Media‎ > ‎


A collaboration with the Berkshire Eagle that shows the diversity in our community.
For our Blog Posts: click here.

Berkshire Greek families will celebrate Orthodox Easter on Sunday By Siobhan Connally, Special to The Eagle

posted May 3, 2013, 12:08 PM by Jv Hampton-VanSant

George Cami and his wife, Irinia, will celebrate the Greek Orthodox Easter, which falls this year on Sunday, by serving a special dinner at their restaurant, the Aegean Breeze. (Siobhan Connally / Special to The Eagle)

George Cami remembers well the feeling of Easter joy as a child growing up in Greece -- the music, the dancing, the snitching of meat from the roasting lamb.

Cami, owner of Aegean Breeze in Great Barrington, has lived in the Berkshires since he opened the restaurant with a business partner in 2001, three years after coming to America from Corfu, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea.

The way he sees it, America is still the land of opportunity.

"We come for the children. Opportunity is better here. Good schools. Life is better here," he said.

Even in the work of food, Cami sees opportunity.

"There is more healthy food in the U.S.," he said, "more vegetarian food. More local organic produce. In Greece, these things are limited."

In many ways, Cami doesn't miss his homeland. He has his family; he sees his relatives frequently, and they are able to keep fundamental traditions alive here both in business and at home.

"My father raised bees, and my grandfather raised bees, so I raise bees," Cami said, laughing. "Kids love the honey, and it's better than sugar."

He also gets the opportunity to celebrate two Easters -- Roman Catholic Easter, celebrated this year in March, and Eastern Orthodox Easter, which is celebrated by the Gregorian Calendar, this year on May 5.

Although Easter is universal in that it commemorates the death and resurrection of Christ as relayed in the Bible, in the Greek tradition it is celebrated in a

slightly different way and without the secular encroachment of magical bunnies and baskets filled with sugary candies.

It begins with 40 days of lent, where the faithful eat an all-vegetarian diet, and ends it a day-long celebration of feasting, music, dancing and merriment.

Every city in Greece has different traditions, he said.

In Corfu, where George and his family hail, the celebration of Easter (Pascha) is a week-long event that begins on Palm Sunday -- the Sunday before Easter.

On Good Monday, Corfiots begin preparations. They shop, they begin baking traditional Easter breads, called tsoureki. Tsoureki is a sweet, braided yeast bread with citrusy flavors.

Religious services, hymns, candle-lighting and the ringing of bells usher in different traditional celebrations during the next few days of Holy Week. The first bell instructs the residents to begin dying the traditional red Easter eggs, a custom that symbolizes rebirth and nature.

Bells on the morning of Good Friday call the faithful to church, where they commemorate Christ's descent from the cross. Choruses and bands perform through the day and night in a kind of funereal observation.

On the Saturday preceding Easter, the faithful gather at church for a re-enactment of an earthquake that followed Christ's resurrection. As the appointed time arrives (11 a.m.) bells sound, people proclaim "Christos Anesti" (Christ has risen) to each other and respond, "Alithos Anesti" (He has truly risen) amid the clamor of bands parading through the streets and people tossing clay pots and vases from windows and balconies, so they noisily crash onto the streets below.

A slaughtered lamb is slow roasted on a spit for the next day's feast.

At midnight, a Christian Mass is celebrated, which marks the resurrection of Christ and ushers in Pascha.

First, the 40-day Lenten fast is broken with Maryiritsa, a traditional Easter soup that is made of lamb and offal (cleaned intestines and other organ meats) as well as scallions and rice.

"We don't use organ meats at the restaurant," Cami said, explaining the Easter soup he serves patrons. Traditional flavors and American sensibilities don't always mix: "People are healthier here. They don't want the fatty meats."

In America, Greek Easter is more of a family affair. Cami's relatives take turns hosting Easter celebrations, and Holy Week events are condensed into one eight-hour celebration of food and family.

"We spend seven or eight hours at the table singing, dancing," he said, "the more people the merrier."

Greek Easter at the restaurant, however, is a little more formal. It mixes a bit of Greek traditions with an American flavor. The first of these arrive in the form of hard-boiled eggs dyed a festive red. Cami hand-dyes 200 eggs, which he serves at the table in place of the usual olives and pita offerings.

The custom is to crack the eggs as one would clink a glass during a toast, and the egg that doesn't break brings the bearer good luck. Over time, Cami has noticed at his restaurant that more and more people are gravitating toward more traditional Greek foods, especially at Easter.

"For (Roman Caltholic) Easter we had lamb and ham," Cami said. "We sold only four orders of ham."


On the bridge

This column is a collaboration between Berkshires Week and Multicultural Bridge to encourage voices from all backgrounds in these pages.

On Sunday, Aegean Breeze will offer a special, three-course prix-fixe menu for Easter: The first course is Easter Soup or Greek Salad with Easter bread; the second course is Honey Glazed Ham or Rosemary Roasted leg of lamb; and the third course is Galatobroiko, a custard-filled filo pastry.

Berkshire Morris Men dances welcome May Day By Liz Blackshine, Special to The Eagle

posted May 3, 2013, 12:06 PM by Jv Hampton-VanSant

Berkshire Morris Men will celebrate May Day with a dance in Great Barrington. (Courtesy of Lawrence Wallach)

With "wintry mix" displayed throughout this month's weather forecast, many Berkshire residents impatiently thaw out and await the warmth and vibrancy that spring promises. Instead of waiting out the cold, this year the local Morris Dance team invites the community to join them in a sacred and joyous pagan May Day ritual of song and dance that beckons all to participate in spring's arrival.

While it may not be true that humans can hurry spring along, the intention of taking part in the waking of the Earth from her slumber is an annual ritual many pagan or Earth-based cultures have held dear for several centuries before the spread of Christianity.

The term pagan originally referred to a "rustic," "country person," a "peasant" and later it encompassed every religious practice that was not Christian or Jewish. Nicholas VanSant, one of the founding members of the local Morris team, explains, "the pagan piece is the observance of the Earth and its cycles. Its not religious in terms of a canon. It is a ritual in that we do it on a regular basis with intention. We dont expect anything magical to happen apart from enriching our lives and enriching the lives of the community, which, I think, is enough. We are pagans with a little p."

While the Morris dancers of Berkshire County do not necessarily identify with being religiously Pagan, they resonate with "being a part of a stream of oral folk tradition passed along directly from one man to another," said Christopher

Sblendorio, another of the founding members of the local Morris team.

His interest in the Morris song and dance was sparked in England as he interned at a Rudolf Steiner school. The Berkshire Morris team started in 1982 at Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School when Sblendorio was playing a very rare Morris tune in his classroom. Graham Dean, England native and another longtime staff member of GBRSS, was cleaning the halls, passed by Sblendorio's classroom, and danced the precise Morris steps that coincide with the odd tune.

Sblendorio and Dean began the now 32-year-old Berkshire Morris dance team, of which three of original six members still remain.

VanSant, then a parent at the school, said, "I had no idea what it was but as soon as I put the bells on, I knew I wanted to do it! It was special; there was a certain feeling about it that's very dear to me that has grown over time."

At the May Day celebration you can expect to witness a group of strong jovial men, of varying ages and ethnic backgrounds, dressed in white, red handkerchiefs on their wrists and waist, bells wrapped around their legs, carrying big sticks, and jumping high into the air and around each other in patterns to the music of a diatonic accordion, fiddle, and/or the pipe and tabor played by a colorfully dressed, cheerful, beat-keeping melody maker.

Sblendorio often proclaims to the crowd, "the hankies are to attract the audience, the sticks are to wake up the Earth out of its winter slumber, and the bells are to attract the fairy folk." He adds that the celebration promotes, "prosperity, good luck and fertility."

Relying heavily on the oral tradition of the folk dance is a unique facet to keeping the Morris dance alive and not static.

"We are happy to be a part of a long line of dancers whose rituals made their way to us. And we hope to pass it along to others," said Sblendorio.

The dancers take basic moves from one of the basic styles and then add to it.

"We mostly do a tradition called Fieldtown, now this is a Cotswold Morris," says Dean, who got his start at Morris dancing in Shelburne, England, which is in Gloucestershire, also in the Cotswold district. Cotswold district is home to the city where our very own Great Barrington gets its name. Dean continues, "We've created four dances in the Berkshire tradition, which are unique to our team."

At this year's May Day celebration, the team will be dancing one original dance and one traditional dance. Sblendorio said as VanSant and Dean strongly agreed, "Somebody's got to do this! We would love for a bunch of young guys to come and take it over from us so we can just sit back, watch and enjoy it."

They concluded that "any men who are crazy enough are welcome to join" them every Monday evening at 7 p.m. at GBRSS for practice.

The intrigue is enhanced knowing the Morris dance team starts off every performance season at dawn on May 1, where they, each year at the same place, perform for only nature and themselves.

Homer Meade stands up for justice By Siobhan Connally, Special to The Eagle

posted May 3, 2013, 12:04 PM by Jv Hampton-VanSant

Homer Meade reminisces at his desk. (Siobhan Connally / Special to The Eagle)

STOCKBRIDGE -- By any rational measure, Dr. Homer "Skip" Meade has led a charmed life. An intellectual life. A life that has always examined truth and decency.

For more than 40 years, the W.E.B. Du Bois scholar and Cornell University graduate has made his home in Western Massachusetts. He has taught in local and regional schools, served as a member of the W.E.B Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and been involved in crafting curriculum and teacher standards to ensure future academic excellence for a new generation of Americans.

So it is difficult to imagine him, now wearing the uniform of professorial distinction, ever carrying a rifle and wearing the garb of revolution. Risking his own life to gain a valid education for others. That is his truth, as well.

Meade is among 24 distinguished local African-American men who will speak at Pittsfield High School on Friday in celebration of Black History Month.

His father was a professor and Boy Scout executive, and he began to train black youth in the skills they needed to obtain advancement; his mother, the director of youth services of the Morristown Neighborhood House, where she grew an organization that provided child care, daycare and after-school programming for families -- many of them immigrants -- in transition. It's an organization that continues to this day.

"I benefitted from all of that," said Meade. "They wanted those examples to

be understood and inculcated by me, that there was a purpose and that certain individuals within the culture had certain things they had to recognize and live up to. He had been class president; he had gotten an appointment to West Point but ended up attending Cornell University. 

"What I found at Cornell was an absence of inclusion of individuals of color in activities which had included them," he explained. "A most striking example of this was Du Bois. But within science, within literature, within those expressions even of architecture there needed to be reference to a broader inclusion and process, and that's what all the upset at Cornell was about."

His life could easily have ended one day in April 1969, when racial tensions at Cornell came to head and a group of African-American students took over Willard Straight Hall in advance of a parents' weekend. Straight Hall, a student union building, also served as a hotel for visiting parents and dignitaries on the Ithaca campus and would be teaming with people.

It started out as a peaceful protest, not unlike other sit-ins that had taken place around the country. However, when members of a fraternity tried and failed to forcibly evict the demonstrators, some occupiers left and returned with guns for protection -- Meade among them. He returned to the Straight with a 30:30 rifle.

"If they didn't meet demands, and we weren't going; it was up to them to get us out," said Meade, noting that the climate of fear at the time played a pivotal role in student resolve.

"Orangeburg S. Carolina was a black institution," he said, "and in ‘65-'66 they had demonstrated because the bowling alleys were segregated. And when they got back to the dorms, police -- either state or local police -- arrived and began firing in dorm windows. Several students were killed.

"Those reports. The three civil rights workers, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King and even Bobby Kennedy there was a real demonstration that the lives of certain individuals had no reason to be respected. I was clear. I knew what I had to do. It's a moment, yes, but there were many, many things that lead up to that."

Just before the takeover of Willard Straight Hall, a cross burned on the grounds of a women's dormitory, spurring the need for immediacy.

"Nothing we saw (in the response from Cornell officials) addressed that," he said. "The university couldn't provide better security, so we said ‘We'll protect ourselves.' "

Meade knew the potential consequences. He knew what would happen if the school turned to state troopers or the National Guard to handle the situation, and he had prepared himself for the worst.

Looking up at a photograph made of him after the takeover had ended -- an iconic image that had appeared in Newsweek and which showed Meade and other protestors carrying guns and wearing ammunition belts as they left Straight Hall -- he describes the moment and the appearance of his younger self, wrapped in a shroud and carrying a rifle at the ready.

"I don't take this picture lightly," he explained. "I wanted my parents to understand that I had prepared for what was coming. I went up to a room -- there were guest rooms in the Straight -- and showered and cleaned from all the exertion and sweat that I'd been involved in that day in securing the building. I'd thrown away most of the garb and took a bedspread and folded it and cut here and here, laced with a sheet, so dad would know when he came that I'd prepared myself."

That moment caught on film, and all the decisions that had led to it, were life-changing, not only for Meade, but for countless students who have followed him. Meade credits the university's provost for his courage in not only brokering a peaceful end to uprising but also realizing the truth of the situation: That while the university had moved to diversify its campus, it hadn't adequately prepared systems that would support that diversity and nurture its success.

"We were very lucky to have a provost (Dale Corson) who understood all that. Truly understood it. It's amazing to think back about it now, back in ‘66, ‘67, ‘68, how attuned he was to facing a monolithic structure. He was able to start programs bringing in minority scholars to the university, to alleviate that which had been long ignored. Saying ‘ignored' is maybe stating too much intention. It was just part of the process.

"These professors who believed they were in an ivory tower. Here were students who had been brought into this new recruitment program and put into an economics course and told what the urban economic problem was, and here were these students who came from that urban landscape saying ‘that's bullshit.' "

Corson persuaded the president to allow him to handle the uprising within the university and not to call outside authorities. The result was a peaceful end of the situation and a change of policy that allowed the creation of the the Africana Studies and Research Center, which is still vital today.

Meade still marvels at the outcome and what could have been a very different ending to his story. But he knows such this truth -- like physics -- isn't relative.

"If there is an injustice, we have to right it. When there is justice, then we need to promulgate it," he said. "It's not enough to do. To understand the impact of the impact so we can be true and contributive citizens. There needs to be movement of knowledge. That's what I've done."


On the Bridge

Multicultural Bridge and Berkshires Week have partnered to create a column and a blog that will share voices and stories from all corners of the county and the world.

Meet a professor of languages from South Sudan, a mother from Peru, a rancher from Becket and many more neighbors, at


If you go ...

What: Living African American History Project -- 15 men speak with students and faculty, ending with reception

Where: Pittsfield High School

When: Friday, 7:30 to 11:20 a.m.

Information: Multicultural Bridge, (413) 274-1001

Tell it on the mountain: Berkshire youth leaders prepare Martin Luther King tribute By Elizabeth Blackshine, Special to the Eagle

posted May 3, 2013, 12:02 PM by Jv Hampton-VanSant

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. waves to the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963. (Associated Press)

GREAT BARRINGTON -- Living within the majestic landscape of Berkshire County, many hold dear a set of hills or mountains in the region. The familiar mountains seem to reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.'s last speech in April 1968, often referred to as the "mountaintop speech." King eloquently and passionately relays a vision of gazing out over a mountaintop and beholding his dreams.

Imagine the great soul of Martin Luther King Jr. looking out over our local mountain landscape and seeing Berkshire youth giving shape to his vision of social and economic equality.

He might see youth leaders speak at the upcoming 14th annual Interfaith celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday on Monday.

If King gazed over Mount Greylock, he might see Mount Greylock High School senior Crystal Haynes called into the principal's office -- for her exemplary skillful conduct in cultural conflict resolution. With years of experience as a Youth Leader in Multicultural BRIDGE (Berkshire Resources for Integration and Diverse Groups Education) Youth Corps, Haynes has great confidence in helping her student peers peacefully and constructively resolve situations involving racial prejudice and stereotypes.

As King taught, "you need to try to get a sense of understanding from each side," she said.

Haynes became involved with Multicultural BRIDGE Youth Corps three years ago when the organization responded to a request from Mount Greylock High

School. They offered a school-wide series of workshops to collaboratively build a new sense of community. 

As a result, Haynes said, "there were big changes in the faculty. I could tell they really cared and made an effort to welcome new people. Our school is making big strides for the community."

Haynes takes part in the Greylock ABC House, which welcomes young scholars from New York City and supports them in the Berkshires. As an African-American originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., Haynes has bravely addressed ignorant comments and even hateful remarks.

When she faces these kinds of challenges, she said, she "looks to King as the ultimate example of courage and strength, the definition of peace."

As she has courageously taken on racial integration, she has not only become a part of the community in Williamstown, she has also stepped into leadership with much grace and success; she was recently inducted into the Governor's Youth Council, where she represents Berkshire County's youth, working for their needs on a state level.

While racial integration was an enormous contribution King made to the nation, he wrote in his book, "Strength to Love": "Desegregation is only a partial, though necessary, step towards the final goal which we seek to realize[:] genuine intergroup and interpersonal living."

This genuine inter-group living resonates with local youth leader and program director of Greenagers Will Conklin.

Glancing over Monument Mountain, King, in his vision, might see Conklin leading a group of teenagers of various economic backgrounds to create gardens, clearing trails, being stewards for the Earth and their community.

Greenagers programs include education, activism, community service, as well as making it a priority to pay youth for their contributions to community.

"Anytime [we're] talking about economics and community building, creating a resilient local economy, if [we're] not engaging the young people in that community, then [we're] perpetuating a stagnant system," Conklin said. "ŠThe income gaps are as important as racial gaps."

Conklin reaches out to school guidance counselors among other groups to recruit youth of diverse backgrounds. He refers to Martin Luther King Jr. as making our nation a richer place to live, and he defined that richness as "talking to people from different backgrounds on a one-to-one, equal level, and asking the hard questions."

If King, in his visioning on the mountain- top, had a glimpse over Mount Everett and East Mountain, he might see the articulate high school senior Austen DuPont, a Youth Operational Board Leader of Railroad Street Youth Project (RSYP), asking hard questions about economic and social inequalities.

DuPont points to segregation between income classes at his high school, as well as aspects of the curriculum based around assumptions of financial wealth.

At RSYP, youth of all backgrounds are "encouraged to have a voice, and are welcome to use the place as an actual resource," DuPont explained. Among other activities, he and fellow RSYP participants head once a month to briefing sessions at the United Nations to lift their voices with concern and suggestions for international issues.

When asked about the importance of celebrating MLK Jr. Day in Berkshire County, DuPont responded enthusiastically, "this holiday is like Thanksgiving for Martin Luther King!"

This column is a collaboration between Berkshires Week and Multicultural Bridge to encourage voices from all backgrounds in these pages.


If you go ...

What: 14th Annual Interfaith Celebration of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday -- youth leaders will speak

When: Monday, noon to 1 p.m.

Where: First Congregational Church, 251 Main St., Great Barrington

Admission: Free


Finding a voice in silence By Margot Welch, Special to The Eagle

posted Nov 16, 2012, 9:56 AM by Jv Hampton-VanSant   [ updated Nov 16, 2012, 11:26 AM ]

This column is a collaboration between Berkshires Week and Multicultural Bridge to encourage voices from all backgrounds in these pages.

Posted:   11/15/2012 12:46:19 AM EST
Updated:   11/15/2012 11:47:05 AM EST

Thursday November 15, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- "I love being deaf!" says Karran Larson, and she means every word.

But it hasn't always been so.

A case manager for the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (MCDHH), Larson was born in a small Illinois town in the early 1950s. Long before newborn screenings and rubella vaccinations were routine, Karran's mother was concerned.

"You worry too much, "the pediatrician said. "She's just a little slow. She'll outgrow it."

In school, Larson sat in the first row, observing her teachers vigilantly. Never hearing the bell, some day, she told herself, she'd understand how all the kids knew exactly when to put their papers away and get up to leave the classroom. Her teachers, calling her lazy and inattentive, recommended she be put into a state institution for the retarded. Fortunately, a second grade teacher said, "That child isn't dumb! She needs a hearing test!"

The only deaf member of her family, Larson found her home supportive, attentive and loving. Her father, an ardent civil rights activist, insisted on the importance of reading, which developed Larson's linguistic capacity.

"He made good rules," she recalled. "At dinner we all sat around a circular dining table. I could see everybody when they spoke. Only one person was allowed to talk at a time -- never with a mouth full!"

Except for middle school years at the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, where she learned

lip-reading and speech, Larson attended regular schools.

In the late 1960s -- when Civil Rights, Women's Liberation, and Deaf and Disability Pride initiatives were changing the world -- Larson enrolled in the University of Southern Illinois, transferred to the New School for Social Research, in New York, and got a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling from New York University.

"The times were so powerful," she said. "It used to be that I had a 'hearing problem.' Even with my wonderful family, I grew up without a deaf role model or deaf peers, internalizing an unspoken message from the dominant culture that part of me was defective. I needed to fake it. But now, meeting healthy, unashamed deaf people, I was out! I didn't care what anyone thought. With Deaf Pride, everything changed. I'm so proud to be a part of the deaf community."

Now bilingual in English and American Sign Language (ASL) and knowledgeable about the lifeways of deaf people, Larson was becoming bicultural. She loved living in New York, but not wanting to raise children there, moved with her family to the Berkshires.

Discovering a significant need for mental health counseling among deaf students, she transferred to the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health in Pittsfield, becoming a licensed mental health counselor. Now, with her colleagues, she supplemented her individual counseling with the critical work of interagency collaboration.

Thriving on challenges, Larson spends much of her time advocating, counseling, referring, consulting, training, and improving cooperation among various state departments -- Health, Developmental Disabilities, Mental Health, Education, Justice, Housing, Transitional Assistance, and Legal Assistance.

One aspect of her work involves helping growing numbers of deaf immigrants. Many have special educational needs and may be victims of violence, mentally or physically ill, in need of housing or legal assistance, she said.

Arriving here, they may know their country's distinctive sign language. But some, deaf from birth, may never have learned to sign. The degree to which linguistic capacity develops will depend on a child's age when hearing is lost.

In refugee camps, Larson adds, medical care, like schooling, is minimal.

Knowing American Sign Language helps deaf immigrants to take part in resettlement and citizenship programs.

"Where there is ESL, there should be ASL," Larson insisted.

Significant comprehension and communication difficulties make it hard to find work, she said.

This is true for all immigrants. And if they do not understand what is expected of them to comply with visa requirements, their lives are shadowed with deportation fears.

"I'm a high-energy person," Larson said. "My work keeps me challenged. It's good."

Conveying the joy she finds in life, Larson also understands the scorn and disrespect that anyone learning a new culture may experience.

Devoting herself to alleviating the isolation and practical needs of the deaf, this generous, experienced, gifted woman is also a human-rights advocate.

Questioning, making connections, and, like her father, pushing for change, Larson enriches all cultures lucky enough to claim her as a member.

Partnership across generations By Kate Abbott

posted Oct 5, 2012, 1:13 PM by Jv Hampton-VanSant

Partnership across generations

This column is a collaboration between Berkshires Week and Multicultural Bridge to encourage voices from all backgrounds in these pages.
Sherry White, right, presents Stockbridge Police Chief Richard Wilcox with a blanket as an honor. (Courtesy of Stockbridge Police Chief Richard Wilcox)

Thursday October 4, 2012STOCKBRIDGE -- In the 1950s, Tribal Con servation Of ficer Jim Davids would come from the Stock bridge Munsee Com munity Band of Mohican Indians to the Berkshires. He and Stockbridge Police Chief Richard Wilcox’s father would hike and canoe down the river together.

More than 200 years after they left Stockbridge as a group, Mohican people come to the Berkshires to walk in the mountains -- and to advise in the cleanup of the Housatonic.

Sherry White, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Stockbridge Munsee, has an office in Troy, N.Y. And she has a longstanding friendship with Wilcox.

In conversation, White, Wilcox and Barbara Allen, curator of the Stockbridge His torical Collection, explained that for at least 9,000 years, until the 1600s, the people of the Mohican nation lived along the Mahicannituck, the waters that are never still -- now the Hudson river -- and in the lands surrounding it.

"The original Mohican homeland is huge," Wilcox said, "from the Hudson River Valley to Vermont, from Mahnattan al most to the Connecticut River."

Wilcox’s connection to the Mohicans goes back nearly 300 years. His ancestor, Dr. Oliver Partridge, served as second physician in Stockbridge when the town began as a mission settlement between the Mohicans -- and people of the Nara gansett, Munsee, Delaware, Scatticoke and others -- and the English colonists.

The Mohicans moved, under pressure, from Great Barrington to settle in Stockbridge, and they agreed to learn the customs and live by the laws of the Europeans who had often broken covenants with them. It was a difficult choice, White said, and it raised arguments among people who had their own familiar faith -- and little reason to trust the colonists."Even while we were here, some people did not want to be Christianized," she said.

Partridge spoke for the Mo hicans in the community and represented their political interests. He treated them when they were ill. He must have sat with them when they were dying. He must have bathed newborn babies.

He kept diaries, and Wilcox has read them. Reading the account books give such a vivid sense of Partridge’s days, his work and his concerns, that Wilcox feels as though he knows his forbear.

When the Mohicans left Stock bridge, forced to move west, Partridge agreed to care for the places here they most loved. Wilcox is carrying on the work.

"Chief Wilcox has been a friend of the tribe for years," White said. "He has been helpful in keeping the tribe’s interest in projects around here. People think because we left here, we have no interest in this place, but we really do."

Because she works for the Stockbridge Munsee, she comes often, she said; many of the stockbridge Munsee do not have the means to travel as she does and to walk in the Ice Glen in October, when the leaves turn colors.

Chief Wilcox’s family met Jim Davids through Wilcox’s grandmother, who curated the Stock bridge Historical Col lec tion for 30 years.

"When people come from Wisconsin to visit, they know: ‘If you’re going to Stockbridge, find Rick Wilcox,’ " Wilcox said.

He and White met through her work. Through the years, he said, he has become involved with community preservation, and he wanted to make sure whatever he or the town did, they did respectfully.

So Wilcox and White work together to preserve and care for places important to the people of the Stockbridge Munsee Nation. Three years ago, they cleared and cleaned the stone pillar from the Ice Glen that honors Mohicans who lived and died here.

They wanted to keep a balance between restoration and leaving the land in peace, Wilcox said. With a preservation grant, they restored the stone staircase and found an Indian head penny embedded in the mortar. Masons would often press a penny into the mortar with the year, he said, to show when they finished the work.

The mason who built the stairs left his own memorial token instead.

Now, after the cleanup, a visitor can stand by the stone and look down to the river.

"It’s great what Rick does," White said. "The Tribe is so grateful, we honored Rick with a blanket. This is significant," a community honor, a sign of strength. "We wait for the day when we’ll get a blanket."

When they give someone a blanket, they wrap him in it. At Laurel Hill Day on Aug. 25, Chief Wilcox stood warmly surrounded in his tribute, with Mohican symbols in bright-colored wool.

Full circle: Sukkot celebrates the harvest By Siobhan Connally,

posted Oct 5, 2012, 1:00 PM by Jv Hampton-VanSant

Full circle: Sukkot celebrates the harvest

By Siobhan Connally, Special to Berkshires Week,

Thursday October 4, 2012 GREAT BARRINGTON -- Beginning her 17th year as educational director at Hevreh of Southern Berkshire, and in the midst of the High Holy days, Paula Hellman is a busy woman. She has new families to meet and new educational programs to administer.

The temple is transforming -- windows removed and a tent erected temporarily -- to accommodate the nearly 700 worshippers who come to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; it's all part of an invigorating cycle for Hevreh, which is also celebrating its 13th year at its State Road location.

Still, Hellman is never too busy to tell a story.

"I find that everything is a story," Hellman said with a laugh. She often encounters herself on a tiny chair among tiny scholars, telling tales from the Old Testament.

One of her favorites is of Abraham in the desert.

"He's with Sarah, and the tent flaps are up so he could welcome visitors," she said. " He runs to greet them. Washes their feet. Runs to get a cow to make them dinner. We learn that not only is this an obligation, but that this is a good thing for them to do. To welcome guests. To feed guests."

It is an illustration that is also reminiscent of the Jewish harvest festival, Sukkot, a seven-day observance that literally means Feast of Booths and is traditionally held five days after Yom Kippur.

"(It) is a time of great rejoicing," Hellman said. "Traditionally, when we were an agricultural society, families would

literally move into the fields, erecting a temporary dwelling called a Sukkah or a booth, and they would live there while they were doing the harvest."As a remembrance of that time, many families still build the three-sided, roofless structures in their yards that house a table laden with the bounty of the harvest.

The Sukkah at Hevreh is decorated each year by the children, using gourds, flowers, fruits and tree boughs, Hellman explained. The three walls are wrapped in twine and woven with corn stalks.

"It is a beautiful thing: It has no solid roof, so that you can look up and see the stars, and traditionally it has an open wall so that you can see people coming and welcome them," she said.

"One of the traditions of the holiday is that you wave something called a lulav and an etrog. Lulav is made up of three things: myrtle leaves, which represents eyes; palm branch, which represents the spine; and a willow branch, which represents lips. And the Etrog -- another name for a citron -- that has a sweet scent and a strong taste and represents the heart.

When held together they represent essentially your whole self. (We wave them) in all directions: North, South, East, West, up, down ... so that that

we have a sense of connecting totally in a totality with God."And as Holy Days come to a close, they do so with Simchat Torah, which means Joy of the Torah, and the scrolls are unrolled in the synagogue.

"It emphasizes that we are in a cycle, going from the end to the beginning. In this ceremony, students who have a bar or bat mitzvah in 2013 will receive the torah portion they will read for the first time.

"After that ceremony we roll up the Torahs, put on the Torah covers, and we dance."

Dancing reminds her of another story.

"Arthur Waskow, in his book ‘Season of Our Joy,' he talks about Rosh (meaning head) Hashanah as how we worship God in our intellect," she said. "Yom Kippur, which is fasting, strains the heart. Sukkot, as harvest, makes us think in terms of gathering with hands, and Simchat Torah is the dance.

"Head, heart hands and feet the whole living intuit becomes part of what we do at High Holy Season. And in our school we try to convey that joy. Through stories. Getting the children to have a sense that they are creating a community and continuing that into the world.

"We teach at our school that it's up to us to have a relationship with God and to understand that we are responsible to take care of the planet and heal the rifts within our community. That's one of the things we try to convey to our children.

Spanish teacher builds a bridge to Peru (By Roberta McCulloch-Dews, Special to Berkshires Weeks)

posted Oct 5, 2012, 12:29 PM by Jv Hampton-VanSant

GREAT BARRINGTON -- Since 2003, Spanish teacher David Heath has taken a group of his students on a trip to a Spanish-speaking region. His obvious goal is to give his students a better understanding of the region's language and culture. But Heath, wanting each trip to go beyond sightseeing, always adds one more goal to the mix: community service.

And so, when he talks about the trip each year to prospective student travelers, he makes sure to drill those points home.

"It's a language learning trip," said Heath, explaining what he tells his students at Monument Valley Regional Middle School before they embark on their journey. "We have five or six meetings as to what to expect. Hopefully, when you come out of it, your Spanish will be better, and you'll help others."

Before the group's trip to Cusco, Peru, this past summer, Heath said the students organized a clothing collection drive for the Peruvian children. Once in Peru, the students stayed with host families, had classes in the morning at Amauta Spanish School, and then worked with local children in the afternoon.

In the beginning, the students had to get used to their new environment.

"When they first get there, there's a lower level of comfort with their surroundings, because everything is new," he said.

But once that new feeling wore off, the students felt energized and got down to the business at hand.

"They had the chance to interact and get

to know the locals," Heath said.

Helping the Peruvian youngsters with their homework, playing games like chess, or simply having some fun drawing chalk on the ground or coloring books, the American students got involved.

"We had 17 kids and divided them among three projects. Two of the groups were involved in the afterschool program, and then some of them went to a school for the deaf," Heath said. "With the afternoon projects, (the kids) had to be self-starters. Most of the kids jumped right in."

Heath has fostered this mix of learning and volunteerism for many years, since he traveled to Spain for a mission trip in the 1980s.

That trip "made it so that I was fluent, (and) it gave me a lot of insight into how other people do things," Heath said.

He has also traveled to Mex ico and Spain.

"After the mission trip, I decided I would get certified in Spanish," he said.

On his most recent trip, Heath also gave his students room to relax and explore. They visited Machu Picchu.

"We got up at 3 a.m. to get the bus, and then we got to the train station. It was a really scenic train ride," he said. "We did sightseeing and then climbed the mountain Winu Picchu the native Peruvians have a reverence for the Earth, so we made an offering. It was a day to be remembered. "

Though the trip was hard work, Heath saw it make a difference in his students' lives.

"We were tired at the end, but it was a good tired," he said.

Interacting with children who lived in Peru made an impact on 13-year-old Ana Bloom.

"It has changed my perspective, because everything there and here is different," Bloom said. "We take a lot of things for granted (here). In Peru, some kids just wanted food."

The trip has since inspired Bloom to continue volunteer work in her community.

"I thought maybe I should do it here," she said.

Hearing stories like Bloom's reinforces Heath's mission.

"It's all about building bridges and communicating with people," he said.

Saidiya Hartman finds her family roots

posted Aug 20, 2012, 7:44 AM by Jv Hampton-VanSant

August 16, 2012 Section: Berkshires Week Article ID: 081612S16_art_0.xml Page: S16
Saidiya Hartman finds her family roots
Roberta McCulloch-Dews
Special to Berkshires Week
MONTEREY - On one of her visits to the local transfer station in the town of Monterey, Saidiya Hartman had a conversation with a neighbor with whom she had something in common.
"I met a woman who went to the same high school as I did, Christ the King in New York," said Hartman, a professor at Columbia University who lives in the Berkshires in the summer and returns to New York City for the rest of the year. "It's a small world in those ways."
Though this was an unexpected bond in an unusual setting, Hartman has focused on the idea of commonalities in recent years. It began when Hartman traveled to Ghana in 1998 where she stayed for a year to learn more about the stories of those affected by the Atlantic Slave Trade, but she ended up writing a more personal story based on her mother's ancestral roots in Ghana. She documented this experience in a 2007 book, "Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route," where she had to rethink notions of a shared experience among the peoples of the African Diaspora and learned to broaden her meanings of identity and community in a global world.
But disclosing these revelations came with a cost, she said. "People have very strong feelings about 'Lose Your Mother.' Some people liked it, but some hated it because it talked about the tensions between African-Americans and Africans," she said. "And then there was my mother; she was upset because she felt exposed in a way. It was like, 'Why do you have to talk about your family at all.'" Turning the attention toward her family wasn't the initial plan. Hartman's visit to Ghana was for a research project, but when she was hindered by a lack of archived material, she was left with little to move forward.
"I was struggling with the lack of firsthand accounts. I asked myself, 'How am I going to write a book about an encounter with nothing?'" said Hartman, whose many specializations include African-American history. " It was the other scholars I was with who said, 'This story is very personal. Stop resisting.'" Reviewing the detailed journal she kept during her stay in Ghana, Hartman saw her story come alive on the pages. "I had hundreds of pages of my experiences, enabling me to reflect on the scholarly and the personal," she said.
One of the main issues centered on Hartman's identity as a black American in relation to the Ghanaians.
"I didn't feel like I was an outsider; people were telling me I was an outsider. They called me 'bruni,' which means white person, or stranger or westerner," said Hartman. The term is used interchangeably. "I discovered that I had a romance that all black people had a similar experience." But for Hartman, even trying to talk about slavery was considered an affront at times.
"I expected there to be a similar reaction to slavery in West Ghana as it was in the Diaspora, but there was such a different take on it. … It was like, why would you bring (slavery) up," said Hartman, who also spent some time in Curacao, Brazil learning about her dad's roots. "Plus, there was African slavery; it was like these two histories of slavery that were overlapping. There's shame that Africans have for participating as trade partners with Europeans. We don't ingest how complicated that legacy is."
Interestingly, Hartman found that the longing she had for an ancestral home that, in essence, no longer recognized her as one of its own, was a theme that resonated with others.
"Some people identified with how we've been shaped by the past. Also, it was interesting to speak with a European immigrant who said it felt like I was telling her story about a home that no longer exists," Hartman said. "People who experienced homelessness and displacement also identified with it."
Reconciled with her past and history, Hartman's identity today is, in a way, fluid.
"I think people, we create our identities, so I think there's power in that. I guess I would say that that was part of my journey," she said. "How and where we belong, that's not static. It changes."
• BW Photos by Stephanie Zollshan / Berkshire Eagle Staff
Saidiya Hartman sits in her garden, at home in Monterey.
(c) 2012 The Berkshire Eagle. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup

Couple creates a hub of Polish community

posted Aug 20, 2012, 7:37 AM by Jv Hampton-VanSant

Berkshire Eagle, The (Pittsfield, MA)

July 12, 2012 Section: Berkshires Week Article ID: 071212S06_art_0.xml Page: S06

Couple creates a hub of Polish community

Roberta McCulloch-Dews

Special to Berkshires Week

GREAT BARRINGTON - A nonstop flow of traffic sweeps through State Road in Great Barrington, a busy corridor lined with restaurants, specialty stores and boutiques. The hectic pace is usual for this active stretch of road clotted with travelers from all parts of the county and Connecticut, too.

But inside the unassuming storefront at 67 State Road No. 2, better known as Maria's European's Delights, the tempo is markedly slower. Without the hustle and bustle, patrons are free to peruse the aisles, stocked mainly with central and eastern European products with a spattering of Turkish items, and to have conversations with the owners, and sometimes with each other.

"It's like coming in and talking to a friend," said Kris Sekowski, who opened the business with his wife Maria nearly five years ago, after he was laid off. "It becomes like a family. Old customers call us by name; we're more like a friendly, neighborhood store."

Most of the shoppers who come through have an accent, so when they speak Kris said he can tell right away where they hail from.

"I know who's from where, because everyone is talking. I recognize people by accents. I know already who's of which country," said Kris, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1979 at 24 and still retains a robust Polish accent. "Anybody that walks in always has a story to tell."

This kind of environment is a throwback to the local momand- pop stores of years ago, and also reminiscent of the ones Kris and Maria enjoyed in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, N.Y., a longstanding eastern European enclave.

"(Ours) is the only store of its kind in Berkshire County," said Kris, "but we used to live in Brooklyn and there's a store like this on every corner."

The city's Polish specialty shops drew many people, like Maria's parents, who had a weekend home in Housatonic, back home to Brooklyn N.Y., to purchase familiar foods. The trips were more frequent leading up to cherished holidays like Easter and Christmas for items like uszka or stuffed mushrooms, Maria said.

" When we came in 87, Housatonic had a lot of Polish," she remembered. "All these people have passed on. There were these Polish picnics … Women used to meet and make pirogues, stuffed cabbage and get ready for the picnics. My parents had bought a house over here and we used to come every weekend. Back then we used to go to Brooklyn to do our shopping."

While it would have seemed natural for the Berkshires to have a similar specialty market back then, Maria said she couldn't recall anyone venturing out to open this kind of store.

"Years ago, people didn't take (those) risks. Now people just do it," she said.

Though the Polish community that Maria once knew isn't as large as it once was, the store serves as a link to keep everyone connected. "Not so many people know there are so many ethnicities," Kris said. "We are a center point." With customers boasting a spectrum of eastern European roots, Kris said they focus on stocking their shelves with highly desired staples like vinegar-based foods, marinades, cabbage, mushrooms, potatoes, cheese, meats, and jams. They keep the prices low - here you can get a good-sized bottle of natural mineral water for $1 - by picking up the products themselves.

"You have to know your product: That's no. 1," Kris said.

The couple works with several distributors to ensure a steady variety. The array of foods resonates with customers, he said, thinking of one particular German lady who always comes in with a premade list. One

young customer was happy to see a European brand of milk chocolate in the display above the front counter.

"I was surprised when a kid came in and was so excited to see Kinder. In Europe, they're very popular and pretty tasty," he said. Over time, the products have developed their own calling card, allowing Kris and Maria to forgo ongoing advertising.

"We advertised in the beginning," said Kris, adding that they still do some advertising for certain special occasions.

" Some people pass by and may come in, but a lot of our customers are by word- ofmouth. That's how people find out about us."

And when they do step inside, Kris will offer brief explanations, for those who would like it, on the product offerings, as most are not in English.

But there also those times when customers know exactly what they want.

An actress who starred in "Mamma Mia," and shall remain nameless, came in towards the store's closing, found what she wanted and left, said Kris, who recognized her but kept it at that. "I respect the privacy of my clients," he said. " They just want to come to a small store and not be bothered."


(c) 2012 The Berkshire Eagle. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Media NewsGroup

1-10 of 13