Monthly Archives: November 2012

And the Winner is…..You

Those of you who know me somewhat well, most likely know who I intend to vote for tomorrow.   It is however, of no significance to this particular post.  In fact, this post can very likely be described as being apolitical.   I will not be making an argument for one candidate or another tonight.  This does not mean I am not taking a stand or that I am ashamed of my vote.  My reasons for making this, what I hope is a very noncontroversial post, are not important.  What is important in my opinion is that we understand truly how fortunate we are to live in a country where we have a genuine opportunity to choose our leaders, where we can verbally attack our leaders if we so desire, and where we can battle those who hold different opinions from what we believe.

I started this website to promote the book Jew Face.  Tonight, although I am not writing about the subject matter in the book, I find it very easy to draw a connection between Election Day and the events in Europe between 1933 and 1945.

I have watched over these past months as the attacks on ideologies and candidates has become more and more intense and less and less subtle.  The people with the loudest voices on social media certainly do not fall into the “Undecided” category.  They make their points unapologetically, they often hold nothing back, and if you choose to challenge them, you better be prepared to take what they throw at you.  Let me make two enormously important points.  First of all, these people are on both sides of the political aisle.  I am by no means implying one side is less passionate than the other.  The second point, but probably the more important one, is that the intensity and passion these people feel for their viewpoint is by no means a bad thing.  If these people are good or bad people, it is not for me to judge, but I will say that I do not believe that judgment should be made by whether or not they vote for Obama or Romney.

These people I am referring to are Americans.  I am an American.  I am proud of being an American.  I am proud of all that I am. I am so very proud of being Jewish and I am very proud of my Dutch background.  But tomorrow, all that matters is that I am an American.  And when I look at what my parents and all of Europe went through under Hitler’s dictatorship and we hear the stories today of what still takes place in countries run by people who would crush those who passionately disagree, dare I say even hate their leaders or candidates, I am so tremendously proud and grateful to be an American.

Our leaders will always make mistakes.  I guarantee you that whoever wins tomorrow, over the next 4 years he will make some mistakes.  But what I also know is that, not even based on the morals of the individuals but on the strength in the system, if you speak to a crowd or post all over Facebook that you hate your president, your basic human rights will not be taken from you.  I know that the extremely passionate amongst you might say, “that might not stay the same if the wrong guy wins”.  The great thing  is that you have the right to say that and no one can ever take that right away from you.  And no country in history has defended that right like the United States of America.

So when you get up tomorrow, and hopefully cast your vote, be thankful that you live in a country where you not only do not need to hide who you are voting for, but even if you wish you had a better choice, you still do have a choice.  And the best part is, that in this country you are the only one who needs to feel it is the right choice.


My personal memory of a Jewish Teen Icon: A cousin’s response

On September 16 I wrote a piece about the tragic death of Ari & Sari Horowitz who had been struck by a car and killed on the way home from synagogue earlier that day, the day before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.  Today I was contacted by Ari’s cousin who sent me a copy of his very moving words spoken at the funeral in Israel.  Scroll down to the comments to read this moving eulogy.  My thanks to Yoni Reif and my deepest condolences for your loss.

A Post Sandy Update: An Old Friend’s Story and a Trip to Brooklyn

Today in taking the D train into Brooklyn I hoped to either find a place where I could either volunteer to help or end up at Coney Island to see some of the damage.  Instead what I learned today is that the usual rules of travel do not apply.  Obviously there are still service changes on the trains so I knew that I was dealing with that issue, but when it comes to getting somewhere in New York I tend to have a confidence bordering on arrogance.  I believe that I will figure it out as I travel and that no significant planning is necessary.  Under normal circumstances I am correct.  Today I was not.  So when I got off the train at Bay Parkway to go to Coney Island, instead of my walk getting me to somewhere where I could do some good, all it did was provide me with about 2 miles worth of walking.  Sure I was in the general vicinity of one of the hardest hit spots, and I did see cleanups in progress, but had it not been for my chance encounter on Stillwell & 86th Street, my trip would have been a waste of time.

While passing a gas station on this particular corner I thought I heard someone shout out “Dave!”  There are some occasions when you hear your name called that your gut reaction is that it is not you the person is calling.  Nevertheless you always look because IT IS your name you are hearing.  This was the case for me today.  As it would happen, getting out of one of the cars waiting in line for gas was an old friend named Desiree.  I worked with her over 5 years ago.  Desiree’s memory was so eerily good she remembered things about my life I had already forgotten.  It was 4PM and Desiree, who was celebrating her birthday, had been in line for gas since 3:30AM.  This was a gas station she frequents, but told me that the man working there who sees her normally was anything but nice today.  There were already problems there earlier that had required police involvement and this man’s patience was wearing thin.  I admired Desiree’s persistence and diligence but when I left her I was fairly certain she was not going to be getting any gas today.

Desiree lives a few blocks from Coney Island.  She was without power until yesterday.  She actually was surrounded by blocks that had powers days earlier, but for some reason it took longer for hers to be restored.  The thing she told me that was fascinating was what happened during the peak of the storm.  As the water was rising it was closing in on her from 2 directions.  It was clearly rising fast and the feeling of it closing in on here scared her to the point of paralysis.  I have not seen Desiree in over 5 years, but one of the things I remember about her, is that she is tough.  For this to scare her to this extent just puts emphasis on what I’ve heard from others who experienced the storm surge.  It looked like Titanic.

I have heard many things said this past week that were frightening and disturbing.  One of the most poignant statements was from my brother Marcel who reminded me that with all the devastation, this was only a Category 1 storm.  The thought of what might have happened if it was a Category 3 storm or stronger is somewhat terrifying.  However, what Desiree told me today, at least for me, was the most frightening thing I had heard.  From what she saw firsthand, if the storm surge had lasted about another 15 minutes, the devastation we’ve seen this past week would have been significantly more widespread.

There was some comic relief provided by the people who seemed to get aggravated at Desiree for not having the answers to their gasoline related questions.  It was even funnier when they asked me because I don’t even own a car, but they’d have no way of knowing that.

So the cleanup continues, it appears as though Long Island is still very much in the dark, and it is getting very cold in New York.  Let’s hope and pray the worst hit find a way to stay warm.  And for those of you who are wondering, the crane looks secured but my street is still closed.  Stay tuned and thanks for reading.

A Post Sandy Update: Firsthand Accounts from Coney Island and Staten Island (With pictures)

Today I had the benefit of two firsthand accounts.  One is from a friend in Coney Island and is accompanied by pictures; while the other is from someone I met from Staten Island and may later be accompanied by pictures.  Having heard that today would be the day they would secure the crane hanging over my head in Midtown, I did not venture out till mid-afternoon.  Yes I’ve decided to declare that it was hanging directly over my head.  I’m not saying this based on any real evidence, but rather for the mild degree of drama that the statement carries with it, and since after tomorrow the crane may no longer be a story at all, I choose to give it one last moment in the forefront.

Today I wanted to go to Brooklyn.  I knew it would be difficult to get anywhere close to the spots where anything happened, but even by riding the shuttle bus I would be experiencing an inconvenience, albeit a mild one, for Brooklyn residents.  I took the train to 34th Street and 6th Avenue where I learned that the shuttle bus to Brooklyn was leaving from 34th Street and Lexington Avenue.  I walked to the shuttle bus and decided to take a ride and see where it would lead me.

Earlier in the day I had chatted online with a Facebook friend from Coney Island named Yelena.  I asked Yelena to read my piece from yesterday since I wanted to know her perspective of the events in Coney Island during these trying days.  The following is most of what she shared with me.

The night of the hurricane the alarm sirens were going off all the time. When I got out Tuesday afternoon, many cars were looted. I took many pictures but I can’t post them to my Facebook page because I only have very limited access to the Internet on my phone. If you send me your email address, I’ll email them to you.  (Click here for Yelena’s pictures).

The poor business owners on Brighton beach started to clean their stores on Tuesday and from what I have heard they had to stay there all the time to protect them from looters. On Wednesday the police sent 100 more policemen to the Brighton beach area to prevent looting. I think one liquor store on Neptune Avenue was looted right in the midst of the hurricane.

What I really find interesting is that I haven’t seen any news crews anywhere. This area has never been closed for access. People could come to us Tuesday morning with no problem. Many residents couldn’t get out, on the other hand, because their buildings, cars were flooded and the trains weren’t in service.

Thank you for offering your help. We pretty much don’t need anything besides hot water, the heating and the Internet. Our land line is also dead. I was able to get to Manhattan on Thursday and did some grocery shopping.

However, there are many older people who live closer to the water. They still have no electricity, no heating. Many have no running water at all. They can’t get out and I don’t know if anybody is doing anything to help them. Many of them won’t even be able to call for help because land telephone lines went dead and the cell phones need to be recharged.

Yelena’s words motivated me towards Brooklyn however, if there was a way to Coney Island today, I never found it.  Maybe it would have required better planning or maybe it just wasn’t possible.  I got as far as Atlantic Terminal (where I did get to see the Barclay Center for the first time).  I was on the shuttle bus at 4PM when an announcement came out saying that the shuttle buses would be suspended due to service being restored on subway lines to Brooklyn as of 3:30.  I hoped that the subway would take me deeper into Brooklyn, but alas it was not so.  I was headed back into Manhattan.

I then decided to get off the subway in downtown Manhattan.  I found myself at the Bowling Green station of the 4 & 5 train and a few minutes away from the Staten Island ferry terminal.  I went into the terminal, considered riding to Staten Island, but chose not to since I had no plan or specific place to go to.  I stayed in the terminal for a few minutes from where I took the picture you see at the top of this post.  It is a shredded American flag, apparently from the storm, with the Statue of Liberty on the left.

I left the terminal moments before a ferry arrived and managed to strike up conversation with a woman walking uptown as I was.  She was pushing her young baby in a stroller, and told me she had just come from Staten Island.

She told me that going on right now in Staten Island, not during the storm, not yesterday, but right now, was a shootout and stabbings over gasoline.  She said it was a crazy scene and it had of course scared her.  She spoke of trees that had fallen in the middle of streets blocking a number of homes at once.  She said that her power had been restored, but then told me something I had not heard till now.  They had power on Tuesday, but then there was a fire in a Con Edison plant in Queens on Tuesday night, causing them to shut down power in her area again on Wednesday.  Just as she said this a Con Edison worker passed by and in a tongue-in-cheek way asked, “What about Con Ed?”  To which she replied, a little less tongue-in-cheek and without hesitation, “you suck”.  She too indicated she would be sending me some pictures to post.  If they come in I will make them available.

I then went home and found out that the piece of the crane that had been hanging over my head was more than likely secure and that my street might be opening as early as tomorrow.  It’s a good thing.  I’m getting tired of carrying around my Verizon bill.  There’s another storm possibly in the forecast for Wednesday.  Let’s hope significant actions are taken by then to help the people who need it the most.

A Post Sandy Update: Coney Island, Looting, and The Dark Night

So today I decided to look for the story.  Naturally with all the events taking place there were stories to be found just by following my somewhat normal routine, but the most interesting information was definitely a result of putting myself in the right place around the right people.  Time in these situations is not as important, except for the fact that it would have to be nighttime.

What I suspect will happen as time goes on, is that for most people life will almost entirely go back to normal.  The people who we will still be hearing about in the months to come will be those from the most severely hit places like Staten Island, Long Beach, and of course the Jersey Shore.  In some ways today was a taste of that.  Of course the commute was slow and the stories were there, but the real seriousness of the storm didn’t hit me today till I got to my office and saw my coworker with a suitcase at her desk.  I did not catch the whole story, but it appeared as though she was not even sure where she was going.  She just knew she was not going home to Long Beach and at one point appeared to be overwhelmed with emotion as she said that she just wanted to sleep in her bed.  It makes me thank God a little more as I sit here writing this while sitting on mine.

I chatted on Facebook with a friend from Staten Island who told me that the situation there was so bad that they were not letting anyone in or out of the worst areas and that they were using an ice skating rink to bring in dead bodies.  All indications are that the death toll from that area has been severely downplayed.  I will get more into that later in this piece.

On the ride home I saw the news that the New York City Marathon had been cancelled.  This news pleased me for a few reasons.  Although I understood the reasons for initially not cancelling it, cancelling it now sent the message that the situation is being watched so closely and that officials are so aware of the needs that they are not afraid to change their minds.  Good leadership sometimes requires flexibility, and in these trying times good leadership is as critical as it has been in some time.  The other message it sends is to those who feel, myself not included, that Mayor Bloomberg is dictatorial, is that he is indeed not and is willing to listen to the opinions of others.  That too, in my opinion, will be a critical factor in the city’s recovery.

Hours earlier I had made a decision.  When my train would arrive at Penn Station, which was now packed with people waiting for the LIRR’s limited trains, instead of taking the subway uptown, I would walk downtown.  I had to see the dark Manhattan.  At first I walked down 7th Avenue.  Although the stretch until 14th Street was not without power, there was a dark feeling to it, almost as if the street lights were on a lower intensity.  It was hard for me to figure out what it was since I am normally not in this neighborhood at night anyway so I had no way of knowing if this was normal or not.  Around 19th Street I turned up to 8th Avenue because I wanted to see the building that had been partially destroyed, but either it had been repaired already or my memory failed me and it was not on 8th Avenue between 14th-18th Street.

I arrived at 14th Street to one of the oddest sights I have ever seen in New York City.  The northern side of 14th Street had power, the south side was dark.  It was so dark south of 14th street that the people walking further downtown were just disappearing into the darkness in a very eerie way.  The police were directing traffic with flares and whistles.  It almost felt like I had been transported in time.  I’m not sure when, but for some reason this did not feel like 2012.

I then decided to walk east.  For those of you who do not speak New York City geography, going east means going from a higher numbered Avenue to a lower one.  So walking from 8th Avenue to 7th Avenue is going east.  But east to west applies to Avenues only.  Walking from 34th  Street to 14th Street was walking south.   So that takes me back to my walk east, which was in almost total darkness and lead me to eventually stop at 6th Avenue.   This is where I had the most interesting and informative moments of my day.  I spoke with the Traffic Cop who was more than happy to open up to me about her experiences.  Clearly this was a lonely job and any company was welcome.  She told me how she had worked 22 hours straight in the height of the hurricane.  From Monday at noon till Tuesday at 10AM she was in a car at 23rd and Lexington Avenue.  She admitted how scared she was at the peak of the storm and even though she counted only 5 cars over her entire shift she knew she needed to be there and was very resolved to what her job was.  After telling me her job was normally to give out tickets I asked her how it felt to be the good guy for once.  Needless to say she liked it. At this point a police officer walked over to the corner.  They clearly knew each other and he was nice enough to share some information with me.  Much of it was very disturbing.

I asked him what area was the worst he had seen since the storm.  I expected him to say Staten Island or Rockaway or Breezy Point.  Instead his answer was Coney Island.  Yes the world famous Coney Island.  He told me that the damage was so extensive and caught everyone so by surprise that they were powerless against it.  The residents were angry and frustrated and looting was widespread.  The reports on the news of a few incidents of looting were clearly not accurate.  Coney Island was a mess and looting and anger in the streets was one of the main reasons.  He said Canarsie, Brooklyn had a similar problem.  Not to make light of the events in Canarsie and not out of any disrespect I was more shocked about Coney Island.  My question to him was this; how is it that the news had not covered the disastrous situation in the world famous Coney Island?  His answer was that the press was a lot more focused on the situation in Lower Manhattan because of its high profile status.  I asked him if there was a concern about those areas collapsing into anarchy.  He emphatically said no because there now exists a very large police presence.  This lead to me bringing up the recently cancelled Marathon, which he said would have been impossible with the need for police in so many different areas of the city.

He told me that parts of Lower Manhattan had been hit really bad and particularly made mention of the Bowling Green Subway Station which he basically described as being one of the many stations still completely under water and destroyed.  He said it would be a long time before that particular station would open.

I asked him about Staten Island.  He confirmed what most of us already know.  The situation there is horrendous.  In a 24 hour period he saw the death toll rise from 8 to 19.  But he also said that as angry and frustrated as the people appeared on TV in regard to the relief efforts, they were incredibly nice to the police.  But he said what we sadly know.  The people there desperately need help and the situation on the ground is devastating.  He said that the people who are thinking about helping should donate food before they donate money.  I asked him if there was somewhere for people to drop things off if they wanted to help.  He was uncertain but thought FEMA had something set up on the West Side.  I suspect within a day or so everyone in New York will know how to donate food and supplies.

He told me how they were working long shifts, I believe he said 18 hours, and then were allowed to go home for 4 hours for a rest before coming back out for the next shift.  And then finally he told me that a lot of the police on patrol at the city intersections were cadets who were not even fully trained police officers yet and were learning on the job in a way none ever had before.  I thanked him for his time as he left to inspect the subway station on the corner where we had stood talking, 14th Street and 6th Avenue.

A bus pulled up to the corner that was making a right on 6th Avenue and heading uptown.  Since I didn’t want to walk 40 blocks I said goodbye to my new friend Melissa the Traffic Cop and hopped on the bus.  Of course when I got back to my street I needed to show the cop proof that I lived on the street to get past the barricade.  This cop told me to stay to the left side of the street which with the wind blowing a little stronger this evening made me just a little more aware of the large piece of metal still hanging from the crane.  According to my neighbor tomorrow is the day they deal with the crane issue.  Until that time comes I’ll go nowhere without my Verizon and cable bill.  Someone suggested I show a Con Edison bill instead but I felt like I could do without the irony.

A Post Sandy Update:Long Island, Long Commute, and Long Gas Lines

My guess is that there will be only one thing that each day will have in common for the foreseeable future.   With the current realities unlike anything we are used to, my guess is I will see something every day that I’ve never seen before.  Since today I went back to work for the first time since last Friday, for me this began when I stepped down into the subway station in Columbus Circle.

I’d be lying if I said I don’t like getting on the NY City Subway for free.  Since the Governor announced that all public transportation in NY City would be free until Friday night, my commute today would end up costing me nothing. Although the reasons for the free transportation were anything but amusing, watching people at a subway station struggle with the concept of free entry was some welcome comic relief.  The announcement on the subway platform was somewhat surreal, giving a list of suspended lines and explaining how there would be no service into Brooklyn or Queens.  It felt somewhat like a bad dream, until I once again stopped and remembered how much better my reality is right now than so many others.

I arrived at Penn Station, normally a bustling hub, and found it alarmingly quiet.  Exits and entrances were closed off, police were patrolling with dogs, and the Amtrak and New Jersey Transit sections were completely shut down.  The Long Island Railroad(LIRR), the train service I would normally use was limited to 3 lines.  Two went into Long Island and one to Jamaica, Queens, one of the main hubs of the LIRR.  Since my line was not working, I was stuck waiting close to an hour for the Jamaica train where I would be able to switch to a bus that would take me into Long Island.

A little over 2 hours after leaving home I was finally on the bus, the bus that normally would take approximately 45 minutes to go to my destination.  On this bus I met two sisters who were nervous because they were not sure if they were on the right bus because normally they would have driven into Long Island but could not today because their car had been submerged in water. I also met a guy who was with 2 other girls carrying 2 containers each which they intended to fill with gasoline.  Once in Long Island, where traffic was bumper to bumper, there were lines down avenues and around corners to get gasoline.  Over the course of the day I would learn that the gasoline situation was turning into one of the most dangerous situations in the tri- state area with people turning violent and resulting to theft in some instances to get what they needed.  It reminded me a little of the movie Mad Max except without the mutants and that lunatic anti-Semitic movie star.

I arrived in my office after my 3 hour trip where I observed, listened, and spoke with my co-workers, the majority of which live in Long Island.  Everyone had lost power.  A woman who lives in Long Beach looked devastated as she referred to her beloved neighborhood as a war zone.  One other woman I work with was not there but called in to let us know that her house was under 6 feet of water.  While I was there a report was sent through email to the Long Island residents about a sewage plant that had exploded with a list of instructions on how to avoid contamination.  A little later a few of the same residents received a phone call stating that everything was fine with the sewage plant and that there was no cause for concern.  It was hard to determine whether they had repaired the plant, the story was a rumor, or the follow-up phone call was to avoid an impending panic.

The picture I have put up for this piece is a picture I took in front of my office.  You see the people in line in the gas station across the street, with an Army vehicle in the forefront, a vehicle that most likely had come from Long Beach being that the street heads in the general direction of the devastated area.  Once the woman who lives in Long Beach secured a ride home she left the office, since her car was one of thousands destroyed in the storm.

I began my trip home by waiting approximately 45 minutes for a bus while watching the worst traffic I had ever seen in the neighborhood which included an Army convoy.  My commute home was a little over 2 hours, so I had nothing to complain about there.  I did some minor grocery shopping and after finding a break in the barriers to my street got yelled at and chased down by police who wanted to know why I had gone through the barrier.  I displayed proof of my residence at which point the officer asked me to be careful, not go in and out too much, and almost apologetically explained that they needed to be cautious due to the crane.  I told her I had been following it for days, totally understood, and thanked her.  I urge all New Yorkers to take a moment and thank any police officer or fireman that you come in contact with.  Sure there are bad apples in every basket, but this group of people may end up once again being the difference in this city. Give moral support to the police because after what I saw today, and the tensions that are so palpable, the crisis is far from over. All it appears to be doing at the moment is morphing into a different one.