Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Author Michael J. Weinstein Honors 180 Orthodox Synagogues

By Michael Perlman

Author Michael J. Weinstein presenting "Ten Times Chai" at Rego Park Jewish Center, Photo by Michael Perlman
“This book is dedicated to the memory of the more than six million victims of the Holocaust, as well as the survivors – particularly the special few whom I had the honor and privilege of meeting on my journey,” states 54-year-old Syosset resident and author Michael J. Weinstein in the opening of his recently published book, “Ten Times Chai – 180 Orthodox Synagogues of New York City.” On June 10, guests including Holocaust survivors at his book talk and signing at Rego Park Jewish Center felt very inspired and grateful, and engaged with questions, and now he hopes to continue spreading the light by hosting more events. Weinstein, who has 25 years of experience as a stockbroker, has proven that “emunah” (faith), spirit, and passion enabled him to become an author. 


The number 613 signifies the quantity of “mitzvot,” commandments in the Torah presented to Moses and the Jewish people by Hashem. “Chai” represents life, which is assigned a numerical value of 18. Weinstein stated, “These very special places deserve the merit of ‘ten times chai.’”

Weinstein’s work features 613 large and insightful original photos capturing wide-angle views of existing classical to modern sanctuaries with close-ups of the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark), Judaica, stained glass windows, and decorative architectural details. Captions offer a vision of their sense of place, with facts including their address, founding, a site’s naming, country of origin, and designation as a NYC Landmark or placement on the National Register of Historic Places. Weinstein explained, “I wanted to do a book that would give people a window into Orthodox Judaism. What does it look like from the balcony? Why is there a separation between men and women?”

His goal was also to “see each synagogue up close and personal, rather than read about its history or see photos of the past.” Although there are many more Orthodox synagogues, five chapters offer a glimpse of 5 synagogues in the Bronx, 100 synagogues in Brooklyn, 35 synagogues in Manhattan, 35 synagogues in Queens, and 5 synagogues in Staten Island.

Locally, some featured sites are Queens Jewish Center, Jewish Community Center of Queens, Havurat Yisrael, Machane Chodosh, Sephardic Jewish Congregation, and the landmarked Congregation Tifereth Israel of Corona (1911). Weinstein pinpointed changing demographics. He explained, “One of the oldest synagogues in Queens is in Corona, a community which now has lots of people from countries including Peru, Columbia, Mexico, and Ecuador. The synagogue is run by a Bukharian rabbi. Estée Lauder (Josephine Esther Mentzer) and her family were Hungarian, and around the turn of the last century, there were Jewish people from Hungary that lived here. She davened at this synagogue.” Additionally, he pointed out that the Bronx and Harlem once offered many synagogues. 

Holocaust survivors among congregants with Author Michael J Weinstein, Photo by Michael Perlman
Weinstein’s parents were from Brooklyn, his grandparents lived on the Lower East Side, and his great-grandparents descended from Russia. Years later, his parents relocated to Briarwood, where he was born. As for a connection to Rego Park, his father worked for The LeFrak Organization for over 25 years. He was raised attending the Jericho Jewish Center, a Conservative synagogue, and over time, decided to grow religiously. “I went to Israel in 2010 for my daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, and then wanted to be kosher, increase my level of understanding, and see where I am from and where my great-grandparents were from. I traced my roots to a town called Pinsk in Russia.”

A parallel exists between his family’s history and many others. He said, “People left areas like Russia because of religious persecution in the 1880s and 1890s, where people were getting killed, beat up, and were not allowed to practice. They immigrated to the Lower East Side, where in the early 1900s, there were hundreds of thousands of Jewish people. Over the years, it also changed, and they began to move to different boroughs.” Weinstein bears homage to religious freedom in America, where Jewish people immigrated since 1654 from over thirty countries.

Upon learning more about his past, Weinstein’s goal was to “give back.” He consulted with what he humorously called “Rabbi Google,” and searched the terms “mitzvah” (good deed) and “Brooklyn,” with his lineage in mind, and came across the popular figure, “Mitzvah Man.” “He too knew there’s more to life than just studying and writing checks, and he physically wanted to help people,” said Weinstein.

Unique finds often came about. “Many synagogues in Brooklyn, particularly in the Hassidic areas of Borough Park and Williamsburg, are named after the towns that people came from.” He added, “I went to all of these synagogues and thought, ‘I wonder if anybody ever did a book?’” He discovered books on synagogues that became churches, as well as synagogues in communities where the Jewish population greatly declined. In turn, Weinstein would have the makings of the first book of its kind citywide.

Ruth Loewenstein, a Holocaust survivor & Rego Park Jewish Center Chair with Author Michael J Weinstein, Photo by Michael Perlman
Recalling his moving experiences, he said, “I met Holocaust survivors who lost their entire family. For example, they may have been one of nine.” He spoke with 24 survivors in Brooklyn. “Some shared stories that I’ll never forget. On my fifth visit with Frances Irwin of Midwood, Brooklyn, she told me ‘blueberries saved my life.’ She hid in the forest for over two years and survived on blueberries. She was caught and sent to Auschwitz and ultimately survived.” He continued, “Many synagogues in Rego Park and Forest Hills were founded during or after the Holocaust (serving as a beacon of hope and perseverance), whereas in Brooklyn, many were founded before, during, or after the Holocaust.”

For example, Congregation Machane Chodosh, which means “new camp or new beginning,” was founded in 1939 on 108th Street. Queens Jewish Center, also on 108th Street, was founded in 1943, and erected by The LeFrak Organization in 1955. The groundbreaking in 1953 was attended by Harry LeFrak, founder of the organization.

Weinstein said, “I am proud to be a New Yorker and proud of these synagogues. If you look at these photos, you will see that some rival any synagogue in the world and it’s something to be proud of, even in Queens. They are beautiful places.”

Weinstein’s book is available on Amazon or at a discounted price for 3 or more copies, with free delivery anywhere in Queens. For more information, email tentimeschai@gmail.com 

An alternate version of this feature has been published in the Forest Hills Times:
www.foresthillstimes.com/view/full_story/27584577/article-Book-takes-close-look-at-city-s-Orthodox-synagogues

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

A Forest Hills Tribute To July 4, 1918

By Michael Perlman

Chairman Eckman of 4th of July Celebration introducing Senator Calder, Station Square, 1918

Originating in 1914, the Forest Hills Gardens coordinated annual Independence Day festivals in exquisitely decorated Station Square with activities at the Forest Hills Inn and Tea Garden, Olivia Park, and along Greenway Terrace. One of the most communicated events was on July 4, 1917, when Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th U.S. president, delivered his “One Hundred Percent American” unification speech at the LIRR Station, pleading for a single standard of patriotism and loyalty to the America of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, to address WWI.

Now it is time to turn back the clock to the 1918 festivities, which were also meaningful, but yet, long-forgotten. Today, patriotism and tradition continue to echo locally in a modified form, particularly through Children’s Day at Flagpole Green in early June, although a century ago large-scale Independence Day celebrations were held on the actual day. 


Flag raising ceremony on Village Green, July 4, 1918

A flag raising ceremony proceeded on Village Green (now Flagpole Green), and Reverend Joseph McLaughlin of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs delivered an address. H.E. Conway read excerpts of Secretary Franklin Lane’s address and patriotic songs were recited. Tennis matches were played on courts that once occupied the site of The Inn Apartments, and the Obstacle Race was an attraction among the popular children’s games feature in Station Square. In Olivia Park, students of the noted Louis H. Chalif dance school at 165 West 57th Street performed the Twilight Symphony, an interpretative dance. 





Samuel W. Eckman, who served as Chairman of the Fourth of July Celebration, introduced Senator William M. Calder, who delivered an eloquent address resulting in rounds of applause by several hundred attendees throughout Station Square. His speech consisted of “The country owes a debt of gratitude to General Leonard Wood and Colonel Theodore Roosevelt for their work in stirring up the sentiment on every hand,” and “We are a long way from success, but we mean to fight it out to the last man, and we must all be ready to answer the call and to stand behind the government.” As a native Long Islander, he felt that Forest Hills was especially delightful, and he praised our community spirit.

Senator Calder felt that one of our most important achievements was passing the draft. He explained that “it put all men, the rich and poor alike, on terms of equality.” He established confidence for our future, based on the success of achievers including Harold Davies (WWI veteran) and Charles Schwab, the famed steel magnate.

Senator Calder discussed America’s conditions in its early days such as the Civil War, and pointed out our fight to free a portion of the human race. “We are now as never before a united people,” he said. “This is a war for justice to nations and to men, and when it is over, the treaties of peace must have a clause in then which should assure to all nations a just and complete peace. We must never forget our obligations to France in the time of the Revolution – how they helped us then and how we should help them now.”

He continued, “While America welcomes the oppressed of every nation to her shores, they must when they come join heartily in building up the honor and glory of the United States. We should here today consecrate ourselves anew to the cause of America and to the just war that she is engaged in.”

The agenda continued with “The Spirit of Play,” a masque presented by children, and character and patriotic dancing followed. Evening festivities consisted of dancing in Station Square, in addition to Camp Upton soldiers performing musical numbers. At the Church-In-The-Gardens, wounded soldiers and sailors of WWI were guests of honor at a dinner.

A great success resulted from the collaboration of various committees such as “Soldiers and Sailors” chaired by L.M. Burt, “Printing” by the prolific American type designer and printer Frederic W. Goudy, “Posters” by famed artist Herman Rountree, “Red Cross” by Mrs. Leon D’Emo, “Entertainment and Program” by John M. Demarest of the Sage Foundation Homes Company, and “Dances and Music” by W. Leslie Harriss.

A similar version has been published in Michael Perlman's Forest Hills Times column:
www.foresthillstimes.com/view/full_story/27581231/article-A-Forest-Hills-Tribute-on-July-4--1918?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Robert Plant & Roger Daltrey Rock Forest Hills Stadium

By Michael Perlman

Robert Plant on left with members of the Sensational Space Shifters, Photo by Michael Perlman
Roger Daltrey, Photo by Michael Perlman

For the sixth year, the iconic Forest Hills Stadium has attracted a diverse mix of legendary artists and a full house. Classics never die, as proven by two of the season’s earliest concerts. Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters performed with special guest singer, humanitarian, and nine-time Grammy recipient Sheryl Crow and folk singer, songwriter, instrumentalist Seth Lakeman on June 13, followed by Roger Daltrey performing The Who’s “Tommy” with The New York Pops on June 17. 


Full house at Forest Hills Stadium's Roger Daltrey & NY Pops concert, Photo by Michael Perlman
Seth Lakeman, Photo by Michael Perlman
Sheryl Crow, Photo by Michael Perlman
For over 50 years, Robert Plant, the lead singer and lyricist of Led Zeppelin, has never lost his wide and powerful vocal range, and is known as one of the greatest singers in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. His charismatic performance features gestures include dancing, jumping, and clapping, making the audience feel energized. His dynamic band, the Sensational Space Shifters, as of 2012, is as sensational as the title implies. His “Carry Fire” tour featured classics such as “The Lemon Song,” “Going To California,” and “Whole Lotta Love,” making the audience go wild, and included newer numbers such as the “The May Queen.” 


Robert Plant, Photo by Michael Perlman
Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters, Photo by  Michael Perlman
Forest Hills native Glenn Lurie called it a thrill to attend big name concerts in his hometown. “We must all do what we can to keep the terrific music of the sixties and early seventies alive,” he said. For him, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” was a showstopper. He explained, “When Robert Plant performs Led Zeppelin tunes, it brings me back to reliving my high school days, when Zep's music was just part of the growing up experience of music, playing such a major role in my life. His voice sounds as clear and moving as it did in 1969.”

Sofia Monge, co-owner of Continental Photo, felt it was one of the best concerts ever. She said, “When I heard Robert Plant was performing, I was excited and curious. His voice is powerful as ever, just like in the old Led Zeppelin days, and the man is almost 70 years old. I’ve become an instant fan! It’s nice that he seeks out music from all over the world and has been influenced by it, and he has garnished the amazing Sensational Space Shifters band to create some incredible music.”

Kew Gardens resident Eric Schreiber, a child of the 1970s, considers Led Zeppelin a favorite band of all-time. He said, “Robert Plant and Jimmy Page were one of the most prolific songwriting tandems in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, comparable in magnitude to John Lennon and Paul McCartney. As a solo artist, Plant has really done the delta bluesmen proud.”

Schreiber felt “The Lemon Song” was a great opener, setting the show’s tone. He continued, “’Going To California’ and ‘Gallows Pole’ were tracks from albums I wore out the grooves on while coming of age. ‘In The Mood’ from The Principle of Moments, was a prime selection from his early solo career, which didn't push his vocal cords beyond their comfort zone and sounded good. ‘Bring It On Home’ and ‘Whole Lotta Love’ were the perfect note to close on. I left wanting more, and as we filed towards the exit, the last encore was still playing in my head.”


As for opener Sheryl Crow, Schreiber said, “It was interesting that she had spoken with tennis legend John McEnroe who told her he first played at Forest Hills Stadium when he was nine, but meanwhile, Robert Plant mentioned he had to ask his friends if he had ever played here, since he couldn't remember.” He compared her to Linda Ronstadt and praised her set and band. “She still has the pipes that established her as a multi-platinum act 25 years ago.” 

Roger Daltrey & The Who band members, Photo by Michael Perlman

Roger Daltrey, Photo by Michael Perlman

Roger Daltrey, Photo by Michael Perlman
Spanning over 50 years, singer, musician, and actor Roger Daltrey continues to be a shining rock star, highly regarded for his charisma, powerful vocals, and energetic stage presence. His signature move is swinging a mic by its cord, as evident in the opening. In the mid-1960s, he founded the rock band, The Who, and became the lead singer. The Who took the stadium stage for two nights in 1971, and in 2015 for “The Who Hits 50!” tour. Considered the largest independent pops orchestra countrywide and the sole professional symphonic orchestra specializing in popular music, The New York Pops played Forest Hills for the past 4 years. Daltrey and some regulars of The Who band and The New York Pops united for a Father’s Day engagement of The Who’s “Tommy,” the rock opera about a deaf, dumb, and blind boy and his life experiences. 

The New York Pops, Photo by Michael Perlman
Roger Daltrey & The Who band members, Photo by Michael Perlman

His set opened with “Overture” and brought everyone to their feet with classics such as “Pinball Wizard,” “See Me, Feel Me,” and “Tommy Can You Hear Me?” His encore consisted of “Who Are You” and The Who’s signature number, “Baba O’Riley,” which featured a violin solo by virtuoso Katie Jacoby, and a suitable conclusion, “Always Heading Home.” One of Daltrey’s most memorable statements was “’Tommy’ is all of us, and all the characters in ‘Tommy’ are different people in all of us.’ We all have the potential to come out if we are careful. It’s all in there somewhere in the human mix.”

Commuting from Manhattan, Stuart Haber felt the collaboration between Roger Daltrey and The New York Pops initiated an additional depth to the score. He said, “You didn’t need videos above the stage. I saw Roger do the Tommy tour at Nassau Coliseum about six years ago and I saw The Who do it last year at Royal Albert Hall, but the orchestra made so much of the difference, and it felt closer to a Broadway musical than a rock concert.” While the score was outstanding, he considered “Go to The Mirror Boy,” “I’m Free,” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” as best. “For all the times I heard ‘Baba O’Riley’ live, this was the only time the violin was used, and it was transcendent!” he continued.

Jane Schulyer Carucci of Forest Hills has seen The Who for over 30 years including their 2015 stadium appearance. “The New York Pops added to their music a classical component, which is timeless for the ages. All generations can enjoy this, as I've seen youngins really enjoying the show.”

Robert Schnell wearing The Who coat commutes in style
Forest Hills Gardens concertgoer Robert Schnell proved just that. “The highlight was bringing my 5-year-old daughter Ishanika Gabriele Schnell to her first concert and watching her dance to daddy’s music.” Reminiscing his own childhood, he added, “My brother Rich turned me on to Tommy when I was 10 through the Woodstock album, and finally The Who’s first ‘rock opera’ is performed by an orchestra with the band, which is 49 years in the making!” 

Ivy Hammer and her husband Steve made New York Pops concerts their summer tradition. She extended additional praise to Daltrey. “He’s now 74 and terrific. He moved around the stage easily and sounded the same as in his younger days with his clear and strong voice.” 

Arriving early to the Roger Daltrey & NY Pops concert, ready to rock the night away, Photo by Michael Perlman

Thursday, June 14, 2018

For Sale: Ben’s Best Deli Seeks New Owner ASAP!!!

By Michael Perlman

For parties interested in acquiring Ben’s Best, email unlockthevault@hotmail.com


Jay Parker, the longtime owner of Ben’s Best Delicatessen at 96-40 Queens Boulevard in Rego Park, announced that it may soon be history, if a buyer is not found for one of the last mom and pop kosher delis citywide. On June 7, a notice stated, “Regretfully, after 73 wonderful years, Ben’s Best will be closing its doors on June 30th. We are very grateful to everyone who has supported us, and we hope to see you one last time.”

In response, this columnist, as Chair of Rego-Forest Preservation Council, submitted a preservation proposal to the owner. It explained that time is of the essence to find an individual who will acquire this historic business. Parker was receptive and responded, “I had every desire to continue the business through other hands. If you find an interested party, we can reconstitute the business. My staff would love to continue working here.” Parker is open to meetings with prospective owners, and if a contract is negotiated, the staff members and ambiance would be retained.

Parker attributed his business’ recent decline to bike lanes and the loss of approximately 200 parking spots since last summer. “Bike lanes are murdering us,” he said. A banner across the façade now announces “curbside service,” and a petition calling for its removal has been placed inside. 

Staff posing alongside Harry Glaubach's Ben's Best wooden art piece & wall of fame
Painting of Ben's Best founder Benjamin Parker & his son Jay Parker, Photo by Michael Perlman
Ben’s Best was opened by Benjamin Parker in 1945 and was purchased by his son Jay Parker in 1984. “There was an approximate 1,500 kosher delis in the 5 boroughs in 1938, but today there’s about 12 remaining,” said Parker. In an average week, Parker would serve an estimated 900 pounds of pastrami, nearly the same for corned beef, and around 250 pounds of white meat turkey. 

Benjamin Parker circa 1940s, Courtesy of Jay Parker 
Ben’s Best scored a Zagat excellent rating of 4.3, while there are not many Zagat-rated delis. Ben’s Best caters private and corporate events, has a national air freight business, and has enticed the palates of numerous notables including Israeli President Shimon Peres, actor and comedian Jerry Lewis, Senator Jacob Javits, Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Mayor Ed Koch, and Mayor Rudy Giuliani. 

Ben's Best classic depiction on Lower East Side by famed artist Harry Glaubach
Ben's Best classic depiction on wood by famed artist Harry Glaubach
The classic ambiance features portraits of notables and plaques, and a 65-seat wood-paneled dining room with historic Rego Park scenes and a painting of Benjamin Parker. A map reads “You’ve been in our home. Where is yours?” and allows patrons to pin their residence. Designed by famed artist Harry Glaubach is a classic wooden work, which provides an illusion of Ben’s on the Lower East Side and memorializes the Marx Brothers, Abbott & Costello, and The Three Stooges. The famed logo on the façade sign and menu depicts a man on a bicycle riding by a deli window.

Danny DeVito & Jay Parker of "The Comedian," Courtesy of Jay Parker
Ben's Best 1980s staff photo with Jay Parker, 2nd from left
Ben's Best in late 1980s Vlasic pickles commercial, Courtesy of Jay Parker
Ben’s Best occasionally becomes a production set and is featured in written works. “The Comedian,” a Sony Pictures Classics film starring Robert De Niro, Danny DeVito, and Leslie Mann, had a wide release in theaters on February 3, 2017, and Ben’s Best was featured in four scenes, with Parker cast as counterman. It was featured in this columnist’s book “Legendary Locals of Forest Hills and Rego Park” and on The Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” in “From Crepes to Kreplach” (season 11, episode 9). The deli also appeared in “Deli Man,” a documentary which chronicles cross-country deli owners. 


Numerous patrons among deli fans immediately conveyed much support for Ben’s Best and shared memories and their hopes. Scott Aronofsky explained “What set Ben's Best apart from the other less memorable old school kosher delis in Queens is that everything was made the old-fashioned way, from recipes handed down and taught to Jay by his father. Nothing was frozen or canned. Even if Ben's is saved, and I hope so, there's a certain skill set for making chicken in the pot, Hungarian goulash, kreplach, mushroom barley soup, stuffed cabbage, and of course pastrami the old-school way. It takes just one spice added the wrong way, and it won't be Ben's.”

Last Thursday, Ari Silverstein was enjoying lunch and then was shocked for a couple of reasons. He was among the first to hear the news. “I ran into somebody I never thought I'd see in a kosher deli, jazz singer Vicki Burns who I rarely see her out of her natural habitat, a jazz club. I told her she was in a local legendary restaurant. Then Jay told her ‘you didn’t have the pastrami?!...who goes to a deli to have salad?’ Then he told us he will be closing. I listened to Jay and Marty tell stories about their most memorable times, and especially the one about creating an outdoor seating section for a large bus group, right on Queens Boulevard.”

Lori Rosen immediately thought, “Oh no, not another neighborhood icon gone.” She reminisced, “When Ben's turned 50, they sold hot dogs and matzah ball soup for only a nickel to commemorate it, and the mayor even came to honor them. Since my mother's passing, my brothers and I have sought comfort in their food, atmosphere, and great memories. My mom loved their rice pudding and we both loved their amazingly sweet kugel. We also catered on many occasions.”

“Where does the flavor of a community go without maintaining tradition?” asked longtime patron Miri Malach. “In the 1980s, my aunt, uncle, and their three sons came every week from Westchester. When my brother moved to L.A., dad would always pack him a sandwich for the plane.” “My eldest son launched a sports program in Forest Hills and teaches in preschools, so on our weekly meal, we get him corned beef till this day to keep him strong,” she chuckled.

Arthur Cohen, whose family has also patronized Ben’s since the late 1940s, called it the premier kosher deli. “In its heyday, it was always packed especially on weekends to either dine in or take out, and even Sid Caesar came here when he lived nearby in Walden Terrace. One of my favorite deli meats was rolled beef, which I’m not sure is even made today.” He offered an idea to attract a diverse clientele. “If a new owner is found, they can combine the kosher deli with a lighter menu to take in changes of tastes with a more modern twist.” 

Ben's Best owner Jay Parker outside his deli, Photo by Michael Perlman
“Ben’s Best represents a direct link to the end of WWII and is a landing zone to the American Jewish experience,” said Robert Rosner, who feels that the neighborhood that he was raised in has been in the “crosshairs of very destructive business practices and city government actions.” He continued, “Some things get lost to time in progress, but Ben’s Best should not be one of them. Katz‘s Delicatessen has been thriving in this environment of Jewish deli decline, and that key to success needs to be harnessed by the present or new owner.”

Third generation patron Ellen Chernick makes the commute from Woodside. “Closing Ben’s represents a demise of Queens Boulevard, and I’m still getting over the closing of Alexander’s.” 

Owner Jay Parker poses with memorabilia & pin-your-location map, Photo by Michael Perlman
You've been to our home. Where is yours? - Photo by Michael Perlman



















A vintage hand-drawn Friday menu special, Photo by Michael Perlman

Ben's Best Delicatessen's classic menu cover, Photo by Michael Perlman