Category archive


Montclair: The light of the summer

in Holidays/Holidays/Religion/Spirituality
Deborah Ann Tripoldi/Staff
Partners Joe Longo and Craig Sloan of Blu Lotus, arrange the fairy statues under their tree for the Summer Solstice— June 21. The blue lit tree is the altar for their shop on Church Street.

by Deborah Ann Tripoldi

The longest day of the year and no, it’s not a Monday or Black Friday falls on Wednesday, June 21.

Summer begins that day at exactly 12:24 a.m. EDT.

The first day of summer for the Northern Hemisphere is known by many names: the summer solstice, Midsummer, Alban Hefin (or “light of the summer”) to the Druids, or Litha to most pagans. It is one of eight sabbats, which mark the turning of the Wheel of the Year. They are seasonal festivals celebrating the cycles of nature.

Montclair resident Craig Sloan, co-owner of Blu Lotus on Church Street, said that wherever he and his partner, Joe Longo, may be on the summer solstice, they make sure to watch the sun set.

Sloan is an eclectic pagan, or as he puts it, “an explorer.” “The roots are all feeding to the same tree,” he said. Longo considers himself spiritual.

Midsummer is one of the two solstices. Directly opposite on the Wheel of the Year is the winter solstice, also known as Yule or Alban Arthan which usually falls on Dec. 21. The Celts and many other cultures celebrate the summer solstice with bonfires.

The word “solstice” means sun stopping: the sun appears to stop and then reverse direction as the days grow shorter or longer, depending on time of year. “When we use to have a large property we held a bonfire on the solstice,” said Sloan.

For those who observe the solstice, traditional colors to mark the holiday are blue, green and yellow. Some items presented on the pagan altar would be strawberries, oranges and tangerines, and flowers such as the sunflower, as well as anything associated with the sun or fire. Altars are usually in homes or created by a group. “I always light a white candle for clarity [on the Summer Solstice],” said Sloan. “I’m a nature lover and pick flowers to place on our altar in the bay window at home for the solstice.” “There are candles, sand and shells in there right now,” added Longo.

It is the most powerful day of the year for Bel, the Celtic God of the sun, who is associated with light, health and healing.

The day is the highest point of energy: “Energy is everything. Whatever the reason is, if we are not feeling it, we won’t force just because a calendar says when it has to be done. We wait until the time feels right,” he said. “Our ancestors went by the seasons changing, not a calendar.”

“In essence we live our lives seasonally,” said Sloan.

Sloan and Longo say they enjoy being outside, at Verona Park or the beach, for the solstice. “We honor the seasonal festivals,” said Longo.

Blu Lotus has a tall ornamental tree that Sloan decorates for each season with lights. It serves as the store’s altar. Currently the tree is lit in blue lights and surrounded by figurines of fairies. Sloan noted that his shop has a lot of fairy statues for Litha. “We have a fairy promotion especially for the solstice. There is a belief that the line between the world of fairy and ours is the thinnest at this time,” he said.

Herbalist Kim Sisco of Montclair, an employee at Blu Lotus, will be in upstate New York for the solstice. “Fifty-five acres of positive land to celebrate with other herbalists during the Green Wisdom Weekend,” she said. “We will gather plants and herbs, make herbal medicine and build a bonfire at the end of the day. We will share and do a releasement to the universe; write it on a piece of birch or paper and toss that to the fire. We sit still and converse with Mother Earth and within ourselves.”

Like Sisco, Longo does a lot of reflecting during this sabbat. “We write down our good and bad, compare them and place under a shell or a crystal and leave it until the next new moon. Then we … burn the bad ones,” he said.

For Longo it’s about “respecting the earth and taking care of what we have.”

Blu Lotus, 20 Church St., will hold a Healing Circle open to the public on Wednesday, June 21, from 8 to 9 p.m. Judie Hurtado, intuitive, Reiki master and spiritual teacher, will lead the circle, which will involve a “Welcoming the Light” meditation.

Ramadan: Montclair Muslims celebrate ‘an ongoing Thanksgiving’

in Community/Holidays/Holidays/Religion/Spirituality
Frances Aboushi looks proudly over her students’ posters on intolerance in Glenfield Middle School on Monday, June 11.
Neil Grabowsky/For Montclair Local.


It’s very hot on the third floor of Glenfield Middle School.

That makes the fast of Ramadan just that little bit harder for Frances Aboushi, who teaches there, and students Rafid Khayum, 13, and Amir Carter, 12.

During the monthlong Muslim holiday, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. They take no food or drink, and refrain from intimate relations and violent emotions.

Ramadan, which began on Friday, May 26, is considered the holiest month of the Muslim calendar, and celebrates the revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. Fasting is one of the five pillars of the faith.

“Up here on the third floor there is no air conditioning. It can get stuffy and hazy,” Aboushi said. “I learn how to pick my battles. I don’t have the energy to run marathons or run after things. Heat never makes you hungry. It just tires you out.”

Aboushi teaches “Human Rights and Violations,” a course with students in all three grades that “deconstructs major social problems and global issues,” such as Black Lives Matter, the refugee crisis and human trafficking. She also teaches in the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) program.

Throughout Montclair and the region, Muslim children and their parents negotiate with the climate, weather-wise and otherwise, to observe their faith. It isn’t always easy.

Students “never hear about Islam unless it’s about terrorism. They feel muted,” the teacher said. “There aren’t specific classes that teach about religion, unless in the context of world civilization.” Right now, she said, the discourse sees Islam in a negative light, something “out there and foreign.”

In Montclair, at Glenfield, administration, staff and students recognize that Islam is a religion practiced right here.

In fact, there is a reminder in the staff bulletin for teachers to be mindful of fasting students, and not ask for excessive physical activity.

Not eating or drinking is difficult, especially at first — Aboushi joked about how relieved she was the first day of the month fell on a weekend, because “caffeine withdrawal is no joke.”

But the month itself is a spiritual one, she said.

“When food and water are taken away, your necessities, you’re able to feel with those that don’t have the luxury of saying, ‘I’m going to eat

Najla holds handsher daughter at Ramadan Breakfast at Masjid Al-Wadud on Saturday, June 10.
Neil Grabowsky/For Montclair Local.

by this time.’ Millions are facing starvation.” During the 30 days of the month, she said, Muslims increase their community service. “You have to pump up your community service, in the hope that when it’s over, you continue that model. It’s what we’re supposed to do, eat less because you give more to a group. When you take something away you start to realize what you’ve got. It’s a huge reminder of all the blessings we have.

“Every day it’s like Thanksgiving.”

One way non-Muslims learn about the holiday is by joining with those who celebrate it.

This past Friday, June 9, a youth group from First Congregational Church joined the Peace Islands Institute in Hasbrouck Heights for an iftar (evening break fast) celebration. John Rogers, director of the FCC youth group and associate pastor at the church, explained that the group has met with the PII youth group, run by Feyza Teke, for several years. PII is a national nonprofit organization based in Hasbrouck Heights that works to build connections among cultures. Teke explained that while the FCC group doesn’t fast, “We open our doors for them. There is a short presentation, how Ramadan is celebrated. After a call to prayer, everyone eats the break fast.”

“They really do get deep with one another,” said Rogers, a Montclair High School graduate of the Class of 2007. “The kids at PII told our kids what it was like to wear a hijab, and they expressed real frustration around the word ‘terrorist.’ People so often associate that word with Muslim.”

Leyla Yurt, a freshman at Cedar Grove High School, is part of the Peace Island group. Her friend Julie Korgen, a junior at MHS, attends FCC. Both attended Friday’s iftar.

Yurt, a fencer, said she was worried about how the fast would affect her matches, but that the challenging fast soon became routine.
“I’m a thin person, and don’t usually eat a lot. That helps me. At iftar, I eat more than usual — veggies, salad, protein, because I will be making it through until the next iftar.” Also, she said, food tastes better when she does eat it. “As a teen, I think about cookies, pizza, ice cream, and when we finally get to have it, it’s great.”

Korgen said that she likes supporting her Muslim friends: “They are practicing their faith, as we do at Lent.”

Imam Kevin Dawud Amin, right, of Montclair’s Masjid Al-Wadud Mosque shares a laugh with member and Hillside School teacher Omar Ibn Abdullah of East Orange, following prayers on May 25. All are Montclair residents.
Dale Mincey/For Montclair Local.

Omar Ibn Abdullah, a paraprofessional at Hillside Elementary School who works with students with special needs, said that some students might feel reluctant to talk about fasting, worried that what they are doing might be bothering other people. But every monotheistic religion has fast days, he tells them.

He draws his students out, to help them feel more relaxed about it– and also to take their minds off feeling hungry or thirsty.
Teachers don’t always realize that they need to be more patient with fasting students, he said. “They are trying to get through the day without exerting too much energy.” And it often seems like “during Ramadan there are the most cookouts.” Like Rogers, Ibn Abdullah is a Montclair High graduate. He said he had just changed his name from Otis Wright Jr.

Like Glenfield, Hillside is supportive: Ibn Abdullah is able to attend prayers at the mosque on Friday afternoons.


Najla holds handsher daughter at Ramadan Breakfast at Masjid Al-Wadud on Saturday, June 10.Neil Grabowsky/For Montclair Local.

Mifan Careem (right) and son Said (center) fill their plates – Ramadan Breakfast at Masjid Al-Wadud on Saturday, June 10.
Neil Grabowsky/For Montclair Local.

At Saturday’s iftar, about 50 people, women and girls in their best hijabs, attended the Masjid in Montclair to break the fast together. A buffet included spicy chickpeas, sassafras milk, fresh fruit, bottled water, dates and cake. Children pulled on their parents’ hands.
Imam Kevin Dawud Amin said that bigger masjids have break fasts every day. The meals are hosted by different people, though many others bring food: “Everybody wants to serve the dinner because you get the blessing of everybody eating. You are the one who feeds the people who have had the fast all day.”

Riz Haider, who lives in Glen Ridge, was one of the hosts of Saturday’s iftar. He attended with his wife and two children, ages 6 and 8. Haider said that while his school system is supportive, he does send notes to the teachers. Kwanzaa, he said, was just recognized in the school recently. “It’s a learning process.”

Some of the young children at Saturday’s iftar at the masjid had begun fasting in steps: third-grader Nadia, who attends Northeast Elementary, fasts only on weekends. She gets up at 3 or 4 a.m. with her family, and has a meal to start the day.

Sarah, a 9-year-old who attends the Charles H. Bullock School, doesn’t fast on school days, but does full days on weekends.
But some children fast the entire day.

Safiyah, a 9-year old at Hillside School, fasts the entire day and doesn’t find it difficult at all.

“It’s like a normal day, nothing much of a change really,” she said. Then she asked her mother, Reny, “Can I have cake now?”

Reny said that this is the first year Safiyah has done a full-day fast. “She started last year, skipping breakfast in the morning. I tell her, ‘If you feel hungry or thirsty, go ahead and drink.’ I also tell her the same for this year. I don’t want to force anything on her, but want her to know as a Muslim, this is what we do on Ramadan.”

Aboushi said she began fasting in fourth grade, in steps: She’d break her fast at noon. Then work up to 12:15. Eventually, she could last the whole day. “Because a family is fasting, kids naturally want to do what the grownups are doing.

“It really is a great training, a great discipline to learn how to navigate, learn how to control your wants and needs.”

Rafid Khayum, the Glenfield student, said that he hasn’t told his teachers that he is fasting, and that he does sit in the lunch room because his friends are there.

And while schoolwork in mid-June generally lightens up, he has finals to study for, including an algebra final.

But, he said, there are “religious benefits” to the fast. And it feels good when he breaks his fast.

While Rafid’s voice seemed, late in the afternoon, just a little drained by the stuffiness of the room, Amir Carter spoke with energy to spare. Amir said that he even goes to football practice, “but I don’t play as hard as I normally would.”

He said that he heard there was something in the school bulletin, so he told his teachers he was one of the kids fasting.

Sometimes, he said, “Ms. Aboushi lets me pray in her room.”

Aboushi said that when children begin to fast when they are little, by the time they get to middle school or high school, “it’s grounded.”

Safiyah Toking eats some cake – Ramadan Breakfast at Masjid Al-Wadud on Saturday, June 10.
Neil Grabowsky/For Montclair Local.

When she was growing up in Brooklyn, there was “a lot of ignorance to what we were doing.” Some people thought of it as “a mean holiday, a way to torture kids.”

So, when she was in middle school, she put together a “Ramadan party,” which celebrates the Eid al-Fitr, the four-day end of the fast. This year, it begins on Saturday, June 24.

For the party, she collected money and had the fasting children sign up for what their moms would bring to school.

Some parents brought stuffed grape leaves. Others brought chicken nuggets and fries. Aboushi, whose parents are immigrants from Jerusalem, said she prefers apple pie to baklava. The combination of foreign and all-American food on the same plate is a bit like being a Muslim-American, she said.

“You can be Muslim-American, enjoy the culture, hip-hop, and still do your five prayers. You’re just as American.”

Tikkun for Erev Shavuot to be held at Temple Ner Tamid

in Holidays/Religion/Spirituality

Temple Ner Tamid will host this year’s Tikkun for Erev Shavuot on Tuesday evening, May 30.

For more than 20 years, four synagogues — Bnai Keshet and Shomrei Emunah in Montclair, Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove, and Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield — have gathered together for an evening of study, meditation and song.

This year’s visiting scholar is Rabbi Aaron Panken, president of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion. The evening begins with Erev Shavuot worship at 7:30, immediately followed by a dairy-based nosh and social period.

Panken will offer his keynote address at 9 p.m.: “How True is True? True Lies, Alternative Truths and the Value of Veracity in Jewish Law.”

At 10 and 11 p.m., clergy and lay-leaders of the congregations will offer a variety of one-hour learning sessions.

At midnight all will gather to hear the chanting of Aseret Ha-Dibbrot (The 10 Commandments), and the Tikkun will conclude with Panken offering a final session titled “Seek Peace and Pursue It.”

The Tikkun will offer sessions for elementary age children at 7:30 p.m. and for teens at 10 p.m.

The evening is free and open to the public. All are invited for part or the entirety of the Tikkun.

Temple Ner Tamid is at 936 Broad St., Bloomfield.


Panken’s presentations:

“How True is True? True Lies, Alternative Truths and the Value of Veracity in Jewish Law”: Jewish texts have clearly privileged speaking the truth over propagating false information, with certain fascinating exceptions.There are definite examples where the truth must be shaped or altered in its presentation for various reasons. Philosophical texts, likewise, sometimes require lies when the truth may cause certain or potential damage. This session will explore a few of the core texts that define this conundrum in Jewish thought, along with a few philosophical responses, sketching the boundaries of shaping the truth and providing guidance for reacting to untruths we encounter. It is not entirely impossible that this discussion will be relevant to contemporary politics and situations that take place in community settings.

“Seek Peace and Pursue It”: Jewish tradition holds as one of its highest ideals the making of peace between parties who disagree. In a world that is profoundly more divided and polarized than in the recent past, how should Jewish people of good intention act in the world to make peace between the various parties they encounter? In this late-night shiur, we will explore the surprisingly relevant guidance offered by biblical and rabbinic texts for making peace in difficult situations.

Mother and Child reunion: Mother’s day pics in Montclair

in Children/Community/Holidays/Parents
Maxine Pittman, left, with her daughter Ivy. “My mom will be so surprised when she sees it!” Ivy writes.
Courtesy Ivy Pittman.
Amira Jannah, Jamil Jannah, Amani Jannah-Hamlet, with mom Latifah Jannah, Aquil Jannah, Thyana Darby-Jannah, Khalil Jannah, Abebe Jannah. All are Latifah’s children except daughter-in-law Thyana, the bride, who, Latifa wrote on Tuesday, “just gave birth to my 17th grandchild this a.m.” Courtesy Latifa Jannah.

We asked for pictures of mother-child lookalikes, in honor of Mother’s Day. Here are two we received — if you’re seeing Mom on Sunday, send us a pic! We can run a few next week. The resemblance need not be physical. Photos don’t have to be the two (or more) of you side by side, they can be two baby photos, for example. Send high-resolution JPGs, and tell us your names, starting from the left. Be sure to indicate who mom is! We’ll publish as many as we can fit. Send your photos to

‘May in Montclair’ festivities open with maypole tradition

in Community/Holidays/May in Montclair/Montclair Public Schools
Edgemont School music teacher Max Mellman guides the two first grade classes consisting of about 50 children as they dance twirling the ribbons while singing “Here We Go Round the Maypole High” during the May in Montclair opening ceremonies. DEBORAH ANN TRIPOLDI/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

by Deborah Ann Tripoldi

A rainbow of ribbons swirled in the air intertwining the Maypole as children performed the ritual dance for May in Montclair’s opening ceremonies at Watchung Plaza Monday, May 1.

Before a crowd that included Mayor Robert Jackson, councilmembers Renée Baskerville and Richard McMahon, and Deputy Township Manager Brian P. Scantlebury, about 50 Edgemont School first-graders under the direction of music teacher Max Mellman sang “Here We Go Round the Maypole High” as they circled the 10-12 foot tall pole. The pole was dressed with ribbons in every color of the rainbow with a crown of flowers at the very top.

“The dance the children perform looks very simple but is complicated. A very impressive bunch of first-graders,” said Mellman.

The event was organized by May in Montclair Committee members Ellyn Minor and Margot Cochran. The Rev. Dave Shaw of Union Congregational United Church of Christ gave the invocation. May in Montclair Chair Karen Shinevar asked the children if any of them planted tulips or flowers in the garden. “We couldn’t have a May Day celebration without [the students],” she said. “The sun came out for you,” she added.

Watchung School fourth- and fifth-graders under the direction of music teacher Henry Boote sang “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles and “Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In” by The 5th Dimension. The event concluded with Northeast School fifth- and sixth-graders performing the instrumentals “The Thunderer” and “Cyberspace Overture,” directed by music teacher Shawn Dey.

According to Cyndee Rowan, vice chair for May in Montclair, the township celebration began in 1979. Mellman believes Montclair’s Maypole ceremony started about 15 years ago.

Why do people dance around a giant pole on the first day of May? According to New World Encyclopedia, the custom dates back to a pre-Christian Celtic celebration of Beltane, the third of four fire festivals marking the turning of the seasons; also known as the Wheel of the Year. The other three are Samhain (Oct. 31), Imbolc (Feb. 2) and Lughnasadh (Aug. 1). For followers of European indigenous religions, Beltane marks the beginning of summer. Samhain and Beltane divide the calendar in half: winter honoring the dead and summer celebrating life. Beltane is also the last of three spring fertility festivals, the others being Imbolc, or lambing time, and Ostara, the Spring Equinox. It was the start of the light half of the year when its opposite, Samhain marks the beginning of the dark half, when the days grow shorter. These two Sabbaths are considered to be the most important of the eight. The word “Beltane” derives from the Celtic God Bel and “teine,” the Gaelic word for fire. Celts light a bonfire to honor the sun to encourage a bountiful harvest. The Maypole symbolizes the joining of the God and Goddess; to the Celts she is usually known as Danu.


Those who missed Monday’s colorful ritual can join the festivities on Saturday, May 20, when St. James Episcopal Church will host a Renaissance Faire sponsored by Montclair Early Music and St. James Players. “Robin Hood at the May Faire” will take place on the front lawn of the church at 581 Valley Road, beginning at 1:30 p.m.

“We will be crowning Robin Hood and Maid Marion,” said Julienne Pape of Montclair Early Music. This is symbolic of crowning of the May queen and king, she explained. “Sometimes the May king and queen are Robin Hood and Maid Marion, but [they don’t] have to be,” she added.

“Children would go out in the woods and bring back branches and flowers and leave at people’s doorsteps,” said Pape. Children will be dressed as fairies and perform “The fairy round.” They will also give out flowers during the “May Day Song.”

There will also be instrumental music of the 15th century. “It will be something very unusual. I don’t think people have seen these instruments before,” said Pape.

Performers at the May Faire include Montclair Early Music Recorder Consort, Ring A-Bell Morris Dancers, Musica Tramontano, Madrigal Singers, St. James Shakespeare Company and Phil Delp. Harpist Christa Patton is the music director.

Attendees are encouraged to wear Robin Hood attire or floral garlands. Admission is free; registration is required by May 19. To register or for more information, visit, email or call 845-943-0610.

Bunny hop: The Big Rabbit comes to Montclair

in Children/Community/Holidays/Religion/Spirituality/Renee Baskerville
Sisters Ny’Lanah, 3, and Aja’nae Hodges, 2, meet the bunny at Glenfield Park on Saturday morning, April 8 during the annual Easter Egg Hunt provided by Department of Cultural Affairs in conjunction with PBA Local 53.

Sean Spicer tweeted last March: “what I would give to hide in a bunny costume again.”

Spicer, the White House communications director, played the Easter bunny under George W. Bush.

Everybody loves the Easter bunny.

Vice President Mike Pence has his own bunny, Marlon Bundo, in residence.

The White House has had an Easter Egg Roll on its lawn for about 139 years, and has had an appearance by the Easter bunny at least since the Nixon Administration.

The White House Egg Roll is a custom, not a law, but it looks likely to stick around — even though the New York Times reported this week that the White House has ordered fewer commemorative eggs than usual and is behind on hiring talent. It’s unclear, according to the Times, whether Spicer will reprise his role.

Easter, which commemorates the resurrection of Jesus, is one of the holiest days on the Christian calendar.

It doesn’t have any obvious connection to eggs and bunnies.

The Rev. Campbell Singleton, of Union Baptist Church, 12 Midland Ave., said, “Resurrection is the heart and soul of the Christian faith. It is the ultimate expression of God’s power over evil, and death and the grave. At a time like this, where the world is so complex and convoluted with terrorism and different players on the world scene, we go to the resurrection to help remind us that however this plays out in Syria, Pakistan, North Korea, God has demonstrated his sovereignty over all the players over the earth. Our faith rests in that.”

But while Singleton’s church doesn’t hold an Easter egg hunt, Singleton has no objection to them.

In fact, he said, his 6-year-old-son had one at school.

So how does the rabbit figure in?

“We talk about Easter as a celebration of new life, and life over death,” said Betsy Richardson, director of Christian education at

Jahsin Taylor of East Orange sits with the Easter Bunny for portrait at the Montclair Salvation Army’s Easter Party for the kids and families of St. Clare’s, a transitional home for children with HIV.

Union Congregational Church, 176 Cooper Ave. “The imagery of eggs is a pretty obvious symbol. Rabbits reproduce so prolifically that they are also a symbol of that.”

Richardson said that while she doesn’t recall ever talking about the connection with young children, she does with middle school children, who no longer believe in the Easter bunny.

Once she had children draw pictures of what Easter meant to them. Children drew families around a dining table, crosses, and Easter baskets. “For that age kid, and probably even younger, it’s all jumbled in together,” Richardson said.

Montclair has at least three live Easter bunnies that give candy to children.

On April 8, Mr. Bunny, aka Renée Baskerville, appeared in Glenfield Park in an event sponsored by the Department of Recreation & Cultural Affairs, in conjunction with PBA Local 53.

This Saturday, April 15, the Easter bunny will make two appearances, both at 11 a.m.: at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 73 South Fullerton Ave., and at Watchung Plaza in an event sponsored by Family Chiropractors, where the bunny is a teenager.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Renée Baskerville has been playing the bunny since 2008, she said. “Last week I did Tucker Turtle too,” Baskerville said. “He’s a turtle that helps preschool-aged children learn appropriate behaviors, and deal with anger and disappointments.”

For Baskerville, celebrating seasonal things often includes dressing up: she’s an elf in the winter. “It’s another way of expression, bringing people together in happy situations, taking them away from the harsher realities in life.”
Baskerville has been Big Bird and a Dragon too, she said.

She makes a distinction between Easter’s religious meaning and the way the bunny costume welcomes springtime.

“Especially in a township like Montclair, where there are so many religious beliefs and different backgrounds, I try not to equate the bunny to Easter.”

She said she puts on the fluffy suit “for the joy, connection with children and spring. I might do a deer costume one year.”
It’s not always easy being furry: “It gets very hot. If the weather is hot, it’s hard to go down and up, to take pictures on their level.” The bunny does less lifting than it did once, she said.

Romany Shoemaker, 4, of Montclair fills her bag with plastic candy filled eggs at Glenfield Park on Saturday morning, April 8 during the annual Easter Egg Hunt provided by Department of Cultural Affairs in conjunction with PBA Local 53.

There’s no connection at all between the Easter holiday and Jayne Mizraji, who said she has sponsored the Watchung Plaza Easter bunny appearance for about 23 years.

“I’m as Jewish as they come,” said Mizraji. For her, the Easter bunny is about spring and childlike joy.“I love to see the kids’ faces when they sit on the bunny’s lap.”

About 2,000 plastic eggs filled with jelly beans and prizes are hidden around the green at Watchung Plaza. Then a fire truck comes with its sirens, “while the kids are singing and carrying on,” she said. “On a beautiful day it’s the best.”

The eggs are prepared by students at the Deron School, a special-needs school in Montclair. Teacher Wendy Lieberman has the students do learning projects connected to the eggs, such as counting or dexterity, Mizraji said.

People descend on the Plaza quickly: “At 20 of, nobody is here. At 11 a.m., I’m knee deep in people,” she said with a laugh. Really, the event is for the parents, who want to get a picture of their child with the bunny: “I’ve got to tell them 100 times, don’t knock the other kids over.”

Kevin Henning, 18, who will play the bunny again this year, doesn’t see the faces, because he can’t see out of the costume. His older brother played the bunny before him but then grew too tall.

Henning, a senior at Bergen Tech, said “I just hear the kids laughing and having a good time.” Some children are scared, and some babies cry, but “moms put them on my lap anyway.”

Henning remembers being terrified of the Easter Bunny when he was little — bunnies are not meant to be the size of people — but his father calmed him down.

“It’s a way to bring the community together,” he said. He has told his friends and his teachers about his furry day job: “The teachers think it’s pretty cool. The kids think it’s lame and funny.”

The Easter Bunny, aka Kevin Henning, stands with former Bunny, big brother Keith. Courtesy Montclair Dispatch.
The Easter Bunny and Pres. Obama contemplate the Washington Monument. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Montclair’s Bnai Keshet holds Community Seder

in Holidays/Religion/Spirituality
Rabbi Elliott Tepperman (left) and congregant Marc Gidal discuss plans for the upcoming community seder.


This year’s Community Seder at Bnai Keshet will feature a theme of immigration.

It’s particularly timely, with the president’s Muslim bans being fought in the courts.

And two Bnai Keshet members, Melina Macall and Katherine McCaffrey, are the founders of the Syria Supper Club.

But, Bnai Keshet’s Rabbi Elliott Tepperman is quick to point out, “It should be said the theme is always immigration.

“The Passover story begins with the story of Abraham, who immigrated to a new place. That was his first instruction ever from God: ‘Go be an immigrant.’

“The whole story of Passover is about the Jewish people being abused as foreigners in another place, and making a commitment for all time to make this holiday so we remember what it was like to be abused as immigrants, and to treat other immigrants fairly.

“That is the story of Passover, without adding a single word.”

Tepperman and congregant Marc Gidal sat in the rabbi’s office, upstairs at Bnai Keshet, last Friday, going through haggadot (the prayer book used at a Seder, or Passover meal) to create a Bnai Keshet haggadah for the Seder.

Passover, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the Jews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt, begins on the evening of Monday, April 10. Bnai Keshet’s Community Seder will be held on Tuesday, April 11, when many families hold a second Seder.

You don’t have to be a member of the shul to attend. You don’t even have to be Jewish.

You just have to be “a kind person,” Tepperman said with a smile.

While Bnai Keshet, a Reconstructionist synagogue, is the only Montclair synagogue offering a Community Seder, rabbis from other area synagogues agree with Tepperman that immigration is the perennial theme of the holiday.

David Greenstein, the rabbi at Conservative synagogue Shomrei Emunah, in an essay titled “Free Again” for his synagogue’s newsletter, writes that the experience of being liberated must have exhilarating and dislocating: “It is no wonder that sometimes they [the Israelites] appeal to ‘alternative facts’ about how great it once was in Egypt and hanker to go back there.”

Reform Temple Ner Tamid’s Rabbi Steven Kushner said that “There’s a reason, theologically, why the Israelites were enslaved. It wasn’t just because there was a bad Pharaoh. The theology is that God wanted us to be slaves so that we would know what it’s like to be the stranger. ‘Care for the stranger’ and ‘remember that you were slaves in the the land of Egypt’ occur more than any other recurring phrase in the Torah.”

Bnai Keshet’s Community Seder is designed to be participatory, a “do-it-yourself affair,” Tepperman said.

It will be catered, not potluck. That way, “everyone can complain about the matzo ball being not correct without offending anyone’s feelings,” Tepperman said.

Haggadot tell the same story in different ways.

Gidal, a South Orange resident, said that while this is the first time he’s led a Community Seder, he’s led many with family and friends. Curating the readings is the first task, he said.

“What you quickly learn is that all these haggadot go out of date very quickly. The beautiful artwork and story are still there, but the English translations are masculine, not with the times. Last year I discovered an amazing website,, where people upload their own haggadahs.” The website’s organization, separated by parts of the Seder, such as the Four Questions or the 10 Plagues, allows Gidal to quickly find a reading appropriate for any moment in the Seder. “Every step of the way, we will have a reading about refugees.”

And participants will tell their own stories of immigration, Tepperman added. “Almost everybody in America has a story, especially Jewish immigrants, who often know the people in their family who immigrated and their specific stories.”

“Or they are immigrants themselves,” Gidal said. “If we have Israelis here, they are immigrants.”

A page from the HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) suggests 10 plagues that affect immigrants and refugees.

The Seder will also include activities for children, possibly even a play, Gidal said. The rabbi looked surprised. Gidal said he has used congregant Dan Brenner’s “Let My People Go: A Short Play for the Seder” in his own home, and it’s a highlight.
Gidal said, “Everything else is symbolic, meta. This is hands on.”

Tepperman explained, “The Seder is supposed to be different every year, supposed to inspire questioning. For us, we wouldn’t say, ‘you asked me why I’m wearing this crazy hat, we’re done now, just read.’ But we might do something like that, to create the spirit of a salon.”

Responding to questions is part of the Bnai Keshet culture, Tepperman said.

In the spirit of relating to immigrants and questioning the nature of freedom, Bnai Keshet is holding a Havdalah service (saying farewell to Shabbat) of Passover week, May 15, in front of Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s New Jersey office.

“We are eager to meet with him,” Tepperman said.

“He’s a member of the community. We would be delighted to have him at the Community Seder.”


Tuesday, April 11, 7 to 9 p.m.

Bnai Keshet Reconstructionist Synagogue, 99 South Fullerton Ave.
To register, or for more information:,  973-746-4889

‘There once was a girl from Montclair…’

in Holidays/Poetry/Religion/Spirituality

We asked, you answered. In honor of the day that’s in it, as they say, we asked you to send us your best limerick.
Limericks are, according to Wikipedia, “a form of poetry in five-line, predominantly anapestic meter with a strict rhyme scheme (AABBA), which is sometimes obscene with humorous intent.The third and fourth lines are usually shorter than the other three.” Limerick is also the name of a city in the southwest of Ireland on the Shannon River. Nobody’s really sure why these two have the same name, whether it has to do with poets called Maigue, or a bawdy song with the refrain “Will (or won’t) You Come (up) to Limerick?” It might also be a misspelling entirely of “Learic,” or a poem based on the rhymes of Edward Lear.
Whatever way it is, thanks, Montclair, for sending us yours for the week of St. Patrick’s Day. Here they are!

There once was a guy from Montclair
Who seemed to be fully aware
That his life in the bubble
Protects him from trouble
Political fights bring elsewhere
— Dave Herman

There once was a lass from Montclair
Who first moved to town as an au pair.
At MSU she took classes
Where she met many lasses
Then married one and raised their kids there.
— Kelly McDonald

There once was a Jewish colleen,
With red hair mane and eyes so green
Is she Irish, for all to be seen?
Just a wee little sprite
Gabbing with all of her might,
There must be a long-lost Dublin gene.
— Robin Woods (submitted with “regret and remorse”)

Montclair: springing into a new year

in Holidays/Holidays
Karen Aistars, left, of Mystic Spirit Metaphysical Shoppe and Cher A Chirichello prepare an Ostara altar for the Spring Equinox on March 20. The shop will be holding an open Ostara Ritual on Saturday evening, March 18.


The Gregorian calendar may say the new year begins on Jan. 1, but the new planting season begins in the spring. Some religions reflect that by starting the year in spring.

For Wiccans and Pagans, the spring equinox of Ostara is a special time on the calendar. While Samhain, Oct. 31, begins the new year, Ostara marks the start of the astrological calendar.

“Aries is the first sign of the zodiac,” said Karen Aistars, chatting while also serving customers at Mystic Spirit, her metaphysical shop in Montclair, on 324 Bloomfield Ave.

If the word looks familiar, it may be because the holiday is named for Eostra, the same goddess whose name is used for Easter. The spring goddess, or vernal maiden, represents fertility and rebirth.

Ostara, said Aistars, is one of eight Pagan holidays the shop celebrates over the course of the year.
Mystic Spirit will hold an Ostara ritual on Saturday, March 18. For more information, visit

Aistars, who runs the store with her husband Davis, said the rituals usually have about dozen in attendance. At Ostara, participants will plant seeds in pots that they take home with them.

“For me, it is about new beginnings, growth, resurrection. The stirring of life. Warmth is coming back, daylight is increasing.” At the vernal equinox, Aistars said, there is equal day and night, and then the days start getting longer. “This is the waxing cycle,” she said.

The symbols of the holiday may also seem familiar: bunnies and eggs. “Eggs spring with life,” Aistars said. “Rabbits and birds are mating. What is going on around you makes you feel renewed. People are planting. It’s a time to honor and recognize the earth and seasons, gods and goddesses.” For Aistars, who was brought up Catholic, the gods and goddesses are aspects of the Divine, but everyone has their own belief system, she said. For her, “gods and goddesses are part of the all.”

While she was speaking, a couple came in to the shop asking for help removing a malignant spirit from their home. She also had a deadline to carve a love candle for a client. She said she does consider herself a witch, and spells are like prayers. Some get results, some might not be what she had in mind.

For example, she’s never had much luck with seeds, she said. “Sometimes they sprout and died. One year I had a sunflower growing really good. The cat ate it.
“I just keep trying.”


A child’s art created for Naw-Ruz uses Bahai writings. PHOTO COURTESY OF PAMELA ZIVARI.

Spring is also the beginning of the Bahá’í calendar year, and  occurs near the vernal equinox. While Wiccans and pagans celebrate Ostara, adherents of Bahá’í will celebrate Naw-Rúz. This year the holiday begins on the evening of Monday, March 20, and lasts until March 21.

For 19 days leading up to the holiday, Bahá’í practitioners fast from sunup to sundown.
“The goal is to have one’s thoughts directed more to spiritual matters, not to be so caught up in the day-to-day,” said Pamela Zivari, of Montclair. She is a member of the spiritual assembly in Montclair; Bahá’ís don’t have clergy.   “It’s a time of reflection…  looking for clarityand aligning oneself more closely with one’s spiritual goals.” Zivari then said with a laugh, “Make it sound better. I haven’t eaten all day.”

While not eating can make word choice a chore, she said, “Believe it or not it’s easier for me to concentrate. It sounds a bit bizarre, but I’m not distracted by thinking about what I’m going to do for lunch. When I was younger it was hard. I didn’t like it at all. Now I see the wisdom of it.”

Like Aistars, she was not brought up in her current faith. Zivari was an Episcopalian and became a member of Bahá’í in her 20s, she said.

She said was attracted to the inclusivity of the religion, and its encouragement of the rational side of human beings.Montclair has about 20 adults and 10 children who practice, not counting another 10 more college-age kids, she said.

Prior to the fast, there is a period of gift-giving and service-providing that lasts 4 to 5 days, she said. The Bahá’í calendar has 19 months of 19 days, with what are known as intercalary days in between.

At the end of the fast, there is usually a big party to celebrate the holiday. In Montclair, adherents will gather at Zivari’s house.

Participants will have “just experienced the fast, which is a time of reflection, of setting goals for personal growth and service. Having come through this time into a celebratory time, just about the time the weather is turning warmer and spring is arriving– it’s synchronous.

“It’s a realignment. It’s really meaningful.” For Zivari, it’s a time to be grateful for her family and her good fortune, and look forward to finding ways “to contribute to the unity of our community, because we are in such a divisive time right now.”

Go to Top