Religion

By Melissa Arnold

For the past 40 years, Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson has provided a safe haven of support and recovery for thousands of Long Islanders struggling with poverty, addiction, homelessness, family conflicts and more.

To founder Father Frank Pizzarelli, every passing year at Hope House is a miracle. He said that the non-profit receives no government or church support and runs entirely on the backs of volunteers, donors and some paid staff.

Among those volunteers is Barbara Morin, who’s been a part of the Hope House family since she moved to the area in 2003. 

In November, Morin became the shopkeeper at Hope Springs Eternal Second Chance Boutique, a new venture that sells high-quality new and gently-used goods including fine crystal and china, glassware, furniture, handbags and name-brand clothing. All proceeds from sales at the shop will benefit Hope House Ministries.

“I knew that I wanted to get involved in the community and help give back to people in need, and so I started volunteering almost as soon as I got here,” Morin recalled. 

She began to collect merchandise to sell seven years ago, and the response has always been positive in the community, which was eager to both donate and purchase.

“We started with yard sales and would make $1500 in an afternoon, and so that germinated an idea: What if we set up a place where we could sell goods all year long?” Pizzarelli said.

Using seed money raised from those yard sales, they were able to find a building with affordable rent in Port Jefferson Station. It was in terrible condition, Morin said, but with a lot of help from individuals going through rehab with Hope House, they were able to renovate and ready the space for business.

“No one is safe from the opioid epidemic. It’s not about their past and what they’ve been through — everyone has a story. We focus on how far they’ve come and where they’re going,” Morin said.

 “We have all kinds of people walk through the doors [seeking treatment]. Tradesmen, electricians, artists, scholars — all of them have come together to help us make the shop a reality, from scrubbing and cleaning to carpeting and carpentry. They restored two bathrooms and a kitchen. We’ve gotten so attached to them all, and wouldn’t be where we are now without them.”

Running with five key volunteers and a few men in recovery, Hope Springs Eternal opened its doors on Nov. 15. The business did well, and by early March, Pizzarelli said they’d made $25,000 in sales.

But then begins a story that will sound familiar. As COVID-19 cases spread, Hope Springs began working on a limited schedule before shutting down completely on March 18.

Since then, Pizzarelli said Hope House has lost $1 million in revenue they would normally see from sales, donations and other events. While it’s a stressful time, he said that he’s much more concerned for the many people that depend on the ministry.

“In this community, we have people who are really struggling, both unemployed and working poor who are barely getting by,” Pizzarelli said. “We’ve been inundated with requests for counseling. Every night I go to bed with a heavy heart because I have people that call me who are ready to make a commitment to long-term recovery, but I have to put them on a waiting list. We have some people who have the access to technology for telecounseling, but not everyone does.”

Happily, things are slowly returning to normal. Employees and volunteers are coming back to Hope House as they feel  comfortable, and Hope Springs Eternal reopened for business the week of June 8.

“Everything happened gradually when we first opened back in the fall, and so we never really had a grand opening celebration. But it really feels like one now,” explained Morin. “We did $1,000 in sales in the first two days alone, and we made some new friends in the process.”

Pizzarelli said that he remains committed to serving the poorest of the poor in as many ways as he can, and is grateful for the continuing support of the surrounding communities.

“People have really stepped up with donations and financial support, even without solicitation, because they know how hard it is for everyone,” he said. “It means a great deal to me, and to all of us who are serving here.”

See more photos online at www.tbrnewsmedia.com.

The Our Lady of Wisdom Regional School is closing at the end of this school year, according to the Diocese of Rockville Center. Photo by Kyle Barr

Our Lady of Wisdom Regional School in Port Jefferson will have closed by the end of the school year and will not reopen for fall2020. The coronavirus pandemic has hurt the institution, and Catholic officials said COVID-19 has exacerbated issues of progressively lagging enrollment.

The Our Lady of Wisdom Regional School is closing at the end of this school year, according to the Diocese of Rockville Center. Photo by Kyle Barr

According to a release by the Diocese of Rockville Centre, the school, located on the grounds of the Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jeff, along with two other Catholic schools on Long Island, have suffered from increased competition from public and other secular schools. This has led to more and more financial support needed from local parishes.

“Following much analysis and discussion with stakeholders at both the diocesan and parish levels, the pastors of the parishes that support each school have made the difficult decision to close,” the diocese states in the release.

Parents will need to work with the diocese’s Department of Education and other school officials to enroll their kids in different Catholic schools on Long Island.

“COVID-19 has had a significant financial impact on all of the parishes and schools within the diocese, resulting in the difficult decision to close these three Catholic elementary schools in order to eliminate the unsustainable financial stress on their parishes,” said Sean Dolan, a diocese spokesperson.

The diocese said in the release the school has declined in enrollment by 37 percent to just 66 students in kindergarten through eighthgrade. It is 31 percent, or 79 students, if you consider students from nursery through eighth-grade.

The school was financially supported by four local parishes, including Infant Jesus, St. Gerard Majella in Port Jefferson Station, St. James R.C. Church in Setauket and the St. Louis de Montfort in Sound Beach. The diocese said the four supporting parishes provide around $475,000 in operating support to the school, which accounts for more than 45 percent of the school’s total revenues. 

Our Lady of Wisdom Principal John Piropato and other school leaders did not return requests for comment.

The school was established by the Daughters of Wisdom, an order that has deep ties to Long Island, in 1938, then called the Infant Jesus Parish School. It was renamed to Our Lady of Wisdom in 1991. The sisterhood was largely uninvolved with it once it became a regional school, according to Sr. Cathy Sheehan of the Daughters of Wisdom.

Remembering Infant Jesus School

For the many students who went there over the past 80 years, many remember it as a strict place of learning, whether that fostered a sense of discipline or a harsh atmosphere. Once it transformed into a regional school, many said the place fostered a unique sense of community one couldn’t get from the other expanding school districts on Long Island.

Displants from the Port Jefferson/PJS area, folks who live as far away as New Mexico, chimed in remembering their old school.

Eileen Powers-Benedict said going to the Infant Jesus School engendered a strong sense of order that helped them get ahead in their school careers. The oldest of nine children, five brothers and three sisters, she would enter the school in 1961 while the last of the Powers children would graduate in 1985. Her father, William Powers, a deacon, was a frequent clergy visitor. Her mother, Tatty Powers, was a volunteer who did readings to those in prekindergarten through first grade. Powers-Benedict’s three children also went through the school.

She said while she understands why the school had to close, she is disappointed other parents will never have the choice to send their children there.

“The education for my siblings and me was all business, some of us came out a year ahead in foreign language and mathematics, although individualized instruction was not in style,” she said. “There was a tremendous air of compassion that supported students and their families in times of trouble and strife.” 

Michael Langan, who now lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut, was one of six children of World War II veterans Robert and Elizabeth Langan. He would graduate from the Infant Jesus School in 1968. 

He remembers even before the convent went up next to Infant Jesus church in the late ‘60s, when the nuns lived at a convent at St. Charles Hospital. The nuns would walk to the school or have a station wagon take them in bad weather.

Many of the nuns who taught at the school when he was there, Langan said, originated from Ontario, Canada. Many had marked French accents. Back then, he said behavioral discipline was very much the norm, including some amount of corporal punishment. 

“But in fact that was true of public and parochial schools back in the ’50s and ’60s,” he said,

Back then, he remembers, class sizes were much larger than today, with around 50 students.

One particular nun, Sr. Mary, he said, had “a beautiful soul — emblematic of the dedication of the Daughters of Wisdom who served the people of the Port Jefferson area for so many years.” She passed away this year on April 8.  

Not everyone accepted the nun’s punishment lightly. Deborah Keating, who now lives in Florida, said she graduated eighth-grade from the school in ’69, describing it as “a nightmare,” saying that some nuns could be abusive.

“Sr. Ann Michael, if you saw her coming, you knew you had better pray for your life,” Keating said. 

Though at the same time, her brother, who she said had Down syndrome, attended the Maryhaven facility in Port Jeff, which is also run by the Catholic church. There, she said the staff was very kind to him, and he went on to work as a janitor in the Maryhaven facility, He has since retired after working there 25 years, and lives with Keating at her home in Florida.

Things did change, especially as the years went by and the school changed names and leadership. MaryKate Henry, who lives in Babylon village, grew up in a middle-class household in Coram that she said worked hard to provide the Our Lady of Wisdom tuition for her and her siblings. She went there as it transformed into a regional school, and graduated eighth-grade in 2000 with a class of just 19. Her largest class size was in fourth=grade with 36 kids taught by one teacher. To this day, she still has friends that went there in her elementary years.

“That’s what I loved about OLOW — as we called it — everybody knew everybody, who your parents were and what they did and everyone was there for each other,” she said.

Faith was very much a part of the Catholic school, and she said that sense of religiousness has carried over into today. Her kids now attend the Babylon school district, and with a relatively small class size, she said it’s one of the things she hopes to have for her kids, a place that fosters community.

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Rev. Patrick Riegger, pastor at Infant Jesus, says hello to churchgoers Sunday, May 24. Photo by Kyle Barr

Though those of many different faiths and houses of worship readily await the time when congregations can meet again after the pandemic finally slows down, one Port Jefferson church has found a way to give its hundreds of parishioners the sort of connectivity they’ve lacked since the start of the crisis.

Rev. Rolando Ticllasuca gives drivers the blessed sacrement. Photo by Kyle Barr

Volunteers and staff from the Infant Jesus R.C. Church in Port Jefferson directed traffic along Main Street in front of the driveway to the parish. It’s a Sunday morning, May 24, and hundreds of vehicles pull up the ramp into the church’s parking lot. Some Sundays, the line stretches all the way up the road to the PJ Lobster House at the corner of Main Street and North Country Road. It’s a mix of old and young, big SUVs and compacts, but nearly all smile as they say “hello” to their pastors and receive a drive-through version of the Blessed Sacrament from the Rev. Rolando Ticllasuca. 

The scene has largely remained the same every Sunday for the six weeks since Easter. It offers that small bit of community connection for the parishioners living in the area, so many of whom have been cooped up at home, working through the anxieties of the ongoing pandemic.

The Rev. Patrick Riegger, pastor at Infant Jesus, knows nearly every person in each vehicle on sight, even through their face coverings and masks. He said church members, of whom the total families number close to 5,000, find that the event helps them reconnect with their community.

“It shows support for them during these unprecedented times,” Riegger said. “For the last six weeks, this is where the community has been, here at Infant Jesus.”

New Infant Jesus seminarian Jonathan Pham helps direct traffic into Infant Jesus R.C. Church’s drive-through Sunday service. Photo by Kyle Barr

He said the weekly event started when church members Peter and Karen Helfrich suggested they host some kind of event for Easter to allow members to participate in some way on the holiday. Performing the event the following Sunday, parish staff were surprised by just how many continued to come out. Week after week, 300, 400 or even 500 vehicles show up from all over the local area in the three-hour period the service is hosted. It may not be the same people every single week, but many have returned once or twice over the span of the service. With the fact that cars often contain families, members estimated they likely receive over 1,000 people a week.

Michael Dyroff, a commissioner with the Terryville Fire Department and lifelong church member, came to the drive-through service with his wife Debbie and said they are “blessed” to have the religious staff willing to perform the service.

“It’s a way of connecting with folks,” Dyroff said. “It’s a wonderful idea.”

The church relies on staff and volunteers, including from the local Knights of Columbus, to help direct traffic up from Main Street and around through the parking lot. Members in their cars keep a distance from the clergy and receive the Blessed Sacrament from afar. 

Corrine Addiss, the head of religious education for the church, stood outside helping to direct traffic. She said the number of cars coming through really starts to pick up after 9:30 a.m. She thanked the volunteers who “could be in bed, sleeping,” but are instead helping their parish. 

Cars line up the driveway for the Infant Jesus Chruch’s drive through church services. Photo by Kyle Barr

Of course, it will not make up for a real service hosted inside a church, but it may be several more weeks or even months before that can begin. Perhaps most important for Riegger is the act of communion, which hasn’t been hosted since the church was closed to anything but private prayer back in March. 

Even when churches open, it may be very different than what churchgoers are used to. The Archdiocese of New York released a five-phase reopening plan May 21 that included first opening for private prayer and confessions, before moving on to attendee-limited baptisms and marriages, distributing Holy Communion outside of Mass, then hosting limited daily or funeral services before finally allowing Sunday services at a maximum of 25 percent the usual occupancy. 

Riegger said they would be following New York State’s and the Archdiocese of New York’s guidelines. 

Still, Infant Jesus plans to keep the drive-through church service alive as long as the pandemic and shutdown order mandates people keep apart. That might include pews marked with tape to keep people from sitting too close, or communion being done wearing gloves and a mask.

“When you have a crisis like this, where everything’s closed down, how do you give them that sense of community, that sense of assurance that God is with them?” said Dominik Wegiel, a seminarian at Infant Jesus. “This is our sort of our way of connecting them to the parish, connecting them to the community, but more importantly connecting them in that God is with us even in these times.”

Palms left by the door of All Souls Episcopal Church in Stony Brook. Photo from All Souls Episcopal

Since the middle of March, houses of worship have had to find other ways to stay connected with their congregations during the COVID-19 pandemic. We asked local clergy members how alternative methods have been working and what is on the minds of their congregants.

Setauket United Methodist Church

The Rev. Steven Kim, of Setauket United Methodist Church, is just one pastor who is using modern technology. He said COVID-19 can make connectivity or interaction difficult.

“A church is not an exception,” he said. “Since the pandemic broke out, our ministry has been focused on helping the parishioners feel connected with their church family. Technology is a key player in pursuing this goal. It has enabled us to continue worshiping, keep meetings, continue our bible study and have prayer gatherings all online.”

Kim said the church is also trying to serve the community through prayer and other supportive ways. Church members have sent encouragement cards to medical crews, first responders and police officers in the community and delivered pizza to the medical crew at the intensive care unit at Stony Brook University Hospital. 

“The current crisis challenges us to deepen our understanding of a faith community which is rooted in our society,” Kim said.

Setauket Presbyterian Church

The Rev. Kate Jones Calone, interim pastor at Setauket Church, said the congregation at Setauket Presbyterian Church reflected on the theme of “wilderness” during the season of Lent.

“After the impact of the coronavirus became more real for us locally, our wrestling as a faith community with what it means to be in the “wilderness” obviously took on new meaning,” Jones Calone said. “We’ve been contemplating questions like: how do the various stories involving wilderness in scripture guide and challenge and sustain us during this time? Where are God and grace present in the wilderness? What does our church/community/world look like on the other side of a wilderness experience?”

Jones Calone said the experience reminds them that “the church is not a building but a community of people who share deep connection through their faith in a God of love.” Church members love one another and their neighbors by staying home, worshipping and meeting virtually, and comforting those who are sick, hurting, grieving and serving. The congregation also created an Emergency Assistance Fund to help those in need.

“This crisis has further exposed deep societal inequities around economic disparity, poverty, race and health care, and makes systemic transformation even more urgent,” she said.

All Souls Episcopal Church, Stony Brook

Daniel Kerr, a senior warden with All Souls Episcopal Church in Stony Brook, has been leading Sunday morning virtual prayers at 8 and 9:30 a.m. on the church’s website. He said All Souls also held virtual Good Friday, Easter Vigils and Easter morning services. The live, interactive, virtual services have featured the few who can participate taking turns reading from the scripture and leading the prayers.

“Believe it or not, we have had more folks attending the virtual services than we normally get on Sundays in ‘normal times,’” Kerr said.

He added that many who usually attend the church’s concerts, poetry readings and Shamanic Drumming events have also been tuning in to the virtual services, as well as people from New Hampshire, Florida and the Carolinas.

On Palm Sunday, he said the palms normally distributed at the Mass were left on the church’s porch with a sign encouraging people to take them. Kerr said all of the palms were taken by the following Tuesday morning.

Kerr added that at the end of the services, participants are asked to share their reflections on how they are doing during this time.

“Quite often they say these services have helped them feel connected to the extended All Souls community and less isolated and alone in their homes during social distancing,” Kerr said.

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook

Linda Anderson, a minister affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook, who also works with the South Nassau Unitarian Universalist congregation, said during this time she has needed to find new ways to serve congregants. In addition to calling, texting and sending emails to members, worship services as well as other meetings have been made available online.

Anderson said many have lost people in their lives, or fear they will, and have thought about their own deaths. 

“I hear the sadness that death brings,” she said. “The stress of grief affects our bodies in that we might feel more tired, have chest pains, upset stomachs, headaches. The stress of grief can make it hard for us to focus or make decisions. Our emotions can be all over the place, ranging from numbness to anger, from sorrow to relief.”

For those who fear their own deaths, she said it’s important to talk about their lives such as what they are proud of, what regrets they may have, what they think their legacy is and more. 

“It is a relief for folks to talk about these things out loud because they sure are thinking about them,” she said.

She said while the past holiday season had its challenges, the biblical story she found to be most relevant to congregants was that of the Israelites wandering in the desert.

“It feels like we too wander in the desert of COVID-19, uncertain of what will come next but holding onto a faith that we will indeed emerge from this,” Anderson said.

Trinity Lutheran Church, Rocky Point

The Rev. Peter Boehringer of Trinity Lutheran Church said the house of worship has used various online platforms for Sunday school, confirmation classes, First Communion, committee meetings and more. The church’s worship services are recorded and broadcasted on Facebook and YouTube.

He said the congregants see “the virus as something that falls within the realm of our interaction with nature.”

“Where we see God working is in the incredible compassion, empathy and commitment of people who have responded to the great challenges of this contagion with love,” he said. “If one takes the Easter message seriously, the idea that God is somehow punishing us, or the world, is negated. Our Lord does not promise that we will never be ill, or escape all disaster, etc., what is promised is the presence of the Holy Spirit in these things, that we may endure them and be a blessing to those around us.”

Village Chabad, East Setauket

Rabbit Motti Grossbaum said celebrating Passover this week was different than in the past.

“The question we ask at our Seder tables, ‘Why is this night different than all other nights?’ is ringing especially true at the present time,” he said. “We are doing our best to help the local community observe the holiday to the best degree possible as there is no reason we should Passover, Passover. Unfortunately as a Jewish people, we have been through challenges in our history, and the dedication that our ancestors had to our traditions and our heritage serves an inspiration to us during these challenging times to observe our faith despite the challenges. And when we do, we see that our connection to God and our faith gives us the hope we need to carry us through.”

Like other houses of worship, Village Chabad is using technology for services, education and counseling to members of all ages. Due to the pandemic, the rabbis have had to use technology to visit the sick and help families grieve virtually.

The rabbi had some words of hope. 

“While we cannot attempt to explain the reasoning for suffering and for COVID-19, we could attempt to find glimmers of hope and lessons of inspiration from our current world,” he said. “One obvious one is this. The world at large is currently united with one single focus. Crossing geographic divides, languages, cultures, races and even political differences, the world is currently united with one singular concern, goal and prayer. We are seeing how we are all responsible for each other and only together, will we bring an end to this. This is reminding us to set aside our differences and find the common humanity in every single human being on our planet. Every one of us are intrinsically good and together we will also reveal the intrinsic goodness of our world.”

Sarah Strent with her CTeen Female Leader of the Year award. Photo from The Chai Center

Sarah Strent, 17, a senior at Commack High School and a resident of Commack, was recently named CTeen Female Leader of the Year at the CTeen International Shabbaton, an annual event where thousands of Jewish teens gather in New York City. She was chosen by her peers from among 3,000 leaders worldwide.

CTeen, comprised of teens from 37 countries with 625 chapters around the world, is the fastest growing Jewish teen network. Its mission is to inspire and facilitate teens who want to give back to their community and environment, with an emphasis on positive character development. 

Strent is a leader with the West Suffolk Chapter of CTeen, which is based at The Chai Center in Dix Hills. “We are so immensely proud of Sarah,” Rabbi Dovid Weinbaum, Youth Director at The Chai Center said. “Sarah has helped us on a local level create programs like cooking for needy families, packing gifts for children in hospitals and creating a bowl-a-thon for special needs kids and children with cancer. She became a regional leader helping to create programs for over 50 chapters in the New York and New Jersey area. In the last 18 months, Strent was named an international leader serving on the board of CTeen.”

The CTeen Network provides a nurturing environment fusing fun, friendship, humanitarian outreach, mitzvah observance, and engaging Torah study. The CTeen Network believes in the power of youth and transforming the teen years into a time of purpose and self-discovery. The goal is to turn youth into leaders.

Setauket Presbyterian is among the houses of worship offering services online. File photo

While local religious leaders hold on to their faiths, they are still practicing an abundance of caution during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a March 16 email, the Diocese of Rockville Centre directed all parishes to suspend or postpone all Masses, meetings and nonessential activities until April 14. The suspension tentatively will end after Easter Sunday, which is April 12. The postponements also include confirmations and first communions, while funerals, weddings and baptisms will be permitted if necessary and must be limited to less than 50 people.

“We are encouraging everyone to pray from home and to use this opportunity to develop our personal connection with G-d.”

— Rabbi Motti Grossbaum

Worshippers will be able to pray at local Catholic churches at the discretion of the pastor. However, the number of people must be under 50, in accordance with the New York State mandate.

The diocese said in the email that the Catholic Faith Network will provide televised and online Masses, and alerted Catholics that local parishes may also offer live streaming.

Other faiths are following suit.

Village Chabad Center for Jewish Life & Learning in East Setauket last week canceled several events and programs, according to Rabbi Motti Grossbaum. While last week’s service incorporated distancing of worshippers with 6 feet of space in between each of them, the Chabad has now canceled services until further notice, Grossbaum said, “as health and well-being supersede everything else in Judaism.”

Grossbaum said Chabad’s preschool and Hebrew School have also been closed in line with the state’s two-week mandatory shutdown, and the center is offering online classes and videos for children and adults during the temporary closure.

“We are encouraging everyone to pray from home and to use this opportunity to develop our personal connection with G-d,” Grossbaum said in an email.

“We felt like the best thing was not to have people gather, especially since technology allows us to do something where we can still reach people.”

— The Rev. Kate Jones Calone

The Rev. Kate Jones Calone, interim pastor of Setauket Presbyterian Church, said services have been moved online. On March 15 she said it was just her, a liturgist and a couple of musicians live streaming from the sanctuary using Facebook Live.

She said the board, which consists of congregants, took into account recommendations from the town and health organizations.

“We felt like the best thing was not to have people gather, especially since technology allows us to do something where we can still reach people,” the reverend said.

Setauket Presbyterian is also using Zoom, a video conferencing platform, for church meetings and confirmation classes.

“This is something that I think we are all dealing in a very unprecedented way,” she said.

Jones Calone added the staff is reaching out to parishioners to see if there is any help that they may need as far as running errands and are hoping to identify other ways they can help the community at large.

“From a theological standpoint, we know that connections are there whether we’re together or physically apart,” she said.

The reverend likened following the current health guidelines as similar to loving our neighbors, and she said she hopes everyone will reach out to their loved ones and neighbors as best as they can.

“Not only are we taking care of ourselves but also social distancing and things like that help us make sure we’re loving our neighbor,” she said.

“I will miss worshiping with you all on the Sundays ahead, but hopefully with these measures we will all remain safe and able to continue worshiping together well into the future.”

— Pastor Chuck Van Houten

Stony Brook Community Church Pastor Chuck Van Houten emailed members March 14 saying all churches in the New York Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church were requested to close for at least two weeks.

Van Houten said in the email that SBCC would make worship services available on its website. The services would most likely be recorded the night before and only a few people would be on hand. The church also plans to set up a Zoom account to continue meetings over video conferencing.

“I will miss worshiping with you all on the Sundays ahead, but hopefully with these measures we will all remain safe and able to continue worshiping together well into the future,” Van Houten said.

Rabbi Aaron Benson of North Shore Jewish Center said in an email the synagogue will be operating remotely like other institutions in the area.

“Perhaps one of the more interesting developments has to do with prayer life,” Benson said. “As communal prayers require being in person, Jews nevertheless can continue to pray individually.  The opportunity then, to develop one’s personal spiritual practices and closeness to the Divine may be one of the only positive outcomes of our current state of affairs.”

When it comes to the current situation, Benson said it’s important to remember to have a thoughtful, grateful and kind attitude toward others.

“‘Receive every person with a smiling face.’ This piece of ancient rabbinic wisdom might seem out of place in a time of social distancing and quarantines, but I can’t imagine a more germane piece of advice,” Benson said. “If you’ve been in the stores lately, it can be a bit of a madhouse. If you’re stuck at home for days on end even with your family, if you’re dealing with poor internet connections for your remote meetings — patience and thoughtfulness can be at a premium. This is why in trying times like these remembering to have a thoughtful, grateful, kind and caring attitude toward others can make even more of a difference than an extra roll of toilet paper.  So whether it’s in person or just in your voice over the phone, be sure to have a smile.”

All houses of worships have asked that congregants check their websites and social media for live streaming of services as well as updates of when they will open again.

Stock photo

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

It is already March, the temperatures are changing, the political rhetoric continues to intensify and the nation is now facing a new health crisis, the coronavirus. 

In the midst of all of this, Christian communities around the world have begun their season of Lent, a time of inner reflection and pro activity to prepare those who believe in Jesus for Easter.

The beginning of the Lenten season is marked by the spiritual tattoo of ashes in the sign of the cross on one’s forehead. At that service, Christians are encouraged to consider three different ways to prepare for Christ’s death and resurrection. 

The first recommendation is to find time in the midst of all of our chaos and craziness to pray, even if just a few moments, be consistent and do it every day during Lent. Not just the multiplication of words, or if you will, that give me God prayer but rather, use it as a time to listen to God speak to your heart.

The second recommendation is almsgiving; traditionally understood from a biblical perspective to give money to the poor. The focus of this recommendation is upon generosity of spirit — that the giving doesn’t have to be about money but it also can be about giving your time and your talent to others.

In simple terms, volunteer in a soup kitchen or a shelter for the homeless. Po’ Boy Brewery in Port Jefferson Station collected blessing bags for the poor and dropped them off at a local homeless shelter. Most of us reading this column could commit to bringing canned goods and other non-perishable foods to a local church or synagogue for the poor and needy on a regular basis -— that is genuine almsgiving. 

The third recommendation is fasting. For many Christians, it’s the yearly opportunity to go on a diet, give up all kinds of foods that we like and by the next day break every resolution we made.

Genuine fasting is supposed to be about changing an attitude or behavior that blocks us from fully loving and forgiving one another unconditionally. I don’t think it should be a practice only embraced by Christians during Lent but rather a practice all caring human beings should consider embracing all year long as we all try to make the world a better place.

This particular recommendation might be appropriate for all of our elected officials to consider. How about for 40 days, everyone who leads us fast from name-calling, from rude and disrespectful comments, from lying and misrepresenting the truth and from being judgmental?

As many of you know, I live with 62 people in the early stages of recovery hoping for wellness. At our Lenten service this year, I suggested in regards to fasting that they consider a couple of things: how about fasting from the F curse, how about fasting from blaming everyone and their brother for your addictive behavior, how about fasting from anger and the poor me pity party? 

It’s only been two weeks … but hope springs eternal!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

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Village Chabad Center for Jewish Life & Learning in East Setauket hosted a historic evening with Holocaust survivor Irving Roth  Feb. 23. The 91-year-old Roth, who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps, shared his story to a sold-out crowd.

“Over 300 people packed our ballroom at Village Chabad to hear Mr. Irving Roth. You could hear a pin drop in the room for over an hour as he shared his fascinating personal story of survival and courage. He left everyone inspired by his unshakable faith in God, his uncompromising hope in humanity, and most importantly, his calling to each of us to do our part to increase goodness and kindness in our world every day,” said Rabbi Motti Grossbaum.

The event also included a performance by violinist Wendy Fogel of the Sound Symphony Orchestra and was followed by a book signing of Roth and his son Edward’s novel, “Bondi’s Brother: A Story of Love, Loss, Betrayal and Liberation.”

Local children and their family members had some fun with plastic building blocks while learning about one of the oldest cities in the world.

Using 70,000 LEGO pieces on a 20-by-20-foot mat, members of Village Chabad in East Setauket created a replica of the Old City of Jerusalem Feb. 3. The LEGO model included many points of interest, such as the gate entrances to the city, the Tower of David, the Temple Mount, the Western Wall and more.

Rabbi Shalom Ber Cohen, from Village Chabad, said the goal of the program was for those involved to leave the event with an admiration for the holy city.

Village Chabad brought in architect Stephen Schwartz of New Jersey-based Building Blocks Workshops to lead the children, parents and grandparents in constructing the model. On the mat were lines to help guide the building efforts. While some sat on the mat constructing walls and towers, others on the sidelines started putting together the buildings, grabbing LEGO pieces from bins.

During the program, Schwartz was constantly engaged with the children and adults, directing them to the proper location if they went astray.

Cohen said Village Chabad had heard about Schwartz’s work from different schools and institutions. The architect has also offered several programs that focus on the historical buildings in Stony Brook for The Ward Melville Heritage Organization.

Schwartz said he has been conducting the LEGO projects for 25 years. It began when his daughter, an elementary school teacher in the Bronx, asked him to show her second-graders how a city is designed.

“When I saw that with LEGO you could teach second-graders about zoning, and they understood it, I saw that this was an amazing teaching tool,” he said.

Schwartz said in the past he has worked with LEGO pieces for different Jewish history programs, including Jerusalem, Masada, the Warsaw Ghetto and the world’s tallest LEGO menorah.

The architect said the projects are usually completed in two hours due to working around a school’s schedule. The Village Chabad program ran from 4:30 to around 6:30. Schwartz said after every program he aims for a 15-minute educational tour.

“I am an architect, so everything is exactly to scale,” Schwartz said. “The program gives people a ‘visual image’ of the shape and location of all the important elements in and around Jerusalem. It is a much more dynamic way to teach than just looking in a book or on a screen.”

Smithtown resident Gail Declue said she had no idea what to expect when she arrived for the build.

“I think it’s great,” she said. “The kids are really involved, and they are going to learn a lot about what Jerusalem looks like without even going.”

Elina Rukhlin, also of Smithtown, said her 10-year-old son was among the children building with LEGO pieces, and the family had traveled to Israel last year.

“My son is actually saying I remember we went to the Tower of David light show,” she said. “So, it’s really cool to be able to look back on our experience and then to see this, because we were actually there.”

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Rabbi Aaron Benson of the North Shore Jewish Center hosts a ceremony condemning recent anti-Semitic violence. Photo by Les Goldschmidt

Numerous acts of anti-Semitism in the past week have left Jewish community leaders concerned for the welfare of its congregates during one of the most joyous celebrations of the Jewish calendar.

Members of the North Shore Jewish Center host a ceremony condemning recent anti-Semitic violence. Photo by Les Goldschmidt

On Saturday, a man broke into a rabbi’s home in the town of Monsey in Rockland County where he assaulted the rabbi and those assembled there. Police said the assailant, 37-year-old Grafton Thomas, allegedly stabbed five people gathered in the rabbi’s home, including the religious leader’s son. According to the Washington Post, one of those attacked remains in critical condition. Thomas has plead not guilty.

The North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station gathered together Sunday, Dec. 29 with members of the faith and local officials from the surrounding area to show strength in the face of the violence, lighting candles on a menorah in light of the attacks. Rabbi Aaron Benson, of the Jewish Center, spoke of the need for unity and forward thinking as they looked to “come to grips” with recent anti-Semitic attacks.

The rabbi said such ceremonies are both necessary and helpful for the Jewish community, finding a way to respond to such unnecessary and unprovoked violence. While he said he has seen consistent acts of anti-Semitism over the past several years, seeing several acts of hate over the course of Hanukkah was something new and distressing.

“It was a way to express hope — that we will prevail over violence and hate,” he said. “People of the Jewish faith has faced such attacks and harassment for centuries, but we have always been able to survive, to stay strong.”

Rabbi Aaron Benson of the North Shore Jewish Center hosts a ceremony condemning recent anti-Semitic violence. Photo by Les Goldschmidt

Other recent events during the days of Hanukkah have made Jewish leaders concerned. On Dec. 23 a man allegedly shouted anti-Semitic slurs while assaulting a woman in Manhattan. On Dec. 26, another Brooklyn woman was harassed by a woman shouting other slurs towards her and her son. The next day, a woman slapped three Orthodox Jewish women in the face in Crown Heights, which is known for its Orthodox Jewish population.

Benson said around 75 people came to the ceremony Sunday night, and while many of them were from his congregation, more came from surrounding communities. Fellow clergy from neighboring churches such as the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook also came to show support.

Rev. Linda Anderson of the Unitarian fellowship said such shows of support from non-Jews are important so that all know that no one faith is standing alone in the face of violence. Earlier this year, after an attack on mosques in New Zealand, she and other members of the local Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association and Building Bridges in Brookhaven gathered at a mosque in Selden, forming a ring around the building to show support. Anderson is the president of the interfaith group.

“The idea that we have to keep doing this is discouraging,” she said, lamenting about the seemingly constant violent attacks on minority faiths around the world. “But we will keep it up, we will stand for fellow faiths in our community.”

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) attended the ceremony and called it a “beautiful display of community unity.”

She said that after numerous incidents of anti-Semitism across the country, local centers have looked to review their own policies in protecting their congregation.

In terms of Suffolk County Police, she called them “proactive” in looking to stop such incidents happening locally.

Members of the North Shore Jewish Center host a ceremony condemning recent anti-Semitic violence. Photo by Les Goldschmidt

SCPD said in a statement they have stepped up patrols at and around synagogues and Jewish community centers.

Benson said he has found that both the SCPD and sheriff’s departments have been very proactive in their efforts to confront anti-Semitism. He said the local precinct often reaches out to his synagogue and offered added protection for the location after the violent attack Sunday.

U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) also condemned the attacks.
“Hanukkah 2019 in New York will be remembered for a sick amount of violent anti-Semitic attacks in and around New York City. From colleges to Congress to Hanukkah parties and synagogues, anti-Semitism is on the rise and on full display in many ugly forms,” he said in a statement. “The violent anti-Semitic attacks in and around NYC are being caused by raw hate, feckless leadership, a culture of acceptance, education and promotion of anti-Semitism, and lowering quality of life. All elected and community leaders need to step up to confront and crush this threat.”