Sunday, February 10, 2013

I Nearly Became One of Those You Might Have Stepped Over, Sir

I Nearly Became One of Those You Might Have Stepped Over, Sir

There was a recent article in The Daily News that caught my eye.  It was about yet another glam condo development, this time in the Bowery.  The article begins this way:

The drunks are still there — only now they drive Bentleys, wear Prada and date supermodels.

The Bowery — once a national symbol of urban blight — is now one of the hottest residential, retail and nightlife neighborhoods.

"This is not the Bowery of 20 years ago when we ... stepped over the homeless," said broker John Gomes, who is handling sales for Douglas Elliman at 250 Bowery, a new condo being developed by Zach Vella with partner Justin Ehrlich.

The boutique builder’s stamp is all over the building — and 22 of 28 units sold in just one month, with prices from $925,000 for a one-bedroom to a hair under $6 million for a penthouse. The loft-like project is attracting the likes of Scarlett Johansson and singer Paul Simon, and will house an upscale Anthropologie shop in the ground floor.

Read more:

Back in 1975, I was one of 220 women who were told to leave a ladies' residence hall on West 13th Street in Manhattan, so that the Salvation Army, which ran the hall, could change it to another type of residential facility, for senior citizens.  We were given two months' notice.  Since I was working freelance as a research assistant and art model, and had no money, I had a very hard time finding an affordable new place to live.  Some of the prospects I looked at could make you cry.  Finally, at the eleventh hour, I lucked out with a very low-rent apartment not far away, and I've been there ever since.  I've just retired after 25 years of work for the City of New York, and I had a decent salary, but I still can't afford the standard rents in our town.

I had many advantages, including a college degree.  I never used drugs, never got drunk, didn't have a wild life, always dressed neatly, was what you would call a responsible person.  I couldn't understand why it was so hard to find work and housing that were suitable, and that enabled me to live with reasonable comfort and safety.  I really came quite close to being homeless.

It's bad enough when you can't afford housing; it's worse when you are treated like a bum.  The homeless are demonized.  Whenever a new homeless shelter is proposed, the community is up in arms.  I keep thinking they could have been up in arms about me, simply for being homeless, if that had been my fate.

The crass and unfeeling way the realtor in the article cited above--John Gomes--refers to the homeless is typical.  You've come a long way, the article suggest, when you are in a glitzy neighborhood where you don't even have to see the homeless.  Housing becomes more and more expensive and unwelcoming, un-neighborly.  If you're where many people can't afford to live, you're one of the people worth knowing.

This is part of the cruelty of the profit system, which will one day be no more because it is so ugly that people will not continue to tolerate it.  As the great historian and economist Eli Siegel once said, "What does a person deserve by being a person?" 

Friday, February 8, 2013

What Traditional Jewish Sabbath Music Can Teach the Israeli Government about Ethics

What Traditional Jewish Sabbath Music Can Teach the Israeli Government about Ethics

Last night, Wednesday, February 6th, I sat entranced in the tiny Thalia concert hall in Symphony Space.  That little concert hall is not much bigger than some living rooms.  I was listening to what was billed as "New Jewish Mystical Music:  Zmiros Project."

 I've loved Jewish music, in its different forms, for a long time.  I originally started listening to it for two reasons, I think:  I am interested in all different kinds of music, including world music; and being a Christian, I feel that to oppose anti-semitism and prevent the Nazi Holocaust from ever happening again, I must find out about the persons who for centuries have been treated unjustly by many people who incredibly called themselves followers of Christ.  Of course I fell in love with the music.  Who couldn't, really?

You can't walk into most churches without beholding statues, paintings, stained glass windows, bas reliefs--art in profusion--representing the Jews who founded Christianity, most notably Jesus himself and his apostles.  Many Christian ceremonies, traditions and music are derived from those of the Jews. The Prophets are cited all the time in sermons and inspirational literature, speaking to us Christians exactly as they did to the ancient Israelites.  And the Last Supper, the origin of Communion, was a Passover seder that was then reshaped, in a way, by Jesus; it was still a seder.  (When people in a Christian church taste the wine and the wafer at Communion and are told what Christ was said to have uttered, "This is my body that was broken for you," "This is my blood that was shed for you," the bread and wine were originally shared at a traditional Jewish Passover feast which Jesus and his apostles were celebrating.)  We owe a debt of gratitude to Jews for Christianity.  Both Jews and Christians have often felt superior to each other, and this has led to horror, mostly on the part of the Christians.  But I've seen Christianity called a branch of Judaism.  So be it.  I like that.

Oh, if you don't know Jewish music, now is the time to learn about it and love it.  One of the things I care for about it is that most of the words have ethical meanings and some are taken from the Bible.  Meanwhile, the music is lovely, and can be meditative or wild or both.  This is from the booklet for the trio's CD that was sold after the program:  "All along . . . melody blends with text, piety with pleasure and mystical longing with down-home festivity."  It is utterly compelling in such an everyday, even earthy way, and yet it admonishes you:  strive to do the right.

There's "Az nisht keyn emune," which says, in many details, that if you have money but have not virtue (many virtues are fnamed), of what worth are you?  The melody took off last night, and at the chorus we all clapped and sang.  Oh, it was irresistible.

Frank London was the trumpeter, and did he ever light up the night!  Lorin Sklamberg did very affecting vocals and accordion, and Rob Schwimmer beautifully played the piano.  Those three men gave us music that was rollicking and moving, unforgettable.

You're probably wondering what this has to do with the Israeli Government referenced in the title.  Today, Thursday, February 7th, my colleagues in Adalah-NY:  The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel, participated in two events intended to educate people about the awful way the Palestinians have been treated since Day One by the Israeli Government.  The evening event was the more controversial of the two.  A pair of noted speakers, one a Palestinian (Omar Barghouti) and the other Jewish (Judith Butler), both experts on the situation in Israel/Palestine, spoke at Brooklyn College about the campaign of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions against Israel to get it to stop its apartheid against Palestinians.  The BDS campaign is based on the peaceful campaign carried out against South African apartheid.  This event was loudly attacked by politicians and hate-montering conservative Jewish leaders who always argue that any criticism of Israel is anti-semitic and an attack on all Jews, etc., etc., and their message was full of lies about what BDS is and what the speakers advocated.  Some of their hate screed was published in The Daily News and elsewhere.  Some politicians, going along with this rabblerousing, threatened to push for de-funding of Brooklyn College.  The college administrators courageously stood firm, and even Mayor Bloomberg said that, although he hated BDS (I'm sure it's for the same old reason that it opposes Israel's right to do anything it wants), he felt that if you wanted an institution of learning that banned freedom of speech and opinion you might as well go to North Korea.  The panelists did manage to attend and speak and emerge from the experience in one piece, while various pro-Palestinian groups, including Adalah-NY, arranged for security and maintained watchfulness.

Some American Jews have felt that Israel was a pure, shining, symbol of all that was good, arising out of the Holocaust.  They haven't wanted to feel that it was anything but that.  I have met people I've respected greatly who have felt it.  They are in for a horrible disappointment, but they should really want to know the truth, which is readily available on the Internet even when the American press largely gives a very dishonest picture.

Adalah-NY consists of people of various backgrounds, mainly Jewish, Muslim and Christian.  We are all very modern people.  I don't know how religious anybody else is, and it's a secular group of course.  But we're all together because we hate what's going on in Israel/Palestine, but the meetings are upbeat, purposeful, hopeful, I would say.  Protest demonstrations are carried out, and leaflets created, with imagination and aplomb.  That's what I love about the group, founded in 2006.

I wasn't able to attend either event, but I thought of what was going on as I listened to the Jewish mystical music the night before.  I don't know how these musicians see Israel.  But I thought, Does Alan Dershowitz, or does Dov Hikind, want to learn from this music?  Does Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu?  Sing.  Dance.  Do the right thing.  Be swept by all this abundance of joy, melody, rhythm, and above all justice.  Do not bear false witness--tell the truth!  Be happy, say the Hasidim, and I say you can only be happy when you want to be just.  Otherwise, for all that you have, of what worth are you?

I know much more could be said along this line.  Let the music never end.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Need for Hospital to Replace St. Vincent's, Lower Manhattan

A few months ago, this letter of  mine was published in The Daily News.  It's one of my letters about St. Vincent's Hospital and its tragic, wholly unnecessary loss due to political chicanery and corporate greed.

Urgent care needed
Manhattan: Rep. Gregory Meeks and Anthony Weiner’s guest column on the need for a hospital to serve the Rockaways, especially after Sandy, points up the need for a safety net everywhere (“The Rockaways, on solid ground,” Nov. 28). The lower west quadrant of Manhattan has had no hospital since St. Vincent’s closed. In addition, several nearby hospitals were forced to shut down temporarily because of Sandy. We need well-constructed, full-service hospitals in good strategic positions to serve communities and avoid storm damage. Carol F. Yost

Read more:

Save Old Chelsea Post Office

The Old Chelsea Post Office, on West 18th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, is under threat.  It's being offered for sale by the USPS, which has decided to sell off a lot of its post offices.  This is very valuable real estate, and will probably bring money to the United States Post Office, but we need our post office for many reasons.  It's an iconic symbol of our community and provides many services.  We have very little time to take action.  A small flyer posted in the lobby says we have only 30 days (less, now) to object to stop the sale.  LET EVERY POLITICIAN KNOW YOU ARE AGAINST THIS SALE!

Stop the USPS from thinking it can do whatever it wants with buildings that mean a great deal to the community.