Saturday, December 30, 1995
New Year's Greetings, Friends and Neighbors -1995/6
Strum the zither, clang the bell
Sound the matins, all is well.
War is out, and world's rejoicing;
Bosnians and Serbs and Croats
pull their mortars back in fear.
Rocket bursts now mean Good Year .
When the new is scary, bold,
it's a time to visit old
friends and names of the past,
hoping that they thrive and last.
When reform was on the wing
who made history on the fly?
Edward Koch and Carol Greitzer
shot DeSapio out of the sky.
But new clubhouses went up.
Margot Gayle, Howard Amron,
Ken Mills, Bruce Solomon,
Ed Costikyan did things.
Chuck Kinsolving, Arlene Hershman,
Arlene Garson, Helen Sands,
Tom, Sue Ligget, Forrest, Ginger
Paradise - a gang
that created Sturm and Drang.
And the candidates that lost -
Norman Mailer, Bill F. Buckley,
Herm Badillo, Barry Farber, what a crew,
drawn to protest, threw and threw.
Chas W. Wiley of Middlesex, old friend.
Winners come to mind - John Lindsay,
Percy Sutton. Andy Stein.
Carter Burden, Eldon Clingan.
Think of the Jeffersons -
Rose Dubinsky, Bea Dolan,
Andy Kulak, Tom and Nan DeRosa.
The Albanos - Bert Regazzi,
Maureen Lynch, Vince Cuttita,
And the new Reps - Bill Fling,
In Tilden Town, think Mickey Egeth,
Dankbergs, Lou Frank, Alice Spiegler.
Other neighbor clubs: Tom Nooter,
Klaus von Stutterheim, Irene Shea,
Sylvia Freedman, Myrna LoPree.
Steve Rosen, Peter Doukas.
Give a feast for Father Byrne's
fifty years: Phil Rothman has
platters-full of food from Abie's,
Lynda Blankenhorn will bake;
Dr. Pike will make a picture,
Rabbi Block - a sacred song;
Rabbi Alder, Pastor Amos
will be there to hum along.
Aldon James will nominate him,
Doyle and Bringmann standing by,
He can be a landmark also,
if Jack Taylor has his way
(fifty years should qualify).
Local bards will celebrate him -
Gary Papush, Clara Reiss,
Lou Sepersky, Joe Lamarca,
Betty Schwartz and Nicholas Fish.
(Carol Schachter says I'm dreaming -
these folk know from boards, not bards.)
To end off the celebration,
we shall have a tag-team match:
Crotty-Eristoff to challenge
Pagan-Messenger, three falls;
champs take Maloney-Millard,
Sanders-Goodman grudge match winner.
If you feel a tinge of embarrasment
for being left out or smeared, or harrasment,
call Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton and Garrasment.
Now to the future -
Governor Casey, grab the ring,
says Gene Genovese, a thing
that would make him vote Demo.
General Powell, save the wicket,
take a chance, get on the ticket.
Else Republicans will lose.
For tasks that need a whole garrison
we'll send our army - Arlene Harrison.
And for schooling that will give
kids a whole life to live -
Robert Durkin (Rob Walsh, worthy backup).
Art Ferrara, good retirement.
Herman Diamond, good recovery.
Thunderation and huzzah,
New Year's coming in, a 'roarin',
water, from upstate, a 'flowin'.
Governor, finally, doin' his best,
President, finally showin' his spine
Bosnia may get peaceful rest.
When the New Year's globe descends
(silly people, fighting credits
at the Times Square BID),
we should all be neighbors, friends,
breaking barriers, making mends.
Take a deep breath, raise your glass
to the future, pox on past
think ahead, the best
is yet to come. Pax, Shalom.
These lines are dedicated to Prime Minister Yithzak Rabin, a martyr
for peace. We beseech the good Lord to grant that there be no more need for martyrs, in our time.
Thursday, December 21, 1995
The Oldest Christmas Tree and Other Local Traditions
This is an unusual year, with Christmas and Chanukkah overlapping. The final eight day of Chanukkah falls on December 25, Christmas Day. A sign of good things to come, of unity and good tidings.
If you're wondering how a 30-foot Christmas tree magically appears in the Madison Square Park every year, it is sponsored by the 23rd Street Association, a 66-year old civic group of 300 member companies that tries to make life better for people in our neighborhood.
As to the Christmas Tree tradition in the park, it is older than the Association, by 17 years. In fact it is the oldest community Christmas Tree in the entire United States. The idea spread like wildfire, and now Gramercy Park, Stuyvesant Park and Union Square Park have followed the example.
This year's tree was lit, on December 6, by Henry Stern, Parks Commissioner (Assemblyman Steven Sanders was last year's honoree), with the McBurney after-school class singing and the Gramercy Brass playing carols. McDonald's 23rd Street provided cookies and coffee for everyone, and the homeless from Peter's Place (St.Francis de Paul RC Church, between 6th and 7th Avenues) applauded the ceremony. A crowd of 70 came, a far cry from 1912, when 25,000 viewers gathered for the first tree-lighting.
The community Christmas Tree idea was conceived by Emilie D.Lee Herreshoff of Virginia, descendant of the signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a member of a NY shipbuilding family, in 1912. Her idea was taken up by Orlando Rouland, an artist who lived at 130 West 57th Street. Mrs Herreshoff asked the then Mayor William J. Gaynor for an appropriate location. He suggested Washington Square, but the organizers rejected it - the wealthy people there did not need it, and Madison Square Park would serve a better cross section of New Yorkers. A 60-foot tree was found, N.Y. Edison donated a $2,000 gift of 1,200 incandescent lights, and John.D. Hegeman, President of Metropolitan Life, offered to ring the chimes in the adjacent Tower, to the accompaniment of neighborhood church bells. The lighting attracted huge crowds, four trumpeters blew the "Parsifal's Call," singers from the MacDowell School Cantorum and the Ghent Welsh Male Choir sang carols, and there was a band. The Welsh singers had been imported and subsequently abandoned by their impresario (reminds me of a contractor I once had), and through this performance they found another backer who gave them a successful concert tour through the US. And a little abandoned baby was found under the tree, during the intermission, when his cries could be heard. He was adopted by a wealthy family. When the band concert broke up at midnight, 7,000 of the 25,000 attenders were still there, loath to leave this meeting of souls.
The event was such a joy that within three years more than a thousand cities were decorating their public Christmas trees. The park event continued year after year, and when Mrs Rouland in 1937 was too feeble to cary on, a Mrs Louise Carnegie stepped in to help. Widow of the great Andrew, she organized an endowment of $30,000, with a committee consisting of the conductor Walter Damrosch, Harry Harkness Flagler, son of the developer of Miami, the wife of President Benjamin Harrison, Elihu Root, Jr.(son of the Secretary of State and an area resident), Paul D. Cravath (lawyer, President of the Met Opera Association), some Carnegie associates and the hard-working Roulands. The endowment was success and the tree lightings continued, with the event broadcast live on WNYC since 1940. The Met Glee Club performed valiantly and the event was rebroadcast to the servicemen during WWII.
After the War the tree was no longer a rallying point, and the trustees gave all the remaining funds to the Union Theological Seminary, on 120th Street, in 1953. The Parks Department supplied the trees after 1948. There were years when none were lighted, until the Met and New York Life decided to organize the event in alternate years. A break in the tree-lighting occurred, until two years ago the 23rd Street Association decided to revive the tradition.
Homeless Shelters Need Volunteers
Regardless of one's faith, a brightly lit Christmas tree is a reminder of the season. To many it is a reminder of the time to take care of the homeless, when the weather turns cold.
The area homeless shelters need volunteers. Brotherhood Synagogue opens its shelter after the New Year. If you want the heartening experience of spending a evening with people who can tell you what street life is like, sign on. I have picked up many a useful tip about collecting scrap metal, and relative prices paid by dealers in New York and the Bronx, and getting on the subway with a shopping cart full of aluminum window frames. If it ever gets down to that, I know how to make it, gang. Eat your hearts out. Actually, spending an evening and night with the homeless as a shelter volunteer is a wonderful stimulant, and it is addictive. People want to experience that feeling of having been good, of fulfillment that comes so rarely into our lives from working or studying. You get to feel virtuous, for once you have done something that is a real, hands-on, good! It's like making something, a chair that really works, or a toolbox. You feel like somebody, you have accomplished, you have done the Marathon. And it's easier than the Marathon. So call Brotherhood (Judy Golden, 674-5750), or St. George's Church (William Grant, 780-0052), the Friends Meeting House (Sylvia Freedman, 673-8316), or the Madison Avenue Baptist Church (Jeri Easterling, 685-1377). The homeless programs all of these shelters essentially draw their guests from the 10 drop-in centers run by the Partnership for the Homeless, which takes care of 1,500 men and women, through 150 shelter facilities in all five boroughs. The guests are people who are tuberculosis-free, participate in rehabilitation programs and stay clean. And a respectable number of them make it out of the shelter environment and manage to jane the mainstream of humanity. Helping people can be the best Christmas or Chanukkah gift you can give yourself. Happy Holidays!
Wally Dobelis thanks Jane Crotty, Executive Director of the 23rd Street Association, for digging out the story about the community Christmas Tree from a 1962 Met Life publication. For those of us who'd like to know more about the Association, its territory is between 28th and 17th Streets (where it borders with the 14th Street BID), river to river. "Improvement and development of the area" is the official mission, an that includes legislative action. Unlike the BIDs, this is a voluntary association with scaled dues. It also does not provide policing and sanitary services, though they have a Public Safety Committee. Besides businesses, large and small, there are not-for-profit members, such as Baruch, SVA, FIT, National Arts Club, T.Roosevelt House and the Partnership for the Homeless. Its President is Paul Custer, the Executive Director of the McBurney WMCA, while the Chairman is the Director of Operations for Edison Parking, Douglas Sarini.
If you want some Christmas tree savvy, go chat with Cowboy Bob Mitchell, the man in the Western hat who's come back from Boynton Beach to sell Douglas fir and blue spruce from Canada, Oregon and North Carolina on 3rd Avenue, West side, between 19th and 20th Streets, for his 32nd season in the neighborhood.
Brotherhood Synagogue opens its shelter after the New Year. If you want the heartening experience of spending a evening with people who can tell you what street life is like, please sign on. I have picked up many a useful tip about collecting scrap metal, and relative prices paid by dealers in New York and the Bronx, and getting on the subway with a shopping cart full of aluminum window frames. If it ever gets down to that, I know how to make it, gang.
Seriously, though, spending an evening and night with the homeless as a shelter volunteer is a wonderful stimulant, and it is addictive. People want to experience that feeling of having been good, of fulfillment that comes so rarely into our lives from working or studying. You get to feel virtuous, for once you have done something that is a real, hands-on, good! It's like making something, a chair that really works, or a toolbox. You feel like somebody, you have accomplished, you have done the Marathon. And it's easier than the Marathon. So call Brotherhood (Judy Golden, 674-5750), and you will get the details. Just call, for information.
The homeles program draws its guests from the 10 drop-in centers run by the Partnership for the Homeless, which takes care of 1,500 men and women, through 150 shelter facilities in all five boroughs. The guests are people who are tuberculosis-free, participate in rehabilitation programs and stay clean. And a respectable number of them make it out of the shelter environment and manage to join the mainstream of humanity. Helping people can be the best Chanukkah gift you can give yourself. Happy Holidays from Norda, Otto and Wally, the coordinators.
Monday, December 04, 1995
Why Are Americans Needed in Bosnia?
Why is our politically astute president willing to risk a "Clinton's Vietnam" in Bosnia? This is the same President who withdrew U.S. peacekeepers from Somalia, and never sent any to Rwanda, both areas comparable in atrocities and slaughter of civilians to the losses in Bosnia. And why did he stand off the Congress' demands of lifting the arms embargo, which would have given Bosnia a more equal chance against the Serbs? I submit that all these policies are consistent, and based in a desire to avoid a huge danger, a danger that is afraid to say its name. It is the danger of World War Three.
Consider these observations. Without the US forces behind it, the painfully wrought out peace plan of Dayton can collapse, and the Serbs will overwhelm Bosnia. Bosnia has limited military capabilities and arms, much of them supplied by Croatian intermediaries and Muslim co-religionists from the Middle East. Should the arms embargo become abandoned, there are unemployed gunslingers in Peshavar and Karachi, defenders of the faith such as the mujahedeen who would come to Bosnia's aid: perhaps also the Hebzollah and Hamas and the Army of God. And there are Middle Eastern oil millions that would finance it. Volunteer forces are already fighting for Bosnia that the Isetbegovich government cannot control. Consequently, if Bosnia becomes a threat to Serbia proper, their traditional allies the Russians will be obligated to step in. World War One started when in 1914 the Russians came to the aid of Serbians who were attacked by the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire following the assassination of their Archduke in Sarajevo. Russian entry brought in the Germans, who involved the French, then the British. Keeping the Middle East out of the Balkan conflict must be one of Clinton's main concerns. Presidential candidate Dole could really open a can of worms if he persists in wanting to lift the arms embargo.
This concern is exacerbated by two more grenades waiting to explode, as soon as someone pulls the pins. The main one is Kosovo. An enclave in the South of Serbia, bordering Albania, nearly two million Kosovo Albanians were incorporated into Yugoslavia in 1918. Under Tito they had an autonomous region with its own parliament and police. The autonomy was abolished by the Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic in 1989 and the parliament dismissed in July 1990. Schools, newspapers and TV have been suppressed. The region has been seething under Serbian police state rule, and a strong militant Muslim presence in Bosnia could explode into a Kosovo war, with casualties easily surpassing the 200,000 lives lost in Bosnia. Kosovo is sacred grounds to the Serbs. You can really think WWIII, should Russia, the Middle East and the West be drawn in a conflict centering on Kosovo.
The second grenade is independent Macedonia, seen as a threat by Greece, a country of 10 million, of which 2 million live in Greek Macedonia, concentrated North of Thessaloniki. Greeks worry about possible nationalist attempts to join the 1.2 million independent Macedonians with their relatives in North Greece and provide the Slavs a port on the Aegean. Greeks are so paranoid that Macedonia may not be called by its name and must be referred to as Skopje, else the speaker risks being jailed. If Greece should try a preemptive war to incorporate Macedonia, there would be another conflagration. The interested claimants to the territory are the Serbs and Bulgars, who at various times have held title over Macedonia, and also the Turks, who want Eastern Thrace.
Does the US really have any business getting involved in these convoluted foreign affairs? The President has declared that we have to move in 20,000 peacekeepers for a year, along with the troops of our NATO allies, to supervise the establishment and acceptance of the boundaries painfully ground out in meetings of the three warrior leaders on Dayton, Ohio. We have the power to react and forcefully punish any transgressors against peace. The shrewd Serb leader, Milosevich, may well have traded national boundaries that do not favor Bosnian Serbs to buy such strong American presence and thus avoid the risk of conflagrations that could tackle him from two sides - Bosnia and Kosovo. It would seem that we should heed the lessons of Vietnam and not get involved in internal feuds of foreign people that might lead to fighting in an area that favors guerilla and stifles conventional warfare; yet, it may be that Serbian self-interest will work in favor of a peaceful US engagement. The question is whether Milosevich can keep the Bosnian Serbs and their allies from sabotaging the peace. Cool heads must prevail; we have seen saboteurs of peace fail in Israel.
What makes the Balkans such a bloody battleground? Well, it has been the crossroads of history, dividing its people into different religious persuasions and political allegiances, causing a centuries old feud among ethnically homogeneous people who speak a common language but write the words in Cyrillic (Serbs) or Roman (the rest). The Greek Orthodox Serbs hate the Bosnian Muslims, their own brethren who adapted the Muslim faith after the Ottoman Turks beat the Serb Empire at Kosovo in 1389. The Roman Catholic Croats hate the Serbs who have lorded over them, particularly after the 1918 establishment of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. When King Alexander in 1929, unable to settle the parliamentary fights (a Croat leader was assassinated by a Montenegrin deputy) declared a dictatorship, the Croat separatists assassinated the King in 1934, but the dictatorship continued, until the Germans (and Italians, and Bulgarians and Rumanians) marched in, in 1941. Then the Croats declared independence. The Ustachis, a Croat nationalist-terrorist group took over, allied with certain Bosnian Muslims and killed between 400,000 and 750,000 Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and their own compatriots who disagreed. Under Ante Pavelic (who escaped justice and died in Argentina in 1959), allied with the Nazis, they ruled for a bloody four years in Croatia and Bosnia, killing most of their victims in the Ustachi extermination camp, Jasvenovac.
The Chetniks - Serb nationalist resistance army, under Draza Mihailovic - suffered the most, while warring with the Ustachis, the Germans (with which they eventually formed an agreement) and the Communist Partisans led by the Croat Josip Broz known as Tito. In 1945 when the Communists led by Tito assumed control, they executed both Chetniks and Ustachis as German collaborators, with the reputed loss of 400,000 more lives. In 1946 Tito declared a federated republic, of six republics (Serbia, Slovakia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia) and two autonomous regions (Kosovo and Vojvodina). Tito's iron hand held the dissidents and nationalists in check, but after his death in 1980 the separatists, prompted by Milosevich's push for the supremacy of the numerically superior Serbs, slowly moved towards the breakup of the federation. It started with Slovenia and Croatia declaring independence in 1991. Territorial warring between Croats and Serbs temporarily slowed down in 1992, when the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Moslem separatists declared independence and formed a coalition government. The minority Bosnian Serbs started a bloody revolt, and nearly two thirds of the republic fell in Serb hands, culminating in the flagrant massacres at Srebrenica in July 1995. The war cost 200,000 lives and resulted in 2.5 million refugees leaving their homes. The Croatians, who had been slowly building up forces, attacked the Serb-inhabited Croatian province of Krajina in September, committing war crimes in turn and uprooting 170,000 inhabitants. The Ustachi mentality had not died completely - the reports of atrocities perpetrated upon Serbs mentioned corpses with scooped-out eyes. This nightmarish vision reminded me of a story read decades ago, of the Ustachi leader Pavelic, who met a Western journalist sitting behind a table with a dish filled with what appeared to be oysters. When questioned, he exclaimed: "Eyes of dead Serbs! I'll eat them!" It is too much to expect that we will escape unscathed in these lands of vampire acts and irrational mass violence; only the prospects of preventing a potential world conflagration can make the US peacekeeping effort worth while.
A couple of columns ago I mentioned that the new editor of T&V is Kimberly Schacht, which prompted a flurry of phone calls to me. To answer your questions, Kimberly is a vivacious tall brunette, a grad of Forest Hills High School and St. John's University (B.S in Journalism). She lives in Brooklyn. For two years she was the Editor-in-Chief of The TORCH, St. John's students' weekly, and an assistant director of the Redmen's (now Red Storm) TV broadcasts on the Big East Network. Obviously, she can juggle several balls at a time, a prerequisite at T&V. We wish her luck, as we do to Todd Maisel, who decided to work part-time here, while concentrating on developing his career in freelance news photography, mainly with Daily News. He does not do weddings, but will cover your organization's event, if you're honoring a Kissinger or Kohl or Kennedy, or even some lesser greats of our era.