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entries tagged with: Gladys Miller Rosenstein


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


Puffin Preserving culture, one artist at a time

Some of the many sculptures welcoming visitors. Jerry Szubin
Perry Rosenstein displays a photo of Arab and Israeli students spending time together at Camp Shomria. Jerry Szubin

Twenty-five years ago, puffins on the coastal islands off Maine were nearly extinct,” says Gladys Miller-Rosenstein, executive director of The Puffin Foundation, headquartered in Teaneck. “Scientists were working to bring them back through the use of decoys and other means.”

Fortunately, she added, the bird was returned to its native habitats through the efforts of a concerned citizenry. The 25-year-old Puffin Foundation — started by her husband, Perry Rosenstein — hopes to pull off a similar feat. But rather than target an endangered species, it seeks to preserve and grow the cultural life of the community.

“If there’s no art, there’s no life,” said Rosenstein. “People who live here today would find a tremendous void in their life without the Puffin. Art is important because it is the spirit of humanity; the voice of what you want to get across to people. It’s a humanistic message, not a political one.”

Rosenstein said that the idea for the foundation originated after the death of his first wife, when his family was looking for an appropriate way to honor her memory.

“She had taken an interest in the bird,” he said. “The family thought it would be an appropriate memorial not just to work to preserve the species, but to better society as well.”

Preservation, it would seem, is a major interest of his. He is helping to restore the Jewish graveyard in Zuromin, Poland, where “the locals were using the stones” from desecrated burial plots. He has sent out more than 100 CDs of a ceremony held there to spark interest among the relatives of those buried in that cemetery.

With their eye on preserving the arts as well, the Rosensteins are now seeking to “open the doors of artistic expression by providing grants to artists and art organizations that are often excluded from mainstream opportunities due to their race, gender, or social philosophy.” The foundation awards more than 300 grants each year to artists in a wide range of media, from music to theater to the printed word.

On the day we spoke, Miller-Rosenstein, executive director since 1994, was in the midst of reviewing 1,000 grant applications. Last year, the foundation awarded about 390 grants.

“Generally, one-third of applicants receive what we call seed money, so they can then approach a larger funder,” she said.

“We want to help people get their ideas across,” said Miller-Rosenstein, noting that Puffin, together with The Nation Institute, presents a $100,000 award each year to reward “creative citizenship.” This year’s award went to author and social activist Jim Hightower, cited for “nurturing organic production, promoting alternative crops, regulating pesticides, and monitoring groundwater.” In keeping with the Rosensteins’ populist views, Hightower is also praised as “an advocate for everyday people whose voices are seldom heard in Washington or on Wall Street.”

The Puffin Foundation — the parent organization for many other projects — is very much a family affair, said Rosenstein. His daughter, Judith Kitrick, has a Puffin facility in Columbus, Ohio, while his son, Carl, owns the Puffin Room, an exhibition space in Soho, N.Y. His other son, Neal, works with him at the Teaneck location.

Family has been formative in other ways as well. Both Gladys and Perry Rosenstein said they had “learned well” from their own socially involved parents.

“We were both influenced by our parents,” said Perry Rosenstein. “Some people come out of the womb with a sign saying ‘I protest.’ Both sets of parents fought for the rights of people,” he noted, adding that they were actively involved in the labor movement.

The Rosensteins recently bought a gallery at the Museum of the City of New York that will be devoted to social activism, exploring events such as the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire and civil rights marches.

While the couple have lived in Teaneck for some 12 years, Perry Rosenstein has a longtime relationship with the Puffin’s current facility, which served as the headquarters for his industrial fasteners business for some 40 years. Born in the Bronx and raised in Manhattan, he has funded the Puffin through a family trust. Miller-Rosenstein, also from Manhattan, was an elementary school teacher and administrator before becoming the full-time operations director of the foundation.

One of the Rosensteins’ proudest achievements has been preserving the Teaneck Creek watershed, which now includes miles of walking trails. At right, some of the many sculptures welcoming visitors to the restored area.

One of the Puffin’s proudest projects, restoration of the Teaneck Creek watershed, is funded by Rosenstein as well.

“When I saw surveyors at the site of what is now the Teaneck Creek Conservancy, I decided that it should not be sold to realtors but should be preserved as an open space,” he said. “I met with community leaders and politicians to find out what they would like to see there.”

The Conservancy, founded in 2001, is a joint effort by the foundation — together with environmentalists, artists, and educators — to reclaim and protect the environmental, cultural, and historical legacy of the watershed, a small parcel of land in the southernmost portion of Teaneck.

According to the group’s Website, “Once a staging ground for the construction of the intersection of Routes 80 and 95, the land had been an unofficial dumpsite for nearly half a century. Refrigerators and old tires lay half-buried under mountains of broken concrete and asphalt.” In 2006, after “hundreds of hours of community meetings and thousands of hours of sweat equity,” the Teaneck Creek Park was unveiled, including miles of walking trails, an outdoor classroom, and ecological art exhibits. The entrance to the park boasts a sculpture garden with pieces that change on a regular basis.

The executive director explained that while Puffin often hosts programs of great interest to the Jewish community, such as “always well-attended” evenings of klezmer music, its goal is not to target any one group.

“We want to bring the community together,” she said. “What we try to do is bring in programs representing all the people and diversity of the community, whether Jewish, African American, or Palestinian.

She noted that Puffin hosts an annual program involving youngsters from Camp Shomria, which brings Israeli and Arab children together for several weeks. The students who attend participate in a Puffin exhibition showcasing photos they have taken of each other’s homes in Israel.

“It’s about conflict resolution,” said Rosenstein, holding up a photo showing the children spending time together. “The students speak to the audience about their experiences living together and learning more about each other.”

Rosenstein also stressed the importance of unifying the local community.

“Our job is to integrate [the diverse groups] in the community and not allow them to separate,” he said, noting that if they have been successful with some groups, they are frustrated that the observant Jewish community “has not been receptive.”

In this regard Miller-Rosenstein said Puffin had sponsored a writing workshop, inviting Israelis and Arabs to write about personal emotional experiences. About 25 people participated, she said, with the group fairly evenly split between the two communities.

The writing process was amicable, she said. But when the writings were later read at a public program, “many people got up and left when the Arab community read their presentations. They couldn’t accept the emotionality of the other side. People poured their hearts out — it was hard to hear each other.”

The foundation also displayed a canvas produced by the One by One art program, which brings together Jews whose families were touched by the Holocaust, and individuals who learned at some point in their lives that their parents had been Nazis.

“We invited members of the organization to talk about it here,” said Miller-Rosenstein. “It wasn’t about forgiveness but about moving forward.”

The Rosensteins are proud of their work with the Teaneck Community Education Department, which presented the couple with a certificate of appreciation for their support.

“Community involvement is key,” said Rosenstein, noting that Puffin helps fund an after-school program called Super Strides, offering experimental programs for local children. For those who cannot afford to participate, the center provides scholarships.

The Rosensteins have also worked on several projects with the Museum of the City of New York.

One, said Miller-Rosenstein, “is a film about radicals in the Bronx, where Perry grew up, looking at the first cooperative housing there.”

The other is a film on the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, which brought Americans to Spain to fight against Franco during the Spanish Civil War.

“It’s amazing that young Americans were willing to go to save democracy for the world,” said Rosenstein. “We felt overwhelmed that they would have done this. The story was buried in history books but is now being taught in some school systems.” He pointed out that Puffin has been giving grants to workshops for teachers who want to teach this material. In addition, the foundation is preparing to give a human rights award.

While the Rosensteins do not avoid controversial subject matter, “we try not to be political but rather keep ourselves open to diverse discussions on all sides of an issue, to bring all points of view to the front,” said Miller-Rosenstein.

Still — whether through art, music, theater, or lectures — the couple are firm in their commitment “to bring things of interest to the local community without their having to go to New York City.”

“We’ve got all the ingredients to put Teaneck on the map,” said Rosenstein.


Young Arab and Jewish Israelis connect through photography

Works to be exhibited at Puffin Cultural Forum

An image from “Through Others’ Eyes” art exhibit

“Through Others’ Eyes,” an art exhibit to be held at the Puffin Cultural Forum in Teaneck from Aug. 3 to 18, is the culmination of a year’s worth of efforts toward understanding between young Israeli Jews and Arabs.

Twenty Israeli high school students were selected to engage in a program about understanding cultural differences through art. The program is run by Givat Haviva Educational Foundation, an Israeli organization whose mission is to “work for a shared Israel,” says Yaniv Sagee, current Israel Representative for Givat Haviva in New York. Photography was the art-form chosen, because taking photos of unfamiliar homes and towns lets the participants “get a sense of looking through others’ eyes,” says Sagee. “The idea of the program is everyone, Arab or Jewish, is on equal ground. No one is superior. They all don’t know photography.”

In the yearlong program, the 20 students take a quick course in photography, then meet once a week at one another’s homes. Jewish participants go into Arab neighborhoods and take photos of life there, and Arab participants go into Jewish neighborhoods.

“It truly is a wonderful way of getting youngsters together,” says Gladys Miller-Rosenstein, executive director of the Puffin Foundation, which runs the cultural forum. “Givat Haviva uses photos to show that there are a lot of similarities, and the home is the basis of their similarities. Even though they have different customs, family stays the same.”

During the summer, after the photography portion has run its course, the participants come to the United States for several weeks. They live and bunk together at Camp Shomria in Liberty, N.Y., which is “an opportunity to have an open dialogue about Arab and Jewish coexistence in Israel,” says Sagee. Then the program brings the participants to New York City for R&R and a meeting with Presbyterians their age. They have been stopping in Teaneck during this portion of their trip for nearly a decade, to be present on the opening night of the exhibit at Puffin, and “it has always been unbelievable for us,” Miller-Rosenstein says. The Puffin Foundation partially funds the New York portion of the trip.

“Naturally, people begin to trust one another after a while,” says Perry Rosenstein, president of Puffin Foundation. “Givat Haviva mainly stresses understanding through education,” he says. Sagee says it was natural for Givat Haviva and Puffin to join together, adding, “Givat Haviva has similar values with Puffin — they are very much about social education, tikkun olam,” repairing the world.

The participants are always proud to see their photographs framed and hung in an exhibit, says Merri Milwe, artistic director of the Puffin Cultural Forum. “I selected photographs that moved me in some way, that represents Givat Haviva in some way..... This exhibit shows kinship between peoples…. These photos don’t lie,” she says. Rachel Banai, a Teaneck-based phographer, and her husband, Moshe, are helping to hang the photos.

Both Milwe and Miller-Rosenstein are quick to point out that area residents have much to gain from seeing the exhibit and speaking with 16 of the program participants, who will be present at the gallery’s opening on Wednesday, Aug. 3, at 7 p.m.

They will discuss the process of the year, what they have learned along the way, and “show what they did and what they think,” says Sagee.

This is the final event of their stay, and “this is their chance to speak out. All questions are really open and welcomed,” says Perry Rosenstein. After that, the participants will return to camp and then to Israel, where they will begin their senior year of high school.

“[Here] we have groups within the larger whole, and people stick to their own group,” says Miller-Rosenstein. She continues, “This is an opportunity to move out of that, see the world through a larger scope…. [The exhibit] will hopefully show the people that young Israelis can learn through education to live with one another. It’s an opportunity... to see what could be.”

She adds, “This is a program that plants seeds. Seeds build bridges. Bridges build relationships, and relationships build our future — a future of peace, one hopes.”

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