Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jewish Council raps cuts to 'Y' theater

by John DeSio
Riverdale Review, 08/28/2008

The Riverdale Jewish Community Council is fighting a budget cut made to the Riverdale Y's theater program.

The RJCC has issued a letter to the Department of Cultural Affairs, urging the agency to reconsider its cut. The theater program had been funded by the agency for 25 years, and last year the Riverdale Y was presented with a total grant of $18,900 by the DCA. This year the agency recommended that it receive no grant, and the Riverdale Y will see only $5,000 in the form of a member item from City Councilman G. Oliver Koppell.

"The Y's theater groups not only provide Riverdalians of all ages and backgrounds with an environment to express themselves and grow artistically, but also provide the entire surrounding community with access to affordable and high-caliber cultural performances," states the RJCC's letter.

In addition, the RJCC has launched an online petition, available at the website, urging Riverdalians to push the DCA to restore the Riverdale Y's grant, lest the theater group be eliminated.

Ari Hoffnung, co-president of the RJCC and a candidate for City Council in 2009, said he is concerned that the Riverdale Y lost its funding due to a form of backhanded racism, possibly because the panel empowered to make those grant decisions considers Riverdale a wealthy area that does not need city help.

"What I suspect may be going on here is a perception, or perhaps stereotype, in city government that all Riverdalians are wealthy and that our local nonprofits are therefore not in need of financial support," said Hoffnung. "The fact of the matter is that Riverdale, like most outer-borough communities, is a predominately middle-class neighborhood where many families struggle to make ends meet. As Riverdalians, we pay our fair share of taxes and should therefore be entitled to receive our fair share of city services. We will continue to speak out until our community receives its fair share of funding."

A panel is convened by the DCA to make these grant decisions based on borough, discipline and the total budget size of the requesting agency, said Kate deRosset, a spokeswoman for DCA. It was unclear as of press time how many groups were funded through the grant process for fiscal year 2009 that had never received funding before.

Some of the grant recipients might raise eyebrows for different reasons. The Point Community Development Corporation is a Hunts Point-based group that routinely engages in social activism in the South Bronx and has played a role in protests to prevent a prison from opening in that community and to move waste transfer stations from the area. It was awarded $94,587 by the DCA for FY 2009.

In Brooklyn there is El Puente of Williamsburg, a controversial organization that co-operates an established public high school whose curriculum focuses on hip-hop and graffiti as art. The organization also participates in numerous acts of community and political activism and boasts on its website that it "remains at the forefront of community/youth learning and development issues and as such, initiates and impacts social policy both locally and nationally." This year its grant level was raised to $48,000, up from $25,000 last year.

DeRosset said that many similar organizations had also received grants and that it is common for groups that engage in social activism and have cultural programs as well to be awarded DCA grants.

"Basically, if your organization is nonprofit, it’s primarily social service but has significant arts programming of recognizable quality that helps foster public access to culture in a really meaningful way, then absolutely those groups are eligible for funding," said deRosset.

In the letter to DCA, Hoffnung invited DCA Commissioner Kate D. Levin to visit the Riverdale Y, see a show, and then reconsider these cuts.

"Socially, the theater groups promote tolerance and cultural sensitivity by providing a unique forum for Bronxites of different ethnic and religious backgrounds to work together. It also provides teens with a quality after-school experience that helps build self-esteem and teach the value of respect, camaraderie, and teamwork," states the letter. "Perhaps most importantly, theater groups teach young people who are being raised in an era of 500 cable channels, video-on-demand, and YouTube, the value and joy of live community theater."

Civil Court race becomes substitute for open political rebellion

by John DeSio
Riverdale Review, 08/28/2008

With primary day fast approaching, insurgent Democrats gathered on the step of the Bronx County Courthouse this past week to welcome new members to the "Rainbow Rebellion" and rally for their judicial candidate.

"Like in Washington, we are planning to make history this year," said Assemblywoman Aurelia Greene, dean of the Borough's Assembly delegation, as she introduced Elizabeth Taylor to the assembled media on the courthouse steps.

Greene was joined by the bulk of the so-called Rainbow Rebellion, a coalition of elected officials who have banded together to support Taylor in her race against Maria Matos, the preferred candidate of the Bronx Democratic Party machine and its chairman, Assemblyman Jose Rivera.

A third candidate, Verena Powell, is also running for the seat.

In addition to those members of the Rainbow Rebellion who have been public about their support for Taylor since she announced, a list that includes Greene as well as Assembly Members Ruben Diaz, Jeffrey Dinowitz, Carl Heastie and Michael Benjamin, State Senator Rev. Ruben Diaz, and longtime Bronx power broker Stanley Schlein, the rebels were joined by a number of new Taylor supporters.

Most notable among them was Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, who had actually placed Matos's name on his nominating petitions earlier this month. Also endorsing Taylor at the event was City Councilwoman Annabel Palma. Two other elected officials, State Senators Eric Schneiderman and Ruth Hassell-Thompson, have also signed on to support Taylor but were not present at the event.

At the press conference, Taylor's supporters spoke lovingly of their candidate and her potential on the bench.

"What do we want in a judge? We want the most highly qualified person, a person with an excellent legal background, a person from the community," said Dinowitz.

Dinowitz noted that Taylor's candidacy has brought a majority of the Borough's Assembly delegation to her side, adding that a clear majority of Bronx officials from all backgrounds and corners of the Borough are in favor of Taylor.

"This is The Bronx," said Dinowitz. "This is what The Bronx needs—a politically independent, highly qualified candidate for judge."

Assemblyman Diaz remarked that Taylor's understanding of The Bronx would give her the perfect temperament for the Civil Court bench and would enable her to be fair to the Borough's residents.

"People come into these courtrooms each and every day," said Assemblyman Diaz. "They don't want any favoritism. What they want is somebody who understands the situation, and they want a fair shake. This is why we support this young lady."

The rift between Assemblyman Rivera and the Rainbow Rebellion, and the subsequent insurgent support for Taylor, stem from what one insider termed a "broken promise" made by Assemblyman Rivera last year following the retirement of State Supreme Court Justice Janice Bowman.

Bowman, who is African-American, was forced to retire due to illness, and the Borough's black political leadership had hoped to replace her with another African-American judge. Instead, Assemblyman Rivera and the Democratic machine threw its support behind then-Civil Court Judge George Villegas to replace Bowman and promised the Borough's black politicos that it would back two African-Americans for Civil Court instead.

Last year County supported Donald Miles, an African-American, who was successful in his bid for Civil Court. Rebellionites claim, off the record, that until several weeks ago Assemblyman Rivera had expressed his support for Taylor in this year's election, only to back out of his agreement at the last minute to support Matos.

Allies of Assemblyman Rivera insist this is not the case and complain that Greene and others behind the Taylor campaign never bothered to approach the County machine and ask for its support.

The race has also become something of a proxy battle for next year's borough presidency. Insiders note that the race also represents a dry run for Assemblyman Diaz's likely candidacy for the Borough's highest office, where he will probably face the machine-backed City Councilman Joel Rivera, Assemblyman Rivera's son.

The race could also decide the future of Assemblyman Rivera's chairmanship of the Bronx Democrats. Should Taylor succeed over Matos, the Rainbow Rebellion is expected to mount a challenge to Assemblyman Rivera's leadership, according to Rebellion insiders.

For his part, Assemblyman Rivera has described the disagreement as a small family fight and has publicly stated that he expects Bronx Democrats to unite following the September 9th primary.

'Historic District' is closed to the public

By Candice M. Giove

Riverdale Review, 08/28/2008

The Landmarks Preservation Commission will present a new draft of the Fieldston Master Plan to the public.

Community Board #8's Land Use Committee will view the plan at a meeting on Thursday, September 4 at 7:30 p.m. at the Riverdale Jewish Center, 3700 Independence Avenue. The Commission will also present the plan to the public on September 23 at 9:30 a.m. at the Municipal Building at 1 Center Street. Comments can be mailed to the LPC.

The Commission presented its first draft to the Board in June 2007, though many felt that the document needed tweaking. A copy of the new draft is available on the agency's website.

The agency developed the Master Plan while gaining insight from applicants who have gone through the approval process. The rules are a supplement to the commission's existing rules, which were created at a time when most city landmarks were brownstones or row houses.

According to the Commission, these rules directly apply to the freestanding homes in the district, where buildings styled in colonial revival, craftsman, medieval revival, Tudor revival, Mediterranean revival and mid-20th-century-modern, sit along winding roads with varying topography. Of the 257 homes in the district, the 13 percent that are noncontributing buildings, or "no-style" homes, as they are widely called, will have a little more wiggle room.

The Master Plan is meant to streamline applications, allowing residents performing minor work to do so without a full hearing.

The drafted rules address particulars for building alterations, window alterations, heating, ventilation and air conditioning installation, shutter and door replacements and landscape improvements. If an applicant fits into the parameters set forth in those rules, approval can be given at the staff level.

At the June 2007 presentation, attendees took issue with some of the regulations, like one rule that governed deck material and one that governed fence height.

Residents expressed concerns about dealing with the Commission and the Department of City Planning, because their homes are both historic and in a special natural area.

Board members pointed out in 2007 that the Fieldston Master Plan rejects curved driveways, while the Department of City Planning, which created the Special Natural Area District regulations, prefers them.

Also at the 2007 meeting Marc Odrich, president of the Fieldston Property Owners' Association, took issue with some of the language used in the plan. Instead of calling the roads private streets, the agency referred to them as "public thorough-fares."

The new draft now refers to Fieldston streets as "commonly accessible thoroughfares."

Fieldston has private streets and each year puts its right to close them off on show. This past Friday evening through Saturday evening the entrances and egresses were shut off to the public. Temporary metal fences were placed around the private community.

At the majority of the gates there was no supervision, which could present a danger in the event of an emergency. At one of the two entrances found guarded by the Riverdale Review—the northern Fieldston Road entrance—a guard attempted to bar photography.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hauben honored for MTA artwork

by Eric Grossfeld

Daniel Hauben, a Kingsbridge resident and life-long Bronxite, has been nationally recognized for his tribute to Bronx life, the magnificently crafted glass piece titled "The El" that is set up at the Freeman Street subway station.
Hauben's work was selected among forty other pieces included in Americans for the Arts' prestigious Year in Review, which was created to recognize influential public space artwork. "The El" was commissioned as part of a $10.4 million effort to revive the Freeman Street station.
The MTA Arts for Transit and the Bronx Center for the arts celebrated the Bronx artist's work at an MTA Celebration on August 13, during which Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion presented to Hauben an award.
Five years ago, Hauben was selected to create an art piece as part of Arts for Transit's effort to bring to local subway stations a representation of local community culture. Though it would be no easy task to complete, at least for Hauben choosing his specific cultural focus was a no-brainer. "I thought to myself, what would be better than images of the elevated trains, images that would translate well through the stained-glass medium?"
Though it is located above ground (hence the title, which is short for "elevated"), "The El" captures the spirit, "the feeling of the bustle of life on the street below," the artist said. Since he's been living in the Bronx almost all of his life, Hauben noted that he used "images of the Bronx to find inspiration and subject matter worthy of depicting."
Creating his six-piece stained glass set diverted Hauben from his traditional medium of artistic expression: painting, which has been his passion for over a quarter of a century. The challenge for the artist was "using the material, faceted glass, which leaves the image more simplified. Since the glass is flat-shaped, to be translucent, the image becomes less detailed," Hauben said, adding he had to "retain a sense of specific feeling and scenery in such a delicate space."
Setting high standards valued the time for the completion of "The El" at five years, during which Hauben collaborated with fabricator Larry Gordon to transpose Hauben's realistic original painting onto the faceted glass medium. The physical features of the end result are as impressive as the work's symbolic meaning: "The El" showcases strong use of light and color with its meticulously crafted glass pieces, which number in the thousands. The entire construction is held together by epoxy, which protects it from cold weather conditions.
Year in Review juror Ted C. Landsmark, whose artistic credentials include serving as president of the Boston Architectural College, praised "The El" as an artistic journey, offering "opportunities for reflection on where [subway riders and workers] were and where they might be going." He added that the work "struck me as exemplary in combining a dynamic elevated shadow and light iconography, with a street-level vernacular retail narrative that manifests New York's diversity and vibrancy."
The artist himself was too more than impressed with his work. "The Bronx elevated trains depicted give you that vertical sense. The pattern of shadows compliment and influence the street scene." As an artist, Hauben fixes himself on that exact location: on the Bronx streets. In order to capture real feelings and perceptions, "I never can be separate from the world. Being on-location provides to me my greatest influence," Hauben said of his style.
He fended off suggestions that oppose his method, such as using the famous Madison Avenue in Manhattan as a backdrop. "That's just ridiculous," he remarked.
While analyzing and capturing his surroundings, the artist frequently finds himself attracting large crowds of passer-bys who are curious about Hauben's vision. "I'm a sitting-duck on the street," Hauben joked, adding more seriously: "I find people open up about their neighborhoods and their lives while I paint." It's Hauben's down-to-earth mentality and artistic style that fosters these connections, which he uses to his artistic advantage, incorporating personal and cultural specifics to transpose the spirit of his target onto a painting.
Local praise attests to the belief that Hauben captures the Bronx perhaps too well. "People tell me after they watch me work, or after they view a finished painting, how they find nuances and significance to street corners and avenues they pass by everyday," he said. "They start seeing what an artist sees."
As an artist, Hauben takes comfort in and is proud of the fact that his work resonates on a personal level and that it is able to invoke emotions within his audience. The key to his success: "Always remember, from an artist's perspective, nothing is too ordinary."

Moerdler least in cyberspace

by John DeSio

It’s getting clearer and clearer that Charles Moerdler is getting ready to enter Riverdale’s race for the City Council.
Several domain names with clear campaign names were registered this past week to Moerdler, who currently serves as Community Board #8’s land use chairman.
As of press time each of the websites remains blank, and Moerdler could not be reached for comment to discuss their potential future content.
Moerdler has made a variety of similar moves that would indicate his potential run for City Council is a serious endeavor. Most notably his law firm, Stroock, Stroock & Lavan, recently made noted election law attorney Jerry Goldfeder a new partner.
Goldfeder most recently served as Special Counsel to New York State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, where his portfolio included public integrity matters. Prior to joining Attorney General Cuomo's office last year, Goldfeder was a trial and appellate attorney in private practice for over twenty-five=2 0years.
Moerdler has stated in the past that he would use Goldfeder’s talents “in every way possible.”
In June Moerdler placed $25,000 into the campaign coffers of Governor David Paterson., a move that has also been viewed as a precursor to Moerdler’s likely switch from the Republican to Democratic Party.
According to reports Moerdler only decided to consider a City Council run after multiple attempts were made this Spring to eliminate himself and other longtime members of Community Board #8 from their long-held seats on that board.
Other announced or presumptive candidates for the seat include Ari Hoffnung, co-president of the Riverdale Jewish Community Council; Helen Morik, vice president for government and community affairs at the Columbia University Medical Center; Anthony Perez Cassino, former chairman of Community Board #8; and Jamin Sewell, who serves as legislative counsel to City Councilman G. Oliver Koppell.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Schervier minimizes loss of trees for parking

by John DeSio

Riverdale Review, 08/14/2008

New parking opportunities are headed to Spuyten Duyvil, thanks to a new parking facility set for construction at the Frances Schervier Nursing Care Center.

Schervier spokeswoman Nadine Baker announced this past week that her organization would build a parking lot on its campus. The lot, which would be available only to employees of Schervier, would free up 18 parking spaces on the adjacent streets.

In addition, the as-of-right project sits outside of the Special Natural Area District and would not be subject to more stringent greenbelt regulations.

"The City of New York Planning Department, Bronx Division, has assured us that the area in question is not in the Special Natural Area District, and our professional surveyors have confirmed that information," said Joseph Gordon, project manager and engineer for Schervier.

Gordon showed this newspaper a detailed map of the Special Natural Area District, which shows that the proposed parking lot sits outside of the greenbelt.

Three trees were felled for the project. One was split by wind and presented a danger, but two others came down specifically for the project.

Gordon said that three new trees would be planted on the Schervier grounds to replace the others.

"The Special Natural Area District [the Riverdale Greenbelt] starts at the center line of Palisade Avenue and goes west to the Hudson River, along the area where the project will be completed. At no time will any of the project, including material storage, be located in the SNAD," said Gordon.

Dr. Louis Harris, Executive Vice President of Bon Secours New York, Schervier's parent organization, said that his organization was sensitive to the needs of the Riverdale community and would take great care to ensure that the project fits the character of the neighborhood.

"In the interest of the aesthetic integration of the project into the community, when the work is complete, Bon Secours New York Health System will landscape it and create a beautiful retaining wall that will be as lovely as the landscaping created around it," said Harris. "Being a good neighbor is and always has been a high priority for us, and we are careful to be good stewards of the Riverdale community."

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz has been Riverdale's greatest champion for more parking. He has proposed in the past that zoning laws be changed to force new developments to construct at least one parking space for every housing unit created. The assemblyman said that he would reserve judgment on the project until he examined it further.

"It's hard to comment on a plan I have not seen," said Dinowitz. "It would be helpful if cars were removed from the streets, but I would hope that the addition of a parking lot would not result in any significant loss of trees or green space. And if some trees are lost, I would hope many more are planted to replace them."

Charles Moerdler, chairman of Community Board #8's land use committee, was upset that Schervier had not reached out to his committee prior to the announcement, especially due to the removal of three trees and the project's proximity to the Special Natural Area District. He added that his committee would examine the matter at its September meeting.

"I am surprised and disappointed that neither Bon Secours nor Schervier notified the land use committee to request prompt public review of this proposal, especially since they say they are acting in the community's interest," said Moerdler. "Such review has been the consistent practice of community facilities in this board area."

Ari Hoffnung, co-president of the Riverdale Jewish Community Council and a candidate for City Council in 2009, last week outlined a five-point plan to increase parking options in Riverdale. He was thrilled to see Schervier take a major step towards increasing parking on its campus, thereby adding street parking in the surrounding neighborhood.

"Riverdale is fortunate to have neighbors like Schervier Nursing Care Center who not only recognize that parking is a serious local concern but are also actively seeking ways to address this problem," said Hoffnung. "I applaud Schervier's plans to build an additional parking lot for their staff. This project is a 'win-win' for Riverdale as it will not only be helpful to Schervier employees who drive to work, but will also create more parking for people, like myself, who live in the surrounding neighborhood.

252nd Street overpass: A bridge too far, a project too long delayed

by Anna Joseph
Riverdale Review, 08/14/2008

A Riverdale overpass has taken longer to renovate than it took to build the Whitestone Bridge, according to Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz.

On Tuesday, the assemblyman criticized the City's lengthy construction time, publicly demanding a speedier conclusion to the work on the overpass at West 252nd Street and Henry Hudson Parkway East, in front of Christ Church,

They are going to take a full three years,” Dinowitz complained. “I wanted to highlight this to the attention of the community, that this is taking a ridiculously long time." He added, "The longer something takes, the more it tends to raise costs, so what I’m hoping to do is bring attention to this in the hopes that perhaps the City will find a way to be quicker and act more efficiently. The important part is that it’s an eyesore, it costs a lot of money, and it causes inconvenience.”

The restoration on the approximately 100-foot-long overpass, which began on January 3, 2006, has thus far taken more than two and a half years. The 3770-foot Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, a suspension bridge across the East River, took 23 months to complete and was opened on April 29,1939, two months ahead of schedule.

It just shows what an amazing contrast there is,” said Dinowitz, “between the construction here and the construction of an enormous suspension bridge."

Perhaps the comparison is unfair. The Whitestone was built during the Great Depression, a time when the City gave job-creating public works high priority. In fact, renovations to the Whitestone that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority started in 2001—which have caused traffic congestion—are not yet completed either.

The 252nd Street renovations have closed the westbound lane since the project began.

Con Ed's power cable upgrade project has also caused transportation trouble for many. “We get complaints to our office about building construction and the Con Ed project. The problem is that all of these things are happening at once,” explained Dinowitz. “If you look at the overall picture, many factors are coming together to make Riverdale grind to a halt."

Referring to the overpass, he added, "This is an unnecessary factor, because we should have been done a long time ago. This should have been completely done before the Con Ed project started. I think what people in the community should do is express their disgust at the ridiculous length of this project. Frankly I’m sick of it.”

The Department of Transportation, which planned the completion of the overpass in April, 2008, was unavailable for comment as of press time.

P.S. 24 principal does Tweed's dirty work

by John DeSio
Riverdale Review 08/14/2008

Though the budget rearrangement at P.S. 24 might be painful now, Principal Philip Scharper insists it is necessary to protect the fiscal health of the school later. But some school insiders insist that unwise spending by Scharper is the real cause of the school's budget woes.

Despite the City Council's having announced with much fanfare the restoration of public school budgets across the Borough, Scharper said that his school has still lost money and that he has been forced to take actions to deal with those cuts and potential future cuts.

The City Council had announced the restoration of $258,735 in funds to P.S. 24, claiming that the school had not lost one penny of its budget from last year. But Scharper noted that $80,000 cut from the school in April was never restored and that some of the money the City Council has taken credit for would have come to the school regardless.

Depending on the math, Scharper said the school has lost somewhere between $45,000 and $90,000 this year, though he admitted he was hazy on those numbers.

"There are certain ways of their figuring the cuts," said Scharper. "Actually, in real dollars, it does come out to less than we had originally."

Scharper added that he has designed this year's budget to deal not only with those cuts but also with the potential for additional mid-year cuts and the future implementation of the "fair student funding" budget program, which would allocate funds based on factors such as a school's poverty rate and would almost certainly cost P.S. 24 substantial funding.

"So you have to start planning for how you're going to work on your budget with substantially less money," said Scharper.

To that end, Scharper has reduced the number of cluster teachers at P.S. 24 from ten to eight, a cut he said was in line with the Department of Education's standard of one cluster teacher per 100 students. Scharper has also moved the cluster teacher who served as the school librarian back into the classroom. And in the third grade classes, the average number of students has risen to 29 due to the combining of five classrooms into four. The mandated class size for third grade is 28.

"The point is, thinking ahead, this seemed to be the time to put the ratio of cluster teachers to students in line," said Scharper. He added that he would implement a plan to staff the library using teachers and parent volunteers, which would preserve open access to the library. He did note that the library would not be open a full day, though he said that it did not need to be anyway.

A budget cut is one problem, but multiple sources within the school (both parents and teachers) have complained that Scharper's spending priorities are out of place in two areas: physical plant upgrade and professional development.

Scharper has put money aside in this year's budget to partially rewire the old wing of P.S. 24 so that air conditioners can be installed in 22 classrooms. Right now, only the newer wing of the school is air conditioned, and Scharper said it was imperative to correct this disparity.

"That's something that just seems like it needs attention," said Scharper. "We have to start that." Though it is a physical upgrade, Scharper noted that such a project could not be funded by the School Construction Authority, but had to be paid for by the school itself. The work would be done partially over a few years, and Scharper did not yet have an estimate for how much it would take from this year's budget.

One teacher, who asked not to be identified, was furious that school money would be spent on air conditioners rather than teachers.

"It's only hot enough for air conditioning a few days each school year," said the teacher. "For that we're losing a full-time librarian?"

Scharper is also dedicating budget funds to a professional development contract with Columbia Teachers College, which will focus on helping teachers teach reading and writing.

"I feel like professional development is our lifeline," said Scharper, noting that the contract would cost a good "chunk of money." He added, "It's not as much as a full teacher, but its getting there." The average cost of a teacher at P.S. 24 is $75,000 per year, he said.

Another teacher, who also asked not to be identified, said that Scharper needs to get his priorities fixed. "The classroom, not professional development or air conditioning, is what's important," said the teacher. "Philip Scharper needs to realize that."

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Steven Exler joins Hebrew Institute as associate rabbi

by Paulette Schneider
08/07/2008, Riverdale Review

"It’s a glimpse of the future,” says Rav Steven of the construction site visible from the window of his tidy office in the Johnson Avenue private house that is now the administrative hub for the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.

Soon to rise on the construction site is a new space for H.I.R., and Steven Exler, the congregation’s new associate rabbi, plans to zone that space as a home for spiritual growth. He’ll start the growth process by learning about his congregants. “My primary goal over the coming weeks and months is to build relationships with people,” said Exler.

The wiry, intense Brandeis biology major had considered a career in biomedical research. But after several years in a Jewish studies environment, he found that his yearning to be back in the bio lab was not strong enough to draw him toward the science professions. Instead he chose full-time service to the Jewish community, a direction he has chosen “in small ways” throughout childhood and college. “Jewish community service is the right thing for me,” he said.

The right thing when it came to rabbinical schools was Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (Lovers of Torah), founded in 1999 by H.I.R.’s Rabbi Avi Weiss as a place to nurture a new kind of religious leadership. “The curriculum focuses not only on the breadth and depth of Torah knowledge but also on a practical working understanding of the process of ‘halacha’—Jewish law—and its application in community and synagogue life,” Exler explained. Religious growth, according to the school’s literature, “comes not through dogmatism but through questioning and struggle.”

Accordingly, a school ideology is that “any conversation can and should be had, that the things we’re not talking about need to be talked about, whatever they are. Whatever it is that we’re afraid to share with our friends, whatever we’re afraid to talk about for fear of being judged—if we’re thinking about them, others are thinking about them,” said Exler. “If you’re troubled by something, it should be talked about.”

Before he addresses the congregation to promote growth or other values, Exler plans to establish a rapport with individuals, at the Shabbat table and in other informal venues, to learn “what their relationship with the shul is like, what their relationship with the community is like, what their own personal Jewish journeys have been like, what keeps them up at night, what their values are.” He feels he will be better “heard at the pulpit” once congregants have a sense that he truly cares about them as individuals and that he will devote himself to their concerns. “My passion is serving the community,” said Exler, “and that’s something I want to be really clear about.”

He will then encourage honest discussion of topics such as mental illness, physical disability, fertility, or whatever issues he learns that people are finding it difficult or painful to deal with. Such “healthy conversations” should ultimately lead to spiritual growth in the form of heightened sensitivity and support for those in the community who need it.

Looking toward those outside the community, spiritual growth can take the form of political advocacy. “We should be pushing through whatever venues of legislation and power we have as a community and as citizens for the ways that we see Torah values expressed in our country and in our laws,” said Exler. Toward that end he became involved in Uri L’Tzedek (Awaken to Justice), an advocacy organization that arose within the Modern Orthodox community.

“I see Uri L’Tzedek as a place that helps educate people around issues of social justice and creates conversation around them and raises awareness about them.” At monthly study sessions in Washington Heights, participants explore Jewish texts and learn about thinkers who have tackled social justice issues. Recently they became active on behalf of workers at Agriprocessors, the beleaguered Kosher meat production facility in Postville, Iowa. “Uri L’Tzedek has touched on issues from immigration to domestic workers—something that I care a lot about—to ethical production and consumption, to refugees,” said Exler. “To me that’s another thing that growth means: getting educated around issues of social justice and feeling empowered to find ways to act about them.”

Under the guidance of Rabbi Weiss, Exler shares some rabbinic duties with Sara Hurwitz, H.I.R’s “madricha ruchanit” (spiritual mentor). Hurwitz’s role has expanded to include more responsibilities in the educational, pastoral and life-cycle needs of the community. Particularly with personnel changes over the past several years, Hurwitz has provided continuity and concrete day-to-day advice. “I rely on her really, really heavily. She’s a real partner in the work that we do,” said Exler.

With this leadership team, H.I.R. will remain an institution where, as Exler describes it, “people from every background and walk of life who are drawn to a vibrant community of Jewish life can walk through these doors and feel that there is a place for them to connect and a way for them to connect."

Irving Ladimer praised for activism

by Eric Grossfeld
08/07/2008, Riverdale Review

A man who has devoted his life to serving his community was shown some real appreciation from that community last Sunday afternoon.

Irving Ladimer, 92, received much-deserved community praise during the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale's Mighty Men's Club Brunch – held especially to recognize his commitment to Riverdale for more than a half century.

Ladimer has called CSAIR his home and its congregation his family for over twenty years. During the past two decades, he played an important role in establishing the men's club, of which he only recently retired as president, and organizing the development of the regional offshoot of the nationwide Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs. CSAIR has the only men's club from a Bronx synagogue to be affiliated with the Hudson Valley branch of the FJMC.

During his tenure on the club's board, Ladimer helped to organize the distribution of Shoah candles, memorials of the Holocaust, and to develop the educational Worldwide Wrap program, which "teaches children alongside their parents about tefillin [phylacteries]."

Although he is "retired" from his leadership position on the men's club, Ladimer promised that his efforts would continue. "I passed on the baton last year to very competent leaders, David La Due and Joel Chaiken," he said. "However, I'll help with everything. People always want me around," he added.

Ladimer has earned a reputation as "the Mr. Fix-It of Riverdale," the man who always extends aid to the greater Riverdale community. Since arriving here over fifty years ago, Ladimer has been involved in efforts to serve the elderly population. He also helped found the first community boards in Riverdale, in order to bring "knowledge and representation to the local level." He considered Riverdale a "small town in a big city" that needed "public services such as police, fire, education and health care centered around the community."

To date, Ladimer has provided invaluable services to the major community health care institutions, including Atria, the Hebrew Home for the Aged and Schervier. His efforts range from hand-delivering meals-on-wheels to aiding in research. Commenting on his frequent visits to nursing homes, he jokingly remarked that people "were surprised to see me actually entering Schervier horizontally, on a stretcher, after my accident."

Last May, Ladimer suffered an accident and broke both his hip and shoulder. Despite having to learn "how to sit, stand up and walk all over again," he was determined to recover, eager to "keep moving forward, helping my community."

After moving out of his native New York to study in Washington, D.C., Ladimer earned his law degree at George Washington University Law School and settled in Washington, where he held positions at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Social Security Bureau. He remarked dryly, "Working for the federal government was not my favorite experience."

During his years away from New York, he earned his doctorate in law, specializing in the legal ethics of practicing medicine. He then taught ethics courses at New York University, Harvard University and Boston University, which granted him the Pike Award in recognition of his legacy.

Indeed, Ladimer's legacy of combining legal and medical knowledge continued in Riverdale. His proudest and most notable contribution was the health fair at his synagogue, a project he spearheaded. Using his host of medical contacts (Mr. Ladimer had also worked for Mt. Sinai Hospital and Bronx North Central Hospital), he planned the community-wide event that provided valuable outreach to thousands of local citizens. "The event was more about the community than it was about the synagogue," he recalled. "We had companies providing health services and booths set up to distribute educational materials. It was one hundred percent a great success."

So what comes next for Ladimer? For starters, he's certainly not retiring. Shaking his head, he declared, "I don't know the meaning of that word, 'retire.''' He's already planning his men's club's latest efforts: "Today it's all about environmentalism. We're talking about synagogues going green." Or maybe it's finishing a lengthy draft on the ethics of conflict of interest, which he expects to finish late August.

One thing is certain: whatever Ladimer decides to do, the Riverdale community, "his" community, will greatly benefit.

Courts halt blasting for filtration plant

by John DeSio
08/07/2008, Riverdale Review

The Department of Environmental Protection took a major hit this past week after courts ruled it must temporarily halt the start of blasting for the Croton Watershed Filtration Plant in Van Cortlandt Park.

State Supreme Court Justice Betty Stinson hit the DEP with a temporary restraining order this past week, preventing the agency from commencing blasting rock at the Jerome Park Reservoir as part of the ongoing construction of the water filtration plant.

The restraining order, which will be discussed again in court on September 3, puts a halt to proposed blasting that would have taken place just a few feet from the campus of the Bronx High School of Science. Opponents argued in court about their concern that potential debris from the blasting would affect the school as well as local residents, and they demanded that the DEP reassess its environmental impact plan for the project.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who was a plaintiff in the lawsuit, argued that drilling, rather than blasting, would be a more appropriate undertaking for the DEP, given the character of the neighborhood. He also offered a critique of the DEP’s handling of the construction, which he has opposed for the better part of two decades.

“This is an important victory for the community,” said Dinowitz. “The City cannot be allowed to go ahead and take a major step such as blasting across the street from the Bronx High School of Science without conducting an environmental review.”

Dinowitz added, “The fact that the DEP felt that it could just go ahead and do this blasting confirms the beliefs of many people that the DEP is a rogue agency that thinks it is above the law.”

Congressman Eliot Engel also hailed the decision and hoped that a less intrusive construction method would be utilized.

“It is outrageous for the Department of Environmental Protection to again mislead the community about their plans for the water filtration plant,” said Engel in a statement. “Their estimate of the cost of the plant was less than one-third of the estimated final cost of $3 billion. The agency was also dramatically wrong on the number of Bronx residents who would get work on the project.”

Engel specifically noted the residential and educational character of the surrounding neighborhood, which also includes Lehman College and major developments such as the Amalgamated Houses and Tracey Towers, and he called the idea of trucking the 9,000 cubic yards of waste produced by the blasting through the community “adding insult to injury.”

"By blasting in violation of its own promise, DEP will be disrupting the lives of thousands of residents and the education of thousands of students,” said Engel. The court did the absolute right thing in blocking this work. Let us hope it continues on the right path and stops the blasting completely.”

Charles Moerdler and Ari Hoffnung, who might be competing against one another for a City Council seat in 2009, also issued statements on the court’s ruling.

“The actions of the Department of Environmental Protection and its administration are the best example of why people don’t trust government,” said Moerdler, who serves as chairman of Community Board #8’s land use committee. He noted that last week the community board voted unanimously to condemn the DEP’s actions.

“They are not believable, they don’t tell the truth, they lie to the public, and then they try to capitalize on it,” said Moerdler. “What the [DEP] has done here is inexcusable.”

Hoffnung, co-president of the Riverdale Jewish Community Council, was an initial supporter of the filtration plant’s construction, largely due to the more than $200 million it brought to the Borough for parkland improvements.

“With that said, this support should not be misinterpreted as having granted the Department of Environmental Protection a carte blanche,” said Hoffnung.

Hoffnung hailed Dinowitz’s work in holding the DEP’s feet to the fire and demanded that the DEP live up to its commitments to the community. He also expressed growing concern over the rising cost of the project, stating that taxpayers deserve much better.

"New Yorkers have to live on a budget—why shouldn't the DEP?” asked Hoffnung.

"Taxpayers deserve more transparency on how our money is being spent. I'd like to see a website with information on every project that exceeded its budget, along with a detailed explanation of why the excess occurred. In the private sector, managers need to explain themselves when they go over budget. Managers in city government should be held to the same standards.”