Get to know our congregation by getting to know a few of our many remarkable members!
Spencer Jarrett and Marcia Levin
as told to Susan Armstrong
In late December of 2019, Spencer Jarrett and his wife Marcia Levin, now members of CBE, sat in the historic sanctuary of Congregation Beth El and began to feel at home. They were moving to Bennington from Seattle to be near Marcia’s two daughters and escape the expensive environment created by the tech culture.
This location would also prove to be advantageous for Spencer’s life long involvement with blues music, as it would allow him to play in Albany and easily hop a train to NYC. They house hunted and found the perfect spot to settle here in historic Bennington. Spencer joined the CBE Board of Directors this year and has become involved in the Greater Bennington Interfaith Council. Marcia is working part-time in the office at St. Peter’s Church.
The two were born on opposite coasts – Marcia in Seattle and Spencer in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Spencer’s father was from an Orthodox family, so Judaism was an important part of his youth. He continued to attend Hebrew School at a Conservative synagogue after his Bar Mitzvah. Marcia grew up in Seattle, with a similar devotion to her faith. She married while there and had two children, who attended Jewish Community Center preschools and later Jewish Day School. Her family belonged to a Conservative synagogue after moving to Marin County in northern California.
While in the Bay Area, Marcia took a job with the Jewish Community High School in San Francisco as the Director of Admissions and Marketing. She continued to work there for 15 rewarding years. At the same time in the same city, Spencer continued his career in corporate communications and events. A friend who played the guitar for a black gospel group invited him to join the group as a musician and he performed with them for over 20 years. The strong personal faith of the group’s members encouraged him to deepen his Jewish practice. He became an active member of a daily Orthodox minyan in San Francisco. Here’s Spencer playing his blues harmonica:
He and Marcia met in San Francisco and later moved back up to Marcia’s hometown in Seattle. While there, Spencer served as the shammas (sexton) of a small Chassidic shul, where he often led davening. He also became an active member of the local Chevra Kadisha.
When Marcia’s daughters chose eastern colleges – Mount Holyoke and Bennington College, visits to New England created pleasant memories for the pair, which made the move east that much easier for them. Both Spencer and Marcia will become new grandparents this year – Spencer’s daughter-in-law in Los Angeles and Marcia’s daughter here are expecting.
Before the grandchildren arrive, the couple got a puppy to ready themselves for the hectic life of grandparenting. They named their young lab Ruth Bader Ginsberg. “I am so happy to be joining my daughters in Vermont,” remarked Marcia. Spencer followed with, “We knew this would be a great place to live.”
Welcome Marcia and Spencer to Bennington and Congregation Beth El.
In Memory of Lotti Morris
by Rabbi Yaakov Gross
Bennington was a wonderful place to be a kid. In the winter there were pristine white snowbanks towering over our heads. In the spring lots of black mud which to dig little holes perfectly crafted for shooting marbles over the soft earth into those muddy holes. The summer brought swimming in the ice cold creek, which was my father’s delight, and for the kids, swimming in the pond in our friend’s backyard. The autumn brought cool winds with a visual treat of painted trees and busy squirrels hiding their acorns.
There was the good: going on Sunday mornings with my father to buy the Sunday newspaper and if I deserved it, a small package of marbles; sometimes the small marbles for a dime and sometimes large ones for quarter. The bad: Peter (my friend who lived next door) whose father was a severe alcoholic, a drunk, and an abusive parent. As a child I had hardly grasped my friend’s situation, now I can only imagine what a horror his life must have been. The ugly: one of the few black children in Bennington elementary being blocked into an exterior nook in the building structure by a mob of about 10 to 20 boys and then pelted with stones. Wow, did I learn a personal lesson! I was pulled in front of the principal and asked to explain why I had joined the mob. I was shocked by the accusation and I vociferously explained that when the mob formed I ran over to see what was happening from beyond the edge of their violent activities. I watched the pelting but had nothing to do with it. Fortunately, the principal accepted my excuse. Unfortunately, I was hit over the head. The principal explained that my excuse was lame and that one does not just stand by and watch such an event (that taught me something for life) and second, as a rabbi’s son,I was to be held at a higher standard (and that taught me something for life).
So now you might guess that I was Rabbi Chaim Gross’s son. The son of the rabbi described in the CBE brochure (during the 80s and 90s) as the last Orthodox rabbi of CBE. My name is Yaacov Gross back then it was Yaki. And my idyllic childhood was about to vanish with a rude awakening.
I remember that cloudy day in November 1970 when Mrs. Lotti Morris, my mother’s best friend in Bennington (and afterwards), ran into school and rushed myself and my sister home. We discovered that our father had passed away. The blur of the next day was a funeral in CBE with me watching my father’s casket draped with an Israeli flag, followed by the burial at the Jewish cemetery south of the city (where you can see his grave near the upper opening to the Jewish section) and where at the age of eight I said Kaddish for only one time in that year, in his memory. The next year was excruciatingly painful and a deeply sad time, especially for my mother. She reiterated to me that one of the few positive assistances that she received was the support, comfort and friendship of Lotti which helped her make it through the sorrows of the year after my father’s passing. My mother was ever-grateful for that. In fact I saw how the friendship lasted when years after we moved from Bennington, after a visit to my father’s grave, we stopped by the Morris home to greet Lotti, in person, and to have a heart to heart talk discussing the events of the intervening years.
In the past three decades I lived in Boston and now Miami but in the summer I make a pilgrimage to visit my father’s grave. With beautiful green mountains surrounding and towering over the cemetery, an incongruous thought often crosses my mind: this must be the most inspiring and beautiful place to be buried. My sister and brother usually do the same visit in the autumn, closer to our father’s yahr-zeit which occurs in late October or November, and so they even have a chance of seeing the beautiful mountains capped with snow. After visiting the cemetery (and praying there every year to G-d that our father should always be proud of his children and grandchildren) I generally wander around town looking at how things have changed (lots of new stores, no Pennysaver etc.) and how things have remained unchanged (Deer Park, monument etc. ). I also visit CBE usually from the outside, but sometimes I’m able to see the hallowed inside and how it too has changed over the years.
I’ve been fortunate to meet some of the rabbis over the years and I even once crashed a board meeting in the basement of the shul. One year in the 80s (?), in fact I was lucky enough to arrive as the shul basement was being set up for a rummage sale and I was able to say hello to one of Lotti’s daughters who was there. That was the last time we had contact with the Morris family. Over the years my sister tried to reconnect and once went to their home (and probably ended up at the wrong address) and was told that “they had no idea of who the Morisses were.”
This was true until this past summer. My son and his wife, on their way to vacation in northern Vermont, decided to detour a little and stop by my father grave. Returning, he called me to tell me about his trip. He stopped in a local store in Bennington and something interesting had happened when a man came over to him and after commenting on not seeing a yarmulke in town for so many years asked him why he was in town. After responding, he told my son he remembered his father Yaki who had been his son’s, best friend and Yaki’s father who had been the rabbi in town. What I heard next I could not believe. The man’s name was Morris. That meant that the Morris family was still there. Quickly, I made up my mind to see if I could track down Lotti.
A few days later, being that it was summer-time, I made my yearly pilgrimage to the cemetery. On my way out of town I stopped by CBE, rang the bell on the office building, and was brought in by Susan (aka Susala, your wonderful administrative assistant). I explained to her that this building had been my home and I showed her where my bedroom had been and where my grandmother who was paraplegic had lain in bed for the last few years of her life. Then we started talking about what was happening in CBE and she brought me up to date. After talking for a while, I asked if she knew the Morrises which she did. Then I asked, “Is Lotti still alive?” She gave a sad look and said “Lotti had been in the Veterans Home for a while due to an illness, but I think she has since passed.” That was an awful moment. I had missed my chance to say thank you one last time. Disappointed, I was ready to drive home.
As Susan kindly walked me out, a little miracle occurred. Another woman was walking in with whom Susan stopped to chat for a moment. As they talked Susan brought up the sad occasion of Lotti’s passing. The other woman responded, “No, that’s not true, and I have never heard anything of the sort!” So back we went to call the Veterans Home. Moments later we had verified that Lotti was quite alive.
A few minutes later I was in the home making a right down the hall then a left down another hall and then another left in the opposite direction of the first hall. Arriving at Lotti’s room, I called out if I could enter and she gave me permission. As I stood in front of her I said, “Hi, Mrs. Morris, my name is Yaacov Gross. You might remember me as Yaki.” She responded, “Sure I remember you.” Her face scrunched up and was contorted in anger and she continued, “You’re the one who came to visit with your mom after you left town and to whom I offered milk to drink and who was scared to drink it be-cause it might not be kosher.” I almost turned white in shock and shame, and felt like sinking into the ground would be a good option. Then a bright-as-the-sun-smile shows up on her face (ha ha on me, a real I finally gotchya moment after more than 40 years!). “Of course I remember you. Please sit down.” As I sat down to talk I was overcome by feelings of an emotional, surreal and real dramatic moment, accomplishing my quest at close to the last possible time, as I saw her ravaged by disease, but tenaciously holding onto life. As we talked she told me how proud she was of her children, grandchildren and their accomplishments. I revealed to her that my mother had passed away two years earlier. Most importantly, I thanked her one last time on behalf of my mother as I knew that we would
be saying goodbye for the last time.
Recently, I saw on the CBE bulletin that Lotti had truly passed. I called Ira, her son and my former best friend and we talked for a short while and caught up on a synopsis of the events of five decades. I added my condolences and wished him and his family all well with the traditional Jewish blessing for every mourner, “May God comfort you together with all the Jewish people who mourn the destruction of Zion and Jerusalem” (if you’re not familiar with that blessing it definitely beckons explanation). I also told him that I knew that the Morris family would have a hard time finding a minyan to say Kaddish in memory of his mother. So I volunteered to say Kaddish in her memory for the year. Jews are all about gratitude. It’s the very least I can do. Hopefully, our mothers, the two best friends are friends again.
The Graduation Gift • by Miriam Silver
My Grandfather was a dapper man. After he retired at the age of 50, he hennaed his hair red, wore spats, had a closet full of beautifully tailored suits, and always smelled of Knize, his favorite after shave lotion. But, he was rarely at home. He occupied a small alcove on the second floor of his family’s large home in South River, New Jersey. It must have been a walk- in closet. That was his private domain. His bed practically took up the entire space, and his many pairs of shoes were lined up neatly under it. As a little girl, I used to love sneaking into his tiny nook to get a whiff of my grandfather, even though he was not there. It was my secret thrill.
As I got older, I saw him come home mostly for holidays, where he joined his wife grown children and grandchildren around their dining room table covered with delicacies. After dinner, while the women cleared the table and did the dishes, he, my dad and uncles would sit in a large kitchen and play cards or dominoes. All the men around that table had purchased one of my grandfather's several factories after having worked for him until he retired. Sometimes among the cigar smoke and glasses of tea, there would be heated discussions of Roosevelt and the New Deal, Unions and the NRA (National Recovery Association). One uncle was a maverick and a Republican, but they were all Zionists. I didn't understand it, but seeds were planted there for my continuing interest in politics. The mood was always one of camaraderie. Often I sneaked behind my dad to see how much money he was winning or losing. Then someone would joyously knock on the table and say, "Rummy!" It all seemed quite gemutlich.
Soon, my grandfather would disappear until the next time. Sometimes when he returned, he would bring us kids a gift from wherever he had been. I cherished a "shaker" from Havana, where he said he had vacationed with his cronies. Then he began frequenting Atlantic City for months on end. One year, we even had a family Passover seder at the hotel where he stayed. That was the first time it was not held in my grandparents' home. We all hated it. Soon it became very apparent that my grandmother was having a very difficult time accepting his absence.
Once my mother took her to visit him at the hotel where he stayed overlooking the boardwalk in Atlantic City. That was a mistake. He reserved a separate room for her down the hall. The visit was short and she returned home soon after she arrived.
When my senior year in high school was almost over, my grandfather offered me a most unusual graduation present. "After you graduate, as a gift from me, I would like to pay for you to take a train trip to California in a private compartment all the way across the country to visit your Aunt Anna and her family." I had never been to California and Aunt Anna's daughter, my cousin, was close to my age and we had once been dear friends. I truly missed her. It was an exciting prospect. Then he said, "I want you to take your grandmother with you and leave her there to live with Anna and her family." It was an offer I could not refuse. I wanted so much to please my grandfather.
So, in June, right after my graduation, we left on the Pennsylvania Railroad's Silver Bullet train to LA. I loved being on the train. When my grandmother was napping or already in bed for the night, I went to the dining car for my meals. I had cocktails in the lounge and met strangers with whom I held amazingly intimate conversations. I learned so much about people traveling by train and the details of their lives.
I carefully coaxed my grandmother to join me in the dining car just once for some tea and crackers. In Yiddish I talked her into ordering dessert. I was on such a high! I was determined to make her comfortable. I wanted nothing to get in the way of carrying out my sacred mission.
At one point during the trip, a porter knocked on our door early in the morning. He wanted to know if I was the girl who could speak Yiddish. Apparently there was an elderly lady in a double decker refusing to move when he needed to make the bed into a coach seat. I was hoping my Yiddush could come to the rescue, but she held fast to her refusal. She had told her son she would not move until Chicago, when he would board the train. So, there she remained. She had special foods that had a familiar smell. She also had her quilt and prayer book, just like my grandmother.
The summer was a catastrophe. My grandmother hated LA and she made my aunt's life unbearable. Yet, Aunt Anna tried hard and was always accommodating. My uncle was also unhappy, and I finally heard him say, "Either she goes or I do."
We returned to NJ together in a smaller coachette. We did not speak during the entire trip home. I felt like a failure having been unable to complete my mission. My grandmother returned to her old familiar ways of being as miserable to her daughters as before. My grandfather never returned to South River. He died in Atlantic City a year later. We all went to the funeral, including my grandmother. He left instructions to be buried there, and so he was.
March 2, 2001
Alvin and Roberta Michaels -- A Love Story
As told to Susan Armstrong
Al and Roberta grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn, NY. Their families didn’t live very far from each other. The both attended Midwood High School where they began to notice one another. They went out on a few dates, went out on a few dates with others and finally realized they were right for each other. That was 74 years ago and they are still going strong.
Neither of their families was extremely religious, but both Al and Roberta were proud of their Jewish heritage and history. Ethics, good morals and doing the right thing were themes in both households. Roberta’s father, who was an attorney, would point out “bad actors” when he met one.
After graduation, Al went to the Brooklyn College of Pharmacy, (like father like son) and Roberta went to Adelphi University to study teaching, (like mother like daughter). When Al graduated from pharmacy school, he asked Roberta to marry him. Roberta’s father said, “Not until you pass the board and become licensed, Al” And, so they waited a little longer. When they finally did get married, it was at the Brooklyn Jewish Center. Rabbi Levinthal performed the ceremony, just as he had done years earlier to marry Roberta’s parents.
Al was drafted into the Army in November after their wedding. It turns out that someone he knew switched their orders, so that he could stay in the states and Al would be sent overseas. Al figured out what had happened and reported it to the Inspector General. Al said, “If I have to go, that guy is coming with me.” Fortunately, Al ended up at Valley Forge Hospital in Pennsylvania and the other guy went overseas.
When the war was over, their lives began in earnest. Roberta became a teacher in Brooklyn and Al began his career as a pharmacist. He worked at the Harlem Hospital, the Brooklyn Hospital and opened his own business. Five years after their wedding, BonnieDara was born and eight years later, TammiRuth was born. Tammi had a learning disability, so Roberta stayed home for the next 10 years to give her the best possible start. After that, Roberta became the principal of a private school, Winston Preparatory, for special needs students in NYC - once more, always being there for TammiRuth.
They loved to travel and were fortunate enough to visit France, Italy, England, Egypt, Spain, Israel and Morocco. Al told a story about their visit to Morocco. Tammi was small in stature and walked slowly. They took a tour out to a beach with a Moroccan guide. He thought Tammi was adorable and took her hand to lead her to the beach, which made her feel very special. On the way back, the Arab called her a “mini” and said in jest, “I’ll give you two camels for her.” They all got a good laugh from that.
When Roberta was growing up, her family spent many summers at the Lake St. Catherine Inn, and Al and Roberta wanted to share that experience with their girls, as well. In 1995, after years of wonderful visits to Vermont, they bought a condominium in Manchester. By the year 2,000, they moved to Vermont permanently. Roberta had taken two years of training to become a docent to lead children through the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This was an enlightening experience for her, so she traveled back to the city for two years, several times a month to continue in this role. Al served on the Manchester Village Board for five very satisfying years, and on the Board of Trustees of Equinox on the Battenkill for ten years.
Their daughter, BonnieDara, who is the curator of the Yeshiva Museum, lives in lower Manhattan with her husband Dr. Michael Tunik and their daughter Melissa.
I sat outside with them on their lovely deck surrounded by trees, watching the song birds at their feeders and the hummingbirds darting back and forth. They are so loving and solicitous towards one another and clearly, still in love.
Alice and Alan Greenspan
As told to Susan Armstrong
Alice and Al both grew up in Perth Amboy, NJ, around the corner from one another. Al is four years her senior. When they were young, the depression was in full force, but both considered themselves privileged because they had comfortable lifestyles, despite all the want and need throughout the country. Their families belonged to the same Conservative temple – Beth Mordechai. Alice’s father was Treasurer of the board, “forever.” Because bat mitzvahs were rare at that time, Alice was confirmed. Al became a bat mitzvah and was tutored in Hebrew by the Cantor Efros, a well known composer of liturgical music.
Alice had a beautiful sister, seven years her senior, named Jacquie. Alan was quick to tell me that she looked like Ava Gardner. On Friday nights she would sit on the front porch and the boys would line up to talk to her. Mischievous Alice sat up in a second floor window throwing notes out to the boys. Alice said, “I had to grow up in the shadow of my beautiful sister.”
When asked if anything had ever happened in their lives that changed everything, Alice immediately told about a giant explosion that occurred on two barges in the Raritan River, just two blocks from her family’s home. She was talking on the phone on the second floor when suddenly the explosion blew out all the windows in the entire house, including the room where she was standing. She was covered in blood and ran downstairs to see if everyone was okay. Her mother and father had both escaped injury. She grabbed her new spring coat and they all ran outside. Having not worn shoes, she ended up with bleeding feet as well. The city was put under Martial Law when it was discovered that the barges that had collided were smuggling arms to Pakistan. First aid stations were set up and Alice was patched back together.
Both Al and Alice attended Jewish summer camps, Alice in Monterey, MA and Al at Camp Kiowa in Honesdale, PA. They each had dogs in their families and still love them to this day. They attended local Perth Amboy schools until Al was sent away to a private school, as his mother wanted to shield him from his father’s illness. The George School in Newtown, PA. was founded by Quakers. Two of his classmates were Stephen Sondheim and Blythe Danner. The story goes, that Oscar Hammerstein’s son Jimmy, was also a student there. Stephen had written some music for a class play, and who just happened to be in the audience, Oscar himself. Bingo, that was the start of Sondheim’s brilliant musical career. The Greenspans attended Sondheim’s play, Applause on Broadway years later, and there was Stephen in the audience. Al went over to say hello and was greeted by name immediately. It was impressive to be remembered after all those years.
As Al grew up a little more, he sported a pompadour hair style like Elvis. He walked by Alice’s house one day and she just so happened to be outside. He flipped her nickel and said, “Call me when you’re 16.” What a move. He went off to Washington University, then on to grad school at Northwestern, where he earned a degree in Macro Economics. He then served in the 101st Airborne Division and fought in North Korea. After freezing in that country, he was sent to Oklahoma City (where he roasted) to teach Combat Intelligence – how to interrogate prisoners. During this time, both he and Alice had married other people and each had three girls.
Al had a sterling career on Wall Street with Rothchild & Co., Oppenheimer & Co. and was a Sr. VP at Morgan Stanley. For years he oversaw the NYC Pension Fund and had to forecast the economic future. Alice owned a successful Interior Design company while she raised her girls. In fact, she has an assignment right now to design the interior of a home in Burlington. Her creativity never stops.
They had not seen each other for 21 years, but their parents had their fingers crossed that they would meet again, because each was getting a divorce. Alice gave Al a hard time. As soon as they saw one another, he said, “We know each other well. Let’s get married.” She continued to say no, until the big day happened 11 months later. Together they raised their daughters and shared memorable mountain climbing adventures. They even made it to New Zealand where they scaled some of the mountains in the Southern Alps and hiked the Greenstone Track out of Queensland.
That was 47 years ago. Their families have melded together – all six girls. They now have 13 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. They have remained happily together for over half of their lives.
They moved permanently to Wilmington, VT in 2003, after having spent years coming to Mt. Snow with their family to ski. In 1999 they began their association with Congregation Beth El. Al volunteered to manage the CBE investment funds over 10 years ago and has done a stellar job. Alice is a trustee on the Board of Directors.
The table was laid out with fresh avocados stuffed with tasty salmon salad and an excellent olive tapenade on toast points. And then came the French rosé. I was in heaven. I won’t even attempt to describe the view.
Here it is...
Ginny Granger --
As told to Susan Armstrong
As I enter Ginny’s lovely home on a high hill, just east of town, I quickly surmise that I am visiting a well traveled lady. Beautiful hand carved, antique Asian pieces of furniture are eclectically interspersed with newer styles. Oh, did I mention the dead wooden horse on the porch with no head? I’ll leave it at that.
Ginny grew up in Magaliesburg, a village at the base of the Magaliesburg Mountains in South Africa. Her father owned a General Dealer store that sold everything from “coffins to buttons,” as she put it. Men would ride up on carts pulled by donkeys to purchase their stockpile for the month.” The houses had no electricity and we collected rain water in a huge tank on the side of the house. We had a cow to give us milk and chickens that gave us eggs and a Sunday roast. I
had a horse that I would ride to see the circus when it came to town once a year. There was a railroad station at which the daily train to Zimbabwe would stop. The big city of Johannesburg was a two hour drive away. I grew up with no movies, no TV and no friends!”
At the tender age of five, Ginny was sent south to Notre Dame Convent School. It was a boarding school and she only returned home on school holidays. She used to tell people she was adopted because she felt such a separation from her parents. She was raised a Catholic, but soon began calling herself a “recovering Catholic.’ After she fully understood some of the issues within the Catholic Church, she called herself a “fully recovered Catholic.” Many years later, she studied with Rabbi Josh Boettiger at Congregation Beth El and converted to Judaism, the religion she felt she was always meant to be.
Following her high school graduation, she entered the Durban College of Technology to study radiography, on the east coast of South Africa. She received her degree and soon found that taking x-rays of peoples’ bodies was not her cup of tea. Fortunately, she met her first husband just at the time she was trying to figure out what to do next. The couple moved to Zimbabwe where they ran a tobacco farm, but because of guerilla warfare, they had to flee to the family sugar farm in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa. She now believes that both products, tobacco and sugar, should be banned. Together they raised three very successful children and the couple parted ways after 19 years of marriage.
Once again, she found herself at loose ends when in waltzed handsome Clifford Granger who danced her off her feet. He was an American (went to Williams College) who was born in Argentina. He worked for an international food corporation, so after their marriage her world travels truly began. First they lived in Hong Kong and then were transferred to Bangkok, where Ginny studied gemology at the Asian Institute of Gemological Science and lectured there on the subject of gemstones. They then moved on to Singapore where Ginny imported Copper Craft jewelry and other items from South Africa. Before retiring to the US, they had one more stint in Hong Kong.
That was 20 years ago. They settled in Williamstown, as Clifford had such fond memories of his time there at Williams. Throughout their retirement, Ginny kept very busy writing jewelry appraisals, entertaining friends, and taking part in the plays at the Williamstown Theatre Festival with talking and dancing parts. All went well until Clifford began to have a series of strokes, which eventually ended his life in 2007. She describes him as “the finest human being I ever met.” Surely, his memory is her blessing.