Dance festival steps up for Garfield

March 7, 2016

ITEM PHOTO BY OWEN O’ROURKE
Late Lynn resident Ellen Garfield will have the 40th Israel Folkdance Festival of Boston dedicated in her memory.

By GAYLA CAWLEY

LYNN — The Israel Folkdance Festival of Boston celebrates its 40th anniversary next week on a sad note: The event will be dedicated to the memory of Lynn resident and long-time participant Ellen Garfield, who died on Feb. 19 after a battle with breast cancer.

“She was an extremely giving person when it came to her students and the community,” said Garfield’s husband, Stuart, who added, “She went out of her way to help people on a regular basis.”

Scheduled for March 13, 3 p.m., at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium in Cambridge, the celebration will honor Garfield’s legacy with a range of Israeli dance styles.

Described by Susan Gruber, president of the Israel Folkdance of Boston, as a festival director, dancer, singer and musician, Garfield was a member of the Israel Folkdance Festival of Boston Coordinating Committee intermittently from 1990 to 2016.

Gruber said Garfield first participated in the festival in 1979 as a dancer with Or Chadash, of Hartford, Conn.

After moving to the Boston area, Garfield continued her connection with the festival as a choreographer for M’Russia B’Ahava. She was the welcoming face of the festival for many years as the official greeter for dance groups arriving to perform.

She also mastered festival lighting, starting in the era of manual big levers and progressing to the digital control board currently used in productions.

Also an educator, Garfield taught at local Jewish day schools, including the Cohen Hillel Academy in Marblehead. Gruber also said Garfield was an accomplished vocalist who performed with a number of groups in both the Boston area and abroad.

“She was a woman who was very full of life,” Gruber said. “She had an absolutely beautiful singing voice.”

Gruber said she remembers Garfield as someone who had a tremendous love of books, and as a coffee fanatic. In her memory, she said a committee member is trying to get permission to bring coffee into the auditorium for the festival, since there are no food or drinks allowed. She said she remembers Garfield as the “kind of person you just wanted to sit and chat with.”

“She was the person there at 6 a.m. in the auditorium with a smile on her face to greet all the dancers coming in,” Gruber said.

Gruber said there will be a page in the festival program dedicated to Garfield, and is hoping her family will be at the event.

“She’s going to be really missed,” Gruber said.

Stuart Garfield, a freelance photographer, said he met his wife when she was a music educator teaching at different Jewish day schools. He said he was attracted to Ellen because “she was one who had given quite a lot of time to the community.” He said he met Ellen in 1984 and the pair was married in 1986.

Garfield said his wife loved to travel and read. He said she often performed with her band, Passover, as the lead singer, in Italy. He said Ellen sang services every Friday up until this past year at the Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott.

Garfield also said his wife loved books and travel so much that for her 60th birthday this past November, she rented a flat in Paris to make sure she would go to the Shakespeare and Company bookstore to see old books.

He said dancing was another one of his wife’s passions.

“On one of our first dates, we went dancing together,” Garfield said. “She yelled at me for dancing on her feet. She was always yelling at me for doing something wrong.”

Garfield said Ellen was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer two years ago. He said she went through chemotherapy and had her last day of radiation on Dec. 31, 2014.

After being declared cancer free, she quit work to take care of her mother in Hyde Park, New York until her mother’s death from cancer in December 2015 – two months after Garfield was again diagnosed with cancer. The second diagnosis determined the disease had metastasized throughout Garfield’s body.

Stuart Garfield said it is an honor to have the festival dedicated to his wife.

“To be able to think that much of her to dedicate that festival to her is a very nice thing to do,” Garfield said.


Gayla Cawley can be reached at gcawley@itemlive.com. Follow her on Twitter @GaylaCawley