By MICHAEL SCHENKLER
Its been a half-a-century that Ive been aware of the concept that
people can hate others because of color or religion or some other absurd reason.
My first encounter, that I recall, with the ignorance of hatred was
when I was six years old. My parents, sister and I had driven down to Florida for a
vacation to visit with my aunt and her new husband who had recently resettled in Miami.
My memories of the trip are few. I can still visualize their beautiful
modern new large white house. It was a hot summer and air conditioning was far from
commonplace. But I had a great time.
I remember one outing to the Collins Avenue area for shopping and
stuff. I remember being inside a Woolworths you remember the old 5 and 10
cent store back then they probably had stuff for 5 and 10 cents. I remember going
to take a drink at a water fountain and my aunt rushing over to me saying, "not that
one." She quickly moved me to the other side of the restroom doorway area to water
fountains marked "whites only" and allowed me to drink. She briefly explained
the other fountain was marked "for blacks only" and we had our own fountains.
I was six and vaguely remember talking to dad about the incident. He
was a left-of-center liberal before it was 60s-fashionable. Dad didnt approve of the
whole system and although I dont remember the specifics of the conversation, I know
he asked me the questions to get a six-year-old to probe and make value judgments. That
was dad. Im glad.
Although the water was cool and refreshing on that hot day,
discrimination and for that matter Woolworths left a bad taste in my
mouth. Ive carried it with me for the past half a century.
I was my fathers son. I marched the civil rights picket lines of
the 60s and in my own small way have spoken out all my life occasionally in this
column when Ive encountered social injustices.
Ive demonstrated against such hatred but never experienced it. In
New York, that kind of hatred was much more subtle than in the South you
couldnt quite see it, but you knew it was there. The results of it were evident but
people I knew were not able to give first hand accounts of hatred.
I remember lunching with Andrew Goodman a week before the Queens
College student left on his trip to Mississippi and a voter registration drive. He, Mickey
Schwerner whose brother I knew and a black Mississippi youth James Chaney,
lost their lives because they wanted to register black voters.
Other friends involved in the movement related their own stories and
they touched me, but I never really saw hatred first hand. Except perhaps at that water
fountain in 1952.
Im told that anti-Semitism is still out there and dangerous.
Ive been told many times that there are people many people who hate me
just because Im a Jew. I believe it is so but . . . Ive never experienced it.
With all of its scars and blemishes, New York City is a tolerant multi-cultural oasis.
This area has been my home my entire life and my ears have never heard a word of hate
uttered against the Jewish people except in historical movies and the like.
My in-laws are concentration camp survivors they bore witness to
hate against our people. Their stories affirmed our familys belief, not in our
religion, but in the need to stand up for the right to practice our religion and for
everyone to be allowed to pursue their god in anyway they saw fit or not to pursue
any god at all.
Four years ago, in his freshman years at Keene State College in New
Hampshire, my son Lee had a swastika drawn on his dorm room door. His reaction made me
proud. He went out and bought a six-foot Israeli flag (the Jewish Star of David is the
centerpiece) and he hung it in his room for all to see. He reported it to campus
authorities and called a dorm meeting and confronted the problem.
Although Im sure the ignorance and hatred didnt disappear,
the problem did. . .
until last week.
On a campus with fewer than 5 percent Jewish students, Lee a
non-religious individual never tried to hide his Judaism. He never took a course in
Keenes Holocaust Studies department and I dont believe hes attended a
religious service in the past four years, but as he moved from dorm to dorm to off campus,
he waved his flag.
For Halloween, he dressed up in a costume that bore the "Star of
David." He wasnt religious, but he was proud.
Last week, Lee called from Keene to tell us he was beaten up by six
guys five of whom were Keene State students because he was Jewish. The town
newspaper, the Keene Sentinel reported the incident:
"Ethnic slurs allegedly led to a fight in which a Southington,
Conn., man was arrested early Saturday morning in Keene."
"As the two [Lee and a friend] passed a house on the corner, a
group of about six people standing on a porch allegedly made comments about the two being
"[The two] exchanged words with the group, and then the six people
came off the porch and a fight broke out, Keene police said.
"[Lee] told police he was kicked several times, while [his friend]
suffered a cut to his upper lip, an inch-long cut on his nose, and a bruise and a cut on
his forehead, police said.
"Later, police arrested Tyrone J. Correa, 21, of Southington,
Conn., and charged him with assault. He was released on $500 personal recognizance and
will appear in Keene District Court on Feb. 14."
"Police are continuing to investigate the incident."
Lees ribs were bruised, eye closed and red welts were visible on
Campus security and Keene Police arrived on the scene quickly and
hopefully no permanent damage was done.
The campus has scheduled a disciplinary hearing this week against one
of the five Keene State students involved in the assault and continues the investigation
against the others.
Ive chatted with the head of campus security, the hearing
officers and the Keene State vice president of Student Affairs, Corrine Cowpak, who served
in a similar role at York College until two years ago. Lil reached out for the Keene
All the stories seem to be the same. Lee was the victim of a hate
crime. He was assaulted because he was Jewish.
Lee, a very well-built and not fearful youngster, explained that
throughout the verbal encounter he kept his hands in his pockets and tried to talk his way
out of the dangerous situation while calmly explaining to the hostile six that their
attitude was based on ignorance.
He was knocked down from behind.
Lee experienced hatred Ive never known.
I have no deep words of meaning to share. If my father were still here,
he would ask Lee the probing questions that might lead to understanding.
But Lil, Lee, Allison and I are left with the horror and shock of
hatred and violence based on ignorance.
Lee is angry. Allison is upset. Lil is concerned. Im trying to
find the words to help resolve all of our feelings. I dont have them right now.
The three Keene State College officials I spoke with were professional
and offered compassionate words.
Our friends have reacted with shock and compassion.
Among the words of comfort we received was this email note from our
friend, PRESS Associate Publisher Marcia Comrie:
Mike, Lil -
So sorry about your sons unfortunate experience. If I live to be
100 Ill still not get used to people being that ignorant. My God, its 2002!
When will people realize how stupid prejudice is? Someone ought to tell our president that
while hes busy spending billions of $s to stamp out terrorism, he ought to turn an
eye to the home front and invest some funds into the home-grown terrorism known as
We get so smug in condemning other kinds of evil that we forget to look
into our own closets.
I hope that Lee will recover both physically and emotionally really
soon. Pls. send him my best wishes.
Lee continues to make me proud. He is angry, but handling the
situation. He seeks justice and hopes this incident serves as a learning experience to
combat hatred, ignorance and violence. Lee discussed possible punishments for the
perpetrators with the Dean of Students office and with me. Although suspension, at a
minimum, is likely, Lee indicated he might prefer mandating course work in Holocaust
Studies instead of expulsion for those guilty of the hate crime.
At the end of the day, I believe Lee will have grown as a person and
maybe a handful of other youngsters at Keene State will wind up better off after being
part of such an ugly incident.
After all, they probably learned the hate in their home.
Maybe the school experience can lead to more positive values.
Something has to.
The Power Is Back In Queens
Queens political power is back.
Not that it ever went away.
But the turnout at last Thursday nights semi-annual Queens County
Democratic Hoohah demonstrated to political observers everywhere that the borough is back
stronger than ever.
Queens has been a potent player ever since Tom Manton picked up the
tarnished Democratic County Chairs crown from a disgraced Donald Manes whose suicide
had shaken the foundation of Queens politics.
However, the Manes blight although rarely talked or written
about left deep scars on the borough and the political process.
Manton solidified a damaged party and ably steered the party ship.
In his 15 years as captain, Manton has picked his share of losers. As a
matter of fact, he picked more than his share. One could not forget his backing of Richard
Ravitch in the 1989 Mayoral race over Ed Koch and David Dinkins, Ravitch wound up with 2
percent of the vote.
This was just one of the many bad calls made by Tom and Company.
That "company" is Manton and his law firm. Mantons law
partners Gerry Sweeny, Mike Reich and Frank Bolz are the skilled political
operatives that keep the political process oiled and humming.
They are the proverbial players of what used to be the smoke-filled
room. They select candidates, lobby for lines, enforce petition challenges, cut deals,
negotiate with leaders and act as conduits with powerbrokers throughout the City and State
on behalf of Tom Manton the man recognized today as the most powerful county leader
in New York State.
It was the careful selection of Council candidates and the even more
skillful unifying of the Council delegation and coalition building that enabled Tom Manton
& Company to hand the Speakership to Giff Miller and gain the most influential and
powerful posts for members of the Queens Council delegation.
Although every one of the 13 Democratic Queens Council members was
rewarded, David Weprin, Leroy Comrie and Melinda Katz won the biggest prizes.
Look down the road, less than two years from now, for these three to be
among the lead names as the most viable members to succeed term- limited Giff Miller.
That is, assuming that public opinion prevents Miller & Company
from overturning term limits. Sometimes those folks dont get the message.
And finally look to the immediate future for Tom Manton to remain as the elder
statesman of New York politics and Queens to move closer to the epicenter of where
decisions are made.
by Dom Nunziato
Michael Schenkler can be reached at: MSchenkler@QueensTribune.com
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