This article appeared in the Jan. 8, 2010 Jewish Advocate.


Filling the void

Stoughton residents maintain active pace in wake of JCC close


By Susie Davidson

Special to the Advocate


When a community center closes, its patrons lose far more than the physical building. They lose social structure as well - a venue for events, interaction and camaraderie, opportunities for learning and sharing, and an enjoyable release from the stresses of the daily grind. Without this cohesion, they feel adrift, abandoned, lost.


Many Stoughton residents and members of the surrounding Jewish community felt all this and more when the Striar JCC announced a year ago that in March, 2009, it would be transitioning to the Old Colony YMCA. Citing demographic changes in the South Area Jewish population, its directors outlined a new service model offering events at offsite venues throughout the South Area. Old Colony was equally enthused, welcoming JCC members with exercise privileges and opening its doors to all.


None of this cut it for the 800 members of the “Save the Striar JCC for Friends & Community” group, which unsuccessfully attempted to convince the JCC’s board to sell the center to local investors or other supporters, in order to maintain the unique Jewish environment of the Striar.


Coming on the heels of the South Area Solomon Schechter Day School’s 2007 move from Stoughton to Norwood, the closure left many in town feeling bereft. But within their ranks were individuals who have carried on, if not at centralized facilities, than in their own formidable, heartfelt efforts.


“Stoughton has three cable television shows with Jewish hosts,” said Shirley Nigri Farber, who moved to Stoughton from Brazil in 2003. A former correspondent for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Kol Israel radio, she publishes the quarterly Shalom Magazine and the Brazilian monthly Bate Papo, which is based on the bilingual TV program she has hosted since 2005 that airs twice weekly in 31 cities and towns.


“I had dreamed of starting a Jewish magazine for over ten years,” said Farber, who worked on magazines in Sao Paulo and New York. Aided by her husband Scott, a Randolph native, she has produced four issues to date of the impressive, color glossy filled with photos, events, profiles and features, myriad advertisements and input from community leaders. Widely distributed for free, and viewable online, it reaches out to the unaffiliated, and the geographically disparate: “We want to bring people from Sharon to a store in Brookline, or from Framingham to a lecture in Stoughton,” she said. Coverage includes Israel, and worldwide Jewish areas.


Farber, who taught Hebrew for two years at Ahavath Torah Congregation, wonders if Schechter could perhaps have occupied the JCC building. “In my opinion, many people used the JCC primarily as a gym,” she said. “The Judaism I see is Stoughton is in my back yard,” she continued. “Most of the residents in my Knollsbroook community are Jewish, and Shaloh House operates a synagogue and school on the grounds, where I sent my son.” (He now attends SASSDS.)


Launching the magazine in the current economic climate motivated Farber, who feared more Jews could drift from the community. “Business owners and contributors who believed in us even before the first issue are visionaries and leaders who see a better future for a community with good communication channels,” she says.


In 2006, Farber helped organize a Holocaust memorial program at the JCC for Stoughton’s No Place For Hate. Terry Schneider, Executive Director of the Stoughton Chamber of Commerce, is also on the NPFH committee.


“Maintaining a strong Jewish population here in Stoughton benefits all Stoughtonians because it affords us the ability to learn from one another, share our traditions and our history, and work toward a better world for all," he said. Schneider has helped produce myriad events, including an April 19 NPFH program at a Stoughton Portuguese social club that recognized former Portuguese Consul Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a “Righteous Gentile” who saved the lives of an estimated 30,000 Jews and others during the Nazi era, and featured Israel Arbeiter. “I invited as many Jewish and non-Jewish Holocaust survivors as possible, and aimed to demonstrate to our audience the sacrifices that some have made throughout history for humanity,” said Schneider.


With Schneider at the helm, the Chamber has produced or aided efforts including the New England Sinai Hospital’s annual Health and Fitness Expo, Stoughton Cares, Job Shadowing and the two town food pantries, OASIS (Organizing Against Substances in Stoughton)’s Strengthening Families Program, scholarships, Peer Mediation, and Academics in Motion (Project AIM) programs at Stoughton High School, and even “Monkey Business,” an animal visitation program of Zoo New England.


Stoughton resident Dale Appel of Ahavath Torah Congregation, located across the street from the former Striar site, praises local Jews like Lester Davis, former president of the Stoughton Lions Club and a Chamber Board member; Steve and Sharon Fradkin (another cable host) who are involved in town government and many community causes; and Amy Snetsky and Jonathan Bloom, who recently launched the ATC "Little Kids Club," offering Shabbat and family-oriented events for all town families.


Rabbi Jonathan Hausman says ATC’s renowned programming was often produced in conjunction with the JCC. “The synagogue always has endeavored to be a communal partner with our sister Jewish organizations in the area,” he said. “With the closing of the JCC, we entered into discussions with the JCCGB and agreed to house certain JCC Senior programs at the shul.”  In addition to the Little Kids Club, ATC organizes other youth-oriented programs. “There is a dynamic Jewish community in Metro-South,” says Hausman. “We want people to understand that this is an attractive area for Jewish life, an area that is not dying, despite the stated reasons for the JCC's closing.”


This year’s events have included a benefit with Jimmy Tingle and other comics in memory of comedian Bob Lazarus; Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders; Israeli security expert Rafi Ron; Dr. Charles Jacobs; and Dr. Wafa Sultan, in addition to Cantor in Residence weekends and Artists in Residence Shabbatonim. Upcoming events include the Boston Community Choir on Jan. 17, Professor Mordechai Kedar on Feb. 8, Erick Stackelback, lead investigative journalist for CBN news, on March 7; and the Brotherhood's 10th Annual Kosher L’Pesach Jazz Brunch on April 4.


Hausman credits ATC's Executive Committee and Board of Directors, its Brotherhood and School Committee, among other synagogue groups. “This has been a team effort,” he said.


As it has been, for Stoughton.