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Between You and Me

Hernan Cortes

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Anniversaries sometimes bring out interesting tidbits of history. One such anniversary involves events that happened 500 years ago. In September 1519, Hernán Cortés met the ruler Montezuma II in what was the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlán that is now Mexico City. Records tell us that Cortés was greeted cordially, in part because his arrival happened to coincide with Aztec expectations of a god returning right at that time. To the Aztecs, the Spanish — 500 strong, with their pale skins, guns, canons and horses — must indeed have seemed godlike. The indigenous people had never before seen horses, nor had they any familiarity with gunpowder. Montezuma sent out envoys to meet the newcomers and welcome them to the city.

The Spanish conquistadors, for their part, had different intentions, as we know from elementary school history. For them it was the Age of Exploration. Christopher Columbus had shown the way in 1492, and young Cortés, bored studying law in Salamanca, western Spain, was eager to follow in those footsteps.

So who was Hernán Cortés?

He was born into a noble but not wealthy family in 1485 and was smart and ambitious. The original intention of the explorers was to find a passage to the Far East, from which they could bring back nutmeg, cloves, pepper and cinnamon, the spices so desired by Europeans. But Cortés wanted to explore the New World to seize more land for Spain and ultimately convert the natives in the Americas to Catholicism even as he plundered their gold, gems and made himself rich. The landscape in the 16th century was dramatically changing, with Afro-Eurasian trade connecting a global economy. Opportunity existed for acquiring great wealth.

In 1504, Cortés set sail for Hispaniola — now Haiti and the Dominican Republic — where he became a notary and farmer. In 1511, he joined Diego Velásquez on an expedition to conquer Cuba, where he eventually became the equivalent of mayor of Santiago. Then he persuaded Velásquez to enable a voyage to Mexico, and despite an order at the last minute canceling the trip, he set sail with 11 ships, 500 men and 16 horses, and landed in the Yucatán Peninsula, on the east coast of Mexico, in 1519.

He was, by all accounts, astounded by the gruesome rituals and human sacrifices he saw there, and he replaced pagan idols with crosses and figures of the Virgin Mary. Like so many of the other conquistadors, he regarded the natives as inferior culturally, technologically and religiously. When he encountered resistance in a place called Tabasco, he overpowered the opposition and was given, among other prizes, 20 women slaves.

One was La Malinche, who became an important figure in his life and in his eventual success in conquering Montezuma, for she was able to learn languages and translated Mayan and Aztec for him after she learned Spanish. She also bore him a son, one of the first children of mixed heritage. However, when eventually his wife joined him in Mexico from Spain, Cortés appears not to have acknowledged either his mistress or son.

The rest, as we know, is history. Cortés went on to conquer the Aztecs, with the help both of some of the dissident tribes the Aztecs ruled and smallpox, against which the natives had no immunity. An estimated  3 million indigenous people fell victim to the disease. Cortés sacked the sophisticated capital city and began rebuilding Mexico City on its ruins. Although he was eventually appointed governor of New Spain, he was removed from power by Spanish King Charles I in 1526. Cortés went on to discover Baja, California, in the 1530s. His first wife had died in 1522 and he remarried, fathering several children along the way. Ultimately he returned to Spain, where he died in 1547 in his early 60s, frustrated and embittered that he had not received the recognition and rewards he felt he was owed.

Another anniversary this week, the 80th, is of when Germany marched into Poland and launched the Second World War. But that is another tale.

Dr. Laura Lindenfeld will be the guest speaker at the 2nd annual Cooks, Books & Corks

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

You are invited on a date. The night is Tuesday, Sept. 24, the time is 6 to 8 p.m., and the place is the Bates House opposite the Emma Clark Library on Main Street in Setauket. On behalf of Times Beacon Record News Media — that’s us! — I am inviting you and your loved ones and friends to a fun community event. This one, the 2nd annual Cooks, Books & Corks, will feed both your body and mind.

Here’s the deal.

Some 18 fine restaurants and caterers are coming together to offer you delicious specialties from their menus, washing it all down with a selection of wines, and a dozen-and-a-half local authors are bringing their latest books for you to peruse and perhaps buy that evening. It’s Dutch treat at $50 a ticket, and the proceeds will go to a summer fellowship for a journalism student. In this way, you can help a young person take a paid step toward his or her ultimate career even as you help yourself to a scrumptious dinner and a literary treat that encourages local authors. And you will be helping us, the hometown news source, staff up a bit at a time when our regular team members tend to take vacations.

Here are some of the details.

The food will be supplied by these generous eateries: The Fifth Season, Old Fields, Pentimento, Elegant Eating, Sweet Mama’s, Zorba the Greek, Fratelli’s Bagel Express, Prohibition Port Jefferson, Toast Coffeehouse, Villa Sorrento, Lauren’s Culinary Creations, Sunrise of East Setauket Senior Living, Southward Ho Country Club, Sunflower Catering & Event Planning. Fishers Island Lemonade and Luneau USA will supply drinks. Desserts will be sweetly taken care of by, among others, Kilwins and Leanne’s Specialty Cakes. I’m salivating just typing the list. Start fasting. Come hungry.

Local authors include Jeannie Moon, Marcia Grace, Jeannine Henvey, Susan Van Scoy, Angela Reich, Ty Gamble, Dina Santorelli, Elizabeth Correll, Suzanne Johnson, Joanne S. Grasso, Rabbi Stephen Karol, Kerriann Flanagan Brosky, Michael Mihaley, Carl Safina, Mark Torres, Michael Hoffner and Linda Springer. People will be able to meet and greet with the authors and request book signings. Why would anyone want to write a book? How does one go about the process? Getting it published? Having it distributed? Would they recommend doing so to would-be authors? This is an awesome assortment of local talent to have in one room at one time.

A few remarks will be shared by Laura Lindenfeld, the interim dean of SBU School of Journalism and executive director of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. Gentle background music will be handled by the talented Three Village Chamber Players. And there will be the usual basket raffles.

A special and huge thank you to Laura Mastriano of L.A. Productions Events.

Now we need you!

To purchase tickets, please visit our website tbrnewsmedia.com or our TBR News Media Facebook page to pay with PayPal.

We also need sponsors who would like to support and be associated with this “high tone” event — as one of the vendors put it last year — to please contact us. Sponsorships may be had starting at $125 and will feature your name and logo in our newspapers, social media and our website, including a major “thank you” ad after the event. First one just in is Andy Polan, talented optician and owner at Stony Brook Vision World. And a big thank you to Camelot Party Rentals for their in kind donation. We would welcome your call at the newspaper office at 631-751-7744 or email events@tbrnewsmedia.com.

So come share in a delightful and satisfying event with lots of good food, good drink and good conversation. We hope you will follow up with visits to the participating eateries and caterers who have given of their time and specialties, and that you will enjoy reading your new books. We think when you leave the beautiful Bates House, you will be proud that you live in the area. And it certainly beats cooking dinner on a Tuesday night.

A scene from 'The Farewell'

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Three-day weekends are wonderful. When you go to sleep Sunday night, you know you have an extra day of weekend on Monday, and you feel so rich. What did you do on Labor Day? I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

First I met some old friends at the bagel store and we had breakfast and caught up on summer activities and the latest news. Then I did some work, so I should feel a little bit virtuous. And as a climax to the free time, I went to see a movie with a good friend. Just imagine! Going to the movies on a rainy Monday afternoon. What a treat.

We saw “The Farewell,” and we both loved it. I checked it out first, and it is probably the only movie I have ever seen with a 99 percent rating from Rotten Tomatoes. In spite of having such high expectations, we were not disappointed.

The movie is an independent Chinese film, largely autobiographical from Lulu Wang, with subtitles and speaks to several themes all centered around one peg. I won’t be revealing anything that would spoil the experience for you by saying that the plot revolves around a lie. In fact, at the beginning of the film, we are told that what we are about to see is based on “an actual lie.” The deception is as follows. Grandma Nai Nai is terminally ill, and everyone wants to see her one final time. But the problem is that she has not been told that she has malignant spots on her lungs. Her X-rays reportedly show “benign shadows,” or so she is made to believe. The immediate family do not want her to know the truth about her condition.

Her granddaughter Billi, who grew up in New York City and is thoroughly Americanized, doesn’t agree with that decision. The rest of the family tries to leave Billi behind as they go back to mainland China to visit the grandmother, but she follows anyway and asks the expected questions: “What about her individual rights? Isn’t it illegal to withhold such information? What if she has some last details she would want to take care of if she knew she were dying?”

But no. The rest of the family agrees to enter into a charade in which they act as if the reason they are all coming back to China is to celebrate the marriage of the grandson, who has in fact been seriously dating a Japanese girl for only three months.

The grandmother, of course, is overjoyed at the prospect of seeing her scattered family return home and of hosting a wedding celebration, although she is not so sure about this Japanese addition to the family. And despite their sad faces and behind-her-back anguish, grandma is persuaded that the return is as presented. She goes about arranging for a bountiful reception for family and many friends.

The Chinese explanation for the deception serves as stark contrast in the film between the cultures: Chinese people aren’t regarded as individuals to the extent that they are so clearly in America, but rather as a member of a family structure and a social community. One’s life is part of a whole, and no one wants to tell grandma that she will soon be leaving this world and bring her sadness in her last days. In China, a diagnosis of cancer means certain death, we are told.

Yet despite the depression felt by the family, their love for their matriarch shines through, and there are the universal family interactions of anger, laughter, grief, memories and regrets. The film is both deeply personal and can be universally appreciated for its sweetness and familiarity.

China has modernized physically. Billi finds that her old neighborhood has been replaced by a forest of high rise apartment buildings, none quite completed yet, and modern highways link the city. That is a measure of how long she has been separated from her roots. But can there be a “good” lie? Billi will effortlessly lie on her phone to her grandma about whether she is wearing a hat to ward off the cold in Brooklyn, but she is deeply troubled trying to bridge the cultural big lie that is at the heart of this film.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This week there was a mini-reunion at my house of college classmates who happened to be in the area. One actually came in from Arizona, but she was making her annual New York visit anyway and included a trip to my house from the city. It was great fun to see the nine women who arrived for lunch and chatter. As classmates we do share a lifetime bond and, as contemporaries, we share a lot of history and culture. We don’t have to stop mid-sentence and explain our obscure references to younger listeners because everyone gets the point.

Each of us is curious to see how the others have aged. We mentally compare wrinkles, double chins, weight gains. We talk about our children, our grandchildren, our husbands and, in a couple of cases, ex-husbands. We tell each other about good plays we have seen, worthwhile books we have read, interesting trips we have taken. But these are superficialities. What we really want from each other is to share wisdom. After all, we have been around the block a few times by now and hopefully have learned a few things in the process.

So we ask the question of the group: At this stage of life, what is a most important insight you have had?

One answers, “To be appreciative.” I can certainly relate to that. To wake up in the morning and know you have the gift of a new day, and if you are lucky, to do with that time as you wish. Some who came still work, others are retired. Most people who come to reunions, I think, are basically happy with their lives. So since the miserable ones don’t come, those who do make it find common currency in appreciation. “I have had a good life so far, I’ve been very lucky,” is a frequent refrain.

“To be in the moment,” posits another. Yes, it’s a cliché, but one with significance. To be fully aware at any given point of where we are and what is happening around us is to enjoy a full existence. Feeling the sand give way underfoot during a walk on the beach, hearing the calls of seagulls over the water as they search for dinner, feeling the soft wind coming up from the southwest as it blows against one’s cheek, smelling the salt in the air as the waves break against the shore — all of those experiences enhance the present moment.

“Let it go,” offers another. Now we are getting into deeper discussion. We carry guilt to some degree, all humans do. We also carry anger, or fear, perhaps. We may struggle with resentment, envy, an affront, disappointment, hurt, traumatic memories and any number of other negative emotions. Have we learned after all this time to let them go? Or at least have we learned how to work through them so they lessen in our hearts and minds?

“I have learned how much it pleases me to make connections,” was another response. “If I am somewhere and meet a stranger who is striving for a goal, and I know something or someone else who could perhaps help that person to realize his or her ambition, I enjoy connecting them.”

That comment made me think of one of my favorite analogies, that of comparing life to a game of billiards. We glance off each other as we move along, perhaps exchanging a few words in just a few moments that have meaning.

I remember one day waiting for the light at Ninth Avenue in Manhattan on my way to the Lincoln Tunnel and New Jersey. How many times I had made that trip, and always the same way. But this one time I noticed that the pick-up truck waiting next to me was turning in the opposite direction despite having New Jersey plates. So I rolled down my window and called out to the driver, asking where to turn. He yelled back his answer, the light changed and we both drove away. But his way shortened my trip by several minutes. In that brief exchange, he changed my life positively. How meaningful even the briefest connection can be.

As you might tell, we had a good time at our mini-reunion.

Leah Dunaief

By Leah S. Dunaief

If you want to see what your kids really think of you and have some fun in the process, ask them to come up with a profile for you if you are single to use on an internet dating app. My children and a couple of grandchildren were here for a visit this past weekend, and that was one bit of interaction we enjoyed. I have never filled out such a profile before, and I turned to them — the generation that started using apps to find partners — for help. Here are some words they threw out.

Beautiful: Well listen, if your sons don’t think you are good looking, what was the point of all that maternal sacrifice? This one is just a given.

Energetic: Of course. You have to have some measurable degree of energy in order to put yourself out there. It’s certainly easier to lay back and watch endless television or read a novel every night. And I am leaving off the comments they threw out about double chins and still having my original teeth.

Good conversation: Yes, OK, but it takes two to tango. Willing to offer opinions on just about everything. And listening is at least as important.

Loves to travel: That probably narrows the field to about 90 percent of the female population.

Enjoys theater: Ditto.

Sense of humor: If you have to brag, not much hope. I would hate to be asked to say something funny. Probably more of a way of looking at life.

Likes sailing: Although I no longer ski or play tennis, because of knees that are given to protest. That’s probably in a league with long walks on the beach. Not much personalization there. Come now, let’s find something unique.

Opera subscription: Only unique for the younger generation of Dunaiefs because they can’t imagine thousands of people gathering to hear some fat women screech. Little do they know that the women are no longer fat, and the human voice can be one of the most exquisite instruments delivering some of the most beautiful melodies ever written. Plus operas often have profound themes dealing with universal questions. What we have here is theater, concert and choir all in one offering. They are young yet, they may come upon the bargain that is opera one fine day.

Well read: That’s correct if measured by the amount of newspaper articles I feel it necessary to ingest every day. Books mostly have to wait for vacations.

Loves learning: Now we are getting somewhere. They say that journalists know things a mile wide but only an inch deep. That is true. From one day to the next, we have to leap from subject to subject, spending only enough time on each one to be able to write about its newsworthiness correctly before moving on to the next. And that suits me fine. Where I become more interested, I can always go back and dig deeper. Meanwhile there are endless facts to absorb as I move along.

Still working: Yes, that’s how one continues to learn.

Independent: You bet. That is definitely a truth about yours truly, and those children of mine are probably glad that I am. Being independent, not having to live up to anyone else’s expectations, including one’s own from long ago, is hard won and to be cherished. Not having to lean on anyone for support, unless by choice, is the ultimate liberation.

Loves raspberries and blueberries: Now we are getting to the heart of the matter. Yummy!

Adores flowers and nature in all its magnificence: Yes, yes, yes.

Good friends: You have to be one to have one. I certainly try.

Love my family: And I am close to them. A most important part of my life.

Optimistic and positive to a fault: I have always told my children that all things are possible. They just have to work hard to succeed. They are the CEOs of their lives.

Romance: Ah, yes. What is life without an adoring someone? Worth searching for, I think.

Award winning author and conservationist Carl Safina was the guest speaker at last year's event. Photo by Rita J. Egan
Leah Dunaief

By Leah S. Dunaief

The world has changed for all of us since we entered the 21st century. While our computers didn’t blow up as the millennium turned, the horrific attacks on 9/11 forever, it seems, altered our sense of safety in our country and elsewhere on the globe. The arrival of the internet on desktop computers, the proliferation of cellphones, the rise of social media — they have upended the architecture of our lives.

Change has been no less dramatic in our work lives. For those of us in the news business, the basic business model is disappearing. Once upon a time the publisher brought together talented reporters and editors with an articulate sales staff, and together editorial and advertising were presented to the reader in an attractive format that informed and enriched the community. In the process, the news organization was also enriched, and there were newspapers everywhere. The biggest challenge was beating competitors to the “scoop” and gaining the greater market share of advertisers.

Today that simple business plan seems like a fairy tale. According to data in a special section of The New York Times on Sunday, “Over the last 15 years, about 2100 local newspapers — or roughly a quarter of all local newsrooms — have either merged with a competitor or ceased printing …About 6800 local newspapers continue to operate across the country, but many are shells of their former selves, with pared down staffs and coverage areas. About half of the remaining local papers are in small and rural communities, and the vast majority distribute fewer than 15,000 copies of each edition.” 

I could go on with the statistics, but here’s the point: If we don’t embrace change, we get left behind.

Chef Guy Reuge speaks about his latest book, ‘A Chef’s Odyssey,’ at last year’s Cooks, Books & Corks. Photo by Rita J. Egan

So it is that we at Times Beacon Record Newspapers have become TBR News Media, with the addition of a website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube platforms to accommodate the various demands for news and advertising. After all, we work for our customers and we must offer them what they want and need. By the same token, while maintaining those platforms has increased our costs, the revenue they generate is minimal. Further worsening the newspaper situation is the demise of the traditional mom-and-pop retail stores, the previous backbone of so many communities and community newspapers.

So we have changed, as the surviving retailers have changed. We, and they, are now building events into our offerings, much as we used to publish supplements to target specific subjects and advertising niches for our papers. Retailing now includes some aspect of entertainment with their event planning, and publishing companies, whether in print or digital, must also provide entertaining events.

Fortunately for us at TBR, we can make this fit with our mission statement to give back to the community, and indeed to endeavor to strengthen the sense of community where we publish. Since our first year in existence, over 43 years ago, we have held the Man and Woman of the Year event at the Three Village Inn, with the financial help of Stony Brook University and the Lessings, at which we have saluted those who go the extra mile offering their products, services or time to their neighbors in their hometowns.

For the last two years, we have produced and directed films with authentic Revolutionary War narrative at Stony Brook’s Staller Center to share pride in our Long Island history, explaining who we were at the dawn of our country and how we got here.

Coming next on the events list is Cooks, Books and Corks, a community-enriching program that features scrumptious food from some of our local restaurants at stations around the perimeter of a room at the Bates House filled with local authors and their books. We started this last year, and it was such a success that both restaurateurs and authors offered themselves on the spot for the next such gathering. They said they liked “the high tone.”

Therefore, the Second Annual Cooks, Books and Corks will take place in the same bucolic location, in Setauket, on Tuesday evening, Sept. 24, from 6 to 8 p.m. The charge is $50 per person, and the money raised will go toward subsidizing the pay of a journalism intern next summer.

Please mark your calendars and join neighbors and friends at this event to share food for both body and mind. 

Stock photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Amid the talk of a quarter-point rate cut by the Federal Reserve is the worry that the economy, doing well the past few years, may be heading into recession. Typically, the Fed cuts the rate, making money easier to come by, when recession looms. This makes it easier for business people to take loans to expand their businesses and encourages would-be homeowners to take out mortgages.

But we are not living through a typical scenario. Rates are already low. Business is already humming along, the GDP or gross domestic product is expanding although more slowly than last year, and doesn’t appear to need a stimulus. Unemployment is remarkably low, which usually triggers higher wages, which in turn can trigger inflation, which then prompts a rate hike, not a cut. But that also isn’t the case. 

So what does the Fed know that we don’t?

Perhaps it’s just time for a recession to begin. After all, it’s been 10 years since the end of the Great Recession, which makes this the longest expansion in America’s history. Recessions do come. If we knew when, we could sell our stocks at their high and wait to buy our real estate at their low. The thing is, no one knows how to time the economy.

But this past Monday, in The New York Times Business section, there were four indicators listed that could sound the alarm. And lest you think not a lot of people care, just know that this was the best read article in the newspaper that day. So if you missed the indicators, I will share them with you now.

First tip-off could be from the unemployment rate. Even a tiny increase can be a telltale. When this rate rises quickly a recession is near or has already begun. But even a 0.3 percent increase in the rate over the low of the past 12 months is significant, and a 0.5 percent jump probably means we are already in recession. Now, however, the rate is not only low, it is trending downward. Historically that means a less than a one-in-10 chance of recession within a year.

The second indicator is the yield curve, about which I have written earlier in the year. When the interest rate on a 10-year Treasury bond is lower than the rate on a three-month bond, the yield is considered inverted. Just think about it. Wouldn’t the risk of tying up your money for a longer period be greater than for a short term? And if the risk for a longer period is greater, shouldn’t you be compensated with a higher interest rate? But no. That’s not the case. Longer term Treasuries have been offering the lower rates. In the past, however, “it has taken as long as two years for a recession to follow a yield-curve inversion,” according to The Times.

The third marker is the Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing Index, which is a survey of purchasing managers about their orders, inventories, hiring and other operating activities. When that index reads above 50, the manufacturing sector of the economy is growing; below it is contracting. This is a report that comes out the first of every month and is a leading indicator. But remember, manufacturing no longer drives the American economy. And with the global economic slowdown we are seeing and the trade tariff battles, the index may start to descend.

Last but certainly not least is consumer sentiment, which makes up some two-thirds of the economy. If we are not spending, the economy is not growing. A decline of 15 percent or more in the consumer confidence index would be worrisome. In that regard, so far so good. The index is pretty much the same as a year ago, although it has fallen since late last year.

So where are we? Your guess is as good as mine. Good luck to us.

Eleanor Kra

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This week’s column is dedicated to courage, the particular courage of one person. That person was one of my closest friends, and she died last week. Even though she suffered for five years with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease, and we all knew that the end was coming, it is hard to imagine life without her.

And isn’t that the height of selfishness, to think of her death as my loss? What about her loss? Never again on Earth to hug and kiss her husband, her children and grandchildren, to cheer when they enjoy victories and to commiserate when things don’t work out as they had hoped. Never again to join friends for an evening at the opera. Never again to enjoy cooking delicious dinner for those lucky enough to be her guests. Never again to exchange insights about the political turmoil through which we are living. Never again to share a deep belly laugh. For her, it has ended.

We met as freshmen at college. She was impressive for her strongly held viewpoints during classroom discussions of world affairs, asserting that the Cold War was not just about two superpowers but also included a third bloc of underdeveloped and uncommitted nations. She was also delightfully funny, laughing at the incongruities of life. When we were both assigned dorm rooms on the same floor of the same dorm, I got to know that she was born in Poland in the Warsaw ghetto in 1941, hardly a choice time and place, that she had escaped from the ghetto with her mother and another woman and child thanks to her father’s resourcefulness, and that she had lived out World War II in Warsaw with false papers, both mothers being under extreme duress.

My friend went on to be elected editor in chief of the college newspaper, and she sometimes wrote about my actions as class president. We laughed about how it was a microcosm of the fourth estate, that is the public press, commenting on the executive branch. We served on the student council together and became close friends.

After graduation, when my husband and I were looking to settle somewhere in the New York area, it was she who I called from Wichita Falls in northern Texas to ask if Stony Brook, where her husband was a mathematics professor, was a good place to live. Little did I know that this one night she and her husband had decided uncharacteristically to retire early to bed, and with the one-hour time difference between Texas and the East Coast, I would wake them up with my question. But she waved me on. “It’s home,” she responded in her usual direct fashion, telling me all I needed to know. That is how we happened to move to the North Shore of Long Island.

After my husband died and my children all left for college, she stepped in with a surprising offer: How about joining them with an opera subscription? “Where?” I asked. “Why at the Metropolitan Opera, where else?” she smiled. “We would drive into NYC each time?” I responded disbelievingly. “Yes, and have dinner beforehand,” she said with a gleam in her eye. And that is how I discovered one of my great passions.

But before she died, here is her most important gift to us. She was the embodiment of courage. Even as the quality of her life deteriorated, she fought to maintain normalcy, for her sake and the sake of those around her. She went from a cane to a walker, accompanied by her husband, then to a wheelchair, then to a scooter wheelchair that she drove at breakneck speed down Broadway from their West End apartment to Lincoln Center for her subscription performances and more. And as her muscular ability to verbalize diminished, she used the internet and her computer keyboard to stay connected to the rest of us as long as she could control her hands.

Watching her struggle was a gut-wrenching anguish. It was also an inspiration. She was not going into that dark night easily. She fought for every inch of the life her parents had saved and she and her husband had made together, and in so doing she showed us not only how to die with valor but especially how to live life to the max.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Today we report on two diametrically opposite faces of our nation. Interspersed here are some personal recollections of my own. Fifty years ago we Americans stood proud and together, our faces turned upward to the heavens, as the United States sent Apollo 11 to the moon with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins aboard. Armstrong and Aldrin were to land on the surface in the Lunar Excursion Module, or LEM, the creation of engineering wizardry by thousands of Grumman workers right here on Long Island.

An estimated 650 million people around the world watched spellbound on black-and-white television screens as the two astronauts took the first steps for a man on July 20, 1969, and the unprecedented leap into the future of space travel for mankind.

Until 1972, 24 people flew to the moon, none since then. But that was just the beginning of incredible discoveries and inventions, from miniaturizations to astrobiology. We have a satellite that has played host to other nations and enabled us to see around the world. Known as the International Space Station, we have used it to reach out into the solar system. And it will even become a regular destination for tourists shortly if entrepreneurs are to be believed.

A family gathers to watch the moon landing in 1969.

Meanwhile, as Armstrong and Aldrin were busy walking around on the moon, there was a tiny leap on Earth for our third son. He arrived from out of the womb at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson and at this time is enjoying a 50th anniversary of his own. We had arrived on Long Island only three weeks earlier from Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, where my husband had served for the preceding two years, and were busy working to establish our new lives here. 

Now you might think that the blessing of a new baby, along with the need to find a new home and rent a medical office might have overshadowed the miracle of the moon landing, but for me that event was high-voltage electric. 

Just before we left New York for Texas and my husband’s assignment, I had been working at Time-Life with Arthur C. Clarke, who had arrived from his Eden-like home in Ceylon — now Sri Lanka — to write a book called, “Man and Space.” Clarke, like the other writers of space discoveries and travel, had to write under the banner of science fiction in order to gain respectability. But the truth was that these authors believed what they wrote would come to pass, and fortunately for many of them they were alive to see it happen in the 1960s. And I was fortunate enough to be part of the excitement, a front row spectator of history, as we journalists are.

I, too, was caught up in the fervor of the coming moon shot. When Clarke parted, he went on to join Stanley Kubrick to co-write the script of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” considered today one of the best films ever made, and I to become the wife of an Air Force officer and then mother of three.

So we leave the incredible heights of American pride now and look at the other side of the coin. Elsewhere in our news, we have the press release from U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who went to the southern border of the United States with a small group from the House to see first hand what was happening at the immigration centers. In his words, the situation is “awful” and the system is “broken.” The group toured and inspected facilities that are currently holding Central American migrants seeking asylum, speaking with several immigrant families as they went.

According to first-hand reports, there is a humanitarian crisis at the border. Since only very few migrants are processed each day, many cross over the border illegally between points of entry, then turn themselves in to seek asylum. They come in such numbers that they greatly exceed capacity to house and care for them, and as such are living in deplorable conditions. 

These are our American concentration camps, where children have been separated from their parents. They are deserving of our shame. “America is better than this,” declared Suozzi, and we know that to be true. At one and the same time, we celebrate and rue our nation.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Last week a theme in this column was a defense of men. In a neat turnabout, this week is a shoutout for women. The catalyst, of course, is the victory of the United States women’s soccer team. We all watched or cheered Sunday as they defeated the Netherlands team, 2-0, to win the four-yearly Women’s World Cup championship in France. And we all felt tremendous pride in their accomplishment on behalf of our nation.

Let’s face it. They won because they had to win. They became symbols of issues larger than themselves, and in order to drive home those issues most effectively, they had to be winners. You might even say they leveled the playing field in multiple ways.

In becoming winners, they achieved a record four championships for the United States since the tournament began in 1991, this while the men’s counterpart fell later that day in the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup final to the rival Mexico team, 1-0, in Chicago. The fact that the most visible and outspoken women’s team member, Megan Rapinoe, who was named most valuable player and who also won the Golden Boot for being the highest scorer, was repeatedly identified as a lesbian, gave her the additional burden of championing the rights of marginalized communities. And the swelling chorus of “Equal pay! Equal pay!” from the spectators at the end of the match was a victory for social justice that brought tears to my eyes and similarly affected many other women in the workplace.

In 1963, when I was interviewing for a position with Time Inc. in New York City, I was told that my salary would be $65 dollars per week. Since I had been supporting my husband, who was a medical intern, and myself for several months already, I knew that we could not manage on that pay and said so to the interviewer. “Well,” she explained, “the men in that position earn $110 because they are the family wage earner.”

“But I am the wage earner for my family,” I objected. “Why is that, dear?” she asked.

“Because my husband gets $30 a month at the hospital and has to use that money to launder his ‘whites’ (intern’s hospital uniforms).” “Oh, then we’ll pay you the $110,” she consented.

I left her office thrilled that I had the job, but my cheeks were burning because I felt like a second-class citizen. Some 10 years later, there was a class-action lawsuit from a large group of women employees against the company demanding equal pay for equal work. It took years, but eventually they won. This has been a private uphill fight, corporation by corporation, agency by agency, for what should be so obvious, and that struggle is still going on, more than 55 years later. The difference is that now it is a public matter and the injustice rings out to fill a sports stadium.

“It’s complicated,” answers the United States Soccer Federation, trying to explain where the money comes from and how it is allocated. To heck with that! It’s always complicated to right social wrongs, to win social change. Old views have to be altered, windows of the mind have to be opened. These women athletes have thrown those windows open wide.

Furthermore, why should I care whether the star player is gay? That makes as much difference as knowing whether she paints her toenails purple or showers in the morning or at night. Do I need to know if the orchestra conductor at Carnegie Hall is a Republican or a Democrat? Or whether the chef in my favorite restaurant is right-handed or left-handed?

Let’s get real. For those who refer to the “good ole days,” nostalgia can have its place. But I say thanks for the world we live in today, where any number of social injustices have come out of the woodwork and into the light. Before they can be changed, they must be acknowledged. Their emergence has been possible because of talented warriors like the U.S. women’s soccer team.