JUNE 1, 2017 – When people on Cape Ann talk about making a contribution to society, Dr. Philip Cutter’s name comes up almost immediately in conversations. For decades, Cutter and his wife, Eve, and their children, Amy, Martha, Michael, and David, have been giving back to the secular and Jewish community. Cutter, of Rockport, rose to become the chief of psychiatry and medical director of inpatient psychiatry at Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester. He has served as president of Temple Ahavat Achim, and helped raised funds to rebuild the shul after it burned in 2007. He also helped lead the fundraising effort to build the Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport.
Phil, where did you grow up and what was your connection to Judaism as a child?
I was born in Medford. My family was very connected to Temple Shalom in Medford. My father was a lawyer and the president of the temple. My mother taught at Medford High School and was the president of the temple sisterhood.
I had a very strong Jewish upbringing. My family was conservative and my [maternal] grandmother had a very big impact on my life. She was more toward the Orthodox side and she went to temple regularly. I frequently sat beside her, and she made sure I read every word in Hebrew and that I was a good Hebrew School student. On Fridays, I used to watch her make challah. She lived to over 100.
So, even as a child, Judaism was important to you?
Yes. I liked the family connection and the tradition, and at some point I realized that Medford was a non-Jewish community – and there was some anti-Semitism. In a class of 500 kids graduating from high school there were maybe 15 Jews, and so we were a minority. I was teased and ridiculed on the streets by other kids because I was Jewish. I had some battles on the street. So there was a comfort in connecting to Judaism because it was good and meaningful and it was important. I loved Jewish holidays. There was a lot of family and good prayer and good food. Passover seders were just beautiful. My grandmother had them on both nights and they were long, and all of the extended family – 15 or 20 people – were there. We got new clothes, and new shoes to wear on Passover.
How did you meet your wife, Eve?
I married a woman who had a similar background, and she lived in Somerville. She had a BBYO social event, and I was in AZA. I crashed a party at her house when I was 16 or 17 and met her. I went to Harvard, and we got married two weeks after I graduated from college. And then I went to Tufts medical school.
When did you first start working in Gloucester?
I came to Gloucester in 1970, and I was involved for over 40 years. I created a program that was initially called the Cape Ann Children and Family Center at Addison Gilbert Hospital. It was a state program. We also had a child program, an adult program, an addiction program, and a day treatment program. And we had residences for intellectually challenged kids. We also opened a 12-bed inpatient psychiatry unit at Addison Gilbert.
What was rewarding about working in your field?
I felt that psychiatry had a lot to contribute to the health of people, and in many ways, the needs of the mentally ill were underserved. And I felt there was a tremendous need to build a program that started with children, and then families, and then adults. Adults needed both mental health treatment and addiction treatment – there was a big alcoholism and addiction problem; heroin addiction was a big problem in Cape Ann in the early 1990s.
It was very satisfying work. I think we built a very good program and I think we helped a lot of people from Cape Ann and I think we got the community to understand and accept that there were people suffering from mental illness that needed treatment and benefited from treatment.
You helped raise $5 million to rebuild the Gloucester temple after the 2007 fire?
Yes. I love the temple, I love the community and I love Judaism and you need to have a temple. I wanted to feel the presence of God in a building, and we needed to have a building. I’ve been president, my wife has been president, and we’ve been on the board for many, many years here.
This is a very warm, very loving, caring community of people and they’re very welcoming to anybody who wants to step in through the door. And everybody talks about how wonderful it is to be a part of it here. I think it’s unique that way. My wife and I have belonged to other temples and we’ve never felt that way. There’s no pretentiousness, everybody is equal, and is treated the same. There’s no class structure in this temple; if people want to get dressed up on the high holidays that’s fine but it’s not the culture of this place.
What I learned from that process was how strong this community was and how much people cared about their Jewish connection and how hard they were willing to work to rebuild and for this to be a part of their lives.
You study the Torah?
Yes. I like what the Torah has to teach us about being Jewish. I’ve only been going to Torah study for the past 10 years – I’m sorry I didn’t start it earlier because I’ve come to realize how valuable and important it is to me in life. I’ve always lived a Jewish life where Jewish principles and values were important to me but somehow going to Torah study has been reaffirming that I’ve lived a good life.
Can you tell us about the new endowment project you’re working on at the temple?
We are raising over $2 million to endow the Family Learning Program at Temple Ahavat Achim. The campaign is called the Rabbi Myron and Eileen Geller Endowment Fund. We call it the Family Learning Program because we’ve become aware that if you want to guarantee the future of Judaism, then educating children and their families is the place to start, and I want the assurance that this school will continue to be able to do this for many years.