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Donna Newman

Edna White offers a section of clementine to her granddaughter, Alexandria McLaurin. Photo by Donna Newman

In today’s world, the loudest voices often preach a message of divisiveness and look to create an environment that excludes rather than accepts. This message runs contrary to the one preached by Martin Luther King Jr. and [his] vision for a just and peaceful future.

The invitation extended to community members was made in those words for an event titled We Thirst for Justice at the Bates House in Setauket Jan. 16 — the designated commemoration of the birth of the civil rights leader.

The event was organized by Michael Huffner, co-founder of the Community Growth Center with locations in Smithtown and Port Jefferson Station, in partnership with the All Souls Episcopal Church in Stony Brook. A newly formed service organization, The Spot — a new service group that provides resources, community and mentoring— and artist Alex Seel of the Center for Community Awareness facilitated a collaborative art project for the multifaith gathering. Each person was invited to record his/her vision of justice on a small square of colored paper. Seel, assisted by Vanessa Upegui worked to merge the squares into a colorful mosaic.

Huffner said he hoped the celebration would inspire people to work collaboratively for justice.

Vanessa Upegui and Alex Seel pause to display their art project. Photo by Donna Newman

“What seems like a small piece of paper can become a beautiful work of art when combined with others,” he said at the event. “What seems like a small voice becomes a sound capable of changing the world when combined with others … Dr. King’s message is simple. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. We must be the light; we must be the love that Dr. King spoke about.”

The Rev. Farrell Graves, spiritual leader of the All Souls Church, an associate chaplain at Stony Brook University and a founder of The Spot, added his take on the day’s significance.

“This is the joyful part of our work,” he said at the event. “We also have some more difficult work — to stand up for the common good. Freedom is for everyone, or it’s for no one. The cost of our freedom is constant vigilance, and by that I mean awareness, and I include in that self-awareness … If we don’t have the courage to look ourselves in the face, then fear and scapegoating take over. We start blaming others for our inadequacies … This is not yet the world that Martin Luther King envisioned. If we want to change the world, we must have the courage to change ourselves.”    

Seel stressed the importance of the fact that the civil rights movement of the ’60s was a collaborative effort and that such an endeavor is needed again to further the cause of justice in our country in our time.

“What we need now is leadership,” he said. “We need leaders who will bring different faith communities together. There needs to be a call to engage in a clear and effective goal.”

The event included live music and a diversity of foods. More than 65 people attended and, while the host organizations encouraged mixing and mingling, when approached, most people admitted they were sitting with people they already knew.

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Firefighters tackle the blaze at St. George’s Golf Course. Photo by Dennis Whittam

Paul Rodier, the first assistant chief of the Setauket Fire Department, responded to the scene of a car accident Jan. 3 at St. George’s Golf Club on Lower Sheep Pasture Road in Setauket. What he found on arrival was much more than that.

“The original call stated ‘car accident,’” Rodier said. “A minute and a half later ‘car into building.’ Then, ‘car into building on fire’ and finally, ‘possibly a person trapped in the car.’”

According to Suffolk County police, 19-year-old Alyssa Chaikin lost control of her 2003 Jeep Liberty on wet pavement at about 5:40 p.m. She struck a wooden guardrail, went through a chain-link fence and down an embankment. The car crashed into a building on the golf course. The Jeep caught fire and the fire spread to the building, which houses a bathroom and is used for selling refreshments, and was destroyed.

Chaikin was able to crawl out of the vehicle and was assisted by another driver, Richard Glaser, who quickly ushered her away from the blaze to his vehicle, parked on the side of the road.    

Upon his arrival at the scene, Rodier said the car and a third of the building were engulfed, and traffic was heavy on Sheep Pasture Road. An electric pole was also involved and may have been the cause of the fire.

“That female is very lucky to be alive. The call went from bad to worse. Thankfully, it ended well. That’s our main goal.”

— Paul Rodier

Rodier said he found a first responder and a medic with the ambulance. He was directed to the young woman, seated in the passenger seat of the good Samaritan’s car, where he assessed her condition. Finding her breathing, able to communicate and not requiring emergency measures at the scene, Chaikin, of Stony Brook, was transferred to the ambulance, and Rodier turned his attention to orchestrating the fire response.

Glaser, a manager of information technology at Stony Brook University Hospital, said he was driving by and pulled over to try to help. He said he did not see the accident happen.

“It feels really good that I was able to pay it forward and help someone out,” he said in an email. “I just hope that more people do the same when the opportunity happens.”

Stony Brook University Hospital was contacted to confirm if Chaiken was still a patient on Jan. 10, but no further information was available. Her parents could not be reached for comment.

Rodier said an investigation was ongoing to determine the cause of the accident and that he hoped news of the accident would cause other drivers to concentrate more on their driving and try harder to avoid distractions.

“This was a wake-up call to pay attention to your driving,” Rodier said. “We don’t know all the details. It should not have happened. That female is very lucky to be alive. The call went from bad to worse. Thankfully, it ended well. That’s our main goal.”

Kate Calone checks out an end table at the organization’s warehouse in Port Jefferson Station. File photo by Susan Risoli

Furniture is a necessity. It allows a family to sit at a table and eat together. It gives children a place to do homework. It provides the opportunity to open one’s home to guests. It’s essential for a good night’s sleep.

People transitioning from homelessness, domestic violence shelters, military service or displacement following a disaster need more than just a roof over their heads.

Inspired by a youth mission trip to a furniture bank just outside Washington, D.C., Kate Calone wondered if such a service would fly on Long Island. For some, this might have been a daunting task, but Calone set about researching and planning. She organized a feasibility committee and piloted the group to take off.

The Open Door Exchange is rounding out its second year of operations, having served more than 300 Long Island families and individuals in need. Referred by social service agencies and nonprofits, people can “shop” with dignity, by appointment at the organization’s rented Port Jefferson Station warehouse, which is configured to resemble a furniture store. All pieces are free of charge.

For her compassion, determination and leadership in helping Long Islanders in need, Calone is one of Times Beacon Record News Media’s People of the Year for 2016.

A graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School, Calone spent six years as an attorney before entering the Princeton Theological Seminary. When she and her husband Dave, who ran against Anna Throne-Holst in the 2016 Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District and Suffolk County judge, returned to Long Island to raise their three children, Calone worked at the First Presbyterian Church in Northport before joining the Setauket Presbyterian Church as associate pastor, to work with the Youth Group.

Residents walked on the Greenway Trail to raise funds and awareness for Open Door Exchange. File photo by Susan Risoli

When she returned from D.C., she told retired Setauket businessman and church member Tom Kavazanjian her idea and asked if he’d be interested in helping. Having great respect for Calone and her worthwhile cause, he said yes.

“Kate’s leadership is unique,” he said. “She leads with a quiet confidence and is one of the most unassuming and selfless people I know. Everything she does, she does with such grace.”

With a lot of planning — and the help of a group of dedicated volunteers — Open Door Exchange was launched in January 2015, recounted Stony Brook resident and retired school teacher Diane Melidosian, who was also an early recruit.

“This was no easy undertaking,” she said. “Since there is no cost to the recipient, all costs associated with this program are handled through fundraising, grant writing and contributions.”

There were lots of logistics to be worked out and the committee used A Wider Circle, the furniture bank in the outskirts of D.C., as a model.

East Setauket resident Bonnie Schultz said being a part of the creation of Open Door Exchange energized her.

“I’d never been part of a startup,” she said. “It’s exciting. And [the organization] has grown by leaps and bounds. The amount of furniture that goes in and out of [the warehouse] is incredible.”

She said even some clients come back to volunteer.

Another member of the exploratory committee, Stony Brook therapist Linda Obernauer, said the youngsters who traveled on the mission played an important part in advancing the idea of a Long Island furniture bank.

“Kate got more interested as the kids got into it,” she said, adding that Calone has served as a role model to many of them. “People who are ‘of the fiber’ do the right thing. Kate doesn’t have to have accolades, she helps people because that’s who she is.”

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SCCC hosts Long Island documentary premiere

Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental and film director Gerry Gregg respond to questions from the audience. Photo by Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

The documentary “Close to Evil” is the result of a collaboration between Holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental and filmmaker Gerry Gregg. It was screened at Suffolk County Community College’s Ammerman Campus on Oct. 29 for an audience of more than 400, including Honors College students as well as interested Long Islanders. The film was viewed in rapt silence and followed by a penetrating Q-and-A.

Steven Klipstein, assistant director of the Suffolk Center on the Holocaust, Diversity and Human Understanding, introduced the program, making reference to the Holocaust Museum on the top floor of the campus library that documents the ultimate sadism of that historic event. “It’s a miracle that any of these people survived,” he said. “I hope you get something out of seeing [this film].”

By coincidence, the screening was 71 years to the day after 9-year-old Tomi found himself, along with family members, on a transport heading from his village to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. They had spent two years in hiding in their native Bratislava (now the capital of Slovakia) avoiding capture. Tomi survived long enough to be liberated in April 1945. After the war he attempted to return “home” only to find all traces of his former life in Bratislava gone.

Initially he immigrated to Israel before heading to Ireland, where he has lived ever since. In Ireland he started a business, fell in love, married and raised three sons. “I never spoke of it [his wartime experiences] for 55 years,” said Reichental, “I couldn’t.” He never even told his wife.

In 2003 he realized he had a responsibility to those who perished — including 35 members of his family — as one of the last living survivors, to speak out. He now speaks to student groups across Ireland to relate his experience and his eyewitness testimony about the inhumanity of Hitler’s Final Solution. In 2012 he participated in a radio broadcast that brought his story to the attention of a neighbor of former Bergen-Belsen prison guard Hilde Lisiewitz Michnia in Hanover, Germany. The neighbor contacted Reichental to tell him about the 93-year-old widow.    

As originally scripted, the documentary was meant to focus on a possible meeting between Reichental and Michnia. “I have an opportunity to meet this woman,” said Reichental to Gregg. “It would make history [for us] to go together.” He expected, in his naiveté, that Michnia was a victim of her time. Obviously, she must have been brainwashed; indoctrinated with Nazi propaganda. He thought she would show some remorse. And reconciliation was all he wanted.

As shooting progressed, the story took on a life of its own. “There were twists and turns,” said Gregg, “things we didn’t see coming. There’s even a Hollywood ending. We didn’t know any of that would happen.” The surprises include: the awarding of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, its highest honor, to Tomi Reichental, and an unexpected alliance between Reichental and Alexandra Senfft, a granddaughter of Hanns Ludin, Hitler’s ambassador to the Slovak Republic — the man responsible for the deportation (leading to extermination) of more than 60,000 Slovakian Jews.

Gregg said they hope to find a distributor for this unique film, so it can be seen throughout the United States. The two men have made two tours of America so far to present the film to select audiences. Thursday’s showing was co-sponsored by the SCCC Honors College, the Suffolk Center on the Holocaust, Diversity and Human Understanding and the Ammerman Campus office of Campus Activities and Student Leadership Development.

The Suffolk Center on the Holocaust, Diversity and Human Understanding, located  on the second floor of the Huntington Library on the campus of Suffolk County Community College, 533 College Road, Selden, maintains significant collections of original materials that document the Holocaust and chronicle slavery in America.

CHDHU’s mission is to educate the community on historical events and to promote cultural understanding and respect for human dignity. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, and by appointment. For further information, please call 631-451-4700 or visit www.chdhu.org.

Ten nights of independent films you won’t see anywhere else

Katie Page stars in “This Isn’t Funny” to be screened on July 17 at 9:30 p.m. Photo by Peter Borosh

By Donna Newman

Would you love to travel the world but lack the funds? … the time? … the energy? Well, you’re in luck! The 20th Annual Stony Brook Film Festival — which begins this evening at 8 p.m. — will bring the world to you. Travel far and wide in the comfort of a cushioned seat in the Staller Center’s air-conditioned Main Stage Theater on the Stony Brook University campus. Festival Director Alan Inkles says, “Over ten days, [you] will be transported to Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, Mexico, Greece, Egypt, France, Canada, Iran, Belgium, England, Morocco and Algeria.”

Should you prefer homegrown fare, Inkles said, “We have more American films than ever this year. Dramas, comedies and documentaries will be shown on our huge screen, and many of the producers, directors, cast and crew members will attend the Q-&-As following the films.” In sum: There will be something for everyone.

You’ll travel through time during the 10-day festival as well. Be transported to the South in the aftermath of the Civil War (“The Keeping Room”). Find yourself in a Nazi-occupied Dutch village (“Secrets of War”). See how American propaganda films were created during World War II (“Projections of America”). Return to the 1960s in Quebec for a story with heart and music (“The Passion of Augustine”). Tune in to a television debate series in 1968 that created a whole new format for public discourse (“Best of Enemies”).

Revisit the turn of this century and yet another banking scandal (“The Clearstream Affair”). Spend time in the current decade examining women’s rights (“Nefertiti’s Daughters”). Or step out of time into some magical moments in the short films “Freeze,” “A Single Life,” “Wrapped” and “DOT.”

Inkles and his staff have screened more than 700 entries, looking for the best independent features, documentaries and short films available worldwide. The schedule includes 34 films; 19 are feature length and 15 are shorts. Among them are a world premiere and eight films that will have their first U.S. screenings.

“Audiences will get to see many works of true indie spirit, where the filmmakers wear a variety of hats,” commented Inkles. “On Opening Night we’ll have the U.S. premiere of ‘The Man from Oran,’ a drama from Algeria starring Lyes Salem, who also wrote and directed the film. It’s a story set largely in the years following Algeria’s independence from France, that explores the themes of friendship, idealism, politics and betrayal.” Inkles is pleased that Salem will be present on Opening Night.

Perennial festival attendees will recognize the star of the Closing Night feature, “The Passion of Augustine,” a film from French Canada about a small convent school that had become a musical treasure. Céline Bonnier also starred in the 2012 festival entry, “Mommy Is at the Hairdresser’s.” Léa Pool directed both films. Inkles is delighted that Bonnier will attend the screening.

An added feature to this year’s festival is a display of Vintage Film Posters in the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery located on the first floor of the Staller Center. This exhibit of classic movie posters will be open each night of the festival from one hour prior to the first screening until the last screening of the night begins.

This year’s festival is being presented by its newest sponsor — Island Federal Credit Union — a financial institution that has been serving Long Islanders for 60 years. Island Federal has established a 10-year partnership with Stony Brook University that provides philanthropic funding for multiple university projects.

The SBFF runs for 10 nights. Most nights screenings begin at 7 p.m. Starting times for the second film varies. Check the schedule. (In some cases, Q-&-As may delay the start of the second feature.) The Opening Night film begins at 8 p.m. The Closing Night film begins at 8:30 p.m. And there’s a bonus feature on Sunday evening that begins at 6 p.m.

A Festival Pass to see all the films is $85. A $225 Gold Pass includes seating in the section reserved for filmmakers and their guests, as well as tickets to the opening and closing receptions. Individual tickets ($10, $8 seniors, $5 students) will be sold subject to availability. Tickets for the Opening Night and Closing Night receptions are $25 each, also subject to availability.

For more information, call the Staller Center Box Office at 631-632-ARTS or visit www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com.