Archive | December 2012

Merry Christmas From Staten Island

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The news from Staten Island, it’s not all bad.

For the most part, everything seems – SEEMS – like it’s back to normal after Sandy, the worst storm in Staten Island’s 300-year history.

The stores are hopping with Christmas shoppers.

The streets are typically jammed with traffic.

The noisy holiday revelry in local restaurants with present opening, reindeer antler wearing patrons lay on an extra surreal layer to this island that everything is okay.

Last night, my husband and I ate at Euro-trendy Alor Cafe. As we dined on crepes and roasted Barramundi and sipped our Riesling and Merlot, we listened to a trio of flamenco guitarists:

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All this normalcy takes place above “the Boulevard.”

Hylan Boulevard.

Drive below the Boulevard, in the neighborhood where I grew up and my parents still live, things get strange.

Everywhere, there are subtle and not so subtle reminders of how Sandy reaffirmed for many Staten Islanders why  the Island’s South Shore has the dubious distinction for being named  “Zone A.”

First, you notice the inspection postings that dot a front window on nearly every residence:

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Then, there are the police cars that are out on nearly every corner. All day and all night:

CedarGrove12 035 CedarGrove12 036But go even closer to the water. Look into the field out my childhood window and you see further evidence of the storm:

Sandy12 125A tiny house. In the field. Where there is not supposed to be a house. Never was there a house there before. Until Sandy took it off its foundation.

And on the other side of the field, some more harsh evidence of Sandy:

House on Fox Beach, still decorated for Halloween.

House on Fox Beach, still decorated for Halloween.

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On the other side of my childhood neighborhood are the eclectic bungalow-lined streets of Cedar Grove. Though I didn’t know anyone who lived here, I am thankful for the peacefulness these streets offered me in my teen years. These are the streets where I felt safe riding my bicycle. Many of these streets now have RED inspection stickers which mean that most of these houses are no longer safe to inhabit.

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Even the neighborhoods makeshift 9/11 memorial had been destroyed by the storm surge:

the site of a local 9/11 memorial. There used to be a statue and a plaque here, all gone.

the site of a local 9/11 memorial. There used to be a statue and a plaque here, all gone.

As I walked these streets in the low December sun, I thought to myself: Am I a disaster tourist? Am I just a gawker?

No. No I’m not.

I couldn’t bring myself to take photos of the most badly damaged homes. The ones reduced to rubble. I felt by taking photos of these homes, I would be just be further violating the homeowner’s dignity. FOX news and CNN took photos of the worst, only to chase the next big news story and forget about this place just weeks later.

In this tucked-away corner of Staten Island, I’m not a tourist, though I no longer live here. I want to show the world these secret streets, to show them in their continued state of misery. Even though the media has moved on.

Don’t forget this strong and dignified neighborhood, however modest their homes.

Still there are signs of hope. This beautiful  Spanish-mission styled church still stands:

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Outside of a makeshift relief center where residents can get food, drinks and even Christmas gifts, there is this tree, with a sign of hope and resilience:

CedarGrove12 027 CedarGrove12 028Merry Christmas to the people of Cedar Grove, Staten Island. I won’t forget you. I won’t be satisfied until you are rebuilt once again.

Where is it Dangerous? Where is it safe? It’s all about perspective.

stacylynngittleman:

the first time I posted this the photo was not visible

Originally posted on Stacy Gittleman's blog:

In Israel, where all Israelis learn to shoot a gun during their service in the Israel Defense Forces,  civilian ownership of most guns is strictly prohibited, and ownership of assault weapons is banned. The result: 2008 total firearms deaths in Israel: 143. Number of 2007 total gun-related deaths in United States: 31,224.

In Israel, where all Israelis learn to shoot a gun during their service in the Israel Defense Forces, civilian ownership of most guns is strictly prohibited, and ownership of assault weapons is banned. The result: 2008 total firearms deaths in Israel: 143. Number of 2007 total gun-related deaths in United States: 31,224.

“Isn’t it scary living in America?”

“Are you not afraid of getting shot from those crazy people who have guns?”

At the time I was asked this question, I was on a chartered tour bus.

In Israel.

It was the summer of 1989. I spent part of that summer picking mangoes and tending the banana fields in a Northern Israeli kibbutz.

1989 was the year the first Arab uprising, or intifada, raged in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. A few weeks before my arrival in Israel,   Arab terrorists ambushed a Jerusalem-bound tour bus off a…

View original 588 more words

Where is it Dangerous? Where is it safe? It’s all about perspective.

In Israel, where all Israelis learn to shoot a gun during their service in the Israel Defense Forces,  civilian ownership of most guns is strictly prohibited, and ownership of assault weapons is banned. The result: 2008 total firearms deaths in Israel: 143. Number of 2007 total gun-related deaths in United States: 31,224.
In Israel, where all Israelis learn to shoot a gun during their service in the Israel Defense Forces,  civilian ownership of most guns is strictly prohibited, and ownership of assault weapons is banned. The result: 2008 total firearms deaths in Israel: 143. Number of 2007 total gun-related deaths in United States: 31,224.

In Israel, where all Israelis learn to shoot a gun during their service in the Israel Defense Forces, civilian ownership of most guns is strictly prohibited, and ownership of assault weapons is banned. The result: 2008 total firearms deaths in Israel: 143. Number of 2007 total gun-related deaths in United States: 31,224.

“Isn’t it scary living in America?”

“Are you not afraid of getting shot from those crazy people who have guns?”

At the time I was asked this question, I was on a chartered tour bus.

In Israel.

It was the summer of 1989. I spent part of that summer picking mangoes and tending the banana fields in a Northern Israeli kibbutz.

1989 was the year the first Arab uprising, or intifada, raged in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. A few weeks before my arrival in Israel,   Arab terrorists ambushed a Jerusalem-bound tour bus off a winding mountain road. Fourteen tourists were killed.

That’s the kind of Israeli news that reaches American media. Still, at 19, I ventured off for my adventure in Israel. Alone.

1989 was also the year of a horrific schoolyard shooting in Stockton, California.

That’s the kind of American news that reaches Israeli media.

My questioner was a young Israeli man, around my age at the time, 19 or 20, who was serving in the Israeli army. There were many Israelis like him on our day trip to the Ein Gedi Oasis near the Dead Sea.

He was part of a unit called the Garin Tzabar. The Garin Tzabar spend part of their two (for girls) or three (for boys) year service to the country in military duty, and part of their service helping out Israel’s kibbutz economy.

I can’t remember if, in the fields, or on that trip to Ein Gedi, my soldier co-volunteers carried guns with them. But if they did, the sight of a young man or woman with an assault rifle slung across their back would seem perfectly natural.

Nearly 25 years later, now after the horrific shooting in Newtown, Conn., I can’t get this question out of my head:

Is it scary living in America?

Yes. Yes, I guess it is.

This question, of where is safe, or will I be safe, surely crossed the minds of several families in my community who will be traveling to Israel for the first time this December.

Just one month ago, as Israel faced another barrage of missile attacks from Gaza during Operation Pillar of Defense, these families were considering cancelling their trip. Because, in the mind of the typical American,  a trip to Israel may not be safe.

Is it ironic that it was in Israel where I felt the most safe? Because there were soldiers, highly trained soldiers who went through strict psychological checks before they were trained on how to use a weapon, ever-present everywhere?

I felt safe in Israel when my bag was checked before I entered a supermarket.

I felt safe in my four trips to Israel when my bag was checked and x-rayed before entering a school where I visited.

Do I feel safe in America with our 2nd Amendment twisted to such a way that one can buy as much weapons and arsenal as they want at a West Virginia Gun show and buy bullets online?

The day of the Newtown shooting, before I had any knowledge of it, I went to pick my nine-year old up at school after a half-day dismissal.

Innocently thinking I had reached the office entrance to pick up some more bus passes, I entered the school through the wrong door.

I walked through the hallways full of children zipping up jackets and lugging backpacks.

No one stopped me.

Yesterday, when I went to pick up my son from school, there were big red signs slapped onto the doors of the school.

STOP

THIS DOOR WILL NOT OPEN UNTIL 3:10.

NO ONE ALLOWED ENTRANCE PRIOR TO 3:10.

IF YOU NEED TO PICK YOUR CHILD UP EARLIER,

GO TO MAIN ENTRANCE. 

Promptly at 3:10, a slight woman, with a weary look on her face that showed how much the Newtown shooting had hit home, came to open the door for the waiting parents.

Did this sign make me feel safer?

Did this woman, no taller than 5’2″, opening the door to this now-secure school make me feel any safer?

Where is it safe? It’s all about perspective.

My Sandy Project for Staten Island

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IMG_0764[1]Kids love their stuff. Their toys, their blankies, books and games.

Imagine being a kid, who, on top of losing all your favorite stuff, you’ve lost your home too.

Imagine being a mom trying to cope with all that loss. And at the same time, trying to get through all that red tape of  filing claims with insurance companies and FEMA.

A few small things, delivered from up north,  just might brighten your day. Even if it’s just a new bottle of berry red nail polish.

A few weeks ago, Susan Bernstein, Director of Education for Temple Beth El in Rochester, told me she had been in touch with an old friend in Staten Island. That friend, David Sorkin, happens to be Director of the Bernikow Jewish Community Center in Staten Island.

The two are collecting “stuff” –  books, toys, crafts, games, and other small luxuries – for those who have lost everything on Staten Island.  The “stuff” will be distributed to hundreds of clients of the JCC now living in shelters throughout Staten Island. These families, some of them living on the brink of poverty even before the storm, just need some sense of normalcy. It’s not much. Toys, books and beauty products may be just a small diversion as these families grapple with long-term struggle of rebuilding their lives and homes.

The only challenge – Rochester and Staten Island are about 350 miles apart.

Susan then asked my husband and I if we had room in our car to drive the donations to Staten Island.

Now, packing a family of five for a car trip is no small task. The family SUV will be crammed with suitcases, bookbags, snacks for the road, and don’t forget my son’s guitar. Then,  there are those growing bodies that used to fit so compactly in an infant seat. Those ever-growing lanky teen and tween legs have taken up the room we once used to stow away all the extras.

No, I have no room in my car. But I’ll happily take all the stuff anyway. Happily.

There is all the room in my heart for my ravished hometown, Staten Island. I have seen the photos and have been following any speck of news from my hometown.

I can’t wait to go home. I know that seeing the devastation with my own eyes is going to be really hard.

In my phone conversation with Sorkin, he asked me to imagine a 4-foot storm surge reaching all the way up to Hylan Blvd. My brain just can’t process. All those businesses, many of them still not up and running.

Since Sandy hit, all I have wanted to do was go home and help.

So, I thank Susan for getting this project started with the JCC of Staten Island. I thank my rabbi, Sara Friedson-King, for letting me make an appeal to the congregation during Shabbat morning services. And I thank my Temple Beth El family for all the donations that will truly make someone’s day a bit brighter.

So far, in addition to the donations in the above photo, there is also an entire barrel of donations waiting for me at synagogue.

I’m putting a hitch on the family car. Renting a U-Haul. Where there is a will there is a way.

Staten Island, don’t worry, I’m coming home to help.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Changing Seasons

Unfortunately, there is no snow on the ground – yet – in Western New York.

But there is still evidence of the changing seasons.

Each week, as part of a long-term science project my son must work on for the entire school year, he must take a photo once a week at the exact same time, exact same place.

This photo, taken in late October, still finds my icicle pansies in bloom in my perennial garden, but little else. Soon, hopefully, they will be covered in snow, the garden all but a memory in a mid-winter’s dream.

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Ricotta Cranberry cake with Dark Chocolate Chips

stacylynngittleman:

Nu, from Chutzpah in the Kitchen! This very tempting cake made with ricotta cheese. i think I”m making it for a holiday/ hanukkah party this weekend. Thank you to Chutzpah in the kitchen! \

Originally posted on chuzpahinthekitchen:

This is possibly the easiest cheese cake recipe ever!

This is what you will need:

12 oz butter softened ( 1 1/2 sticks)

1 3/4 cups sugar

4 large eggs

2 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups part skim ricotta

1 cup sour cream

1 cup dark chocolate chips

1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries

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In a mixer blend the butter and sugar on medium speed until it becomes pale and smooth. Add the eggs one by one until blended. Add the vanilla and the ricotta cheese.  Scrape the bowl to make sure it is well blended.

Add the flour and sour cream mix for only 1 minute you done want to over mix!

add the cranberries and chocolate chips mix those in by hand with a spatula!

Pour into a well sprayed bundt cake pan and bake at 350…

View original 77 more words

The Last Post from the Brighton Community Garden

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Now that December is here, this post about wrapping things up in my little spot in the Brighton Community Garden is way overdue. But I must write this final post as a conclusion to the unforgettable experience it has been digging, weeding, watering and reaping alongside my fellow Brighton  neighbors.

My neighbors and I have shared watering and weeding responsibilities through a hot dry summer. Our tomato patches bursting with more than one family could possibly consume, we’ve traded beefsteaks for exotic varieties such as the green-striped zebra or tiny yellow jelly bean.

Sue Gardiner-Smith, the manager of the garden, made sure that we kept up with our commitments to clear the common paths of weeds and not let our own plots get too overgrown (that meant taming my wild pumpkin vines!) In return, she gave me carte blanche to take as much Swiss Chard as I could cut from her never-ending crop of the green leafy stuff.

My garden experience ended on Veteran’s Day. The kids had the day off. First, we paid a visit to the brand new Veteran’s Memorial sculpture, just next door to the garden:

The talons and feathered legs of the Eagle sculpture at the new Brighton Veteran's Memorial.

The talons and feathered legs of the Eagle sculpture at the new Brighton Veteran’s Memorial.

Then, we got to work. We pulled out the last of the vegetation, blackened and dead as a result of a hard killing frost that descended over Rochester a night or two before:

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We pulled up the fencing and the poles ( the boys had to have a stick fight with them atop the compost heap, of course):

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Harvested our last pumpkins and carrots, and finally, chopped down the remains of that sunflower that grew to be about 10 feet tall.

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Putting this garden to bed would be the first of many lasts for me in Rochester.

Like clearing out this garden, I’m literally pulling up my roots again. Rochester may not be my hometown, but it is for my kids.

When I cleared the last weeds with my kids, I  knew I would never garden here again.

In the end, the plot looked just as it did back in March. You would never knew how it was covered with tomato, bean, pumpkin and flowers just weeks before.

In the end, the plot looked just as it did back in March. You would never knew how it was covered with tomato, bean, pumpkin and flowers just weeks before.

I would not be putting down my $25 deposit to renew my lease on this 10’x10′ piece of land that gave me so much delight. Next spring,  this plot will be cared by someone else.

Next spring, I’ll be well on my way to finding our next home, and hopefully our next garden somewhere in Michigan.

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