Seeing the Pope in the Park

September 25, 2015

Long before the pope’s plane touched down at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Roman Catholic Church officials began meticulously planning every aspect of his two day trip to New York City. At the same time, law enforcement agencies—ranging from the local to federal levels—started coordinating what Police Commissioner Bill Bratton called the “largest security challenge ever.”

Pope Francis arrived late on the afternoon of the 24th and was immediately whisked to St. Patrick’s Cathedral where he led the evening prayer. The next morning he plunged into a whirlwind of activities around Manhattan, going to the East Side to address the United Nations General Assembly, heading downtown to hold a multi-religious service at 9/11 the Memorial and Museum, driving uptown for a visit with students at Lady Queen of Angels School in East Harlem, traveling in a motorcade through Central Park and then down to a Mass at Madison Square Garden.

Admission to all of the events involving the pope was restricted; at no point could someone simply wander over to a school or church to catch a glimpse of the pontiff. Tickets to the religious services were distributed by politicians and priests, while city officials conducted a free lottery for those wishing to view the pope’s procession through Central Park.

On September 10, 40,000 area residents were notified by phone and email that they’d each won a pair of tickets to see the motorcade. The announcements were accompanied by detailed instructions, warnings and restrictions, including a lengthy list of prohibited items:

  • Alcohol
  • Aerosol containers
  • Amplified sound devices
  • Animals other than service and guide animals
  • Balloons
  • Bicycles, scooters and skateboards
  • Blankets
  • Backpacks
  • Chairs
  • Coolers
  • Drones and other unmanned aircraft systems
  • Flags
  • Glass, thermal and metal containers
  • Large bags
  • Laser pointers
  • Mace and pepper spray
  • Musical instruments
  • Posters
  • Selfie sticks
  • Signs and supports for signs and placards
  • Unlicensed vending
  • Umbrellas 
  • Weapons, explosives and ammunition

Those selected in the giveaway were assigned to color-coded park entrances (red, yellow, green) and told to arrive, bearing their tickets, before 3:00 p.m. to ensure that they’d pass through security in time to see the pontiff drive by at 5:30.

The southern end of the Park was enclosed behind high fences while security gates and tents were erected near Columbus Circle. The streets surrounding Central Park were closed to traffic. Thousands of law enforcement officers, both uniformed and in plain clothes, were deployed throughout the area. Although the gates weren’t scheduled to open until 11:00, anxious ticket holders began arriving at the barricades before dawn and patiently waited for hours until they were able to move forward.

The crowd slowly passed through airport-style security checks conducted by Transportation Security Administration agents including X-rays, inspection of electronic devices and sniffs from dogs trained to detect explosives.  Upon entering the Park, the faithful sprinted towards the metal barriers lining the roadways.

People jockeyed for position, trying to get as close to the front as possible, then settled in for the day. At one point, someone in the crowd cried, “Look up!” All heads turned to see that, directly above the path that the pope would take, a tiny rainbow had appeared above.

As observers remarked on the fact that the day had been clear and almost cloudless (“Imagine, a rainbow without rain!”), the colored strip grew wider, longer and bent into an upside down arc. “It looks like a smile,” some said. Others thought that it was a sacred sign, a blessing, a miracle. After a few minutes, the rainbow faded away.

Finally, a rumble was heard in the distance and a fleet of slowly moving vehicles, all of them flashing lights, appeared. A convoy of motorcycles, armored trucks, NYPD vans, limousines rolled past as excitement in the crowd surged. An open bed truck, its rear filled with photographers and camera operators clamoring for shots, was directly in front of the sight all were awaiting: the famed white Popemobile.

Inside stood the pontiff, smiling and waving his hand to the faithful. The vehicle drove slowly through the Park without pausing. Pope Francis and his guards moved up the roadway and drove out of sight, headed south to Madison Square Garden, where he celebrated Mass and delivered a homily that included references to urban life.

Living in a big city is not always easy. A multicultural context presents many complex challenges. Yet big cities are a reminder of the hidden riches present in our world: in the diversity of its cultures, traditions and historical experiences. In the variety of its languages, costumes and cuisine. Big cities bring together all the different ways which we human beings have discovered to express the meaning of life, wherever we may be.

But big cities also conceal the faces of all those people who don’t appear to belong, or are second-class citizens. In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath “the rapid pace of change”, so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no “right” to be there, no right to be part of the city. They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly.

These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity. They become part of an urban landscape which is more and more taken for granted, in our eyes, and especially in our hearts.

Mural overlooking Penn Station

Sign at Pizza Parlor

Banner on deli

Pope marshmallows

Selling vatican flags

Vendor with football pope t-shirts

Pope Ticket
Ticket to the green zone

Posted instructions for ticket holders

Warning sign on the fence

Reminder about banned items

Notice about Secret Service dogs

First arrivals at the barriers

TSA checkpoint tents

Waiting for security inspection

Standing against the barricades

Officer reminding the crowd to be patient

A tiny spectator

Visitors displaying flags and banners

A tiny strip of rainbow appeared directly overhead

The rainbow grew into an upside-down arc bisected by a strip of cloud

He arrived, waved, and drove on

New York City: Pope Francis Visits New York City
Archdiocese of Washington: Walk With FrancisPope Francis Visit
NBC 4: Officials: Upcoming Papal Visit to NYC ‘Largest Security Challenge Ever’ for NYPD
NY Times: Pope Francis, ‘People’s Pope,’ Is Security Teams’ Headache
NY Times: Pope Francis in America
NY Times: After Lottery in New York to See Pope Francis, Some Winners Scalp Tickets Online
Catholic to the Max: Madison Square Garden Mass
National September 11 Memorial & Museum
Madison Square Garden
Our Lady Queen of Angels School

Thanks, But What Kind of Prayer Books Were Those?

September 23, 2014

The holiest days in the Jewish year are fast approaching.

This sign, hanging in the window of a day care center on Brooklyn’s Montague Street, advertises services available to the observant during the next two weeks.

I can’t speak to the accuracy of the Hebrew used in their prayer books, but they might want to double-check the Engligh.


Chabad of Brooklyn Heights
Congregation B’nai Avraham

The Land Where St. Patrick Walked

March 17, 2011

The St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Fifth Avenue is the world’s biggest, noisiest, happiest celebration of Ireland and its patron saint. Between the dancing, drinking and green hair, it is easy for an observer to think that those who hail from “the land with 40 shades of green” have always been welcome and accepted here.

But the story of the Irish in New York has many a tragic side. Most terrible is the reason that so many Irish citizens arrived on our shores 150 years ago; they were fleeing the disaster known as An Gorta Mór (the Great Hunger). The devestation began in the late 1840s, when a virus attacked the potatoes planted in the fields of the land where St. Patrick had walked.

Cheap, filling, and easy to grow, potatoes were an essential source of nutrition for poor, rural Irish families. When the virus caused the potato plants to wither and their crops to fail, it wasn’t long before starvation set in.

The Great Hunger, also known as the Great Potato Famine, lasted from 1845 to 1852. During that period approximately one million Irish people died and two million more emigrated, many of them landing in New York Harbor. Now, in a quiet corner of Battery Park, near the spot where those desperate survivors arrived, stands the Irish Hunger Memorial.

Created by New York artist Brian Tolle, the memorial opened in 2002 on a quarter-acre of land shaped to resemble a burial mound cut from an Irish hillside. The base of the memorial is made of slabs of concrete interlaced with bands of plexiglass-covered metal bearing excerpts from reports, poems, songs, sermons and letters describing the desperation and destitution of the victims of the famine. These are intermingled with information about world hunger today.

After walking around the base, visitors walk through a short, dark corridor where recorded voices recite facts about the Hunger and emerge into a small atrium lined with stone walls. A dirt path winds up the hill past thirty-two massive stones, each marked with the name the Irish county that donated it, a roofless stone cottage, wildflowers and grasses, all imported from Ireland.

Every aspect of this small patch of land is significant and symbolic; even the size of the space reflects the Irish Poor Law of 1847, which denied relief to those living on land larger than a quarter of acre. Small, subtle and enormously moving, the Irish Hunger Memorial helps illuminate the wonderful, terrible history of the Irish in New York City.

Approaching the memorial from West Street

Closer to the entrance

Plantings overhanging the concrete

Through the entry corridor

Words on the walls

More quotations on the walls

The words stretch on

Climbing the hill

The view from the top of the hill

CRG Gallery: Brian Tolle
The New York Times: A Memorial Remembers The Hungry
New York Magazine: Irish Hunger Memorial
NYC: Battery Park
Battery Park Conservancy

Good Friday on Court Street

April 2, 2010

Friday evening, and nearly everyone was in a hurry to get home. But on Brooklyn’s busy Court Street, traffic was at a standstill. Horns were honking. Angry drivers were leaning out their windows, shaking their fists, demanding to know what was going on — was it an accident? A disaster? A drill? What could possibly be so important that it caused the police to close the roadway at rush hour?

I walked past the stalled cars and trucks, beyond the police vehicles and uniformed officers that blocked the street, and saw the center of the commotion: a Good Friday procession assembling outside the oddly named Saints Peter & Paul & Our Lady of Pilar Church at Congress and Court Streets.

I didn’t have time to pause and hear a full explanation, and the only camera I had with me was in my phone. If you know more about this event, or this church, please share the story.

The street was blocked off, but no one was directing traffic

A crowd gathered

Police officers stood around the center of attraction

A priest recited a blessing

Local Catholic Church and Family History & Genealogical Research Guide

Father’s Kingdom Plates

October 15, 2009

These memorable dishes are for sale in a discount store on Harlem’s 125th Street. Only $9.99 for a set of four. According to the package, they are called Father’s Kingdom plates and they come complete with wall hooks.

No, I didn’t buy them.

Leaning right and left

Assorted designs

Greek Festival in Downtown Brooklyn

June 5, 2009

The metal signs were propped up on the sidewalk. The flags and banners were hung from the awning. The street was closed, the carnival attractions arrived and the tables and chairs were assembled outside the front door. Most importantly, the yayas (grandmothers) were cooking. And cooking. And cooking.

It was time once again for the festival run in Downtown Brooklyn by Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Now in its 32nd year, the annual week-long event is one of the biggest fund raisers for the church that has stood here since 1916.

The cathedral is more than just a place of worship; for nearly 100 years, it has served as the center of Greek life in Brooklyn. Many parishioners cheerfully put their business affairs aside for the week and devote their labors to ensure the festival’s success. The attractions include a “white elephant” sale and gift shop, music, kiddie rides and, of course, the food. The barbeques for gyros, souvlaki and grilled octopus were set up in the street, the trays filled with moussaka, pasticio, dolmades, spanakopita, keftedes and pastries — all based on old family recipes — were on the tables under the tent.

The music played, the kids giggled and ran, the younger people manned the grills, the yayas kept an eye on the money box while serving heaping helpings of everything and the men, just as they do in Greece, sat together swapping stories, making plans and watching the passing scene. Oopa!

A sign on Court Street

Tables set up on the asphalt

Cooking the meat for gyros

Grilled souvlaki

Assembling a gyro

Yayas inside the tent

A tray of desserts

The carnival attractions help raise money

The neighborhood kids love winning prizes

The Greek Orthodox of Cathedral of Sts. Constantine and Helen
Recipe: Moussaka
Recipe: Pasticio
Recipe: Dolmades
Recipe: Spanakopita
Recipe: Cat Cora’s Keftedes

Birkat Hachamah: Blessing the Sun

April 8, 2009

God made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night . . . And it was evening and it was morning, a fourth day.
—Genesis 1:16, 19

One who sees the sun at its turning point should say, “Blessed is He who reenacts the works of Creation.” And when is this? Abaya said: every 28th year.
—Talmud, Tractate Berachot 59b

It happens once in a generation: The moment when, according to Talmudic tradition, the sun returns to the same position, at the same time and day, that it appeared at the beginning of all creation. Observant Jews mark the occasion, which occurs every 28 years, with a special blessing called Birkat Hachamah, the sun blessing.

Today, Birkat Hachamah ceremonies large and small were held around the world. This one, organized by Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin of Congregation Bnai Avraham and Chabad of Brooklyn Heights, took place on the steps of Borough Hall.

The crowd began to gather early

Copies of the blessing were distributed

Children read aloud

A brother and sister reading

This kid reminds me of Kenny from South Park

This girl wasn’t camera-shy

The wind blew, but she didn’t lose her place

Among those reciting the blessing was Borough President Marty Markowitz (right)

After the blessing, singing …

.. and dancing

The women danced together

The men formed a circle

Friends laughed together

The rabbi kicked up his heels

Congregation Bnai Avraham
Chabad of Brooklyn Heights
Birkat HaChamah, The Blessing of the Sun, 2009
NY Times: For Jews, Another 28 Years, Another Blessing of the Sun
Bless The Sun
Chabad: Thank G-d for the Sun
Kenny from South Park

You’d better watch out

December 24, 2008

You’d better watch out
You’d better not cry
Better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

He’s making a list
And checking it twice
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

-J. Fred Coots, Henry Gillespie, 1934

Watch out and you might run into the jolly old elf anywhere — even in midtown Manhattan. Many people wandered by without noticing, but I spotted him, sitting in a bright red sleigh, beneath an enormous tree in Bryant Park.

With a friend in Bryant Park

He knows if you’ve been bad or good

Chordie: Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Newseum: “Yes, Virigina”

A Brooklyn Smörgåsbord

November 23, 2008

It is time once again for the Christmas Fair at the Danish Seamen’s Church in Brooklyn Heights. The enormously popular annual holiday celebration features Danish arts, crafts, culture, food and drink.

Some people come to the fair to buy Bing & Grondahl porcelain or Dansko clogs at bargain prices, or to stock up on Danish treats like salted licorice or blue cheese. For many of those who flock to the little church tucked in the old brownstone house, however, the highlight of the fair is the smörgåsbord.

Over the years, the sale of these traditional Scandinavian open faced sandwiches has grown so popular that the church can longer accommodate the crowds. These days, the smörgåsbord is held a block away at the historic Zion German Evangelical Lutheran Church, where crowds from far and near buy platters full and happily wash them down with icy cold Danish beer.

A volunteer scoops up a sandwich

A fully loaded tray awaits customers

Shrimp sandwich topped with mayonnaise and lemon

Meat adorned with tomato and white asparagus

Meat topped with prunes and oranges

Salami crowned with tomato and fried onions

Christmas Fair at “Little Denmark in the Big Apple”
Danish Seaman’s Church (Den Danske Sømandskirke)
Zion German Evangelical Lutheran Church
Nordic Recipe Archive: Smörgåsbord
Royal Copenhagen: Bing & Grondahl
Dansko Clogs

Return to the Arab-American Heritage Festival

July 20, 2008

It was a hot, busy day, and by the time I arrived in Prospect Park, this year’s Arab-American Heritage Festival was nearly over. I still had time, though, to hear some rousing music, rummage through the stalls and enjoy some delicious treats.

As the vendors began to pack up their wares, I rushed to buy something I could take home for tomorrow’s dinner, a home made dish of garlicky, cumin-scented chicken, rice and beans prepared by a beaming Egyptian mom.

Chicken cooking on grill (not my dinner)

Home made stuffed grape leaves

Vendor at his stall

Jewelry for sale

Decals for sale at a vendor’s stall

Buttons for sale

Kuffiyehs for sale

Artisan applying henna tattoo

Banners hanging from tent



Home made spinach pie

Home made baklava


Woman with cell phone

2007 Arab American Heritage Festival
Arab American Association of New York
Arab-American Family Support Center
Prospect Park

Radio 53 AM

June 4, 2008

More from the archives.

This sign was posted on a traffic signal control box near Union Square. As always, you can click on the image for a larger view.

You must listen to Christ Radio 53 AM Radio on 24 hours or the Devil will take you and your family and make bats out of all of you.

Christ will protect you. Devil is Boogie Man. Beautiful gorgeous Mary and Christ will hug and kiss you forever in Heaven. For keeping the ten commandments.

It’s so easy to keep the ten commandments. Teen ages and people in Hell are suffering terrible.


Grand Central Kaleidoscope Light Show

December 24, 2007

Today, Grand Central Terminal will be packed with those travelling home for the holidays. Although the train station will be crowded, the travellers’ waiting time will be made less painful by a spectacular, free holiday sound and light show called Kaleidoscope.

Every half hour, from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., tourists and commuters watch as the marble walls and painted ceiling of the main concourse are washed with choreographed audiovisual effects. If you want to see the show in person, you’ll have to hurry; it ends on New Year’s day.

Here are a few images from the show, along with happy holiday wishes from Blather in Brooklyn.

The main entrance to the station

Suddenly, the music starts and the walls begin to change color

A traveller stops in his tracks to watch the show

Patterns cover the pale marble walls

The music swells and images of fireworks appear

The lights cover every surface

Twinkling stars are projected onto the ceiling

Grand Central Terminal

It’s beginning to look a lot like …

December 4, 2007

Every year before the trees are lit, the streetlamps are wrapped with garlands, or the wreaths are hung, these enormous Christmas balls magically appear on Sixth Avenue.

The pyramid of gleaming, red globes, placed in the center of a fountain across from Radio City Music Hall, is always one of the first signs that New York City is getting ready for Christmas.


Signs of Ramadan

September 27, 2007

Ramadan is a religious observance that takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar year (this year, it begins September 13 and ends October 12). The holy month commemorates the period when the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.

During Ramadan, Moslems around the world are obligated to pray, perform charitible acts, focus less on material concerns and spend more time in spiritual contemplation. From sunup to sundown, they must refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and intimate relations.

Throughout the month, breakfast is eaten before dawn and large meals, often featuring special foods, are consumed at night. At the end of Ramadan, Moslems celebrate Eid ul Fitr, a joyous holiday that marks the breaking of the fast.

In non-Moslem countries, the observance of Ramadan usually occurs in a low-key, unobtrusive manner. But, in New York City, if you know where to look, you will see the signs of the faithful.

Under scaffolding near Broadway, men face Mecca to pray

Sign honoring Ramadan at Brooklyn Borough Hall

Ramadan Awareness Campaign 2007
Islamicity: Ramadan Around the World
Ramadan on the Net

Lord Ganesh of the Lake

August 5, 2007

The Hong Kong Dragon Boat Races are held on Meadow Lake at Flushing Meadows Park in Corona, Queens.

The ground around the lake is swampy and slippery, full of tall reeds, grasses and deceptively deep, muddy hollows. On Saturday, as I moved closer and closer to the edge to take photographs, I cautiously kept my eyes pointed downward.

When I reached the shore, I noticed something bobbing on the surface of the water. It appeared to be the back of a picture frame. I carefully reached down, grabbed it and turned it over.

To my amazement, it was an image of the elephant-headed Hindu god, Ganesh, the god of intellect and wisdom. The picture had gotten a bit gritty, but being submerged in the lake didn’t seem to have done it any real damage.

I wrapped the dripping frame in a plastic bag and brought it home. It now occupies a space in my tiny Brooklyn kitchen.

However, I can’t help wondering: How did Ganesh get into the water? How long had he been there? And — was there any significance to the fact that, out of the thousands of people assembled by the shore, he washed up at my feet?

Any theories?


Wikipedia: Ganesha

Swordfish and Roosters and Rams. Oh, my!

July 2, 2007

Deep in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood, across from a tile factory and hard by an auto body shop, an eye catching sign stands at the corner of 21st Street and 3rd Avenue.

Adorned with images of a ram, a swordfish and a rooster, in three languages it advertises the Al-Noor Halal Live Poultry Market.

Intrigued by the sign, I ducked around the corner to visit the store. All I’ll say is that for a person like me (accustomed to meat that comes from a white-coated, genial butcher standing behind a gleaming, sanitized counter), slaughterhouses are not suitable for casual visits.

Oh, my!

On the corner of 3rd Avenue & 21 St Street

Ram, Swordfish & Rooster

Al-Noor Live Poultry

Black Electorate: Growing Muslim Community Brings New Traditions To The Neighborhood

Signs of South Williamsburg

June 21, 2007

What is Williamsburg, Brooklyn like? To a great extent, the answer you receive depends upon the age and class of the person you ask.

In the early part of the 20th century, this waterfront community was the most densely populated neighborhood in the United States. Immigrants from Italy and Ireland lived in Williamsburg and worked in its thriving refineries, breweries and shipyards (Williamsburg was the setting for the best-selling novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn).

Following World War II, the neighborhood was transformed when thousands of Jewish refugees arrived from Europe. The area became headquarters for several displaced Hassidic sects, most notably the Satmar community that originated in Hungary.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Williamsburg changed again when it acquired a large Hispanic population, mostly new arrivals from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

In the 1970s, when the city teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, the neighborhood reached its lowest point. While the South Bronx burned, much of Williamsburg was overwhelmed by poverty, drugs, arson and violent crime. 

Real estate values plummeted, the middle class fled and, in their wake, young artists arrived. The 1980s and 1990s produced an influx of hipsters and musicians who established a creative community around Bedford Avenue (one subway stop away from Manhattan).

Today, ever-evolving Williamsburg is attracting developers who are replacing many of the old industrial buildings and tenements with luxury housing.

Despite the vast and rapid changes to the neighborhood, South Williamsburg remains almost exclusively the domain of the Satmar. This is an area where Yiddish is more widely spoken than English, strangers are regarded with suspicion, and most of the businesses cater exclusively to the needs of this devout, insular community.

It isn’t easy for an outsider to get a peek inside the world of the Satmar, but here is a sampling of the signs they’ve displayed on the streets of South Williamsburg.

Feltly Hats, 185 Hewes St
Feltly Hats at 185 Hewes St

Feltly Hats at Lee Ave and Hewes
Feltly Hats at Hewes and Lee Ave

Shoe shop on Ross Street
Shoe shop on Ross Street

Kolel Sibernburgen on Hewes Street
Kolel Sibernburgen on Hewes Street

We specialize in whitening ladies silk scarves
We specialize in whitening ladies silk scarves

Hem lines is our specialty!
Hem lines is our specialty!

Ms USA Inc
Ms USA Inc

Gestetner Printing
Gestetner Printing: Wedding and Bar Mitzva Invitations

Mikvah of Congregation Yetev Lev D'Satmar
Mikvah of Congregation Yetev Lev D’Satmar

Poultry store at Division & Driggs Ave
Poultry store at Division & Driggs Ave

It is strictly forbidden ... on shabbos
It is strictly forbidden … on shabbos

Optical shop
Optical shop

Crown Hatters
Crown Hatters

Bais Hasefer
Bais Hasefer

United Talmudical Academy school bus
United Talmudical Academy school bus

Delivery cart from Satmar Meat & Poultry on Lee Ave
Delivery cart from Satmar Meat & Poultry Market on Lee Ave

Heimish Care
Heimish Care

Not here! Shatnes is next house
Not here! Shatnes is next house

At the corner of Hooper & Lee
Signs on buildings at the corner of Hooper & Lee

Record Online: In Brooklyn, Hasidim Build Shul in a Flash
NY Post: It’s a House Of ‘Gosh!’
Block Magazine: The Satmar Community of Williamsburg Divided
Hasidic News: Satmar
OU: Rav Yoel Teitelbaum – The Satmarer Rebbe
Village Voice: Arson for Hire
Demographia: The South Bronx:
From Urban Planning Victim to Victor

Yom HaShoah

April 15, 2007

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known as Yom HaShoah (in Hebrew, yom means remember; shoah is the word for catastrophe).

In most of the United States, the day passes almost without notice. In Israel, however, it is a day devoted to nationwide remembrance and education. During my recent visit to New York’s Jewish Museum, I saw a film depicting one of the most moving parts of the observance — the sounding of the Yom HaShoah siren.

At 10:00 a.m., a two-minute siren blast is heard throughout the country. While the siren screams, everything else comes to an immediate dead stop. Pedestrians stand still as statues, cars pull to the side of the road, workers halt their motions, people dining in cafes and chatting on mobile phones suddenly fall quiet, and the entire nation stands at silent, reverent attention.

Here in New York, a small ceremony for Holocaust survivors was held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan (not far from the site of the World Trade Center).

This was a day when the sun never came out. From morning to night, the sky remained flat and gray as cold rain poured onto the city. It was as though the heavens themselves were remembering and mourning the horrors we humans inflict on one another.

Memorial Candles on the Brooklyn Promenade
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Knesset: Yom HaShoah
Yad Vashem
The Ghetto Fighters’ House
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Museum of Jewish Heritage
Jewish Virtual Library: Holocaust Memorial Day
Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research
Holocaust Memorial Day Trust

The Mitzvah Tank in Times Square

April 2, 2007

Parked in front of the Times Square subway station, surrounded by neon and flashing lights, was a large vehicle bearing signs that identified it as a Mitzvah Tank. A what?

Mitzvah Tanks are a fleet of specially-outfitted motor homes used by followers of Menachem M. Schneersohn, commonly known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe. His adherents, who are called Lubavitchers, use the vehicles as portable educational and outreach centers.

To understand the purpose of the Mitzvah Tanks, it is necessary to know that the Lubavitchers are Orthodox Jews who encourage secular Jews to learn about and practice Judaism.

The Lubavitchers are not like traditional missionaries or evangelists. They aren’t trying to convert anyone who follows a different religion; rather, their goal is to reach those who have drifted away from (or never really learned) the teachings of their own faith.

The name Mitzvah Tank combines two important concepts: a mitzvah is a good deed (or a holy obligation), and the Lubavitchers cheerfully compare their outreach efforts to a military campaign in which motor homes serve as “tanks.” 

Mitzvah Tanks are often seen around town just before major Jewish festivals. Since Passover (Pesach) begins tonight, the tank in Times Square was surrounded by kids offering boxes of hand-made matzoh and information about the holiday.

When I guessed that the kids lived in Brooklyn (location of the Lubavitcher World Headquarters), they were delighted to give me kosher-for-passover snacks and pose for a few photos.

They also urged me to visit their neighborhood, Crown Heights, including a trip to the Jewish Children’s Museum that opened last year. Well, the weather is getting warmer …

In front of the Times Square subway station
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Let’s welcome Moshiach with acts of goodness & kindness
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Step up to the Mitzvah Tank
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Parked on 42nd Street
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Boys with boxes of hand-made matzoh
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Wikipedia: Mitzvah Tank
Gothamist: Mitzvah Tank Invasion
Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters
Beit Chabad: Pesach
Tank Parade

The Wearin’ o’ the Green

March 17, 2007

On March 16 the city was battered by a fierce blizzard and an ice storm. Trains and flights were cancelled, drivers skidded and slid off the roads and pedestrians ran to the nearest store, stocked up on bread and milk, then scurried home and locked their doors.

But for those who wait all year for the wearin’ o’ the green, winter’s last gasp was a mere inconvenience; nothing could stop the 246th New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. This is the city’s largest and most popular parade, typically drawing 2 million spectators and 150,000 marchers.

In New York the tradition is older than the nation; our first St. Patrick’s Day Parade was organized by Irish soldiers serving in His Majesty’s service more than 10 years before the Declaration of Independence was drafted.

The St Patrick’s Day Parade is one of the few that allow no cars, floats, trucks or other vehicles; anyone who wants to participate goes up Fifth Avenue, from 44th Street to 86th Street, on foot.

So, despite the day-long storm that nearly brought the city to a halt, city sanitation crews worked throughout the night to clear the route of ice and snow for today’s big parade. Other municipal agencies were busy, too, as subway and railroad schedules were adjusted to accommodate parade goers, the surrounding streets closed and barriers erected along the parade route.

The weather prevented the work crews from painting the traditional green stripe down the middle of the street, but everything else was as usual. Pipers and marching bands from around the country (and a few from the auld sod) nervously fingered their instruments. Firefighters and police officers assembled in their full dress uniforms. Souvenir vendors loaded themselves up with green balloons, green hats, green beads, shamrock stickers, Irish flags and badges saying “VIP: Very Irish Person” and “Kiss Me, I’m Irish.”

At the stroke of 11:00 the parade began, and it didn’t end until about 4:30, when the last red-headed, green-shirted boy giddily heard the applause as he crossed 86th Street. I hope your St. Patrick’s Day was as happy and exciting as his.

A lamppost on Fifth Avenue
Originally uploaded by annulla.

The last boy across 86th Street
Originally uploaded by annulla.

A green tie and a special cap
Originally uploaded by annulla.

The Buena Colts Marching Band from Arizona
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Wearing a green beret
Originally uploaded by annulla.

An experienced piper
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Banner of the Glasgow Celtic Supporters
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Father & daughter marched together
Originally uploaded by annulla.

A visitor from Vermont
Originally uploaded by annulla.

You don’t have to be Irish
Originally uploaded by annulla.

A marcher from New Jersey
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Displaying his faith
Originally uploaded by annulla.

His mother comes from Kerry
Originally uploaded by annulla.

Official St. Patrick’s Day Parade Web Site
Emigrant Online
Irish Echo
Irish Dirt

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