Jed Morey’s Blog

My Island. Your Island. Long Island.

Cablevision Outsourcing

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The Long Island Press Cover Image of Cablevision Ripping Apart Newsday

Any business is tough. To persevere in this economy, it takes great fortitude to move the proverbial needle and grow. As such, I will periodically indulge a cold call from a salesperson, particularly if he or she represents a Long Island-based company. It’s the “kioli” thing to do, after all. Recently I received a solicitation from Cablevision to join the Optimum business service plan from an earnest salesman eager to learn whether our company would be interested in their offer. We were, indeed.

The call began with the normal platitudes one would expect from a scripted pitch. The caller identified himself as a representative from the Optimum business calling service and inquired as to whether he was speaking with the person in charge of making telephone decisions. He was. He asked if I was familiar with Optimum and would be interested in hearing about an exciting new business offer. I was.

He was delighted.

He proceeded to tell me the good people at Optimum were offering 40-to-50 percent introductory discounts to join the Optimum network. Now I was delighted! My euphoria was fleeting, however, when he discovered that I was already an Optimum customer, at which point he graciously thanked me and attempted to end the call.

Not so fast, mister.

“Where are you going?” I innocently inquired.

“The offer is only good for new customers switching from services like Verizon,” he offered flatly and again bid me a good day.

“That hardly seems fair,” I protested futilely.

“I’m sorry, sir. Thank you for choosing Optimum and have a good day.”

It was all downhill from here.

“Your method seems punitive to those who support you,” I shot back.

He seemed nonplussed by my incredulity. “Pardon me, sir?”

“It’s just that I have never understood that strategy. Offer everything to someone who has given you nothing at the cost of those who have already supported you. It’s like giving away Knicks tickets to bring more people to the Garden and charging season ticket holders more to cover the cost.”

“I don’t understand what you’re saying, sir.”

“I figured that would make sense since you own the Knicks as well. Are you a fan?”

“Sir, I’m having trouble hearing you.”

“OK, I take it you’re not a fan of the… Wait. Did you say you’re having trouble hearing me?”

“I’m sorry, hello?”

“Are you on the Optimum service?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you’re having trouble hearing me?”

“What?”

“So you’re calling me about a discount I can’t have on a service that doesn’t seem to work all that well and you’re not a Knicks fan?”

“Thank you for choosing Optimum, sir. Have a good day.”

Incredible. Perhaps I have spent too much time on this page with Mr. Della Femina, but outsourcing sales calls and customer service abroad is the worst kind of profligate corporate behavior being propagated in board rooms throughout the nation. While I understand the economic concept behind the foreign-based call center, you cannot reasonably expect someone from Bangalore to understand the mind of a Long Island business owner. Hell, you can’t expect someone from Akron to understand us. The reason someone from Long Island appears on nearly every reality TV program is that we’re—how should I say it?—special. Different. Unique little snowflakes who expect more than a $2 an hour employee from another country with a standardized script and zero understanding of important cultural reference points like My Father’s Place and Bobby Nystrom.

Lest I throw too many stones in this glass house, a friend recently reminded me the Long Island Press is printed by—outsourced to—a company in a far off land—New Jersey. Alas, it is the truth. However, there is only one company on Long Island with presses designed to handle a newspaper of our size. Unfortunately, it too is owned by the company that owns the Knicks. Perhaps I should endeavor to reach out to my new friend and see if the 40-to-50 percent discount applies to printing as well. If only the phone service wasn’t so spotty.

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Written by jmorey

June 24, 2010 at 2:43 am

Posted in Kioli

Why We Live on Long Island

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The Long Island Press "Best of LI" Cover

This is the season when the Island hits its stride. Good weather awakens the senses and reminds us why we live here.  Wait, why exactly do we live here again? The taxes, the traffic, suburban sprawl, the insanity of it all! Why on Earth would anyone choose to stay here, let alone move here?

Because we’re the best. Just ask us. It’s just a matter of perspective.

Last night the Press hosted an evening in honor of the 50 most influential Long Islanders—all of whom were featured in last week’s annual Power List edition. Our “Power Parties” have always been interesting affairs because the individuals who comprise the list are themselves interesting. But last night one star shone more brightly than all the others in the room: Long Island.

One significant reason for this was the setting, yet another reminder of how fortunate we are to live here. The Nassau County Museum of Art in Roslyn opened its doors to more than 300 attendees, some of whom were amazed at just how incredible the grounds, and the museum itself, truly are. The common thread among the people and the conversation in the room was Long Island and, more importantly, making it better.

One of the modern writers and theorists I admire most is a surly individual named James Howard Kunstler, a resident of Saratoga Springs, NY, and author of doomsday-scenario books on peak oil and the fall of suburbia. I had the opportunity to interview Kunstler a couple of years ago and was the recipient of several golden quotes that fall from his tongue like bombs through the bay doors. But the only one that rendered me shell-shocked was his opinion that Long Island was “essentially screwed.” His theory was that our car culture, suburban sprawl and fossil fuel-based infrastructure would prove both environmentally and economically unsustainable in years to come. While not a wholehearted disciple of his suburbia-is-dead message, I tend to agree with most of the principles he espouses.
But last night, with so many of Long Island’s leaders and educators exchanging ideas, it occurred to me that the concept of failure depends upon ones definition of success. Perhaps we should re-examine the Long Island equation instead of attempting to change the figures.

Traffic is awful on Long Island. Or is it? Contemplating the alternative is devastating. Across the country, store owners sit around and dream of ways to increase traffic into their stores. The American economy is pinned directly to the success of the consumer. Conclusion: Traffic is awesome on Long Island.

Taxes are too high on Long Island. Or are they? Nearly every state in the nation is fighting for federal education funding and every administration in recent memory has made education a top funding and legislative priority. Finding the money for education is a problem nearly everywhere except… wait for it, wait for it…right here! Conclusion: Long Island reinvests heavily in our children by allocating a significant portion of our taxes to education.

Suburban sprawl fractures the community and feeds our dependence on the automobile. OK, you got me there. Having said that, I lived in Manhattan for seven years and spent the vast majority of my time in the same place everyone else in Manhattan spends their time—in a four-block radius around my apartment. Vertical living, horizontal living. It really doesn’t matter. When a friend or neighbor in the city moves more than 10 blocks away they might as well move to Spokane. On the Island, however, once you commit to getting in your car, one’s friendship radius extends from 10 blocks to 10 miles. Conclusion: Long Islanders with cars make better friends.

The lesson gained is, the things we complain about the most are not only of our own creation, they’re not going anywhere. What we are sorely lacking is a proper marketing campaign that encourages more companies to move here to maintain our tax base. That way, more people can live it up with us in terrible traffic, enjoy the exciting educational benefits of high taxes, and stretch out in our sprawling neighborhoods. But first let me leave you with food for thought this wonderful Memorial Day weekend.

The spring edition of Good Magazine features an interview with renowned author and urban theorist Richard Florida who says that beyond the obvious criteria of “a low crime rate and great schools and good jobs” the most important quality of life items to Americans are “a community that treats all of its residents fairly—ethnic minorities, new immigrants, low income people…” and “aesthetic character” such as trees and open space. The latter is something we have. The former needs work. But guess what? Treating people fairly seems a lot easier than easing traffic, lowering taxes and eliminating suburban sprawl. Not that we need to.

Written by jmorey

June 24, 2010 at 2:14 am

The New Long Island Association

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Kevin Law, the outgoing president and chief executive of the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), has been chosen to lead the Long Island Association (LIA) in the wake of Matt Crosson’s departure. The lackluster performance of the LIA in recent years presents a challenge to the talented Law, but he is uniquely qualified to run the Island’s largest representative organization. Talent alone, however, won’t revive this body.

The LIA lacks a sense of purpose. While its board is comprised of an impressive array of successful business leaders, it has failed to coalesce in a decisive manner and make inroads on any specific issue. The most noticeable handicap in this respect is an unwieldy board size—there are 57 members. The Island’s biggest organization is top-heavy. This has created a problem of perception in that no one really knows what the LIA stands for. It’s time to hunker down and get tight on a handful of specific items instead of attempting to plug every hole in the dam.

Kevin Law, outgoing president and CEO of LIPA, is the new head of the LIA. But will he take the organization in the direction it needs to go?

Evidence of the LIA’s inability to marshal its resources in support of, or opposition to, a particular issue is in its governance structure. There are 16 separate committees ranging from small business to world trade, insurance to homeland defense and everywhere in between. No one organization can adequately micromanage this many priorities. Because Long Island is, by design, a sprawling set of disparate communities—each with its own gravitational center and culture—it’s nearly impossible to manage any one-size-fits-all plan.

Therefore the most immediate and effective declaration Kevin Law can make when officially taking the helm is to plant his flag squarely on the subject of economic development. Workforce housing hard to find? Brain drain getting you down? Tired of high taxes? There’s only one answer to all the issues the LIA has been dancing around: Money. The only way to get more of it into the economy is to attract more high-paying job opportunities into the region and create an environment where companies aren’t punished when they grow.

The art of messaging is critical when running an organization with the breadth and scope of the LIA. If Law can stay on message and focus on spreading the gospel of economic development, he will conquer the first difficult task of establishing a singular perception of the LIA. It’s a lot easier to negotiate with those who control the purse strings when they know why you’re there and what you’re asking for. This raises the next obvious question: What are we asking for?

I’ll keep it simple.

The LIA has been so focused on raising funds by hosting rubber-chicken dinners with generals and ex-presidents to cover for its own financial issues, it can’t focus on ours. Have one gala and a golf tournament if you need to get it out of your system then spread the wealth by getting more companies to pay dues. If you need extra funds, get them from the Regional Planning Commission—they’re not doing anything anyway.

Once the LIA’s bills are paid, Law can develop a comprehensive plan to deal with the two things we cannot escape: taxes and utilities.

Regarding the former: The only way to reduce, or at the very least hold, taxes on the Island is to woo more companies to do business here. This means coordinating the efforts of every agency with the ability to offer economic incentives and developing a press kit for Long Island. The Canon deal provided the blueprint. With Long Island’s press kit in hand, Kevin Law should be on the road six months out of the year visiting every burgeoning technology company in America with an iota of potential. I’m confident he can out-sell the guy from Bergen County, NJ or Lancaster, PA and convince some cool companies to come here. (Kev, call me. I know a great relocation specialist.)

On utilities: It’s payback time. The government rammed Shoreham down our throats then figured out we didn’t want it. Worse yet, they stuck us with the tab. Our utility bills will never go down with a $6 billion debt load we can’t shake. Therefore, I propose that every elected official on the Island sit down with Chuck Schumer and demand that the federal government commit $600 million per year for the next 10 years to principal debt reduction. In turn, we will agree to hold LIPA rates flat for the same period. The resulting positive spread will be reserved for retrofitting commercial and residential properties with renewable technology through LIPA’s existing rebate program. By 2020 the debt will be eradicated, our utility costs will be dramatically lower and then we can fold LIPA and get rid of a couple of power plants.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Now, on to that peace in the Middle East issue. It’s been on my to-do list for ages.

Written by jmorey

June 24, 2010 at 2:10 am

Our Addiction To Oil

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It isn’t money, love or greed—it’s oil. Oil makes the world go round.

Wars are waged over it and the weapons of war are powered by it. Films are made about it on film made out of it. It’s everywhere. Hell, what’s a slick or two between friends? Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. That’s what I say. It started out as pure darkness, undisturbed beneath the ocean floor or desert sand, and we beckoned it into the light and into our cars. Now it’s in the Gulf. Pay it no never mind. This is what we wanted. To be swimming in oil. Now we can. Drill, baby, drill.

Look at it move—that sexy, mucilaginous shadow slowly making its way through the water, preparing to lick the shore. I swear you can almost hear it purr. Drill, baby, drill. We consume it. Literally. It’s in our food, the animals we eat, the Vaseline on our lips. Now we’re having ourselves a good, ol’ fashioned Texas Tea Party. Come one, come all. Fill up your 10-gallon hats with our crude.

This isn’t a disaster, it’s a dream. No, a dream would be if it hardened. Then we could fill in that gap between New Orleans and Pensacola and drive on it. Pre-mixed blacktop. Why, just think of the development possibilities. I can see the real estate signs now: New Waterfront Properties on Oil Beach Preserve.

My God. What have we done?

Our sacred black lifeblood is hemorrhaging from the shortcuts we’ve taken. This is the moment we should all recoil in horror with hands cupped over our faces, staring unblinkingly, realizing the spectacle we are witnessing is of our own doing. The moment we see Tyler Durden for who he really is. We talk about our addiction to oil in distant and intangible terms because we never actually see the junk going into our veins. It comes from beneath the Earth’s surface, into a rig and through a refinery. Then it’s shipped on a barge, poured into holding containers and returned underground into gas tanks and boilers. The whole time it’s invisible to the naked eye. Then it evaporates when we use it and the process begins again.

Our addiction is only revealed when a break in the flow occurs and we come face-to-face with our demons.

Much of the attention paid to our oil addiction is focused on our consumption of the drug itself and finding new ways to get our fix. Renewable energy, bridge fuels, new areas of exploration. We seek answers in corn for ethanol, blasting through shale and developing technology to harness energy from algae, wind, sun and the tide. But what about the dealers?

It’s time to shed light on those who control the supply, the obscure cartel dealing in the shadows. They aren’t runners and kingpins. They are financiers and politicians who operate under a different code of ethics and evade the very laws they establish.

Deepwater Horizon—the drilling rig that exploded in the Gulf—was owned by Transocean, which also served as the drilling contractor, but the well and the crude itself are owned primarily by British Petroleum. Transocean operates out of Texas but is incorporated in Switzerland, with an office in the Caymans for good measure. Can’t be too transparent, you know. The rig was less than 10 years old. State of the art. One of the primary contractors was Halliburton.

Predictably, Wall Street has already weighed in and made its own prognostications about the impact of the spill. Just 10 days after the initial explosion that claimed the lives of 11 men, Morgan Stanley issued what the Oil and Gas Financial Journal calls a “comprehensive” report on the “financial implications” of the explosion. The bottom line is that insurance will cover most of the costs associated with the spill and that the inevitable regulation that will occur should financially benefit the industry. In fact, Morgan expects “established offshore drillers with the newest deepwater units to benefit as demand for their rigs is likely to increase” and that it will be “positive for the drilling industry.” They also conclude that “this would make the long-term supply outlook for tankers more favorable.”

What sickens me about this heartless yet rosy outlook for the oil industry is that the human and environmental toll is meaningless to financial analysts. What should sicken everyone is that Morgan Stanley is not only the most trusted analyst firm for the oil industry, it is itself one of the biggest oil companies in the world. Morgan has interests in crude oil production and storage, tankers and transportation. It is also one of the largest traders of oil on an unregulated commodity exchange that it founded. Morgan Stanley is a powerhouse oil company that should benefit handsomely from its own predictions which, even before the spill, included oil prices hitting $95 per barrel by December.

If 11 men hadn’t perished, the Gulf wasn’t flooded with oil, and our addiction wasn’t brought so painfully to light, perhaps I could close this column with some clever and pithy statement lamenting about the irony of it all. Something snarky about Halliburton and Wall Street, price fixing and collusion, the astounding conflicts of interest. But it’s too sad. It’s too much.

Written by jmorey

June 24, 2010 at 1:56 am

Shinnecock Casino At Nassau Coliseum

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Lighthouse Project Canal

View of the Lighthouse Project and Tall Ships Manned By Little People

The Shinnecock Nation is set to finally receive federal recognition. This status gives the tribe the ability to apply for a Class III gaming license, which would allow it to operate a full-fledged, high-stakes gaming facility. The biggest question is, where? Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano would like the ball to stop on his number on the roulette wheel and he has tens of millions of reasons for it.

As this column often serves as a bully pulpit for Indian rights, I will spare you all the reasons why “federal recognition” is such a sham and why the Shinnecock Nation should be able to build a 100-story casino in Southampton. Instead, allow me to explain why this is such a good idea for Long Island.

Indian casinos do not guarantee prosperity for the tribe in possession of the license or the community surrounding it. But an Indian casino based in the heart of one of the most populated regions in the nation does. A casino at the Nassau Coliseum site would be the single largest gambling facility in the nation. It is simple math. The Nassau “Hub” would finally be realized with an infusion of public and private money, fast-tracking infrastructure spending that would make Robert Moses blush.

This casino would serve as the nucleus for a burgeoning entertainment epicenter. All of the commercial, retail and residential “new suburbia” dreams would become reality as developers flock to construct a supporting economy within the glow of the Lighthouse Project. This presupposes that a deal could be reached with the Rechler/Wang power duo.

This project would have a negligible impact on traffic in the area to quiet the NIMBYists by funding a total overhaul of the public transportation network. A light rail system connecting the Casino to the Hempstead train station and Roosevelt Field? You got it. Widened roads with greater access to the Hub? Not a problem. Twenty-story complexes to house industry and residents surrounding the complex? Why not 30?

Of course, there are those who will fight tooth and nail against a casino on Long Island because of the filthy underbelly it represents. For many, casinos conjure up images of mafia hoods, prostitutes and bootlegging. Never mind that you can gamble in dozens of OTBs, buy lottery tickets on every corner, find a hooker making the rounds in industrial parks, or get a happy ending at any number of corner massage parlors. The moment a high-priced call girl takes up residence on a casino barstool looking for an out-of-town businessman with a leisure suit and a name badge, our puritan alarm sounds and the torches and pitchforks come out.

But let’s assume for a moment that Kate Murray of Hempstead, Ed Mangano of Nassau, Randy King of Shinnecock, and Charles Wang of everything else, are all in agreement that this plan should move past both the drawing board and the planning board. Then assume that the residents, community groups and environmentalists join hands and sing the praises of this proposal. Then assume the Islanders win the Stanley Cup. (OK, that was one step too far.) Even with all of these obstacles cleared, the single biggest one might surprise you: the gaming industry itself.

Technically, there is nothing that restricts sovereign Indian nations from building casinos on Indian land. Nothing, that is, but for the bigger sovereign known as the United States. Gambling operations existed on tribal land well before the U.S. government established the rules of engagement under Ronald Reagan with the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988. Even still there is theoretically nothing that would prevent a tribe from ignoring this Act (it’s a unilateral law, not a treaty) and opening a casino. It’s the gaming industry that operates within U.S. territory that provides the insurance policy against any casinos not blessed by the United States. The U.S. government would run any gaming manufacturer out of the country if it dared sell or license technology and support to a non-licensed operator that didn’t have U.S. approval. This is enough to dissuade any gaming company from doing business with tribes without an agreement in place with federal, state and local governments, which leads to the next issue…

Shinnecock will have many chefs in their kitchen (I’m resisting the “too many chiefs” reference) as they try to establish a casino in any state that begins with “New” and ends in “York.” Look no further than the New York Racing Association (NYRA) and the six Off Track Betting regions in New York State, none of which turn a profit. NYRA only recently emerged bankruptcy but is still bleeding cash, New York City OTB just went into bankruptcy, and horse racing in New York is in danger of extinction as a result. This is due more to the financial mandates of the state than it is to the decline in betting revenues. New York State is in such dire financial straits that it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Albany acquiesces to the desire of the Nassau Republicans to revitalize their hopes for the Hub. Add to the mix that Sheldon Silver, hands down the most powerful politician in the state, detests gambling and you have a recipe for failure.

But the most powerful foe in this process won’t be the most immediate one. The “powers that be” with interests in Las Vegas simply cannot afford to allow a casino so close to New York City. Atlantic City might as well disappear completely. One can point to the success of the casinos operated by the Oneida and Seneca Nations located in upstate New York, not to mention Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods, to understand that the closer to New York City you place a casino, the more successful it is. Then track the number of flights from the tri-state area with Vegas as the final destination and consider how important this market really is. A large-scale, sophisticated Class III gaming facility 40 minutes from New York City by train and in the center of Long Island is death for all the others. The politicians in New York City will be damned if they lose one reverse-commuting thrill seeker, the politicians upstate can’t afford the potential revenue and job losses and New Jersey, well, to hell with Jersey. 

By going public with his discussions with Shinnecock, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano is about to come face to face with the biggest challenge of his young administration. It’s no secret that the prior administration handed him a giant sack of financial meatballs and this could be the single most significant game-changing move. How he maneuvers through this process will either establish a new gilded age for Nassau County or set the stage for a calamitous one-term footnote in Long Island government history. Either way it will test the mettle of the dream team from Bethpage and set the tone for the next three and a half years in Nassau County.

Written by jmorey

May 2, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Lying Is Big Business

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Pinocchio

"I told you I was a 'grow-er' not a 'show-er'"

The world has transitioned from the era of “too big to fail” to “to big to tell the truth.” The bigger the entity, the larger the lie and the more we believe it. The lies that big companies and governments tell are typically shrouded in logic so bent the lie actually sounds plausible. The past couple of weeks have been rife with logic-bending lies espoused by corporate spinsters and government spokespeople.

In the government category, the title of World’s Biggest Prevaricator goes to China for reporting to the International Monetary Fund that its GDP grew 11.9 percent in the first quarter. Things are going swimmingly for the world’s third-largest economy despite rising oil prices, slumping consumer demand, high global unemployment figures and rising concerns over European and American debt levels. Out here on the limb it sure looks like they’re just making it up.

Here at home, the commercial and investment banking sector has been “surprising analysts” by beating quarterly earnings estimates lately as well. The Dow is up over 11,000 on all of the positive news coming out of Wall Street and bankers are breaking their arms slapping each other on the back. But listen closely to the reports of the banking sector rebound. Most of the reports talk about how the big banks are recording huge profits on their investments, which is covering for the continuing losses on their loan portfolios. Therein lies the lie.

Banks are supposed to make money from their loan portfolios. Investment banks are supposed to make money from underwriting mergers and acquisitions. Neither is happening right now, yet the stock market is soaring once again and banks are posting sizable earnings. So even though business credit is still tight, individuals are defaulting on credit cards and mortgage payments, and there are no significant deals to be underwritten on the horizon, the banks are “surprising analysts.”

So how did we get here? When the government allowed the banks and investment banks to merge, the newly formed financial behemoths poured money indiscriminately into the markets and created investments even they couldn’t understand. (Deep breath, and…) The banks got in deep shit, so the government borrowed money from the taxpayers, gave it to the banks who then invested it in the stock market instead of loaning it to real people, which is artificially pumping up the Dow and allowing banks to reap enormous profits on their investments. On top of the bailout money, the banks are even taking out low-interest loans from the government, then reinvesting the money into government treasuries at a higher rate. Neat trick, but not sustainable.

Now it seems as though the untouchable investment firm Goldman Sachs may have known more about the time bomb that was the derivatives market and made deliberate moves to profit from the scheme while duping investors. Don’t worry, they’re getting ahead of this quite nicely. Despite the SEC’s investigation into the matter, Goldman is blaming their seemingly duplicitous behavior on the actions of one person: Fabrice Tourre, the former wunderkind specialist at Goldman is the current fall guy being spoon-fed to the media and the SEC. What I find interesting about this tactic is Goldman has forever flaunted their philosophy of constant communications at all levels of the firm as the reason they are able to foresee fluctuations in the market. During the financial meltdown they credited their stability (relative to the likes of Lehman and Bear Stearns) to their remarkable communication and management skills. Apparently Tourre wasn’t invited into the daily huddle.

Lastly, filed under “ridiculous” comes the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA would like to regulate the American salt intake. Pesticides, unregistered chemicals, preservatives, food dyes made from petroleum, bovine growth hormones, steroids and antibiotics are all still OK. But we really must get a hold of this whole salt issue. This may not be as intriguing as watching China lie about its GDP or American banks play three-card-monte with government bailout money, but it’s a wonderful example of spin from one of the finest huckster agencies in the biz.

Written by jmorey

April 28, 2010 at 1:12 am

Brentwood School District: Lessons From The Holocaust Memorial

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Holocaust Memorial Center Photo

Photo taken at the Holocaust Center in Glen Cove from LI Press piece in January 2010

Last week the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County hosted a special ceremony to commemorate Yom haShoah, the Holocaust Day of Remembrance. Holocaust survivors Eddie Weinstein and Annie Bleiberg participated in a ceremony with third-generation survivors, to continue the Center’s mission to pass along important lessons from history to subsequent generations so that we may all learn the warning signs of hatred and intolerance. To ensure we never forget. To encourage us to be what they call “upstanders,” not bystanders, whenever we come face to face with cruelty in any form.

While survivors and members of the media gathered on the second floor of the center, a bus filled with several children of immigrants pulled up outside. They shuffled through the entrance of the former private estate and were greeted by Sarah Cushman, assistant education director at the center. Nearby, a translator spoke in Spanish to them as they began their tour through the museum.

The children were from Brentwood School District.

I watched them move through the first part of the gallery and disappear into the middle of the museum. Over the next few hours, the children would move from gallery to gallery, learning the essential lesson the Center strives to teach: The Holocaust didn’t begin with the killing.

They saw the seeds of intolerance being planted in Germany in the anti-Semitic remarks and writings around the turn of the 20th century in Gallery One. They would witness the transition from spiteful words on a page to hateful actions during the rise of Hitler’s Reichstag in the first corridor of Gallery Two. In the next corridor, the children would be guided through Germany’s descent into madness when the mass killing began in 1941 with chilling efficiency. Whether or not children of this age were allowed to view the painful imagery in Gallery Three, which details the horrors of the concentration and death camps, I am not certain. Nor am I certain they were shown the tribute in Gallery Four to Terezin where 15,000 children were murdered. Gallery Five hopefully lifted their spirits as they would have seen the photos from the liberation and read stories about the greatest “upstanders” of the time who risked their lives for those the world turned its back on.

The first time I toured the museum in preparation for the Press cover story on the Center earlier this year, my stoicism crumpled by the fourth gallery. It was the photographs of the young girls, so much like my own daughters, that stuck my heart like a dagger. Their innocent faces, so confused and drawn with despair, were simply too much to bear.

After the tour the children were to hear from Karl Schapiro, a remarkable gentleman who spent the ninth and half of the 10th year of his life in a dirt bunker beneath a barn hiding from the Nazis. “In my town of 5,500 Jews, only 20 survived,” he whispered to me as he followed quietly behind the students. Karl believes in these children and their future in America as immigrants, saying, “It is the best country in the world. I lived under Hitler and Stalin.”

For nearly 50 years Schapiro never spoke publicly about his experiences during the Holocaust. He speaks now because he believes “this can happen all over.” He felt compelled to speak to the children of Brentwood on this day because, as he says, “I too came here as a refugee. At the end of five years I became legal. I hope to teach them about what they can achieve.”

Homeless and tempest-tossed, Schapiro was greeted by the Mother of Exiles. He entered the golden door lit by her lamp, both tired and poor, and forged a new life from the ashes of death in the best country in the world. But these children, these babies, have already come ashore, spirited across the border in huddled masses to live in Brentwood, a part of our country that for many has come to embody intolerance and anti-immigrant sentiments. On this day, while the survivors upstairs in the Center honored the 6 million Jews and hundreds of thousands of other victims who died during the Holocaust, I couldn’t help but wonder what the children of Brentwood were thinking as they passed through each gallery beneath them.

The Center teaches us that acquiring the knowledge to recognize intolerance is merely the beginning. Understanding where it leads requires empathy. Being an “upstander” takes courage. Irrespective of one’s feelings on the immigration issue, we must all work to quell the culture of intolerance that surrounds this issue. We must change our words so that we may better influence our actions; anything less and we risk ignoring the fundamental lessons of the Holocaust, thereby disgracing our survivors.

Written by jmorey

April 28, 2010 at 1:00 am

Posted in Political