds of the Chinese Embassy in Warsaw.  

One hundred fifty people gathered to view the film, according to event coordinator Marsha Belford.

Temple Isaiah’s Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky welcomed the crowd. “Over 70 years have passed since [the Holocaust], yet we remember,” he said. “We remember because, during that time, brave people planted seeds to ensure that we would have a tree of knowledge recalling those historical events … At great personal risk and with little hope of survival they hid valuable items that could later be used as proof of Nazi atrocities, serving as evidence to counter false claims of what did and did not occur.”

There was total silence in the screening room, as a combination of archival footage and photographs interspersed with actors reenacting what is described in the diaries and documents. The film brought reality to a history that, barring the evidence of the Ringelblum Archive, would be unfathomable.

After the film, North Shore Jewish Center’s Rabbi Aaron Benson led a Q&A. He offered four observations about the Oyneg Shabes group.

First, the simple human story of resilience and courage in their heroic efforts to record and preserve what was happening to them. Second, a commitment to the Jewish vision of Yizkor (remembrance) that infused their actions. Third, the immense insight of Ringelblum to utilize a very modern, Western idea: a scientific study of history, which was only a few generations old in the 1940s. Fourth, rather than focusing on the leaders (the rabbis) as history traditionally had, his plan was to record history written by ordinary people; assembling a ground-level image of ghetto life.

One film viewer, Dr. Wilfred Lieberthal aptly identified a basis for this wisdom. He said, “Jews have an understanding and an appreciation for the power of the written word.”

The film is available for viewing online.

A STORY OF RESISTANCE: From left, actors Julia Lewenfisz-Gorka, Wojciech Zielinski and Marta Ormaniec portray Ora, Abraham and Luba Lewin in a ghetto street scene from the film. Photo by Anna Wloch/Katahdin Productions

By Donna Newman

“History is written by the victors” is a quote often attributed to Winston Churchill. Some allege that history is written by the survivors. In at least one unique case, however, history was written by people who were neither victors nor survivors. During the Holocaust of World War II, a historical record was assembled by a group of doomed Polish Jews with only one goal: to let the truth be known.

Actor Wojciech Zielinski as Oyneg Shabes member Abraham Lewin. Photo by Anna Wloch

As designated by the United Nations in 2005, International Holocaust Remembrance Day has been observed each year since on Jan. 27 — the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp. On that date this year, the world can see the global premiere of a new documentary, “Who Will Write Our History,” detailing the trove of evidence regarding life, atrocities and death within the Warsaw Ghetto, as compiled and buried before the ghetto’s destruction by Jewish inmates who were imprisoned there.

As part of an international event, the film will screen simultaneously at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. These are just three of the more than 250 venues in 41 countries around the world taking part in this unprecedented event, with more joining daily. 

Here in Suffolk County, the film may only be viewed at North Shore Jewish Center, 385 Old Town Road, Port Jefferson Station, at 3:30 p.m. The suggested donation is $10 per person. Call 631-928-3737 to RSVP.  

“Who Will Write Our History” is a documentary film based on a book by the same name written by Trinity College Professor Samuel Kassow who was born in 1946 in a displaced persons camp in Stuttgart, Germany. The film was written, produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker Roberta Grossman; the executive producer is Nancy Spielberg. 

Men praying in Warsaw Ghetto in a scene from the film.

Both book and documentary tell the story of the secret society — code named Oyneg Shabes, or joy of the Sabbath — composed of journalists, scholars and community leaders who were among the 450,000 Jews confined to the Warsaw Ghetto, the largest in Nazi-occupied Europe, beginning in November 1940. 

The website for the documentary introduces the film: “‘Who Will Write Our History’ is a story of resistance. It is a story about who gets to tell the story. It is about a group of spiritual resistors who risked their lives so that the truth would survive, even if they did not.”

Leading this band of resistance fighters was historian Emanuel Ringelblum, who masterminded  “one of the most astonishing research projects in human history” according to Culture.pl, a government-sponsored website funded by Poland’s Ministry of Culture and National Heritage.

The archive that Ringelblum’s team of about 50 to 60 individuals assembled contains approximately 6,000 documents, written in Yiddish and Polish. Artifacts also collected include newspapers, ration and tram tickets, letters, postcards, leaflets, German orders, theater posters and candy wrappers. Original literary pieces and works of art — drawings, watercolors and cartoons — were also deposited in the archive.

Shortly after the war, the first hidden cache to be unearthed was discovered on Sept. 18, 1946. A second trove was found in 1950. A third stash, which has yet to be located despite a 2003 excavation attempt, is thought to be buried on the grounds of the Chinese embassy in Warsaw.

A Warsaw Ghetto market scene from the film.

North Shore Jewish Center congregants Marsha Belford and her husband, Wlodek Guryn, learned about the documentary last spring at the 2018 Hillel and Jewish Theological Seminary-sponsored Jewish University for a Day held at Stony Brook University.

In a plenary session, not only did Grossman talk about and show a clip of the film, which was then in production, but Dr. Eleonora Bergman of  the Ringelblum Archive also spoke.

“Bringing this documentary to our synagogue started with my husband’s friendship with Eleonora Bergman, who is also a Polish Jew and who grew up on the same street in Warsaw as he did,” said Belford in a recent interview. “Dr. Bergman served as director of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw [2007-2011] and is still very much involved with the Ringelblum Archive.”

For her extensive work, Bergman received the French Légion d’Honneur in 2012. She and Prof. Tadeusz Epsztein shared the 2017 Jan Karski and Pola Nireneka Prize, awarded by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research for their work coordinating the publication of the Ringelblum Archive.

Belford patiently awaited the film’s release because she appreciates Holocaust testimonies for very personal reasons. “My husband’s parents escaped Pinsk and survived the war as Jewish refugees in the Soviet Union,” she said. “Originally from Hungary, my mother — whose entire family was murdered by the Nazis — was a survivor of the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps.”

Members of the cast

When Belford learned that the documentary would be shown at the U.N. as part of its International Holocaust Remembrance Week observances and also at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove — but nowhere in Suffolk County — she contacted the organizer of NSJC’s annual Jewish film festival, Robin Appel.

Belford is grateful to Appel for her expertise and assistance in obtaining the film. “It was Robin who handled all the negotiations that made the NSJC screening possible,” she said.

North Shore Jewish Center Rabbi Aaron Bensen is delighted to offer the community a chance to see this important film. 

“I am tremendously proud to be hosting this screening,” said Benson. “We’ve held an annual Jewish film festival for a decade now, thanks to a team that researches and selects excellent Jewish, Israeli and Holocaust-themed films. Bringing ‘Who Will Write Our History’ to the area is a major accomplishment for the group.”

“We’re also happy to be partnering with Temple Isaiah [in Stony Brook] as sponsors,” he added, “since it is a wonderful opportunity to engage a broader audience on this important topic.”

After the war, Rachel Auerbach — one of only three members of Oyneg Shabes to survive — noted the importance of informing the wider world: “We wrote, collected, guarded and hid while in the circumstances of our own destruction. We prepared the register of our own suffering and death, not for ourselves, but for other Jews. For the Jewish community of the wide world.”

Thanks to Auerbach and her courageous cohorts, that perspective will reach the eyes and ears of Suffolk County and beyond Jan. 27 via the film “Who Will Write Our History.”

All photos by Anna Wloch/Katahdin Productions

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Above, the Wiener family, Željko, Beruria, Frances and Julius circa 1941. Photo courtesy of Beruria Stroke

By Donna Newman

Most Holocaust survival stories, told by those still around to bear witness, describe boxcars and concentration camps, starvation and abuse, and the horrific separation of children from their parents.

In a recent program at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket, titled Grazie Italia, local nonagenarian Beruria Stroke told her story of survival and it was quite different. She described a long and tortuous journey from Zagreb, Yugoslavia, to Campobasso, Italy, where advancing Allied forces liberated the Wiener family, who had been fleeing the Nazis — often day by day — for two and a half years.

Stroke’s life story had all the elements of a thriller and, in the discussion that ensued following her presentation, most of those in attendance encouraged her when she said she was thinking about writing a book. The general consensus: It is a story that should be shared.

Beruria Stroke answers questions after the library program on Nov. 2. Photo by Donna Newman

Speaking without notes, Stroke began her narrative in an idyllic-sounding childhood in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. Her parents, Julius and Frances Wiener, were intellectuals — people of means — and very well read. She credits her father with the ability to foresee the events of the second World War after reading Hitler’s book, “Mein Kampf.”

In 1939 her parents traveled to Palestine, then under British control, and applied for papers for their family to immigrate. As they waited for the papers, they established a plan to leave Yugoslavia. It was a long wait. When transit visas finally came through on April 4, 1941 Beruria, her parents and her younger brother Željko, fled to the east via the famous Orient Express. They only made it as far as Belgrade.

In Belgrade, the train was stopped and all passengers had to find overnight lodgings. They expected to board the train the following morning to continue their journey. But that night, while staying at the apartment of an uncle, young Beruria experienced the horrors of war firsthand. She described hearing sirens at 3 a.m. but then was told it was “just an exercise.” At 6 a.m. there were no sirens — just bombs falling. The next day, after realizing they could no longer go forward, they learned of a train that could take them back to Zagreb. They negotiated the rubble that Belgrade had become, walking past dead bodies in the street. As fate would have it, they missed the train, but were directed to a spot where another train would be forming. They waited there, inside a boxcar. By the time the train left, the boxcar was filled beyond capacity. In Stroke’s mother’s words, “Not a needle could come between one person and another.”

Back in Zagreb, things had changed over night. Jews were made to wear identifying cloth badges bearing the letter Z topped by an accent mark that looked like a V — the letter representing the word for “Jew” in the Croatian language. Heads of families were being arrested and incarcerated. In exchange for their large apartment, Julius Wiener negotiated travel papers and safe transit to a train headed toward the Italian border. Stroke said, “We left in the nick of time. That night the Nazis came [and would have taken us] to a concentration camp.”

Throughout her story Stroke made note of unexpected but lucky moments that allowed her family to survive intact. It was serendipity, she said, that got them through the German occupation — serendipity, and the help of many good people along the way.

After the family made it to Italy, they still had the difficult task of avoiding capture. Stroke told of their journey south along the eastern coast of Italy on bicycles — another of her father’s brilliant ideas — sheltering overnight wherever they could find space, so as not to be outdoors after curfew.

The Wieners were among those liberated by Canadian forces on Oct. 14, 1943 in the city of Campobasso in southern Italy. That event launched the next phase of her young life, which led to her emigration to Palestine in 1945. But that’s another story.

This was only the second time Stroke has shared her story publicly. The first time was this past April at the invitation of Rabbi Joseph Topek of Hillel, a Jewish student organization on the Stony Brook University campus. Israeli premed student Eilona Feder worked with Stroke to facilitate her talk.

Feder is the Israeli-American Council “Mishelanu” (Hebrew for “from ourselves”) intern on campus, tasked with connecting Israeli students as well as offering educational and cultural programs open to all. Feder has been involved in Holocaust education for years, ever since her middle school days in Israel. “I became so involved,” she said, “because my grandfather is a Holocaust survivor, and he was never willing to tell me his story.”

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Rabbi Paul D. Sidlofsky. Photo by Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

A Canadian-born rabbi with an extensive background in religious education and youth outreach is the new spiritual leader at Temple Isaiah, the Reform Jewish congregation in Stony Brook. Paul D. Sidlofsky comes to Long Island from Temple of Israel in Wilmington, North Carolina, the oldest Jewish congregation in that state. His worldview has been enhanced by the experience of residing in Canada, England, Israel and the United States.

Rabbi Sidlofsky says he found his calling early in life while attending a summer camp affiliated with the North American Reform movement. He said he met rabbis there “who led services, taught Hebrew and talked about being Jewish, but they also wore sneakers, played sports and told jokes. They were not only people to be admired, but role models to whom I could relate.”

Following graduation with honors from the University of Toronto, Sidlofsky pursued graduate studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem as part of his rabbinical course. He was ordained in 1988 after completing training at Leo Baeck College in London and received a master’s in Jewish education from the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in Los Angeles. Subsequently he earned a master’s in educational administration and a doctor of religious Jewish education.

“To me, a major role of the rabbi is to be a teacher,” Sidlofsky said. “This is central to my work and affects all aspects of it. I encourage congregants to pursue lifelong Jewish education. Informal interactions, counseling and sermons all provide teaching and learning opportunities.” As the “Rappin’ Rabbi” he likes to make his teaching fun, creating raps that give a unique spin to holy days, B’nai Mitzvah, and even the Torah. 

In his prior position in Wilmington, as well as in previous congregations, the rabbi was an active participant in community and interfaith events, and he looks forward to those interactions on Long Island. One community outreach event he instituted, an Invite Your Neighbor service to welcome and inform non-Jewish members of the community about the temple and Judaism, was a success he hopes to replicate at Temple Isaiah.

Teamwork between clergy in a synagogue is crucial to creating a welcoming vibe. Rabbi and cantor must work together closely.

“Often,” said Cantor Marcey Wagner, “I spend more time with my rabbinic partner than with my spouse! That’s why I am so pleased with the choice of Rabbi Sidlofsky. He’s the kind of person I can partner with in a meaningful way. Together we’ll create the community environment here at Temple Isaiah that the congregation is thirsting for,” adding that she likes that he is open to new ideas, yet has a healthy respect for tradition as well. “When the rabbi/cantor relationship thrives, the congregation can feel it and the institution becomes stronger and healthier for it.” 

Temple President Phyllis Sterne concurs that Temple Isaiah is on the right path with its new clergy team. “I look forward to growing our congregation and having it see good times and good health in the years ahead. I’m confident that Rabbi Sidlofsky will lead us into a bright future. We welcome not only the rabbi to our Temple family, but also his lovely and talented wife, Wendy, and caring and enthusiastic teenage son, Ben. Both will add immeasurably to our community.”

For information about Temple Isaiah, located at 1404 Stony Brook Road in Stony Brook, call the temple office at 631-751-8518 or visit www.tisbny.org

The cover of Karol's book

By Donna Newman

One of the certainties of life is that, unless one departs first, sooner or later each of us will have to deal with the death of a loved one.

Among his many duties as a spiritual leader, Stephen Karol, now Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook, has ministered to the bereaved. He has officiated at funerals, counseled families and helped people navigate the mourning period that begins upon a death and continues through memorial services throughout the ensuing years.

Rabbi Karol has gathered a series of memorial sermons into a book titled, “Finding Hope and Faith in the Face of Death” and subtitled, “Insights of a Rabbi and Mourner.”

Author Stephen Karol

What motivated you to write this book?

I decided to do it for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve gotten really good feedback on my Yizkor (memorial) sermons. People have asked for copies and that sort of thing. And, throughout my career officiating at funerals, I just think people need comforting, hopeful messages to help them cope with death. That’s what this book provides.

Is this a ‘Jewish’ book, or do you feel it has broader appeal?

The book is written primarily for Jews, but not exclusively. While I speak from a Jewish context, a lot of what I have to say in these messages can be applied to people who are Jewish or not, religious or not, whatever they may be.

Why publish it now?

As a congregational rabbi I was devoted to my congregants — and happily so — and didn’t have the time to write a book. Now, in retirement, I decided to share my words of comfort. And when I submitted my proposal to the publisher (Wipf and Stock), they loved my idea and enthusiastically agreed to publish it under their Cascade Books imprint.

What was the most challenging part of compiling the manuscript?

In creating the introduction to the book, I wanted to be honest. I had to confess that, despite my faith in life after death, I am afraid to die. So, I describe my fear and explain how it materialized at a particularly happy time in my life, shortly after my daughter’s birth. I tell about the ways I’ve learned to cope with it and describe how a combination of hope and faith have helped me not only as an individual but also as a rabbi. That’s why I think my words can be universal, because you don’t have to be a rabbi to believe what I believe, and to feel and think what I feel and think.

How did you choose the sermon that became Chapter 1?

The first chapter in the book was chosen because it dealt with a personal loss. I titled it, “Accompanying the Dead” and it begins: “My uncle Harry died last month.” I talk about the experience of being in my uncle’s hospital room with him when he died, and officiating — along with my brother who is also a rabbi — at his funeral. A good number of the chapters involve personal experiences.

The cover of Karol’s book.

Aside from your own personal losses over the years, did other experiences contribute to your understanding of life and death?

I suffered a heart attack in 1995 that gave me a greater sense of perspective. One of the messages in the book is that we need to value life and make every day count. We need to tell people that we love them whenever we can.

How long was this book in the making?

The book consists of 16 sermons that I have given both at Temple Isaiah and at Congregation Sha’aray Shalom in Hingham, Massachusetts, over the course of my tenures at both synagogues. So, when people ask me how long it took to write the book, tongue in cheek I say: 35 years.

“Finding Hope and Faith in the Face of Death” is currently available for purchase on Amazon, Kindle and Ingram. Meet Rabbi Karol at a book talk and signing on June 24 at Temple Isaiah, 1404 Stony Brook Road, Stony Brook from 5 to 7 p.m.; or at a book signing on June 28 at Barnes & Noble at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove from 7 to 9 p.m.

From left, volunteers Alexandra, Ilene, Emily and Brian Horan; Sela Megibow; Cantor Marcey Wagner; Paula Balaban; and Adam Morotto. Photo from Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook established a new tradition this year, gathering a multi-generational group of congregants to cook up soup and vegetarian chili for people in need of support.

Cantor Marcey Wagner envisioned the community service event to honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and enlisted Social Action Committee Chairperson Iris Schiff to help with the details.

From left, Julia Megibow, Hannah Kitt (seated), Lana Megibow, Abby Fenton, Hazel and Dasi Cash Photo from Donna Newman

The morning of Jan. 15 began with a reading of the story “As Good as Anybody” — written by Richard Michelson and illustrated by Raul Colon — about the friendship that formed between civil rights leader King and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. The two men faced similar challenges growing up and shared a belief in the value of every human being. Heschel joined the civil rights movement and marched at King’s side in Selma in 1965.

Congregants brought fresh and canned vegetables to the synagogue and all the ingredients needed to make comfort foods. Everyone participated in the effort. After the chopping and mincing and blending, while the Instant Pots cooked, the children created greeting cards and small challahs to be delivered with the containers of food. The challah prep was under the tutelage of consummate baker Linda Jonas and the greeting cards were facilitated by artist Deborah Fisher.

The freezer is now stocked with portions of soup and chili to be delivered to the homebound, mourners and people who are ailing. They will also be available to families visiting the temple’s food pantry.

Temple Isaiah is located at 1404 Stony Brook Road, Stony Brook. For more information, please call 631-751-8518.

A WARM WELCOME Cantor Marcey Wagner in her office at Temple Isaiah Photo by Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

Spirituality has new resonance at Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook.

It comes in the voice of Marcey Wagner, who joined the Reform Jewish congregation last July, filling the dual roles of cantor and education director. The congregation will officially welcome her with an installation ceremony on Sunday, Oct. 29.

“I embrace the idea of new beginnings,” Cantor Wagner said during an interview in her temple office, “and I look forward to joyful things.”

Cantor Marcey Wagner in her office at Temple Isaiah Photo by Donna Newman

Wagner said she is pleased that many of her friends and colleagues gathered over her career will be present to celebrate and that the installing officer will be Dr. Cindy Dolgin, former head of the Solomon Schechter School on Long Island.

The addition of Cantor Marcey, as she likes to be known, is truly a joy according to her co-workers. Interim Rabbi David Katz views her as a valuable asset — both in the sanctuary and in the classroom.

“Cantor Wagner brings her vibrant nature to the bimah [clergy platform] and years of experience to the position of educational director,” he said. “She is a great addition to our staff, bringing beauty to our worship and creativity to our school.”

Temple Administrator Penny Gentile also sings Wagner’s praises. “It is a pleasure to work with Cantor Marcey,” said Gentile. “She is such a vivacious person — so full of energy that it’s absolutely contagious. I’ve heard so many positive comments from the Hebrew School students and their parents. She is truly a team player with a gift for identifying and nurturing strengths in everyone. And what a beautiful voice!”

Although ordained as a cantor, Wagner said she has not been “on the bimah” (i.e., she has not held a cantorial position) for eight years. Instead she has been focused on teaching, but she said that returning is like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes.

“I didn’t realize how much I missed it,” she said. “The audition felt like coming home.” Wagner said she loves seeing the children and hearing their voices and their laughter. For her it makes a synagogue come alive, which is why she has pursued education along with cantorial duties.

“Cantors spend more hours teaching than singing,” she said.

Wagner has been involved in all facets of Jewish education — teaching students from preschool through senior citizens. Before coming to Temple Isaiah she served as director of Youth and Family Education at Temple Israel Center in White Plains, New York. Her career included four years as principal of the Lower School of the Schechter School of Long Island and a decade as cantor and educator at the Jewish Congregation of Brookville in Nassau County.

Wagner received her investiture as hazzan (cantor) from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, at which she also earned a master’s degree in sacred music with a concentration in education. She was selected to attend The Principals’ Center leadership seminar at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The board of directors at Temple Isaiah unanimously approved Wagner’s hiring and has been extremely pleased with her performance to date.

“Cantor Marcey is a breath of fresh air,” said President Jay Schoenfeld, “both on the bimah and in the religious school. Her energy is boundless and her warmth is evident in all the connections she’s already established with congregants, lay leaders and community members. A collaboration with Rabbi Katz to offer children’s services for the High Holy Days — open to the public and free of charge — demonstrates her devotion to Judaism. We are delighted to have her at Temple Isaiah.”

Cantor Marcey is delighted, too, and said she already knows she’s found a new home.

“It’s wonderful meeting people and seeing how warm and welcoming [the Temple Isaiah] community is,” she said. “I’m planning on staying a long time. I’ve been impressed with everyone’s organization and efficiency; I have a very positive feeling about this place. Everything has lived up to my expectations. It’s exciting when there’s a path to go on and you have congenial, capable partners with whom to make the journey.”

Wagner is committed to shaking things up, she said, to prove that Hebrew school can be fun. To elucidate she described last month’s opening session of the school program. Using a film clip from the movie “Babe’” in which the title character, a piglet, arrives at the farm, she led a discussion about new beginnings, which are exciting and scary — and complicated. The unconventional, unkosher protagonist, she said, was intended to make people think — and laugh. The session included students alongside their parents, and Wagner said she made sure everyone present took away at least one new bit of knowledge, to encourage discourse.

“One of the strongest ways to promote Judaism,” she said, “is to provide a venue for parents and children to discuss the important questions; to have the important conversations.”

The reverse of the 2017 Election Day ballot will feature a proposition regarding a Constitutional Convention. Image from Suffolk County Board of Elections

By Donna Newman

As amended in 1846, the New York State Constitution includes a mandatory requirement that every 20 years state voters be offered the opportunity via a ballot proposal to convene a constitutional convention — called “Con Con” by those familiar with state politics — to review and revise the existing document. If a majority votes “yes,” delegates are elected to serve at a convention held in Albany.

A recent meeting of the Three Village Civic Association was devoted to informing the public about the proposal to be presented to New York State voters on Election Day with the debate titled “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?”

Two guest speakers were invited to present opposing views of Proposal 1, the first of three proposals that will appear on the reverse side of the ballot listing the candidates for office Nov. 7. The civic association’s Vice President George Hoffman moderated the debate at the Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket.

The ballot question was last posed in 1997, when a majority of those voting said “no.” The last Con Con was held in 1967 and the voters later rejected all of the proposed changes. If a majority votes “yes” this time around, three delegates from each state senatorial district and 15 at-large statewide delegates will be elected in November 2018, according to the State Board of Elections website, www.elections.ny.gov.

“The delegates will convene at the Capitol in April 2019,” according to the website. “Amendments adopted by a majority of the delegates will be submitted to the voters for approval or rejection in a statewide referendum to be held at least six weeks after the Convention adjourns. The delegates will determine whether to submit proposed amendments as separate questions. Any amendments that the voters approve will go into effect on the January 1 following their approval.”

Anyone may run to be a delegate.

Anthony Figliola, vice president of Empire Government Strategies of Uniondale, a governmental consulting firm representing a variety of clients seeking liaisons in Albany, New York City or local municipalities, recommended a No vote.

Figliola’s primary argument is that a constitutional convention is an extremely expensive and risky way to affect change, especially when the document itself provides an alternative.

Anthony Figliola and Al Benninghoff participate in a debate about the constitutional convention at a recent Three Village Civic Association meeting. Photo from Jonathan Kornreich

“The referendum process has been more successful as compared to Con Con,” he said. “There have been 600 amendments passed by the voters in our history. This year there will be a question on the ballot as to whether pensions should be taken away from any state legislator convicted of a felony. In 2013 there were six constitutional amendments proposed. Five of them were approved. The good government groups are coming from a good place. They are [working] to enact change and they are trying to move the legislature and get the public at large involved in the process.”

He also spoke about the last Con Con, held in 1967, calling it “an utter failure.”

“Of the delegates elected 80 percent were politically connected,” he said. “And 45 percent were either sitting [or retired] elected officials … collecting — or in the pension system. This allowed them to take two salaries, as there is no prohibition against it in the constitution. In addition to doubling their income, pension credits accrued by doing this raised their pension payouts.”

In the end, all of the proposed amendments to the constitution were submitted for voter approval in one package — which the voters rejected.

Al Benninghoff is a campaign manager for the Committee for a Constitutional Convention and also with New York People’s Convention. A longtime political strategist and reform advocate, he recommended a Yes vote.

Benninghoff’s case can be summed up in two words: It’s time.

The last time a Con Con question was proposed to voters in 1997, the New York City Bar Association called for a “no” vote and suggested: “Let’s give the legislature a chance to reform itself. We gave it 20 years and nothing has happened,” he said.

“Frankly, enough is enough,” Benninghoff said. “The legislature holds all the power. If the legislature doesn’t want to find it within itself to give us the opportunity to vote on an amendment to the constitution, then they can absolutely withhold it. And they have done that a lot.”

He went on to list things he believes should have already been addressed.

“There have been no ethics reforms; independent redistricting in name only, not in actuality; no term limits; and no campaign finance reform,” he said. “There’s still a tremendous loophole with LLCs [limited liability companies]. If a person running for state legislative office wants to take campaign donations from an infinite number of LLCs created by one person, or one company, they can do so. That’s a campaign finance loophole big enough to drive a truck through. What it does is empower the political status quo. It takes all the power away from the people — and that is exactly what a New York State Constitutional Convention changes.”

In New York State history there have been nine constitutional conventions. The longest gap between conventions has been since the last one in 1967. It’s been 50 years. The last one did not produce any changes, arguably because all the proposals were lumped together in a single vote.

As moderator of this informational session and the Q&A period that followed it, Hoffman remained clearly impartial. But in supplying additional data after the event he said he formed an opinion.

“I take the question to hold a constitutional convention very seriously and I am leaning to supporting it,” Hoffman said. “I see it as a solemn responsibility to periodically review our state constitution. I think it’s clear to most that many things need to change in Albany and a constitutional convention might be the only way to bring that change. I would seriously consider running for delegate if the constitutional convention is approved.”

For more information on the New York State Constitutional Convention, visit www.rockinst.org/nys_concon2017.

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