Puffin Preserving culture, one artist at a time
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Puffin Preserving culture, one artist at a time

Tackling Jewish issues through art

While the Puffin Cultural Forum – under the direction of Marc Lambert – prides itself on creating programming for every segment of the local community, Jewish-themed subjects form a substantial part of its offerings.

From annual exhibits highlighting efforts to bring about peace between Jews and Arabs to shows and concerts by and in memory of Holocaust survivors, the Jewish experience is well represented.

Jewish concerns appear in a variety of contexts. For example, reflecting the Rosensteins’ particular interest in progressive causes in New York City, the center last year featured a show based on the story of Dr. Adele Sicular, a Russian immigrant branded by the FBI as a suspected subversive for her membership in the Citizens’ Committee for the Upper West Side and progressive stances on racial integration and socialized health care.

The multimedia presentation, “J. Edgar Klezmer: Songs from My Grandmother’s FBI Files,” was written by Sicular’s granddaughter, Eve. Drummer/bandleader for the musical groups Metropolitan Klezmer and Isle of Klezbos, Eve Sicular is a former curator of the film and photography archives at the YIVO Institute.

The Puffin’s passion for international music also has Jewish ramifications, since, as Miller-Rosenstein pointed out, Jews can be found among the musicians of many countries – Russia, for example, and, of course, Israel. In September, the center featured Israeli musicians exploring the musical tradition of Eastern European Jews. Among other genres, they highlighted Yiddish folk songs and music from the ghetto.

Puffin Holocaust programming has been both plentiful and varied, focusing not only on the past and present experience of survivors but on the struggle of their children and grandchildren to come to terms with their family history.

Spurred in part by Rosenstein’s personal friendship with fellow Teaneck resident Carl Hausman, this past year the Puffin launched a major program on the subject of hidden children.

Interviewed by The Jewish Standard, Hausman, author of “Rescued: The Story of A Child Survivor of the Holocaust in France,” noted that long before the printed version of his book became a reality, he approached Rosenstein for help.

“I said, ‘Do you think there is something here that you can help me put together?'” Hausman recalled. Subsequently, Rosenstein put Hausman in touch with writer/translator Ross Benjamin, and the two worked together to produce the book.

In addition to sponsoring a panel discussion featuring Hausman and other local survivors, the Puffin Foundation presented the world premiere of “Hidden Children: Memoirs of Child Survivors of the Holocaust,” based on the personal stories of these individuals.

Miller-Rosenstein said the foundation is also committed to keeping alive the memory of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

“This is a time and situation that shouldn’t be forgotten,” she said, discussing a 2007 exhibit called “The Righteous: Resistance during the Holocaust.” “We want to keep that flame of resistance alive.”

She pointed out that the Puffin Cultural Forum began to look more closely at this subject about a decade ago, working with the group One By One, which hosts a dialogue between children of survivors and children of perpetrators.

Puffin has also used grants to help further Holocaust education. For example, the center gave money to Ars Choralis, which last year performed “Music in Desperate Times: Remembering the Women’s Orchestra of Birkenau.”

In an interesting twist, Jewish religious life has benefitted – indirectly – from the Puffin’s commitment to restore the Teaneck Creek area.

Several years ago, Dr. Beth Ravit – a member of Cong. Adas Emuno in Leonia and executive director of the Rutgers University Environmental Research Clinic – devised a plan to benefit local Jewish institutions while simultaneously enhancing the 46-acre patch of urban wetlands.

Combining her expertise in wetlands restoration with her belief that “part of Jewish tradition is stewardship of the earth, and we have a responsibility to make the earth a better place,” Ravit, who is also a member of the Teaneck Creek Conservancy’s ecological art committee, invited regional Jewish institutions to harvest invasive reeds on Conservancy property, with the purpose of using the reeds to decorate their sukkahs.

The response was “amazing,” she said, and groups have continued to come each year.

According to the Rosensteins, some synagogues send volunteers to the nature sanctuary on a regular basis, and high school students have also come to help out. Volunteers have also come as part of Mitzvah Day, coordinated by the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.

Fostering peaceful relations through the medium of art is a Puffin priority.

Each year, photographer Rachel Banai – whose work has appeared in this newspaper and who has taught a weekend photography class at Puffin for about seven years – helps curate a cross-cultural photo exhibit displaying the work of Arab and Israeli students participating in the “Through the Others’ Eyes” project.

As part of this venture, students are assigned to visit and photograph each other’s homes and communities.

“It’s getting to peace through kids, not guns,” said Banai, pointing out that some of the participants have formed lasting friendships.

The students take part in a summer program at Camp Shomria, in upstate New York, supported in part by the Puffin Foundation. Banai has been the camp’s art director for more than 10 years.

For more information about the Puffin Foundation, visit www.puffinfoundation.org.

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