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Tragedy

North Shore Jewish Center. File photo

Congregants from North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station and Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook punctuated a difficult week with a Nov. 4 event meant to inspire and unite the community.

The state of Israel declared its independence in May 1948, and to commemorate the 70th anniversary this year, North Shore Jewish Center and Temple Isaiah came together for a long-planned celebration called Celebrate Israel @ 70 which took on an additional purpose following the shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

On Oct. 27, while many of the congregation at Tree of Life, and Jewish people at similar houses of worship across the country prayed, a gunman murdered 11 people and wounded seven others. It is believed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in the United States in American history, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The Nov. 4 celebration was aptly timed for some.

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky of Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook speaks during an event at North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jeff Station celebrating the 70th anniversary of Israel’s Independence. Photo by Alex Petroski

“It really has been a balm, a healing experience as well as a happy experience,” said Rabbi Aaron Benson of NSJC of the event. “Given the historic events of the past week, that the event would happen this Sunday of all times has had an extra value and meaning as a moment of healing and community togetherness, in this case surrounding something hopeful and joyous.”

Committees from both synagogues had been planning the celebration for about eight months, according to Eric Steinberg, NSJC’s chairman of the Israeli Committee. The free event featured speakers discussing technology in Israel, flight attendants from El Al Israel Airlines, water desalination and its impact helping the country grow crops in the desert, lunch, events for the congregants’ children and more.

“If you notice we’re not talking politics, we’re not talking anything about that,” Steinberg said. “This was a determined thought by the committee just to do something positive … I wanted to bring the focus of Israel to the community.”

North Shore Jewish Center also hosted events in the wake of the shooting meant as a remembrance for the victims and to provide a sense of community togetherness, according to Benson. As a precaution, the rabbi said the synagogue bolstered security ahead of the event, including a Suffolk County Police Department presence.

“In many ways, the country as a whole has been in mourning and Jewish communities have responded in much the same way as when a friend might suffer a loss,” he said. “It has never happened in quite this way to the Jewish community in America before … And while one shouldn’t go through life fearful or paranoid that people are out to hurt you, the idea that in all the ways a person is Jewish, one aspect of that is that there are people who may simply not like you because of your religious background. That is a feature of Jewish life, and it does mean that terrible things can happen because of one’s religious identity.”

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky of Temple Isaiah echoed much of his colleague’s sentiments in speaking to those in attendance.

“Even as we remember, even as we continue to mourn, we celebrate together, we gain inspiration from each other,” he said.

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Recent tragedies have shown just how good and inspired our community can be if everyone bands together behind a cause.

On Sept. 30 Boy Scouts from Troop 161, based in Shoreham, were hit by an alleged drunk driver while hiking in Manorville. While four young men suffered injuries, 12-year-old Andrew McMorris, a student at Shoreham-Wading River’s Albert G. Prodell Middle School, was pronounced dead the morning after he was hit.

The news quickly spread on social media, and the community rose rapidly to the occasion. Red ribbons still fly across Long Island from mailboxes, street signs and even entrances to Suffolk County parks. A GoFundMe to support the troop has already raised close to $19,000, and the wakes and funeral for the young man were packed by those wishing to pay respect.

We’ve seen this groundswell of community activism in other places in response to hard times elsewhere. On Sept. 25 Port Jefferson Village was inundated with water that in some places reached as high as 4 or 5 feet following intense rain. Port Jeff’s Theatre Three saw the worst of that damage, as the flooding destroyed props, costumes, play scripts, books and thousands of dollars in electrical equipment, not to mention structural damage to the old building. Yet again we saw the community step up to aid its local theater. Galvanized by news stories and online crowd funding campaigns, dozens of volunteers came to the theater to aid in the cleanup, and theater personnel reported it started receiving thousands of dollars in donations the morning right after the flood, which have continued.

The rise of online connectivity can prove a useful tool in times like these, yet still there is a pervading sense that the world is becoming more insular. With election season right on the horizon and with tensions rising, we kindly remind people it’s OK to be a good neighbor even in not-so-tragic times.

We in the news business know just how powerful and stimulating a community coming together can be. Yes, reporters are people too, and it’s hard not to be heartened, even in the face of mind-numbing tragedy, to drive to work every day with countless red ribbons lining both sides of the road like a landing strip.

Imagine if it didn’t take tragedy to excite such fervor in the local community. Two childhood friends in Commack have worked to bring Commack Day back to Hoyt Farm after a near-30-year absence. The lifelong friends and Commack natives James Manikas and Dean Spinato got the community involved by posting the idea to local Facebook groups, driving their support through connectivity.

There are so many issues that Long Island currently faces, from the threat of nitrogen in coastal waters, rising sea levels and a lack of affordable housing, yet we at TBR News Media watched how well the community can come together to get things done in times of need. It would be great to see the community come together more on an average day.

Recent tragedies have shown just how good and inspired our community can be if everyone bands together behind a cause.

On Sept. 30 Boy Scouts from Troop 161, based in Shoreham, were hit by an alleged drunk driver while hiking in Manorville. While four young men suffered injuries, 12-year-old Andrew McMorris, a student at Shoreham-Wading River’s Albert G. Prodell Middle School, was pronounced dead the morning after he was hit.

The news quickly spread on social media, and the community rose rapidly to the occasion. Red ribbons still fly across Long Island from mailboxes, street signs and even entrances to Suffolk County parks. A GoFundMe to support the troop has already raised close to $19,000, and the wakes and funeral for the young man were packed by those wishing to pay respect.

We’ve seen this groundswell of community activism in other places in response to hard times elsewhere. On Sept. 25 Port Jefferson Village was inundated with water that in some places reached as high as 4 or 5 feet following intense rain. Port Jeff’s Theatre Three saw the worst of that damage, as the flooding destroyed props, costumes, play scripts, books and thousands of dollars in electrical equipment, not to mention structural damage to the old building. Yet again we saw the community step up to aid its local theater. Galvanized by news stories and online crowd funding campaigns, dozens of volunteers came to the theater to aid in the cleanup, and theater personnel reported it started receiving thousands of dollars in donations the morning right after the flood, which have continued.

The rise of online connectivity can prove a useful tool in times like these, yet still there is a pervading sense that the world is becoming more insular. With election season right on the horizon and with tensions rising, we kindly remind people it’s OK to be a good neighbor even in not-so-tragic times.

We in the news business know just how powerful and stimulating a community coming together can be. Yes, reporters are people too, and it’s hard not to be heartened, even in the face of mind-numbing tragedy, to drive to work every day with countless red ribbons lining both sides of the road like a landing strip.

Imagine if it didn’t take tragedy to excite such fervor in the local community. Two childhood friends in Commack have worked to bring Commack Day back to Hoyt Farm after a near-30-year absence. The lifelong friends and Commack natives James Manikas and Dean Spinato got the community involved by posting the idea to local Facebook groups, driving their support through connectivity.

There are so many issues that Long Island currently faces, from the threat of nitrogen in coastal waters, rising sea levels and a lack of affordable housing, yet we at TBR News Media watched how well the community can come together to get things done in times of need. It would be great to see the community come together more on an average day.

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Members of Miller Place Boy Scout Troop 204 stand outside the wake for Andrew McMorris, a 12-year-old scout from Troop 161 killed earlier this week by an allegedly drunk driver. Photo by Kyle Barr

From Riverhead to Miller Place, red ribbons hung on street signs, store facades, schoolyard fences and mail boxes. The North Shore community was draped in red, the same crimson color worn on the shirts and kerchiefs of Boy Scouts. The color now adorns a community in mourning.

As news spread that 12-year-old Andrew McMorris, a Shoreham resident of Boy Scout of Troop 161 and student at Shoreham-Wading River’s Albert G. Prodell Middle School, was killed by an allegedly drunk driver Sept. 30 while on a hiking outing with several members of his troop on David Terry Road in Manorville, the community quickly galvanized in support. Four others from the troop were injured as a result of the crash, according to Suffolk County police.

Red ribbons line the entrance to Shoreham-Wading River High School in honor of Andrew McMorris of Boy Scout Troop 161, who was killed by an allegedly drunk driver Sept. 30. Photo by Kyle Barr

In the week since the news broke, hundreds of residents headed onto local community Facebook pages to share their grief and ask what assistance they could offer the family. Some offered to send food in their time of need. Others buckled down and started making ribbons and wristbands for residents to show their hearts went out to all those hurt by the tragedy.

Pamela Garee, an agent with Wading River real estate company Coldwell Banker M&D Good Life, who works closely with Troop 161, quickly got about 70 volunteers to create 700 red ribbons by Oct. 5. Each ribbon cost $10, with all proceeds going to support the troop, the Shoreham-Wading River school district’s Wildcat Helpers of the Arts and Music, and nonprofit advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Ribbons are still available at the Coldwell Banker office at the Shoppes at East Wind in Wading River.

“We’re really doing it to be supportive of the troop, the boys, the victims and their families,” Garee said. “The support from the community — it’s been wonderful.”

Garee said she expects to sell more than 1,000 ribbons by the end of the weekend Oct. 7.

Suffolk County has also taken up the task of honoring the Boy Scout, as County Executive Steve Bellone’s (D) office announced Oct. 4 it would place ribbons at the entrances to 16 major county parks.

“It is with great sadness that we remember Andrew, but I am proud to honor this bright, dedicated young man with this small act of remembrance,” Bellone said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family now and forever in the wake of this immeasurable tragedy.”

The first of three wakes were held for Andrew Oct. 4. The sidewalks were lined with red ribbons, and a near-constant stream of friends, family and community members journeyed to the Branch Funeral Home of Miller Place to pay their respects. Members of Boy Scout Troop 204 of Miller Place stood at attention in front of the funeral home, serving as an honor guard paying respect to the fallen fellow scout.

Others in the community were decorating their own houses and storefronts with the ribbons. Shortly after David and Gloria Kurtinaitis, owners of Forte’s Florist in Wading River, got word of the tragedy they used their own material to decorate their shopping complex with the symbol.

Red ribbons adorn businesses, homes and other public areas in Shoreham to honor Andrew McMorris, a 12-year-old Boy Scout from Troop 161 who was killed by an allegedly drunk driver Sept. 30. Photo by Kyle Barr

“It’s great when the community comes together, it’s just a hard way to do it,” David Kurtinaitis said.

The incident occurred Sept. 30 as the troop was taking a day hike through the Greenbelt Trail in Manorville. Thomas Murphy, 59, of Holbrook was driving a 2016 Mercedes southbound on David Terry Road at approximately 1:55 p.m. when his vehicle struck the scouts who were walking northbound on the shoulder of the roadway, according police.

McMorris was rushed to the hospital but died due to his injuries Oct. 1, police said. Along with McMorris four other boys were also hit by the driver. Denis Lane, 16, of Shoreham; Kaden Lynch, 15, of Calverton; and Matthew Yakaboski, 15, of Calverton, sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Thomas Lane, 15, of Shoreham, was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital where he has continued to be treated for serious injuries as of Oct. 5.

Murphy was charged with driving while intoxicated, though Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini’s (D) office has left open the possibility of upgrading the charges. An attorney for Murphy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The SWR school district has put a notice on its website saying support services were available to students and staff, and that parents or guardians could call the school should they wish their children to get grief support.

In a statement released to Newsday, the McMorris family shared Andrew’s love for acting, the Boy Scouts and aviation.

“Andrew wanted to fly before he could walk,” the statement read. “Airplanes, helicopters and rockets were the obsession of his life, and he achieved his first piloting goal this past summer during AeroCamp … Andrew was occasionally chided by parents, coaches and teachers for having his head in the clouds, but for Andrew, that only made sense.”

The support for the scout troop members and the McMorris family has even extended beyond the Shoreham community. A GoFundMe fundraising campaign for Troop 161 has exceeded $13,000 of a $15,000 goal as of Oct. 5, just five days after Andrew’s passing.

Andrew participated in AeroCamp, a youth flight educational program hosted by Mid Island Air Service. The organization released a statement highlighting Andrew’s love for aviation.

Red ribbons adorn businesses in Shoreham to honor Andrew McMorris, a 12-year-old Boy Scout from Troop 161 who was killed by an allegedly drunk driver Sept. 30. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Andrew worked hard during camp to complete his Boy Scout Aviation Merit Badge and we were so proud of him,” the statement read. “We are saddened by this senseless loss and offer his family our deepest condolences.”

A Change.org petition titled “Name an AA 787 after Andrew McMorris,” which seeks to get American Airlines to name a jet after Andrew, has already reached well over 12,000 signatures. The petition’s creator, aviation photographer Hunter Lyons, is seeking response from the airline that could help get Andrew’s name on a plane.

Andrew is survived by his mother, Alisha, father, John and sister, Arianna. In their statement the family asked that no items be placed as memorials at the scene of the crash, and instead that residents tie a red ribbon to their property, and that instead of sending flowers residents donate to Troop 161, WHAM and MADD.

“Bright and hardworking, Andrew was an honor roll student,” the family’s statement said. “Classmates, teachers and friends found him sometimes silly, always funny and, occasionally, a bit cheeky. He was a friend to everyone and showed kindness to all.”

This post was updated Oct. 8 to include the possibility the District Attorney will upgrade charges against Murphy.

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In the last few weeks we have been subjected to a constant bombardment of tragic news. The horrific mass killings in Las Vegas is just the latest. We have lived through reports of the sequential hurricanes that have killed, maimed and destroyed lives and property in Texas, Florida, the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. We have agonized for the men, women and children caught in the Mexican earthquakes. And this latest horror of crowd homicide is the worst because it is not a paroxysm of the natural world, something we have to accept, but the act of a crazed human against hundreds of other innocent humans. Imagine the concertgoers’ happy anticipation for an evening of music under the stars with lovers or family only to be killed by a sniper’s bullets. And why?

We ran away from news of the carnage the other night and took refuge in art. The glorious embrace of Giacomo Puccini and his soaring arias of “La Bohème,” at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, welcomed us.

Puccini, you may well know, is considered one of the two most famous Italian opera composers of the 19th century, the other being Giuseppe Verdi. What I didn’t know is that he was the offspring of a musical dynasty in Lucca that included his father and the fathers preceding them as far back as his great-great-grandfather. All of these ancestors studied music at Bologna, wrote music for the church and, aided by their genes and family connections, were distinguished in their time.

Puccini’s first opera, “Le Villi,” premiering in 1884, when he was 26, was well enough received, and his subsequent “Manon Lescaut” was a triumph. His personal life, however, was as riveting as his librettos. He eloped with his married, former piano student at the risk of being shunned. They did eventually marry, after another husband killed her womanizing husband. By coincidence, Puccini’s opera premiered the same week as Verdi’s last opera, “Falstaff,” and talk began of Puccini being the natural heir to Verdi. At least that was what George Bernard Shaw is reported to have said.

Puccini’s next three operas are among the most popular and most often produced: “La Bohème,” “Tosca” and “Madama Butterfly.”

When “La Bohème” premiered in Turin in 1896, Arturo Toscanini conducted it, and it was immediately popular. The story is of four young artists, all starving and freezing as they work in a garret in Paris and experience the pleasures and pains of young love. The opera is at turns joyful with the energy of youth and tragic with the premature death from tuberculosis of Mimi, the seamstress, and Rodolfo’s love. As a young man in Milan, Puccini lived the life he wrote about, once sharing a single herring with three others, as portrayed in the opera.

Puccini almost died in a car accident before finishing “Madama Butterfly” but then went on to complete what is now one of the most loved operas in the world. “Tosca” followed; then “La Fanciulla del West,” a plot set in America; “La Rondine;” and a three-act opera, including “Gianni Schicchi,” which contains my favorite aria, “O mio babbino caro.” “Turandot” was his final opera, finished after his death by his associates from his sketches, and offering the memorable, “Nessun dorma.”

Publicity about his personal life continued when his wife accused their maid of having an affair with Puccini, who was known to wander off the reservation. The maid then committed suicide, and an autopsy revealed that she had died a virgin. Puccini’s wife was accused of slander, found guilty and sentenced to five months in jail; but a payment by Puccini spared her that experience.

Ultimately 11 of Puccini’s operas are among the 200 most performed operas in the world, and the abovementioned three are in the top 10. Only Verdi and Mozart have had more operas performed. By his death in 1924, Puccini had earned $4 million from his works.

I hope this excursion in art has helped you, as it did me, to escape at least briefly from the omnipresent bad news.

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Our nation suffered yet another tragedy last week when an avowed racist allegedly murdered nine people at the famous Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, and it didn’t take long for the debates to start.

Should the Confederate flag still be flown? Does institutional racism still exist? Should the suspected shooter, Dylann Roof, be labeled as a terrorist?

The correct answer depends on whom you are speaking to. Most people already have an opinion and are sticking to it, which really doesn’t solve any of the important issues this most recent incident brings to light. Nine innocent people are still dead.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups nationwide has increased by 30 percent since 2000. In addition, antigovernment groups rose from 149 in 2008 to 874 in 2014 — numbers that jumped following the financial downturn and the election of President Barack Obama. The center also cited an influx of nonwhite immigrants as another factor.

“This growth in extremism has been aided by mainstream media figures and politicians who have used their platforms to legitimize false propaganda about immigrants and other minorities and spread the kind of paranoid conspiracy theories on which militia groups thrive,” the center said on its website.

We are lucky to live in a country that values freedom of speech and there are countless platforms to voice our opinions today as the Internet continues to connect us. But, it also gives individuals a space to spread their message with like-minded people. Our nation has a serious case of confirmation bias — the tendency to read, listen and seek out information that we agree with — and it is a big issue.

Those who condemn the killings but continue to spew vitriol are fueling a fire. The effects of the South Carolina shooting rippled throughout the country because they could happen in any community, including our own. In fact, one of the victims was a blood relative of a family from Port Jefferson.

The chilling notion that hatred and racism still persist in modern American society should not be ignored. Our freedoms come with responsibility and those who preach hatred against any group of people are wrong. As a society we need to be kinder, or at least remember the lessons we learned as children.

Let’s think before we speak, and if we don’t have anything nice to say, let’s not say it at all.