September 9, 2020

ICE BREAKER: Sarah Filler controls the puck in a game this past winter during her sophomore season with the Princeton University women’s hockey team. Having accumulated 114 points on 44 goals and 70 assists in her first two seasons with the Princeton University women’s hockey team, star forward Fillier is more than halfway to breaking the Princeton career assists (122) and points (218) records held by Katherine J. Issel ’95. This summer, Fillier was named to train with Team Canada through its National Women’s Development Camp, which is being held virtually. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Sarah Fillier just turned 20 this past June, but she is already on track to achieving a pair of ambitious goals in her ice hockey career.

Having accumulated 114 points on 44 goals and 70 assists in her first two seasons with the Princeton University women’s hockey team, star forward Fillier is more than halfway to breaking the Princeton career assists (122) and points (218) records held by Katherine J. Issel ’95.

“I always plan to have a better season that the last one,” said the 5’4 Fillier, a native of Georgetown, Ontario who tallied 22 goals and 35 assists in each of her campaigns with the Tigers.

“I think the type of player that I am, you take points into that consideration and with that in mind, it would be great to be able to break records and set records.”

While Fillier didn’t increase her point total in her second season, she felt was a better player with a year of college experience under her belt.

“As a sophomore, I definitely had more confidence in the league for sure,” said Fillier, whose honors this winter included making American Hockey Coaches Association (AHCA) second-team All-America, first-team All-ECAC Hockey, first-team All-Ivy League and second-team All-USCHO.

“I had been playing with Maggie [Connors] and Carly [Bullock] for a year and knowing how to handle school.” more

RETURN ENGAGEMENT: Benito Gonzalez fires a pitch in 2009 game during his career with the Princeton High baseball team. Gonzalez, who went on the pitch for The College of New Jersey baseball program, has returned to his old stomping grounds, teaching at the Princeton Unified Middle School and coaching the PHS junior varsity baseball team. In addition, he took the helm of the Post 218 American Legion baseball team, succeeding longtime coach Tommy Parker. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

By Bill Alden

Benito Gonzalez experienced a turning point in his baseball career as he headed into the latter stages of his Princeton High career.

“I enjoyed playing for the team, I felt much better about my junior and senior seasons,” said Gonzalez, a 2010 PHS alum.

“Looking back, I feel like that is where I turned a corner and started thinking more about playing in college and things like that.”

Gonzalez went on to play college ball for The College of New Jersey, developing into a star relief pitcher.

“I threw a lot of two seamers and sliders at first; it was something that coach noticed,” said Gonzalez, who went 4-4 in 40 appearances in his career with the Lions, posting an ERA of 3.73 with 40 strikeouts in 70 innings. more

FINDING THEIR STRIDE: A group of girl runners show their form at the Princeton Recreation Department cross country camp held in late August at Greenway Meadows Park. The coed program, run by Princeton High cross country head coach Jim Smirk, drew approximately 45 runners. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

With its dirt trails, steep hills, and manicured soccer fields nestled in a bucolic setting off of Rosedale Road, the Greenway Meadows Park is a superb training venue for distance runners.

Over the last two weeks of August, the park was teeming with runners as the Princeton Recreation Department held a two-week cross country program run by Princeton High cross country head coach Jim Smirk.

“When we found out that we were unlikely to have a school sponsored preseason, we really felt like there was an opportunity for us to provide them with some quality training and face to face time,” said Smirk, noting that the fall season is still in doubt due to COVID-19 concerns.

“Our goal was to provide a safe training environment and  with the opportunity to reconnect with each other. Our team is so important to each other and we wanted to do that.” more

September 2, 2020

Socially distanced parkgoers enjoyed the lovely weather and the shade of the trees on Sunday at Princeton Battlefield State Park on Mercer Road. (Photo by Weronika A. Plohn)

By Donald Gilpin

The COVID-19 news, as usual, is mixed. Gyms were permitted to reopen on September 1, and indoor dining, movies, and indoor performing arts venues can open on Friday, September 4, under an executive order from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy — all at 25 percent capacity with social distancing and other restrictions.   

Schools are preparing to reopen either remotely, in hybrid fashion, or in-person in the coming weeks. And on Tuesday, September 1, New Jersey added two states, Alaska and Montana, to its list of COVID-19 hotspots placed on a coronavirus quarantine travel list of 33 states and territories.

Princeton Public Health Officer Jeff Grosser reported on September 1 that the New Jersey Department of Health (NJDOH) has assessed the central-west region of the state (Mercer, Hunterdon, and Somerset counties) as “low risk,” and that Princeton is among towns with the lowest rate of COVID-19 per 10,000 people in Mercer County. The current COVID-19 prevalence rate in the county as a whole is 230 percent higher than the rate in Princeton, Grosser said.

“The rate of coronavirus spread is currently low in Princeton, but COVID-19 is just as contagious and dangerous as before,” wrote Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert and the Princeton Council in their August 31 Princeton Coronavirus Update. “It is still important to practice socially distancing whenever possible, wear a mask when you cannot socially distance, and wash your hands frequently. These precautions are especially important as the state loosens restrictions.” more

By Donald Gilpin

Since hiring full-time career firefighters seven months ago, after more than 200 years as an all-volunteer squad, the Princeton Fire Department (PFD) has seen significant improvements in response times and full staffing of apparatus, and increases in active volunteers and volunteer hours.

“This is a tremendous report,” said Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert in response to Fire Chief T.R. Johnson’s annual report last week to Princeton Council. “The fire department has gone through major transitions recently.  It has improved response time, and volunteer numbers are increasing. Wonderful report — reflects truly amazing work.”

Johnson pointed out that full-time staff, brought on board February 3, have made the PFD less reliant on assistance from other towns and have influenced the department in many ways.   

“Career firefighters have had an immediate impact on ensuring there is sufficient staffing supplemented by Princeton volunteer firefighters,” he said. “It has encouraged our volunteer members to take additional duty shifts at the station, which has significantly improved our response times and virtually removed our reliance on mutual aid for the primary apparatus response.”

Emphasizing progress over the past year, Johnson continued, “The Princeton Fire Department has come a long way from a year ago. We are getting an apparatus on the road for every call in a timely manner, and, even with the challenges related to COVID-19, we are ensuring volunteer duty shift hours are being taken by all volunteer members.  As with any department reliant on volunteers to complete our crews, we still have some gaps and are looking for ways to fill them. But our response times and crew sizes are significantly improved from a year ago.” more

FOXY FRIEND: Princeton Animal Control Officer Jim Ferry is holding a kit fox, only a week or two old, found under a dumpster and taken to Mercer County Wildlife Center, where it was cared for until eventually released back into the wild. (Photo courtesy of Princeton Animal Control)

By Donald Gilpin

Human activity in town may have diminished during the past six months of the pandemic, but foxes have become a common sight in Princeton.

Animal Control Officer Jim Ferry has located several fox dens all across town, in the rural parts near Quaker Road and Stuart Road, and closer to downtown near Springdale Golf Course.

“I have had many reports of foxes looking for food on Nassau Street, Palmer Square, and throughout the University,” said Ferry. “Foxes are territorial. No population estimate, but they are living in every part of town.”

He emphasized that healthy foxes pose virtually no danger to humans. Foxes and any other animal showing signs of rabies  — inability to walk, falling over or walking in circles, making a continuous noise, biting at inanimate objects, appearing overly friendly or aggressive, experiencing seizures or other neurological issues — should be reported right away to Princeton Animal Control at (609) 924-2728. more

LEADING THE SUFFRAGE DEBATE: Catherine Warren, seen in front of her home at 133 Library Place, was treasurer of the New Jersey branch of the Congressional Union, a radical arm of the women’s suffrage movement, and president of the New Jersey State Federation of Women’s Clubs. She is among those featured in a new online exhibit by the Historical Society of Princeton.

By Anne Levin

Despite its small size, Princeton played a significant role in the fight for women’s right to vote. The town was closely watched in the years leading up to passage of the 19th amendment on August 26,1920, because it was home to the sitting president and a former first lady.

“All eyes are on President Woodrow Wilson — who has avoided the contentious suffrage question up to this point — as he travels to his home polling place in Princeton to cast his own vote in the [1915] New Jersey referendum,” reads a digital exhibit by the Historical Society of Princeton and co-sponsored by Princeton Public Library, now on view at “All eyes were on Princeton.”

“Princeton and Women’s Suffrage: The Greatest Question of the Day” takes viewers from the early efforts in 2010 through to passage of the amendment a decade later. While many in Princeton were in favor of suffrage, many were not. The latter group argued that women did not need the vote because their husbands represented them at the ballot box.

“On the question of necessity, in Princeton, as nationally, anti-suffragist women advanced social reform issues through their personal connections with politicians,” the exhibit reads. “To them, this ‘indirect influence’ was a more respectable, non-partisan means to an end for women, but suffragists argued it was an avenue for action that was open to a privileged few.” more

Remote Learning in PPS

With Princeton Public Schools’ phase-in hybrid program delayed, students will not be going into the schools until October 12, but teachers and administrators are honing their virtual learning plans, and the schools are “well prepared to provide a robust educational experience remotely,” starting on September 14, according to a recent PPS email bulletin.

PPS Interim Superintendent Barry Galasso emphasized that the new Canvas online learning management system (LMS) would provide “a uniform learning platform for all students, and, according to the PPS technology department, it’s 99 percent reliable.”

Admitting that the unreliability of the system used last year caused difficulties, Galasso pointed out that the Canvas system is compatible with both Google and Microsoft, it provides access to a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week hotline for support, and that 60 different teachers and administrators in the district investigated the system before it was chosen.

All of the PPS staff is being trained in the use of Canvas, with 400 starting training earlier this summer and the rest of the staff currently being trained in professional days leading up to the September 14 opening day.

“Teachers appreciate how so many programs, including Zoom, are integrated within the program, so students won’t have to navigate outside of Canvas when using a lot of these tools,” said PPS Technology and Innovation Director Krista Galyon.

“For students, all of the classwork will be in one location,” she added. “In the spring, when our other LMS was not proving to be reliable, teachers moved to various platforms. This was often hard for students who had multiple teachers. Canvas brings all of their learning to one location.” more

HELPING HANDS: Since the onset of COVID-19, there has been an uptick in socially distanced volunteering for projects at Friends of Princeton Open Space. The organization is currently seeking people to assist at the Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve. (Photo by Giuli Simmens)

By Anne Levin

When it comes to protecting natural resources, environmental groups count on volunteers to help keep up with planting, managing invasive species, and other essential projects. Local organizations such as Friends of Princeton Open Space (FOPOS), The Watershed Institute, and Sourland Conservancy regularly involve the public in restoration and stewardship of the natural world.

Sourland Conservancy looks for volunteers throughout the year, and matches them with their specific areas of interest and expertise. The Watershed Institute relies on volunteers for everything from clearing brush and feeding animals to helping out at the annual Butterfly Festival or staffing the front desk.

The FOPOS Land Stewards Program is currently looking for volunteers to help at the 18-acre Forest Restoration Site on the Billy Johnson Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve. Sessions are September 2, 3, 9, and 12 from 8-11 a.m. more

By Anne Levin

When it comes to voting by mail in the upcoming general election on November 3, individual states have their own rules. In accordance with Gov. Phil Murphy’s Executive Order 177 declaring the election as a primarily vote-by-mail event, New Jersey is one of nine states (and the District of Columbia) that will send ballots to most registered voters automatically.

Ballots are scheduled to be mailed to residents by October 5. Mercer County officials are urging residents to make sure their voting information is up to date to ensure they receive a ballot. “In an election where so many people will vote by mail, the [County] Clerk’s office must have current information, such as the correct mailing address, for every voter,” said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes in a letter to residents.

In a release from County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello, it is recommended that people who will be away between late September and Election Day should apply to vote by mail specifying the mailing address required. Sollami Covello also recommends that those who have a permanent vote-by-mail status should make sure that the address on file is correct by calling her office at (609) 989-6494 or 6495.

The ballots received can be returned by mail, postmarked no later than November 3; by depositing in a secure drop box; or by handing it directly to a poll worker on Election Day. So far, drop box locations include the Princeton Municipal Building at 400 Witherspoon Street, the Hopewell Township Administration Building at 201 Washington Crossing-Pennington Road in Titusville, the Trenton Courthouse Annex at 209 South Broad Street, the Hamilton Golf Center at 5 Justice Samuel Alito Way, and the East Windsor Municipal Court Building at 80 One Mile Road. More locations are to be added. more

By Stuart Mitchner

The day after Charlie Parker’s 100th birthday, I’m driving to the lake listening to “the earliest authentic document we are ever likely to hear of the 20th century giant.” So say the liner notes accompanying Bird in Kansas City, 1940-42 on the Stash CD The Complete “Birth of the Bebop.” Privately recorded, “probably May 1940,” Parker’s variations on “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Body and Soul” seem to be following me as I walk toward the lake. Because of the unguarded intimacy of the sound I feel as if I’ve been eavesdropping on a 20-year-old’s first recording, in which, as the notes have it, “an overall lack of poise underscores the youthfulness of the performance.” Suddenly, strangely, the sense of “being there listening in” is replicated in the here and now by the sound of a saxophone. Someone on the other side of the lake is playing. For a few seconds it’s an eerie continuum, a phantom player exploring variations on “Body and Soul.” As I come to the water’s edge, peering across the lake for the source of the music, still unable to see the person playing, it begins to sink in (reality bites) that what I’ve imagined as some skilled sharer of Birdlore is more likely a clumsy learner, probably a kid in a school band, and that the tune I’ve been hearing as “Body and Soul” is actually “Happy Birthday.” Still, I’m smiling as I walk along the lakeside, listening. It’s nothing more than a birthday coincidence on the day after, a consolation prize, but I’ll take it.

Born Twice

Only a “20th-century giant” like Charlie Parker could encompass two cities with the same name in two different states, the Kansas City he was born in forever overshadowed by the musically renowned metropolis across the river that gave birth to his legend. The city in Missouri is where he found “a spiritual home in jazz,” as Gary Giddins suggests in Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker (Minnesota 2013), “which remains the best single examination of his art and life,” according to the “Charlie Parker at 100” link in Friday’s New York Times.

Curious to learn more about Bird’s actual birth city, I’ve been consulting my copy of the WPA Guide to Kansas, which sits on the book shelf next to the WPA Guide to New Jersey. The placement makes sense: I was born in Kansas and live in New Jersey, my life bookended by the Sunflower State and the Garden State.  more

FRENCH FESTIVAL: The cast of “La dispute” from the recorded live performance that is part of Seuls en Scène online, September 10-20. (Photo by Yohanne Lamoulere/Tendance floue)

Seuls en Scène, the French theater festival featuring renowned and emerging French writers, actors, and directors, goes online for this season with 12 events September 10-20.

Presented by Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts, the festival includes recordings of live performances of contemporary works recently presented on stages in France, several performed in French with English subtitles; recorded readings; and conversations with artists, live on Zoom, and on the current state of theater in France. more

“LION CLOSE UP”: This rug by Judy Carter of the Hunterdon County Rug Artisans Guild of Flemington has been accepted for inclusion in the 2020 “Celebration of Hand-Hooked Rugs 30,” a premier juried collection of the year’s best hand-hooked rugs.

Hunterdon County Rug Artisans Guild (HCRAG) of Flemington has announced that five of its members have been accepted for inclusion in the 2020 “Celebration of Hand-Hooked Rugs 30,” a premier juried collection of the year’s best hand-hooked rugs sponsored by Rug Hooking Magazine. more

Acclaimed Trenton graffiti artist Leon “Rain” Rainbow has responded to the coronavirus pandemic with a thought-provoking mural that can be found near the intersection of Hudson and Clinton streets. The Trenton Downtown Association (TDA) has stepped in to sponsor the creation of two more murals, made possible with continued funding from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and NJM Insurance.

SCAVENGER HUNT: Artist James Fiorentino is shown with one of the cards hidden at D&R Greenway Land Trust and Greenway Meadows Park. Information about the “Beautiful Creatures” scavenger hunt is available at 

The Garden State Watercolor Society (GSWS) invites the public to participate in a fun activity for all ages. GSWS has designed a unique, family-friendly scavenger hunt, with their “Beautiful Creatures” exhibit throughout the town of Princeton and exhibit scavenger cards at Greenway Meadows Park, surrounding D&R Greenway Land Trust.

Challenged by COVID limitations, the GSWS artists have developed this socially-distanced and engaging new way of viewing the 50th Anniversary installation that is part of their “Out of the Wild” juried exhibit. 

Six special prize cards, depicting forests and meadows preserved locally by D&R Greenway Land Trust, can be found hidden at the land trust’s Johnson Education Center campus on Rosedale Road and in the surrounding Greenway Meadows park. D&R Greenway, a partner with GSWS for this celebration of art and nature, preserves and cares for land where real-life beautiful creatures make their homes in wild habitats. more

PERSONAL SERVICE: “It’s important to do something for yourself, especially now during the virus. it’s really more of a necessity now, not a luxury,” says Beata Giermasinka, owner of Amber Spa in Pennington. Here, hairstylist Kasia Hoff is shown cutting a client’s hair in the new outdoor tent enclosure.

Soothing and calming, yet revitalizing and rejuvenating at the same time.

This is what customers have come to expect at Amber Spa in Pennington.

The full-service spa/salon opened in 2002 at its current location, 16 Main Street, and since then has been providing clients with state-of-the-art face, body, and hair care. Facials, massages, wraps, haircuts and color, manicures, pedicures, facial and body waxing, tanning, and makeup applications are all available.

The eight highly qualified staff members specialize in all of the above treatments, with customer-pleasing results, and the warm and welcoming atmosphere invites clients to relax, and for an hour or two, forget the ever-present “To Do” list. more

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT: Maggie Connors fires the puck up the ice this past winter during her sophomore season for the Princeton University women’s hockey team. Star forward Connors tallied 22 goals and 25 assists in 2019-20 to help Princeton go 26-6-1 and win the program’s first-ever ECAC Hockey title. This summer, Connors is training with Team Canada through its National Women’s Development Camp, which is being held virtually throughout the summer. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Maggie Connors will never forget the final game of her sophomore season for the Princeton University women’s hockey team.

Star forward Connors contributed an assist as Princeton rallied from a 2-0 deficit to stun top-ranked Cornell 3-2 in overtime on March 8, earning the program’s first-ever ECAC Hockey title in the process.

“That game was probably my favorite game that I have played for Princeton so far,” said Connors, a 5’6 native of St. John’s, Newfoundland, and Labrador in Canada.

“It was incredible, I look back and we just fed off the energy in that building. We were so focused and so competitive. We were working so hard and we just had so much fun at the same time because we had never been there. There were no strings attached because we hadn’t even been to the ECAC final before. We had literally nothing to lose, it was definitely a thriller of a game.” more

SCHOLARLY APPROACH: Gigi Venizelos tags a runner in a 2019 game during her junior season for the Hun School softball team. While Venizelos didn’t get to compete in her senior year as the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she did receive a special honor, getting named as a recipient of the Trenton Softball Hall of Fame scholarship award. Star infielder Venizelos is headed to Colgate University, where she will be playing for its Division I softball program. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For Gigi Venizelos, traveling to Florida every spring for the Hun School softball team’s annual preseason trip proved to be a highlight of her high school career.

“I think what will stand out the most is how much the Quirks [head coach Kathy Quirk and assistant coach Bill Quirk] made the team and the program into a family,” said star shortstop and team co-captain Venizelos.

“Going down to Florida for the week before the season started was a staple in our team growth and becoming a family unit. I would say that is the most important thing of how much of a family we became.”

The jaunt to Florida this March will leave Venizelos with some unpleasant memories, as that is when she and her fellow seniors were called back to New Jersey and the players never saw the field together again as the season was ultimately canceled due to COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was tough, being the seniors, we were really looking forward to getting to play out our last season with the team,” said Venizelos. more

August 26, 2020

The Princeton Shopping Center hosted an outdoor screening of “Pine Mud,” a new documentary by local filmmaker Jared Flesher, last Thursday evening. The event was also sponsored by the Princeton Environmental Film Festival and Sustainable Princeton. Attendees share their biggest concerns for the environment in this week’s Town Talk on page 6. (Photo courtesy of Princeton Shopping Center)

By Anne Levin

At a virtual meeting Monday night, August 24, Princeton Council voted in favor of an ordinance  amending the definition of an accessory dwelling unit. The vote was unanimous, though Councilman Dwaine Williamson said he was “51 percent in favor, 49 percent opposed.”

The governing body voted after listening to numerous comments from the public. While many expressed support for the amendment, several were opposed.

The amendment goes back to an ordinance that Council adopted in June, allowing that a primary unit and an accessory unit on a property can be owned separately instead of by one owner. Council introduced the amendment at its previous meeting. The Planning Board reviewed it at a special meeting on August 20, and determined that it was consistent with Princeton’s Master Plan, the town’s Planning Director Michael LaPlace told Council.

Some members of the public urged Council to delay voting on the issue, saying it needs more research. Others expressed concerns that it would cause problems with traffic, density, and parking, and would motivate developers to build more multi-unit condominiums. Yina Moore, Kip Cherry, Michael Floyd, Shirley Satterfield, and Joseph Weiss were among those opposed.

Those in favor called the proposed measure “progressive,” saying it would help the “missing middle” class afford to live in Princeton. Homeowners financially unable to remain in Princeton would be able to stay and age in place, they said. It would also help create a more walkable community, they said. more

By Donald Gilpin

Preparations for September and the first day of a new school year are never simple, but the global coronavirus pandemic has brought on what seems like an infinite array of complications and challenges, frustrations and fears, for school officials, teachers, staff, parents, and students.

At its meeting last week the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) Board of Education (BOE) announced a delay in its revised opening plan. Remote instruction will begin for all PPS students on September 14, but in-person learning, a phase-in hybrid program, is now postponed to October 12 for elementary schools and special education programs, and a week later, October 19, for middle and high school students.

PPS Interim Superintendent Barry Galasso, however, noted that two criteria must be fulfilled before in-person instruction can take place in the school buildings. For the first, there must be enough teachers on site to run programs in the classrooms and the schools. In preparations for the originally planned September 14 opening, about 100 staff members requested accommodations, Galasso reported, and there were not enough replacements available to staff the schools. For the second, Installation of new air filtration units in the school buildings must be complete, with the units functioning effectively.

In a telephone conversation Monday, Galasso expressed confidence that HVAC and other building modifications and personal protective equipment would be ready for the October 12 opening.  In addition to a survey of teachers, the administration is discussing plans with teachers individually.

“Over the next couple of weeks, the board will determine what replacements we need to get, what we need in order to be ready to staff our schools for the October 12 phase-in reopening,” Galasso said.  “They will review accommodations and criteria, then grant or not grant accommodations based on the criteria. We’ll have to see how this finally shakes out.” more

SAVE THE POST OFFICE: About 50 demonstrators, all masked and social distancing, gathered outside the Alexander Road Post Office in Carnegie Center at 11 a.m. Saturday to protest attacks on the United States Postal Service, and to defend the postal system that people depend on and that will be counted on to deliver and return vote-by-mail ballots in the upcoming election.(Photo courtesy of Coalition for Peace Action)

By Donald Gilpin

Calling on authorities to “save the post office,” “defend democracy,” and “protect the right to vote,” about 50 demonstrators gathered at the Alexander Road Post Office in Carnegie Center on Saturday morning, August 22, as part of more than 800 nationwide rallies that day.

“Our demand today is that the post office continues to do its job and deliver our ballots quickly to us and then back to our county governments for counting,” said event co-organizer Frank von Hippel, senior research physicist and Princeton University professor emeritus in the Program on Science and Global Security.

In the event co-sponsored by the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA), von Hippel joined with Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, Princeton University Computer Science Professor Andrew Appel, CFPA board member and Treasurer Mark Pepper, and CFPA Chair Irene Goldman in calling on Congress to protect the postal service from Trump administration attacks, and to act to safeguard the integrity of the mail and the upcoming election, which  during the pandemic will be conducted more than ever before through mail-in ballots.

Speakers also called on Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to resign in the wake of slowdowns and service cuts. “These rallies give notice that we are alert to what is happening in our country,” said von Hippel. “They let our elected officials and other people inside our government, including the post office, know that we will support them if they defend our democracy.” more

COMIC RELIEF: Writer Alan Zweibel, shown at right with late comedian Garry Shandling, will talk about his book “Laugh Lines: My Life Helping Funny People Be Funnier” in an online appearance sponsored by the Jewish Center Princeton on August 31.

By Anne Levin

Growing up on Long Island in the 1960s, Alan Zweibel loved to make his sister, Franny, laugh. He also loved to watch The Dick Van Dyke Show on television and fantasize about becoming a comedy writer like Van Dyke’s character, Rob Petrie, when he grew up.

After several stops and starts including an ill-fated attempt to become a law student, and some failed stabs at standup comedy, he landed the comedy-writing job of a lifetime — on the original staff of Saturday Night Live (SNL).

Zweibel will appear in a Zoom event sponsored by The Jewish Center of Princeton on Monday, August 31, at 7:30 p.m. Email to RSVP.

Zweibel’s account of those early years working on the television show are only part of what makes his recently released memoir Laugh Lines: My Life Helping Funny People Be Funnier, so appealing. The book touches on events in his life before, during, and after the five years he spent at SNL.

Some of his descriptions of writing jokes for aging Catskills comedians are laugh-out-loud funny. But Zweibel is also frank about his experiences with depression after a low point in his career, and heartfelt in his memories of fellow SNL member Gilda Radner, who was his best friend, and for whom he wrote a book and a play. Radner died of ovarian cancer at 42.

Speaking by phone from his home in Cliffside Park last week, Zweibel said he is continually amazed at readers’ reactions to “The Catskills Comic” chapter in the book. more

By Anne Levin

With no end in sight, COVID-19 has been devastating to the arts. Performances and exhibits have been canceled. Staff at theaters, museums, dance companies, and musical organizations have been laid off or let go. Planning for recovery is uncertain.

Particularly hard hit are small arts and cultural organizations with limited resources. It is this sector that is the focus of the New Jersey Arts and Culture Recovery Fund (NJACRF), recently established by a coalition of funders which has already raised more than $1.6 million, including a lead matching gift of $1 million from the New Jersey Pandemic Relief Fund.

“We’re focusing on organizations that have smaller budgets,” said Jeremy Grunin, NJACRF co-chair and president of the Grunin Foundation, which is based in Toms River. “We’re not funding organizations like NJPAC or the Count Basie Theater or McCarter Theatre. They have endowments, for the most part, and have the wherewithal to survive. We’re looking at those that have some paid staff but are facing that huge downturn. We’re also looking at intermediary organizations that can work with them, and get them money.”

Grunin is the incoming chairman of the Count Basie Theater, in Red Bank. Though the fund won’t be helping the theater, he is well aware of its problems caused by the pandemic. “Being dark since March has put a huge constraint on our resources,” he said. “Putting budgets together is a guessing game at this point. The people we employ have no recourse, not to mention the artists who perform there.”

Arts and culture are significant contributors to the economy. Nonprofit arts organizations generate more than $660 million in economic activity in New Jersey, employ nearly 22,000 workers, and engage more than 8.3 million people who stay in hotels, and eat and shop locally, according to a release from the Princeton Area Community Foundation, which is hosting the new fund. more