Authors Posts by Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief


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This is the time of year when many people travel. Vacations from school schedules, more comfortable weather, package deals and the urge to get away from the familiar and learn something about how others live, all conspire to encourage us to hit the road, or the rivers and seas or the air and go somewhere. And finally there is good news for the solo travelers among us. Party of one is no longer as expensive and difficult to book as it has been.

According to a recent New York Times article, one in four travelers on overseas vacations went alone last year, up from 15 percent in 2013 based on the latest Visa Global Travel Intentions Study. With the numbers increasing, travel companies are paying attention. Companies that have long been in business are finally offering guided trips for singles and at accessible prices.

Solo travelers are not necessarily singles who are looking for other singles but rather more often marrieds or those in committed relationships who, for one reason or another, might be traveling alone. Sometimes a couple owns a business together, and only one can leave at a time. Or perhaps a couple might be caretakers for an elderly person or one with special needs and can only get away individually. Sometimes trips have a singular theme, like tennis or rappelling, that doesn’t appeal to the partner. Then there is the familiar situation where one member yearns to travel and the other dislikes leaving the comforts and predictability of home for the uncertainty of the road. Traveling solo may save that relationship.

Among first-time travelers, The Times tells us, solo travel has jumped to 37 percent from 16 percent in 2013. This change alone has got to offer encouragement for the widow or widower who hankers to go off on a trip but is intimidated by the prospect of being without a companion. And guided tours among solo travelers are up almost 300 percent since 2013.

Look at some details of contemporary living. Over half of American adults are single. Does that surprise you? It certainly excites travel companies serving that market. As recently as 2012, one in five American adults had never married. Compare that with the one in 10 of 1960. And that is not just the trend for Americans. Other countries, like the United Kingdom, are not far behind. Further, among Americans 45 or older who traveled solo, 53 percent are married while 39 percent are single or divorced, according to AARP.

Some companies are reducing or doing away altogether with the despised single supplements. To mention names, Tom Harper River Journeys, a river cruise company near Boston, offered the information that in 2016, it would have a ship with supplement-free staterooms. The Majestic Line, a small-ship cruising company in Britain, announced that two of seven en-suite cabins on a new ship would be for singles without additional supplements. Holland America, of Seattle, is planning to add 12 new ocean-view cabins for singles on a ship coming in 2016. Companies such as Zegrahm Expeditions and Tauck are offering some relief to those saddled with single supplements, Then there is Solos Vacations, the American arm of one of the oldest British companies, Solos Holidays, whose attendees average 55 years of age.

Here is another comforting statistic from AARP: More than 80 percent of people 45 and older who have traveled solo plan to do so again within the next 12 months. That’s close to a unanimous endorsement. I would certainly be in that 80 percent. While I have never planned an entire trip alone, I have been on parts of a trip unaccompanied and have discovered what I really already knew: That the world is filled with people and that most who travel are interested in meeting and chatting with others similarly inclined.

There are some advantages to being alone. People might be hesitant to engage in conversation with two or more people, but they will readily do so with someone clearly alone who might initiate some chatter about the weather, the food, the accommodations or any other common experience. And that exchange might even lead to getting a cab together at the final destination or having beneficially shared time.

It is getting easier and cheaper to travel alone at last.

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My mother adamantly refused to let the pediatrician remove my tonsils several decades ago. She certainly respected his expertise, having chosen him carefully after an extended search when she knew she was pregnant. But she was not going to agree with his recommended course of action despite my chronic tonsillitis.

“Do you have clinical evidence that children who have had their tonsils removed get sick less often?” she demanded of him. “No,” he responded slowly, “only anecdotal evidence. You know the tonsils have no known function and are not necessary, and hers are very large.” “Hmmph,” was my mother’s rejoinder, “not known to you doctors.” So, as you might expect, I grew up with my tonsils and still have them to this day. They are large enough to inspire each new physician who looks in my throat to exclaim over both their size and their existence in a member of my generation, but whatever role they may play in the human body, they are still playing in mine.

My mother and my father had two strongly-held beliefs: First that there were no superfluous parts to the miraculous human body and, second, that optional surgery was not an option. I am sure they were encouraged in those beliefs by the death of an only child of dear friends during an optional tonsillectomy.

Do I know if they were right? All I can offer is that history shows the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. That is why I felt a burst of glee when I came across a recent article in The New York Times Science section headlined, “Saving the Appendix.” They stopped removing tonsils as simply a matter of course many years ago, but here was further affirmation of the parental dicta.

“Five small studies from Europe, involving a total of 1000 patients, indicate that antibiotics can cure some patients with appendicitis; about 70 percent of those who took the pills did not require surgery,” according to Gina Kolata, author of the article. As well, patients who had an appendectomy after first trying antibiotics did not face any more complications than those who went directly to surgery. This, of course, flies in the face of traditional exhortations about rushing to remove the inflamed appendix before it bursts, potentially with dangerous results.

While these studies suggest that surgery can be avoided altogether in treating appendicitis, a large-scale clinical trial must be held for verification — and one is in the planning. When patients who had already had an appendectomy were asked if they would have been willing to try antibiotics first, nearly three-quarters responded “yes.”

The appendix is “a tiny, worm-shaped tube that hangs off the right side of the colon,” Kolata said, and no one knows what it does or why it can suddenly act up. Nor does anyone know why it also can get better on its own, even without antibiotics. And antibiotics actually have been used in the past to treat an inflamed appendix.

According to The Times, during the Cold War in the 1950s, when American sailors spent at least six months on nuclear submarines that were prohibited from surfacing, patients with appendicitis were given antibiotics and no deaths or complications were reported.

To use antibiotics would, of course, eliminate the need for surgery and hospitalization where appendicitis is diagnosed, which would be both cheaper and safer. But even if it revolutionized traditional treatment, using antibiotics would not immediately answer key questions: Would the appendicitis recur? If so, how often? How much antibiotics would be required? How would the drug best be administered?

Presently, doctors don’t usually tell their patients about the antibiotics option, citing the above unanswered questions as a reason. Also we know and, for the most part, approve that medicine is a highly conservative profession, avoiding the trendy but insufficiently tested. It is hard “to go away from a 30-minute operation that cures them for the rest of their lives,” said Dr. Giana Davidson, a University of Washington general surgeon quoted in the article.

But patients are finding out on their own and some ask for this nonsurgical alternative, thanks in part to information gleaned from the Internet.

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If you could wave a wand and make all the summer weekend traffic on Long Island’s highways disappear, it would be a miracle, right? Well, we should prepare ourselves for a miracle, because one is about to touch down at Port Jefferson. Specifically, it will arrive, starting tomorrow, May 22, and will last through Sunday and every summer weekend thereafter.

This miracle to which I refer is a high-speed ferry that will carry walk-on passengers back and forth from New York City to Port Jefferson three times every Friday, once on Saturday and again three times on Sundays.

In so doing, it will, of course, provide an alternate route not only to Port Jefferson but also, thanks to its alliance with the Port Jeff ferry and the Hampton Jitney, to points east and north. Do you hear the announcement, “North Shore, North Fork, Hamptons and the wineries”? What a stimulus this can be for business even as it is a long overdue benefit for passengers.

A partnership between Seastreak, the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry and Hampton Jitney is making this new mode of transportation possible. These companies will link the tristate area, even tying into the New Jersey coast.

The seasonal weekend service is called Sea Jitney, and it will use the Port Jefferson dock as its hub. Hampton Jitney service will carry passengers to their preferred destinations elsewhere in Suffolk, and the Port Jeff ferry can take them to Connecticut and Amtrak.

“Seastreak has been an innovator in introducing new ferry services from New York City to destinations such as Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket,” said Jim Barker, president of Seastreak, in a press release.

I know something about that service because I used it myself as a way to spend a weekend with friends who lived on Martha’s Vineyard. But in order to do that, I had to travel out east at an early hour to catch the boat.

Still, I was willing to do that to avoid the legendary traffic jams that come with driving there, and as I bet people will do to visit Long Island. According to Baker, the vessels are equipped with high-backed seating, a full bar and Wi-Fi service.

Geoffrey Lynch, president of Hampton Jitney, commented for the press release that this innovative idea from these “three established and respected area transportation companies … will give people a relaxing way to enjoy the East End and Port Jefferson.”

The ferry will leave Manhattan’s East 35th Street dock and Highlands, N.J., traveling round trip.

Margot Garant, Port Jefferson’s mayor, said in the release, “We are extremely pleased to partner with the Sea Jitney to help bring people to Port Jefferson by our harbor. This powerful partnership has an extremely low impact on our infrastructure while introducing visitors to our beautiful, historic village.”

Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry general manager, Fred Hall, pronounced the Sea Jitney “a game changer for people who travel between Connecticut and the Hamptons. At two-and-one-half hours from Bridgeport to Southampton, it’s shorter than going through NYC and much less stressful.”

Here are some of the nitty-gritty details. One-way fares will be from $33 to $50, depending on the length of the ride; reservations and advance payment are required. The trip takes about two hours from the city to Port Jefferson and an hour, traffic permitting, from Port Jefferson to the Hamptons. For a complete schedule, go to

Aside from my patriotic enthusiasm for the new alliance, I have a totally selfish reason to be so pleased with this new turn of events.

My children and grandchildren live to the west. Their summer visits may change for them from endurance on the highways to a pre-weekend pleasure as they stand at the rail and watch the bluffs of Long Island’s North Shore slip by. I’d better start stocking the refrigerator now.

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It has been a revolving door at my house, which must mean it is truly spring. I don’t know about you, but as soon as the weather turns beautiful, my dearest friends shake the winter cobwebs out of their systems and call to see if they can visit. The number of calls increases with the rising temperature as we move into summer. I only slightly attribute that to my scintillating personality. I know the real impetus for visiting is this beautiful place we live in.

They all have bona fide reasons to come here. They have meetings, conferences, cultural events, doctor appointments, dentist appointments and so forth that bring them out from the big city or from other states, or even from the other coast. In the meantime, they get to enjoy the shoreline, the beaches, the docks, and the shops, restaurants and art galleries in the villages, and I get to enjoy them.

They all bring me something. And I’m not talking about the candy, flowers or wine that are house gifts. They bring me stories about their lives in other places, about their children’s successes and their grandchildren’s brilliance. They bring me news of friends we have in common, so I can catch up on who is doing what. They bring me memories of places and events we’ve shared, for they are usually longtime friends and, therefore, witnesses to my life. And they bring me laughter about outrageous moments we have known and tears for those whom we have lost. Most knew my husband, even my father and mother and my brother and sister, all of whom are long gone from this world but who live on in our recollections and in the stories we exchange. And we worry together over friends who are not doing so well and about each other.

We also plan for the future: plays we will get tickets for, meals we will share, museum exhibits that are not to be missed, concerts we will hear, perhaps even trips we will take together. At this time in our lives, we are free enough of familial responsibilities to dare make such plans.

We talk of books we have read, movies we have enjoyed, and experiences we recommend. In so doing, we broaden each other’s lives. We even exchange the names and symbols of equities we have heard promising forecasts about and interesting personal interviews we have caught on television. We are often fearless enough to wade into political opinions, even revealing whether we had or had not voted for President Obama and how we think he is doing. Just mention the name Hillary, and the conversation is off and running for the next half hour. Lest you think we support only one party, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush can also be part of the conversation. We cover the political waterfront.

As the day goes on, we might even lay bare some of our worries or shortcomings, offering encouragement to each other in the process, recalling triumphs that belie the worries. We might share recipes, including the men among us, and we brag about all the vegetables we have eaten in the previous 24 hours and how we cooked them.

They share stories about other friends, eventually introducing them and broadening our circle. Each newcomer brings some of the same interests, but also new subjects we might never have thought about, much less learned of. To pat myself on the back for a moment, I am pleased to have taught a small group of my traveling buddies how to recognize a Guernsey cow, which has orange and white markings, comes from one of the British Channel Islands and gives delicious milk rich in vitamin A. How do I know that? My father grew up on a dairy farm and shared that vital information with me, explaining how I could distinguish a Guernsey from a Jersey cow, which comes from another of the Channel Islands. How could we go through life not knowing that difference?

So my friends  are welcomed with clean sheets and morning coffee. Given all the above, it seems like the least I can do.

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This is going to be hard. I want to tell you about a highly original, marvelously acted, adventurous piece of musical theater I saw on Broadway last weekend, but I don’t want to give away much of the plot. I would hope you would see the play, as I did, knowing almost nothing about the details except that it has the highest number of Tony nominations this year with 12, alongside “An American in Paris,” and concurrently has garnered spectacular raves from critics and audiences.

For a play to be so applauded, it would have to be creative and break new ground for narrative, music and staging. “Fun Home” does all that. Performed at the Circle in the Square Theatre on 50th Street just off Eighth Avenue, and billed as a family tragicomedy, the show is adapted by Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori from Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, based on a memoir she kept through the years of her growing up.

OK, I will tell you it is both a coming of age and a coming out story. If you are the least bit uncomfortable with either of the themes, you should not see the play because the events portrayed are sometimes raw. And they are raw because they are heartbreakingly honest.

We all try to understand our parents, even more so as we age, because these are the two people who made us. In understanding them, we come to better know ourselves. So I will tell you further that the narrator of the play is the daughter and she is chasing her memories, trying to understand and come to terms with her father.

Memories have an evanescent, shimmering quality to them and that makes them hard to pin down with certainty, even in our minds, much less on a stage. Therefore the device that this play employs is particularly interesting. There are three actresses who play Alison, the narrator, at different times of her life — as an 8-year-old, a 19-year-old and her current age of 43 — as she looks on and occasionally cringes at what the other two say and do, If you think about it, we all react that way sometimes when we think of our younger selves.

So in this universal yearning to know our parents, some of the particulars of this family are unusual and in the viewing, they are wrenching. As has been said before, all happy families are happy in the same way, but unhappy families are unhappy uniquely.

Bruce, the father of three bright and imaginative children, is a high school English teacher, a restorer of old houses, the proprietor of a funeral home in a small Pennsylvania town and the husband of Helen, Alison’s mother. But his life is more than that, as divided personally as it is professionally, and therein lays the rest of the plot which I really am not going to tell you, however hard this is. I don’t want to ruin the surprises.

I will share with you, however, that the staging cleverly involves trapdoors opening and closing to disgorge and swallow up at different times objects in the home as large as the grand piano. When the lighting dims, it serves as a curtain would between scenes in a more conventional theater. And the music, highly original and opera-like as it is occasionally spoken and sung, perfectly carries forward the storyline and fills in the unsaid.

It is sometimes made up of big, brassy show tunes and sometimes of heartfelt yearnings.

Michael Cerveris and Judy Kuhn head up the cast in this poignant, provocative and haunting human drama, made all the more soulful because it is a real family we are watching. As they sometimes say on movie screens when the film ends, this story is based on actual events.

This musical play has gone in a new direction and can be as forthright because of the times in which we live.

Taboos can be spoken of out loud, and secrets can be revealed both on stage and in real life in an unprecedented way. This is both cathartic and liberating for audiences, as great art always is.

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A recent editorial in The New York Times decried a blatant act of anti-Semitism in Europe. Fans in a major soccer stadium in Holland chanted “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas,” and “Jews burn the best.” The home team, FC Utrecht, subsequently apologized for the outrage that occurred in a game against Ajax Amsterdam on April 5, but just imagine how someone Jewish in the stands might feel in the midst of those shocking outcries.

Worse, it was not an isolated incident. Kick It Out, a British watchdog organization, has reported that there were 59 instances of anti-Semitic slurs in the first half of the English Premier League soccer season, with chants of “Yids” and “Kill the Jews” at games.

According to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights organization, there seems to be a new alliance between neo-Nazis and jihadists. After the terrible consequences of anti-Semitism in Europe in the previous century, it is hard to believe such bigotry still exists, much less is alive and flourishing for the rest of the world to witness.

What is anti-Semitism today and how did it start?

According to columnist David Brooks, there are three strains of anti-Semitism circulating now. The first is in the Middle East, where it feels like “a deranged theoretical system for making sense of a world gone astray,” according to Brooks. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calls Israel the “sinister, unclean rabid dog of the region,” whose leaders “look like beasts and cannot be called human.” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani “reinstated a conference of Holocaust deniers and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists,” who propagate the usual conspiracist idiocy about Jews drinking the blood of non-Jews and spraying pesticides across arable lands.

“This sort of anti-Semitism thrives where there aren’t that many Jews,” according to Brooks. “The Jew is not a person but an idea, a unique carrier of transcendent evil: a pollution, a stain, a dark force responsible for the failures of others, the unconscious shame and primeval urges they feel in themselves, and everything that needs explaining. This is a … flight from reality even in otherwise sophisticated people.”

Incredibly it can be a part of the architecture of society and taught repeatedly in some madrassas or schools to children. “It cannot be reasoned away,” said Brooks, “because it doesn’t exist on the level of reason.”

“In Europe,” Brooks continued, “anti-Semitism looks like a response to alienation. It’s particularly high where unemployment is rampant. … The plague of violence is fueled by young Islamic men with no respect and no place to go.” Brooks goes on to say that thousands of Jews a year are fleeing Europe. The echoes of terrors throughout past centuries are nipping at their heels.

In the United States, which Brooks pronounced “an astonishingly non-anti-Semitic place,” nonetheless there is rising tide of anti-Semitism, especially on college campuses, with its basis seemingly in Israel’s policies toward Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. But why the policies of Israel should reflect on Jews in America any more than policies in Ireland reflected on the Irish in Boston, or the discriminatory and shameful treatment of Japanese Americans interned during World War II should have ensued, is simply bigotry. And anti-Semitism is a particularly virulent form of bigotry whose dark underside is hatred leading to violence and even extinction.

History is filled with brutal examples including the pogroms, which preceded the First Crusade in 1096; the expulsion from England in 1290; the persecutions of the Spanish Inquisition and expulsion from Spain in 1492; the Cossack massacres in Ukraine, 1648-57; the pogroms in Imperial Russia between 1821-1906; the Dreyfus affair in France, 1894-1906; and the more recent horrors of the 20th century, just for a historical overview. It’s an evil virus that sometimes hides but does not die.

Brooks suggested that the best response is confrontation, arousing the “brave and decent people” to take “a page from Gandhi” and stage demonstrations, as laws and governments reign in even the smallest assaults.

“Disturb the consciences of the good people. … Confrontational nonviolence is the historically proven method to isolate and delegitimize social evil.” Is that enough?

We seem to have conquered or, at least, mitigated the virus causing AIDS. Perhaps against this form of racism, we can together do the same?