Holocaust survivors at Gurwin Jewish/Fay J. Lindner Residences participate in World Jewish Congress’s 2019 #WeRemember campaign.
Survivors take to social media to ensure the world never forgets

COMMACK: Seven decades have passed since the end of the Holocaust, yet for the survivors, the horrors they witnessed remain vividly clear.  On the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Poland, Holocaust survivors now living at Gurwin Jewish/Fay J. Lindner Residences assisted living community participated in the third annual WeRemember campaign to ensure the world never forgets the atrocities committed against humanity. 

Tina Kamin fled the Nazis in Poland and lived in the woods for a year.

Organized by the World Jewish Congress (WJC), the #WeRemember social media movement was created three years ago to combat anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred, genocide and xenophobia. The initiative is considered to be the largest global event ever organized to commemorate the Holocaust.   

Survivors, family and friends, celebrities and world leaders representing a wide range of faiths were among the thousands of people from around the world who posted photos of themselves displaying “#WeRemember” signs on Facebook and Twitter. Photos were shared by WJC and then live-streamed on a jumbotron at the gates of Auschwitz, where more than one million people were murdered by the Nazis.

Sally Birnbaum survived four concentration camps.

Eight Holocaust survivors from Gurwin’s assisted living community as well as members of Gurwin’s administrative staff participated in this year’s social media movement.   Among them were survivors of Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz and other concentration camps, Hidden Children and Kindertransport refugees, each with a unique, horrific story to tell.  

Recognizing the campaign’s powerful impact and its global reach through social media outlets, the survivors were eager to participate, holding signs and giving testimony to their own personal experience during the Holocaust, because, according to Kindertransport child Ruth Meador, “the whole world needs to know… and care.”

Photos from Gurwin Jewish

From left, Rabbi Aaron Benson and Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky address the audience at the Jan. 27 screening. Photo by Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

The Suffolk County Jewish community experienced a unique event on Jan. 27, co-sponsored by North Shore Jewish Center of Port Jefferson Station and Temple Isaiah of Stony Brook.

The documentary film “Who Will Write Our History” about life in the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland during World War II had its global premiere in hundreds of venues in more that 41 countries around the world – and the Jewish Center was the only venue in Suffolk.

The film offers a detailed account of the conditions and atrocities faced by Jews imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto from November 1940 to mid-May 1943, at which time the Nazis destroyed the ghetto following an uprising by its inhabitants.

Thanks to the members of a secret society – code named Oyneg Shabes (joy of the Sabbath) – led by historian Emanuel Ringelblum, an extensive archive was created to chronicle the day-to-day horror of life in the ghetto. One cache was unearthed in 1946; another in 1950. A third is believed buried on the grounds of the Chinese Embassy in Warsaw.  

One hundred fifty people gathered to view the film, according to event coordinator Marsha Belford.

Temple Isaiah’s Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky welcomed the crowd. “Over 70 years have passed since [the Holocaust], yet we remember,” he said. “We remember because, during that time, brave people planted seeds to ensure that we would have a tree of knowledge recalling those historical events … At great personal risk and with little hope of survival they hid valuable items that could later be used as proof of Nazi atrocities, serving as evidence to counter false claims of what did and did not occur.”

There was total silence in the screening room, as a combination of archival footage and photographs interspersed with actors reenacting what is described in the diaries and documents. The film brought reality to a history that, barring the evidence of the Ringelblum Archive, would be unfathomable.

After the film, North Shore Jewish Center’s Rabbi Aaron Benson led a Q&A. He offered four observations about the Oyneg Shabes group.

First, the simple human story of resilience and courage in their heroic efforts to record and preserve what was happening to them. Second, a commitment to the Jewish vision of Yizkor (remembrance) that infused their actions. Third, the immense insight of Ringelblum to utilize a very modern, Western idea: a scientific study of history, which was only a few generations old in the 1940s. Fourth, rather than focusing on the leaders (the rabbis) as history traditionally had, his plan was to record history written by ordinary people; assembling a ground-level image of ghetto life.

One film viewer, Dr. Wilfred Lieberthal aptly identified a basis for this wisdom. He said, “Jews have an understanding and an appreciation for the power of the written word.”

The film is available for viewing online.

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Rabbi Joseph Topek, second from right, with Chelsea Katz , Stony Brook University Class of 2015, second from left, and her parents Melanie Tanzman Katz and Jan Katz, both from the Class of 1983, who like their daughter, had Topek as their Hillel director. Photo from Rabbi Joseph Topek

As a new semester begins at Stony Brook University, one Setauket resident has retirement on his mind.

Rabbi Joseph Topek, bottom row, second from right, at Hillel’s 50th anniversary in 2017 that included students and other members of the Hillel staff. Photo from Rabbi Joseph Topek

Rabbi Joseph Topek, 64, director of the university’s Hillel, announced he will be stepping down as director in July after 37 years of serving in the position. The rabbi, who specializes in American Jewish history, specifically Jewish-American military history, said he is working on a few research projects, including one about the 2023 centennial of the Hillel Movement, and he thought the time had come for someone else to lead the Stony Brook Hillel.

After a stint in Virginia Commonwealth University, Topek said he arrived at SBU looking for a different setting and new challenges, and he wasn’t expecting to stay more than a few years.

“This has been in many ways a uniquely satisfying and fulfilling career because universities are unique institutions,” he said.

Topek said Hillels are centers for Jewish life on college campuses. At Stony Brook, students can try out different expressions of the faith such as experimenting with how to celebrate holidays or the Sabbath. He said the group also explores and discusses aspects of Jewish life that other institutions within the faith may be hesitant to touch, such as Israel and gender identity in the community.

The rabbi said he felt it was a privilege to have the responsibility and opportunity to provide students with an adult foundation that incorporated their heritage and religious teachings.

“We’re part of the Jewish community that says here are people that are on the cusp of adulthood, who are young adults and who are looking for ways in which to live their lives as Jews in a meaningful way while they are in this big institution of higher education,” he said.

Robert Presser, a graduate student at SBU, met Topek when he was just a freshman.

“One of the things I admire most about the rabbi is that he is so knowledgeable about so many different things,” Presser said, adding he admires the rabbi’s expertise on Jewish-American history.

The grad student said he regularly asks Topek questions at the weekly Shabbat meal the organization holds, and he’s glad he’ll be graduating the same time Topek is retiring.

“I don’t have to live in a world where I’m going to be involved in the Hillel and won’t have the rabbi to go to,” he said.

Rachel Chabin, an SBU undergraduate, said among her favorite memories at Stony Brook were the annual Sukkot holiday dinners with student leaders from the Jewish Student Association that Topek and his wife host in their home, something she said is in line with his character as he is always generous with his time.

He’s a fierce advocate for students, and personally ensures that no one faces discrimination or penalty for things like missing class for a Jewish holiday.”

— Rachel Chabin

“As an observant Jew, holidays like Sukkot can feel lonely on campus, with most students going about their day like usual,” Chabin said. “Rabbi Joe’s dinner always made me feel better about staying on campus for the holiday, because he offered us a good meal and good company.”

Chabin said she’ll miss the rabbi, who she met with once a week where they would choose a topic or section of the Torah or Talmud to study and discuss.

“He’s a fierce advocate for students, and personally ensures that no one faces discrimination or penalty for things like missing class for a Jewish holiday,” Chabin said. “He makes sure that everyone can access a kosher meal plan or a Sabbath-friendly dormitory.”

In addition to being director of the Hillel, the rabbi said he’s been honored to be part of the Interfaith Center at SBU where he currently serves as chairperson. He said he feels the center, which represents various faiths, is an important entity on campus serving as an example of the university’s focus on diversity and cooperation.

“In many ways, I’m proud of what our center has become, and also because it puts students from very different backgrounds together,” Topek said. “They do community programming, they do community service projects together, they learn about one another’s faith but, most of all, it’s relationship based.”

Sister Sanaa Nadim, a chaplain, has been working with Topek for 25 years at the interfaith center and called him a brother-in-arms. She said she considers him a civil servant on campus who is there for all students while constantly rallying for human rights. She said he has helped them navigate difficult times such as the Muslim ban two years ago, where the rabbi spearheaded a rally to support students detained at the airport.

“He has been a very monumental figure in the interfaith center and the success of the institution for our chapter,” she said.

Nadim said he has also been there to help  students navigate world events, including a tsunami in Japan and an earthquake in Haiti.

“He led by heart and by example,” she said.

Topek said after retiring from the academic side of SBU, he will remain a chaplain with the Long Island State Veterans Home. Between serving as chaplain and living in the Three Village area with his wife Susan, he said he will be in touch with his colleagues and the students after retiring.

“I don’t see myself as really leaving the academic community,” he said.

Photo by Tom Caruso


Tom Caruso of Smithtown snapped this image of a Super Blood Wolf Moon, where the moon was completely covered in the Earth’s shadow creating a total lunar eclipse on Jan. 20. The next total lunar eclipse to be viewed in our area will be in 2022.

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Nugget. Photo courtesy of Kent Animal Shelter


This week’s shelter pet is a very handsome cat named Nugget. This one-year-old love bug was found outside as a stray and clearly belonged to someone at some point. He is now safe at Kent Animal Shelter but would rather be curled up in your arms for Valentine’s Day.

Nugget is neutered, up to date with vaccinations, has tested negative for feline AIDS and leukemia and is microchipped. Come on down and meet Nugget! 

Kent Animal Shelter is located at 2259 River Road in Calverton. The adoption center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. For more information on Nugget and other adoptable pets at Kent, call 631-727-5731 or visit

Snowy Owl by Rainy Sepulveda

By Heidi Sutton

Something special is in the air. From Feb. 9 to 21, the Four Harbors Audubon Society (FHAS) will present a photography exhibit titled A Valentine to Whitman’s Paumanok, featuring the wildlife and landscapes that influenced the early life of one of America’s greatest poets, at The Bates House in Setauket. The venue is a fitting one as it is nestled in the 26-acre Frank Melville Memorial Park where many of the photographs in the exhibit were taken. 

In a recent interview, curator Patricia Paladines, outreach chairman of the FHAS board, said the show will feature the works of 12 photographers who were invited to submit up to five images each. 

The concept for the exhibition came about when Paladines heard from her friend Lise Hintze, who manages The Bates House, that the venue was interested in hosting an art exhibit of some sort. A shutterbug herself, Paladines was familiar with many talented nature photographers who shoot locally. “The whole idea worked very well with the mission of the Four Harbors Audubon Society,” she said. 

Kingfisher by William Walsh

Indeed, the 60-piece collection features breathtaking images of nature, from a great blue heron searching for his next meal, a juvenile kingfisher perched on a branch, a seahorse gripping onto a blade of seagrass in the swift current, to a nest of fluffy cygnets, each more visually stunning than the next.

Exhibiting photographers include Dr. Maria Bowling, Maria Hoffman, Joe Kelly, Anita Jo Lago, Luke Ormand, Christopher Paparo, Derek Rogers, Rainy Sepulveda, Alexandra Srp, Kevin Walsh, William Walsh and Debra Wortzman

“I wanted the show to be a platform for the work of these photographers who dedicate a lot of time capturing the natural beauty of Long Island and hopefully in turn inspire the viewers to make time to go out and enjoy it too in the many parks, preserve and natural shorelines that surround us,” Paladines explained, adding that the idea was to “raise awareness of the variety of wildlife that we can see if we just look around this lovely island.”

The fact that Whitman’s 200th birthday will be celebrated all over the country this year was just coincidental in referencing America’s most celebrated literary figure in the title. “Actually I found that out later,” said Paladines. “I was delighted to learn that it is the bicentennial of Walt Whitman’s birth. I like his poetry and Long Island is where, of course, he was born and where he was inspired early in his life. He uses nature in a lot of his poetry. [When deciding the title] I though it’s Valentine’s Day, this exhibit should be about Long Island and I’ve always liked Whitman’s poem that starts out “Starting from fish-shape Paumanok …” 

Lined Seahorse by Chris Paparo

Paladines is hopeful that this show will become an annual event. “We’ll see how it goes this year,” she laughed.

Join the Four Harbors Audubon Society for an opening reception on Saturday, Feb. 9 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Special guest Darrel Blaine Ford, historian, ornithologist and Walt Whitman personator, will read a few poems from “Leaves of Grass” including “There Was a Child Went Forth.” Refreshments will be served. The exhibit will be on view at The Bates House, 1 Bates Road, Setauket through Feb. 21. All the photographs will be for sale. Call 631-689-7054 or visit for viewing hours.

Serving the Townships of Smithtown and Northwest Brookhaven, the Four Harbors Audubon Society’s mission is to advocate education and conservation efforts for the enjoyment, preservation and restoration of birds, wildlife and habitat in our communities. The society hosts monthly bird walks at Frank Melville Memorial Park and West Meadow Beach in Setauket, and Avalon Park & Preserve in Stony Brook; lectures at Emma S. Clark Memorial Library; Friday movie nights at the Smithtown Library; field trips; and bird counts including the popular Stone Bridge Nighthawk Watch. For more information, visit

Amber Ferrari. Photo by Rich Balter

By Rita J. Egan

Music lovers who enjoy taking a trip down memory lane will be in for a treat Feb. 9 at Theatre Three. Long Island performer Amber Ferrari returns to the Port Jefferson venue with “Joplin’s Pearl Featuring Amber Ferrari,” a production that celebrates singer Janis Joplin’s musical legacy.

The show is described on the theater’s website as a two-act musical explosion. While the second act is jam-packed with the music of Joplin including “Me and Bobby McGee” and “Piece of My Heart,” the show opens with a mixture of hits from various artists. 

Amber Ferrari. Photo by Rich Balter

Reached by phone, Ferrari said she will be singing musical hits from legends throughout the decades, including Pat Benatar, Linda Ronstadt, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Queen, Led Zeppelin and Carole King. The singer said she also plans on performing one of her own songs.

Ferrari’s artistic relationship with Theatre Three began in 2005 when she performed in the venue’s “Woodstock-mania: Woodstock in Concert,” a show that inspired her to create “Joplin’s Pearl.” The singer said through the years she has performed the Joplin musical performance many times at the Port Jeff venue and also debuted her shows dedicated to Pat Benatar and Madonna there. Last summer, she once again participated in “Woodstock-Mania.”

“That’s my home theater, that’s my heart and soul,” said Ferrari. 

Douglas Quattrock, Theatre Three’s artistic associate and director of development, said he is looking forward to Ferrari returning to the theater with the show.

“I am thrilled to have Amber back at Theatre Three,” Quattrock said. “Her show is always filled with an incredible amount of energy, and her audiences always get a first-rate performance.”

The February performance follows a busy few months for Ferrari who presented her “Material Girl Featuring Amber Ferrari” at 89 North Music Venue in Patchogue last month and Napper Tandy’s Irish Pub in Smithtown last October as well as her Joplin show at Riverhead’s Suffolk Theater back in November.

On the night of Feb. 9, in addition to paying tribute to Joplin, the singer said she is looking forward to performing a Queen number. Ferrari said she feels the show has something for everyone and hopes audience members will enjoy how she and her band interpret the music of all the artists she is featuring.

“I’m hoping the people who don’t like a specific artist will just enjoy the way we do it because I don’t try to imitate anyone,” Ferrari said.

The singer said at the Feb. 9 performance bass player Michael Chiusano, guitarist Chris Ferrari, keyboardist Chris Cuvier, drummer Gary Gonzalez and percussionist Jim Carroll will join her on stage. She will also perform with a horn section that includes Lenny La Pinta on alto/tenor sax, Jonathan Holford playing baritone sax, Dan Yeager on trumpet and trombonist Tim Cassera.

Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present ‘Joplin’s Pearl Featuring Amber Ferrari’ on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $39. For more information or to order, visit or call 631-928-9100. 

For more information on Amber Ferrari, visit

By Heidi Sutton

The Town of Brookhaven held its annual Groundhog Day celebration at the Holtsville Ecology Site and Animal Preserve on Saturday, Feb. 2. Many families with young children braved the frigid weather to hear a very important prediction from Suffolk County’s most famous weatherman, Holtsville Hal, and the little guy did not disappoint.

At 7:25 a.m., before a crowd of several hundred spectators, the groundhog awoke from his slumber and did not see his shadow, joining Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil, Malverne Mel, Staten Island Chuck and Dunkirk Dave in predicting that spring weather is right around the corner.

Councilman Kevin LaValle (R-Selden), who was joined by Councilman Neil Foley (R-Blue Point), served as honorary Mayor of the Day and read Hal’s prognostication:

“Upon waking up this morning from my long winter’s nap, I heard Honey Bear yawning after this unusual cold snap, Lucy the Buffalo was up, Victoria the eagle too, wondering what everyone is planning to do. I exited my burrow and took a step out, realizing that my prognostication is what this is all about. Hundreds have gathered waiting to hear, will it be an early spring or more snow this year. I know you’re all anxious to hear what I have to say, I won’t keep you waiting at 7:25 on this cold blustery day. When I came out of my burrow and put my paws on the floor, I did not see the shadow I was looking for. According to folklore, go home and ready your lawn, spring is coming and the winter is more than half gone.”

Superintendent of Highways Daniel Losquadro (R), who was not able to attend the event this year, issued a statement on Monday.  “I’m sure we are all looking forward to an early spring and keeping our fingers crossed that our resident weatherman maintains his accuracy,” he said. “Regardless, the Brookhaven Highway Department remains ready to handle whatever Mother Nature decides to send our way.”

After the event, festivalgoers were treated to bagels and hot chocolate and were able to visit the 100 animals that call the Ecology Site home including deer, horses, goats, llamas, hawks and its newest addition, a pine martin. The center, which is open all year round, also includes jogging and exercise trails.

Greg Drossel, who has been Holtsville Hal’s handler for 22 years, said, “I remember when this ecology site was started by Harold Malkmes [Brookhaven’s longtime superintendent], 25, 30 years ago with a pair of buffalo and a pair of bald eagles and now it’s a gem in the Town of Brookhaven and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

Located at 249 Buckley Road, Holtsville, the Ecology Site will next host the 2019 Home & Garden Show on March 23, 24, 30 and 31 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 631-758-9664.

On Feb. 2, The Ward Melville Heritage Organization kicked off its 80th anniversary year with a Chinese New Year Celebration. The event was just the start of the many culturally-diverse activities the organization has planned for its milestone year, including a St. Patrick’s Day Celebration scheduled for March 3.

The day included Authentic Shaolin Kung Fu school performing a lion dance in traditional costumes, and after, demonstrating martial arts moves. The Long Island Chinese Dance Group performed dances symbolizing different regions of China, and Vivian Ye from Seiskaya Ballet Academy presented a solo dance called “Flying Apsaras.”

Singers JoJo Feng and Alice Huang were also on hand, and Manhattan Taiko shared the tradition of Taiko drumming, which includes the beats of drums ranging in size from 1 foot to 6 feet in diameter.

Video by David Ackerman



A customer paying 5 cents to purchase a plastic bag from IGA Fort Salonga. File Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By David Luces

It has been more than a year since the 5-cent tax for plastic bags at retail stores took effect in Suffolk County. The main goal of the legislation was to reduce bag waste by encouraging shoppers to bring their own reusable bags and avoid the fee.

Some residents were reluctant to support the 5-cent  per plastic bag fee citing that the money would be going back to the store. Instead, they thought it should be given to charity or used for environmental causes.

Charlie Reichert, owner of IGA Fort Salonga Market, did just that when he announced in late January 2018 that he would be donating all proceeds from the county’s 5-cent fee to benefit local nonprofit institutions.

““It came to me when people were really complaining about the plastic bag, ‘Why are you charging a nickel? Why are you getting the money? That gave me the idea, why don’t we give the money to charity.”

— Charlie Reichert

“It came to me when people were really complaining about the plastic bag, ‘Why are you charging a nickel? Why are you getting the money?’” Reichert said to TBR News Media in January 2018. “That gave me the idea, why don’t we give the money to charity.”

The business owner estimated the nickel surcharge to generate approximately $6,000 to $7,000 a month for charity. Fast forward a year, and Reichert said his five IGA supermarket locations in Bayville, Fort Salonga, Greenport, East Northport and Southold have generated more than $40,000, which has been donated to Huntington Hospital and Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport.

Reichert was hopeful he would be able to get other businesses to support his cause and donate as well, but the effort has not seen the same success. 

Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta  (R-Fort Salonga) expressed similar hope in January 2018 that the initiative could potentially result in millions of dollars being donated to local charities.

Trotta said he reached out to ShopRite locations in Hauppauge and Patchogue, which allegedly planned on donating proceeds of the fee to Hauppauge-based Long Island Cares, a food bank and pantry, specifically to benefit veterans in need last January.

Susan Eckert, legislative aide for Trotta, said his office also reached out to 14 other stores. Many said they would contact their corporate offices and, if interested, would call back — not one did. Two national corporations, Walmart and Target, said if they chose to donate the plastic bag fee to charity, it would go to their corporate foundations.

Robin Amato, chief development officer and communications director at Long Island Cares, said her nonprofit organization did not receive any donations as a result of the new tax.

“Although everyone’s intentions were good I am sure we did not receive any of the bag fees as donations,” Amato said. “All the ShopRite stores and families are very supportive of Long Island Cares and if the fees did come through they were not noted as such.”

In April 2018, the nonprofit advocacy group Citizens Campaign for the Environment conducted a survey of 6,000 people in 20 grocery stores throughout Suffolk. The study found 30 percent of respondents bought plastic bags and 43 percent were carrying reusable ones. This showed a drastic change from late 2017, when a similar survey found only 6 percent of customers used a reusable bag.

Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment announced intentions to conduct another study at the end of 2018 to gather a much larger sample size and determine the legislation’s impact. Phone calls to the CCE were not returned.

New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has called for a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags in his 2019 Executive Budget proposal. The governor put a measure before the state Legislature in 2018, but it was not voted on.