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Your Turn

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By Rabbi Aaron Benson

Rabbi Aaron Benson

There would be no miracle of Hanukkah, the eight-day festival which begins this Thursday evening, without there first being darkness.   

Hanukkah is meant to be a time of joy. It is not a major holiday, still it is a time to play games, give gifts and enjoy foods fried in oil, reminiscent of the miracle at the heart of the holiday.  

In ancient times, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem had been defiled and when the Jews took it back from their oppressors, they found only enough oil to light the sanctuary’s special candelabra, the menorah, for one day.  Since the menorah must always be lit, the Jews did so, and miraculously, the oil burned for eight days during which time more oil was procured. 

But even more important than the oil, the miracle couldn’t have happened if there hadn’t been darkness at first.  

This year, Hanukkah occurs in a time of hatred and war for Israel and the Jewish People. It is a time of suffering for the innocent people of Gaza. It is a time in which Islamophobia has caused violent and deadly attacks on American Muslims; college students in Vermont and a little boy from the same part of Illinois where I grew up. Not to mention all that divides Americans from each other, too. 

This is a Hanukkah of much darkness. 

But it is only out of darkness that light, that miracles can come. 

I am reminded of the final scene from the first season of the HBO series, True Detectives. The two protagonists are discussing the fight against evil, the war between darkness and light. One of the two argues that looking in the night sky, there is far more darkness than the tiny points of light we see, “it appears to me that the dark has a lot more territory.” The other objects, saying, “You’re looking at it wrong, the sky thing … once there was only dark. You ask me, the light’s winning.”

If good people, Jews and non-Jews, can resist the vast darkness that surrounds us and bravely light one little light, we, all of us, will create a miracle. May such a miracle, one that brings understanding and peace, be kindled for us all soon. 

The author is the rabbi of  North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station.

Dom Famularo

By Michael Tessler

In the face of great loss, we often grapple with the inexplicable question of how someone so full of life could ever truly be gone. These past few days, I have wrestled with this question, trying to reconcile the vibrant spirit of Dom Famularo with the solemn reality of his passing on Sept. 27 at the age of 70.

Undoubtedly, there will be countless tributes to the legacy of this marvel of a man. I’m sharing with you just one experience on how he changed the trajectory of my life.

I first had the privilege of meeting Mr. Famularo when I was just a fourth-grader. His son and I became fast friends. His eldest son proudly declared his dad was famous. Turns out, he was telling the truth! 

Mr. Famularo was one of the greatest drummers of our time, described as the “global ambassador of drumming” who traveled the world teaching his craft. His students and admirers included famous names from nearly every genre of music and hailed from every habitable continent.

He was more than a musician. He was a motivational speaker, an entrepreneur, and a public servant. His generosity knew no bounds, touching the lives of countless individuals. 

He was a world-traveler, a man who often knew more about a place than the locals who called it home. He was a student of history, who somehow found time to be well-read on subjects that spanned all eras of history.

For years, I’ve had the good fortune to consider myself an honorary Famularo. Their cousins felt like my cousins, and we shared countless family gatherings and experiences that bound us together. 

There was a time when I moved back to New York, feeling lost in life. I had no place to live, no job, no college degree, and no clear direction. It was Dom and his incredible wife Charmaine who took me in, offering me a bed and ensuring I had something to eat.

It was Mr. Famularo who inadvertently kickstarted my film career. One morning while I was moping in their kitchen, ready to throw in the towel on a fruitless job hunt, he gave me a pep talk and suggested I peruse the Classifieds in the Port Times Record. It was there that I found my job selling advertisements that would eventually lead to my work on TBR News Media’s first feature film. 

Those were tough days, filled with long hours and a juggling act of night classes at a community college, full-time work, and a part-time job at a pawn shop on the weekends. Yet, every morning as I quietly had breakfast and sipped on coffee, Dom would come downstairs, as if ready for battle, energized and full of life, exclaiming, “MIKEY BOY! IT IS A BEAUTIFUL MORNING!”

Living with Dom answered the question, “Is he really like this ALL the time?” The answer was an unequivocal yes. Dom’s magic lay in his ability to light up a room with his presence, to make everyone feel like they were the most important person in the world. Quick-witted, smart, and full of innuendo, he had the remarkable ability to make even those who were upset with him burst into laughter and be in awe of his charm.

Despite being a famous musician with a massive international fanbase, Dom Famularo gave himself wholeheartedly to this community. He somehow found time to serve on committees, becoming an expert on matters as mundane as metered parking. Even in his final months, he found the strength to go to Village Hall and confront a bully. He was a public servant, a true advocate for his community, a relentless voice for reason, kindness, and doing what is right. 

But Dom’s secret power was not his public speaking ability, his magnificent drumming, nor his uncanny ability to make you feel like the most important person in the world. Of all the things to admire about Dom Famularo, it was his family that shone the brightest. 

Dom’s parents were remarkable, a testament to the greatest generation. He and his siblings carried forward their legacy. I’d never seen such a close-knit and special family before. His pride and joy were his three boys. Each unique, kind, brilliant, generous, and, like their father, hysterical. 

Of all his great achievements, none rivals marrying Charmaine. He would be the first to admit that she was his better half. In addition to raising three incredible boys, she managed to build Dom’s drumming empire, and has always been his secret weapon. Her strength, her heart, and her remarkable resilience never stops leaving me in awe.  

Our last conversation was at the beginning of summer. Somehow, despite a ferocious battle with cancer, he found the energy to greet me with that same familiar “MIKEY BOY!” that I had heard countless times before. I will treasure that conversation forever.

Mr. Famularo, you gave me a home when I had none. You gave me a purpose when I was lost. You believed in me before I believed in myself. You spent your life hoping to leave a mark, to make a difference, to live relentlessly — you did more than that. You’ve inspired countless others to do the same. You are magnificent, the embodiment of magic, and more than anything you are loved now and forever.

So I’ve found the answer to my question. Dom’s mantle is not one that any single individual will ever be able to carry, but between all of us who knew him and have loved him — we will ensure his light will never diminish. As we find a way to move onward, Dom moves upward. Serving now as a great North Star, reminding us just how bright we can shine…if only we’re willing to share our light.

Josephine Eichner and Stephanie Giunta in October 2020.

By Stephanie Giunta 

There is no sound when a heart breaks. You can hear glass shatter when it falls to the floor. The crash of two cars colliding. The scream of someone in pain. But the heart can break into a million little pieces, and no one can hear. An orchestra of one; a violin with no strings. 

That is how I felt when I lost my Grandma this September. I had front row seats to a symphony of sadness.

You see, an adult relationship with a grandparent transcends all things. It is metaphorically magical in a way that you can’t quite put your finger on. Though generations apart, you are both learning from and guiding one another down different paths, writing new chapters while rereading the old. 

Josephine Eichner and Stephanie Giunta in December 1994.

Her wit and witticism preceded her. Her sharp remarks, sarcasm, and sing-song responses are the tiny characteristics of her personality that have taken up permanent real estate in my brain. 

She endured much — cancer, twice — and never once complained. I, on the other hand, will miss complaining to her and getting a stern “Stephanie” accompanied with an eye roll and a slap on the wrist. 

Grandma was not one who loved the limelight. But I saw a sparkle in her eye like no other on her 90th birthday when I accompanied her to the Rose Caraccappa Center in Mount Sinai for her Tuesday senior club meeting back in February. Her fluffy white hair and pink lipstick were perfectly complemented by the tiara she donned, and I can’t think of a moment in my lifetime where I felt prouder to be her granddaughter than that very day. 

My memories of her as a child were wonderful, but somewhere along our journey, we turned a corner in our relationship. We became more like girlfriends, and in many ways, she was my second mother. I ran to her for advice; with my worries; my happiness; my drama. She didn’t know all of the answers, but she sure knew how to listen. Sitting with her while nursing a cup of coffee at the kitchen table was nothing less than therapeutic. 

Josephine Eichner and Stephanie Giunta in October 2020.

She was there for all of my major milestones: birthdays, graduations, engagement, marriage, and the birth of my daughter, who carries her namesake. Their relationship was truly one-of-a-kind. She called her “My Baby” and each morning, promptly at or around 6:00 a.m., I would text her with a new photo or video from the day before. This became our daily ritual for almost two years without fail. 

Towards the end, I watched Grandma morph into the final version of herself. I shed many tears knowing that her days were numbered as I began asking myself how I was going to find the strength to move on without one of my best friends; my texting buddy; my chit chatter; the one who I’d split a roast beef with relish on rye with.

During one of our last conversations, I told her, “You know how much I love you, right?” to which she replied with a breathless, yet sassy and adamant, “YES!” She then asked me to brush her hair — something she did for me as a little girl. Our stories had shifted, and our roles had reversed.  

As she slept, I memorized her. I studied the curve of her face, the up and down of her chest. The silvery white of her hair that curled on the ends. The skin tag on her forehead — the exact same one that I had inherited. The fine lines on her cheeks, which were the product of a long and fruitful life. 

Still, with the platinum hoops in her ears and smiley face slippers afoot, she was Grandma. And she carried with her a cornucopia of memories and conversations, laughter and tears. I kissed her forehead, squeezed her hand, and told her how much I loved her every day until I didn’t see her again. 

Josephine Eichner and her great granddaughter in July 2023.

More than anything, I will miss the little things — like every Christmas season, hearing that my molasses cookies don’t look as good as hers; watching her cradle my child; calling her every time The Wedding Date is on television; shimmying the flower pot over on my front porch, so she could get up the steps and into my house; her telling my husband that he needed to put a sign on our basement door to distinguish it from the bathroom. 

When you lose someone this special, especially as an adult, no amount of time you spent together will ever be enough. For 33 years, I was lucky enough to have this pillar of strength by my side. Now, the only difference is that she’ll be looking down on me from above.

Rest in peace, Josephine M. Eichner

February 7, 1933 — September 26, 2023

Runners take off from the starting line on Main Street in Stony Brook Village at last year's race. Photo from Dan Kerr
Registration underway for SOLES for All Souls Race

By Daniel Kerr

Historic All Souls Church has stood on the hill at the entrance to Stony Brook Village since 1896. Although much has changed in the village since then, the simple beauty of the building and the interior have remained true to Stanford White’s vision. 

Interestingly, life expectancy back then in the United States was less than 50 years, and accessibility for the elderly or handicapped was not part of the design. On Sunday, October 1st, the 15th SOLES for All Souls 5K Race/2K Walk will celebrate the role of the National Landmark chapel in the community and raise funds to make it accessible to all. 

Episcopal Bishop of Long Island Lawrence Provenzano stated, “Accessibility is an integral part of welcoming everyone in our communities into our parishes and we are proud to support this fantastic event with its goal to make All Souls a place that can truly serve everyone.” 

Three of the winners from last year’s race. Photo from Dan Kerr

Herb Mones, an All Souls Church member, and both president of the Three Village Community Trust and Land Use Chair for the Three Village Civic Association, recently observed “SOLES for All Souls is vital to raising the necessary funds for our accessibility project. I am hoping that the entire running and walking community turns out to support our efforts.” 

Richard Bronson, MD, former Suffolk County Poet Laureate, remarks, “How many times have I entered All Souls Church, felt its sanctity, marveled at its quiet beauty while listening to recited verse at the Second Saturday Poetry Reading? How can one not wish to participate in the SOLES for All Souls Race/Walk, an event that will raise funds to make this treasure accessible to all…and it is good for one’s health.”

SOLES For All Souls is perhaps the most inclusive race/walk on Long Island.  Serious runners compete for gold, bronze, and silver medals in age groups from under 13 to over 80 and receive their hard-won medals in an Olympic-style awards ceremony. Dogs are welcome to accompany their masters and students from Stony Brook University and others often come in costume. Senior citizens with walking sticks line up at the starting line along with parents pushing their kids in strollers. 

Looking back on last year’s race, East Patchogue resident and Overall Winner Adam Lindsey commented, “I love the opportunity to run in Stony Brook Village. The hills are the right amount of challenging yet very fun with lovely scenery. All Souls is such an integral part of Stony Brook Village, and it is a joy to run in a race to support them.” 

Port Jefferson Station resident Margaret Kennedy shared, “I look forward to this race every year, eager to see familiar faces and the creative costumes. The matched pair of peanut butter and jelly comes to mind. It is the camaraderie and fellowship that keeps us coming back to collect a new color in our t-shirt rainbow. Everyone is welcome, whether running up the challenging hill or walking with a team. This race is truly a labor of love.” 

The event is also a food drive for St. Gerard Majella’s food pantry. Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine encourages runners and walkers to feed the hungry: “I am proud to support the SOLES for All Souls and I urge everyone to donate to the ‘Lend a Hand, Bring a Can’ food drive. There are so many of our less fortunate neighbors who experience food insecurity and they rely on donations to feed themselves and their families. If we all chip in and do our part, we can help so many people in need and make a real difference in our community.”     

Registration for SOLES for All Souls 5K Run/2K Walk is through the ACTIVE.COM website (Search: SOLES for All Souls) or register on Race Day at the Reboli Center for Art & History, 64 Main St., Stony Brook from 7:30 a.m. to 8:45 a.m.; the race/walk begins at 9 a.m. Complimentary pre and post event stretching will be provided by Progressive Personal Training.  Local musician Bill Clark will perform throughout the morning.  

Please call 631-655-7798 for more information on the event or if you would like to be a sponsor. Donations dedicated to Handicap Accessibility Project can be mailed to All Souls Race, P.O. Box 548, Stony Brook, NY 11790.

Daniel Kerr is the Director of SOLES for All Souls Race/Walk.

In the Fort Pitt Tunnel. in Pittsburgh. Photo by Beverly Tyler

By Beverly C. Tyler

[email protected]

John Broven’s article on his Amtrak trip to and from Pittsburgh [Our turn: “In praise of Amtrak, LIRR not so much,” TBR News Media website, June 5] inspired me to write about my 31-hour bus trip from Kansas City, Missouri, to New York City in 2018. This took longer than our trip from Setauket to Sidney, Australia in 2002.

I attended the American Association for State and Local History Annual Meeting in Kansas City at the end of September. I flew out and to do something I’ve never done before — I took the Greyhound bus home.

The scheduled departure was 10:25 p.m., however the bus was behind schedule. I discovered the seats here and at every bus terminal were uncomfortable, metal and ribbed, so sitting on them was painful. I met fellow traveler Don in the terminal and we talked about history and architecture. The staff here were not sure of how the bus was doing until about 15 minutes before the bus arrived. We finally left Kansas City a little more than two hours late.

Just after sunrise between St. Louis and Indianapolis. Photo by Beverly C. Tyler

The seats on the bus were very uncomfortable with little legroom, no place for my travel mug and no overhead reading light in any seat. In the rear of the bus people talked constantly and loudly. I was about in the middle. The bus was very noisy, rough riding and included a disturbing high-pitched squeal that became higher as we increased speed.

We had a rest stop in Columbia, Missouri, a nice clean place with good food and drink choices. We arrived in St. Louis at 4:45 a.m. and expected to be there about two hours. The small hot food place (pizza etc.) was not open, just snack food, water and sodas available, no juices. 

We changed buses and left St. Louis at 6:28 a.m. I got a much better seat with good legroom in the escape window aisle. There were no snack tables on any of the buses. I know I shouldn’t expect them, but they are normal on buses in Europe. No overhead individual lights and no Wi-Fi on this bus. The only electrical outlets that worked were on the right side of the bus, but otherwise this was a better bus. The last one had trouble with shocks, according to the driver who almost left the road at one point due to hitting a bad spot in the road. The new driver really laid down the law with respect to noise, cellphones, bathroom, courtesy, etc. He even said that we had to keep our shoes on, in case of emergencies. First time I heard that. We had a beautiful sunrise with fog across the open fields as we left St. Louis, very picturesque. My seatmate was on the phone for at least an hour after we departed.

We arrived in Indianapolis, Indiana, just before noon. It was Sunday, and the crowds were already coming into the Colts stadium next door. The weather was gorgeous We had just 20 minutes to get something for lunch or breakfast although the schedule called for 55 minutes. The only place close by was a White Castle across the road with a long line. The waiting room and restrooms were dark and dreary, not sparkling and scrubbed as they were in Columbia. We lined up to get back on our bus and were told to get our carry-ons from the bus and get on a new bus. 

Homeward bound

We left Indianapolis at 12:42 p.m. This bus was not well maintained. Most of the seats were threadbare and cracked which gave rough edges. Just like the first two buses, we felt every bump in the roadway. We paused in Dayton and Springfield, Ohio, to pick up local passengers and stopped for 45 minutes in Columbus, Ohio. There was nothing in the bus terminal except a few snack-and-drink machines. I hoped to get a meal in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I talked to a lady who embarked at Indianapolis and had to work this night in Pittsburgh. She said Greyhound was delayed in both directions and the worst part was that no one could tell her when the bus would arrive — they kept saying “15 minutes.”

We arrived in Pittsburgh about 8 p.m. We are told only 20 minutes here. The restaurant in the bus terminal was closed, so the only choice for supper was a pop tart and an iced tea from one of the machines. Just as we were leaving, they opened up again — too late. We thought they were closed for the night.

When we got back on the bus, we found out there were two wheelchair passengers to load so seats had to be removed. As a consequence, we had to move our stuff to a seat in front or at the rear. We hustled to get it done. I ended up sitting with a woman on her way to Philadelphia. We started a conversation just before the new passengers came onboard, including one couple who insisted on sitting together, but there were only single seats available. The woman insisted that they had assigned seats, which nobody gets. The agent said they would have to take available seats or leave.

Unfortunately, both the couple and the agent were yelling loudly, insistent and unmoving. Before it got to the point of throwing the couple off the bus, my seatmate whispered to me that she would move if I did. We got up and offered the couple our seats. Everything calmed down. Like so many of the people I met on this trip, my brief seatmate was a pleasure to talk to. The people I met, including the new bus driver we had from Pittsburgh to New York City, were the best part of the trip.

We left Pittsburgh an hour behind our new scheduled time. None of us on the bus from Indianapolis had any supper, but no one really complained. Sitting in the front for the first time the road ahead was mesmerizing.

At 10:35 p.m., we stopped at the Sideling Hill rest stop in Pennsylvania. Some of us got off the bus to use the restrooms and were surprised that the shop there was open with all kinds of drinks and sandwiches that we could microwave. It was a real treat and our driver gave us up to 45 minutes even though we were scheduled for 30. I treated myself to a green chili fajita and a pumpkin spice latte. We all hurried up as fast as we could and were back on the bus and on our way by 11:10 p.m.

We arrived in Philadelphia just after 3 a.m. I finally got some sleep on the way to Philly. I stayed on the bus so I didn’t have to go through the regular process of getting a return note or tag and wait until we were summoned to get back on the bus. This happened at every bus terminal stop. Interestingly, the two best rest stops we stopped at were along the PA Turnpike an hour and fifteen minutes out of the Pittsburgh bus station and Columbia. Neither is a bus terminal, but they are the cleanest places with the best choices of food.

We left Philadelphia for New York about 3:30 a.m. and I was able to sleep. We arrived at Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City at 5:15 a.m. I couldn’t believe how fast the trip was from Philadelphia.

I walked to Penn Station and made the 5:47 to Stony Brook. We had to change at Huntington, and I was glad to have my walking stick as we had to walk up and over the footbridge to get the train to Port Jeff. The walking stick really helped on the climb and descent. Barbara picked me up at the Stony Brook station at about 7:45 a.m. I was glad to be home at last..

Beverly C. Tyler is a Three Village Historical Society historian and author of books available from the society at 93 North Country Road, Setauket. For more information, call 631-751-3730.

By Patricia Paladines

West Meadow Beach is one of four locations in New York State where horseshoe crabs are protected from capture for the biomedical and bait fishing industries throughout the year. It is a beach where during full moons of May and June we can witness an annual event that has been occurring for thousands of years in this part of the world; the migration of horseshoe crabs from the depths of the Long Island Sound to mate and deposit eggs on the shore at high tide. The beach’s sand bars are literally where single males and females “hook-up.” 

Horseshoe crabs (Limulus polyphemus) have roamed the seas for over 400 million years. Long Island’s north shore, having existed for just around 20,000 years, is a relatively new site for the romantic rendezvous. 

I’ve led walks for the Four Harbors Audubon Society at West Meadow Beach where we’ve counted hundreds of horseshoe crabs on the stretch of beach between the parking lot and the jetty on the southern end. On a recent solo walk, I came upon a fisherman who had reeled in a horseshoe crab. He was about to use a knife to tear the baited hook out of the horseshoe crab’s mouth. I stopped him and showed him how easy it was to remove the hook by hand. He said he had been told the crabs were dangerous and that the tail could hurt you. After informing him that was incorrect, I took the crab and placed it back in the water while letting him know these animals are protected on this beach. 

I may have come upon the scene just in time to save that horseshoe crab, but the beach was littered with the shells of other crabs that appeared to have been purposely killed. On the same walk I found a large female who had been smashed by a piercing object. A few weeks ago, a couple of friends found a horseshoe crab that appeared to have been burned. There is evidence of many overnight bonfires on the dunes, some very near the piping plover nest barricades. 

Dead horseshoe crabs were not the only bottom feeding sea creatures strewn along the beach. Sun dried sea robins and a few skates also littered the high tide line. 

It was late afternoon and the beach was filling up with fisher folks, both men and women. That meant there would be a lot of bait attracting bottom feeding animals, AKA scavengers, fish and crabs that stroll the sea floor feeding on whatever they can find. Fisherman’s bait is easy pickings, but not the safest, especially if you are not a species preferred on that fisherman’s plate. 

I spotted two fishermen who had just reeled in two sea robins. I went over to ask them what they were going to do with them. They told me they were going to throw them back, but then I noticed a live sea robin on the sand just behind them. I picked it up and threw it back in the water hoping they would do the same with the ones they had on their hooks. I continued my walk near the line of fisher people and found more live sea robins on the sand and threw them all back in the Sound. One woman told me the fish just wash up on the beach with the waves. No, that doesn’t happen. 

I came out for a walk to find peace in the natural beauty this beach offers Brookhaven residents; instead, what I found was upsetting. I talked to a few of the fishermen and learned that some are coming from Nassau County and Queens. Do these people have permits to fish on Brookhaven Town beaches? 

When granted a fishing permit, does the person receive educational material about our local sea creatures and respectful beach use etiquette? The beach is littered not only with dead animals, but also fishing-related garbage — hooks, lines, plastic bags advertising tackle. Educational material should be in various languages. I’m a native Spanish speaker so was able to speak to the Spanish and English-speaking fisher people in the language they were most comfortable with. My experience as an environmental educator on Long Island has informed me that there are speakers of many languages who enjoy catching their meals from our waters; Czech, Polish, and Chinese are some of the other languages I’m aware of. 

Education and patrolling are needed on our beaches. Additionally, West Meadow Beach should be closed to fishing during the horseshoe crab breeding season; allowing fishing during this time is counterproductive to efforts in place to protect a species whose numbers continue to decline along the Atlantic Coast. 

Patricia Paladines is an Adjunct Instructor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and Co-President of Four Harbors Audubon Society.

Pixabay photo
By Charles J. Napoli

One winter day, I was on my way to deliver The Brooklyn Eagle. It was the early 1950s, when I lived in Brooklyn.

I was riding my homemade bike. It was only a green frame and tires. It had no chain guard, no fenders, no kickstand and no rubber hand grips. It had only one pedal. It was all that I could afford. I remember my grandmother gave me a shot of homemade dandelion wine to keep me warm.

When I reached the corner of my block with my canvas bag tied to my handlebars, I saw Zeke with his friends. He was the chief of the Indian motorcycle gang. They were headed my way.

So I yelled out, “Hi, Zeke,” and his friends burst out laughing. Zeke then came over to me, put his arm around me and said, “This is my good friend, and anyone who messes with him messes with me.” I was in my glory.

Zeke was my idol. He was a born leader, a philosopher-king, a warrior-poet and chose his battles wisely. He always wore jeans, a jean jacket, a garrison belt and motorcycle boots. Zeke was bold, wise, honest, kind and humble. He had the right swagger and governed with humility.

When I was a bit older — in the late 1950s — I was able to buy myself a Benelli motorcycle with money I had saved up. I wore jeans, a jean jacket, a garrison belt and motorcycle boots.

I don’t know what happened to Zeke, but he was special. I bet he was one of the best Ringolevio players in all of Brooklyn (“The game of life you play for keeps.”).

Whenever I’m in a jam and don’t know what to do, I ask myself: “What would Zeke have done?” He was my true friend and mentor.

The writer is a resident of Stony Brook.

Tom Manuel Photo by Adam Hurewitz

By Thomas Manuel

From the ancient Greeks to Ben Franklin, Andrew Carnegie, George Clooney, Bill Gates, and countless individuals in between, philanthropy, a love for humanity and a desire to see it thrive, has been a common thread. It has been said that effective philanthropy requires a lot of time and creativity; the same kind of focus and skills that building a business requires. Miriam Beard once pointed out, “The results of philanthropy are always beyond calculation.”

Philanthropic giving is not just a phenomenon found in certain parts of the world, rather it is a spirit of giving back which is global. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair of Great Britain in speaking about philanthropy expanded that the best philanthropy is not just about giving money but giving leadership. The best philanthropists bring the gifts that made them successful — the drive, the determination, the refusal to accept that something can’t be done. These are the characteristics they invest  into their philanthropy.

There are many reasons that drive and motivate philanthropy and not all are fueled by great passion for causes or humility. For every person that seeks anonymity there is another who desires their name be etched in stone. Regardless the motivation, our society at large has been beneficiary to philanthropic giving since the dawn of time.

Those of us in the arts tend to be especially in tune with the concept of patronage. Our forefathers such as Beethoven and Bach thrived upon such support and although terminology has evolved since their time, most artists would agree that it is a healthy combination of donors, grants, sponsors, and our regular concert going patrons who collectively produce our living.

Finding the correct way to properly thank a donor is about as easy as sneaking an elephant out of a circus tent! I recall inquiring once with a very special person, one who without his support so much of what both The Jazz Loft and my career has become would not have been possible, why he didn’t come to more events. He responded, “Do you really want to know why I don’t come to anything?” To which I replied, “Yes, I do!” To this he quickly quipped, “Because every time I show up you thank me!”

Over the years I’ve found joy in getting to know every individual that supports The Jazz Loft. I’ve truly enjoyed figuring out and discovering who finds appreciation in a letter, who welcomes a phone call, or who enjoys an annual summer lunch get together for a lobster sandwich and a beer. It’s actually one of my favorite parts of running a not-for-profit — getting to know amazing people, building real and genuine relationships, and forging what I know will be some lifetime friendships.

I was inspired to write this op-ed out of the desire to find a way to capture in words the gratitude I feel towards the philanthropists among us. Our community was literally designed and built by a philanthropist, Ward Melville. When I think of the names of those who have continued that bold tradition of giving and support, I resist sharing specific names, but suffice it to say you all know who they are even if you don’t know them personally. 

Chances are you bought your house from them, or perhaps they’ve managed your retirement through the years. You might get your morning coffee from them or chat with them when you’re picking up your kid from school. They might volunteer or help run one of our many outstanding museums, art galleries, community institutions or preservation organizations. Maybe they fixed your car recently or you’ve bumped into them about town, at an outdoor concert, or in your favorite park. They’re quite often invisible, or as we say in Jazz, “tippin’ on the QT.”

What I do know is that no matter how little or how much in the spotlight or foreground they choose to be, these individuals are an incredible part of the fabric of who we are as a community. They are an invaluable resource, beyond definition, and without question an incredible gift to us all. 

I consider it an honor and a privilege to serve our community in the positions and places I’ve been blessed to be and I’m inspired by those who are the philanthropists among us. To all of you out there, and you know who you are, THANK YOU!

Author Thomas Manuel, DMA is a Jazz historian, Artist in Residence at Stony Brook University, trumpet player and President and Founder of The Jazz Loft, 275 Christian Ave., Stony Brook. For more information, visit www.thejazzloft.org.

Josephine Eichner celebrates her 90th birthday at the Rose Caracappa Senior Center. Photo by Stephanie Giunta

By Stephanie Giunta

I was invited to join my grandmother,  Josephine Eichner, at her Seniors Club at Rose Caracappa Senior Center in Mount Sinai on February 7, her 90th birthday. I am 32 and got laid off a few months ago, and although I lacked the eligibility due to my age, I attended as an honorary guest. After hearing about the Tuesday club for 20+ years, I was grateful to have the free time to attend, albeit plagued with the nagging reason as to why I was available.

Josephine Eichner wearing her birthday tiara. Photo by Stephanie Giunta

I held her hand as we walked up the ramp into the building, kneeing the automatic handicap button to open the door.  I walked into a sea full of people, whose wrinkles told the stories of their lives. They scattered about prepping the coffee stations, collecting dollars for the 50/50 raffle, and decorating the tables. Our table, #2, was adorned with a vase of flowers and balloons in honor of Grandma’s big day. My first impression: feeling so touched that her friends had thought of her. 

Amused is putting it lightly. I was more so in awe. These men and women had made it. They had long marriages, bore children, and had grand and even great grandchildren.  They survived successes, failures, peaks, and valleys. They frequented doctor’s offices, and had battled health problems. They kissed their friends and spouses goodbye as they were given eternal life. They had survived all of their worst days to date, and yet here they were — still living.

When the meeting started and they sang “God Bless America,” I could have fallen off of my chair if I was sitting down. It brought tears to my eyes, and I was riddled with such pure joy and admiration. “Cute” isn’t the right word to describe it, since many refer to anything an older person does as “cute.” I think it was more of a genuine appreciation of these people, and knowing they knew what was important: camaraderie, love of self, and love of country. Appreciation for the small, yet impactful things in life. I can’t quite put the feeling into words, but it was something that struck me, and I’ll never forget it.

Josephine Eichner with her granddaughter and guest columnist Stephanie Giunta at the event. Photo by Stephanie Giunta

I got to meet Liz, the woman whose chain emails I have been receiving for decades.  I always opened them up because I didn’t want bad luck for 10 years. Sharon, who was lovingly referred to as “Grumpy” because she’s always so happy. She makes cookies for my daughter, although we had never met. Marie and Bob, who I’ve heard stories about for quite some time. They used to accompany my grandparents on double dates to The Heritage Diner. And Jutta. She doesn’t know it, but her name has been used quite a bit in some of our family’s games.

They walked a little slower, but laughed a little louder. Some were nervous that there weren’t enough slices of cake to go around.  Others complained that tea service wasn’t put out. Me — I just sat in silence at points and soaked it all in. I found it fascinating that they were worried about tea and cake, something so simplistic, whereas I was worried about the fate of my career. We were just in completely different phases of life and it was refreshing to gain a contrasting perspective.

The most rewarding part of the day was seeing my grandmother in action. It is truly beautiful to see someone you deeply admire in a social setting, when you’ve never really witnessed it outside of family functions. She was a shining light who worked the room. Conversations were filled with “Happy birthdays” and “You’re not 90!s” and just simply checking in on each other. Her snowy hair and pink lips bounced from table to table, bearing hugs and cashing in on inside jokes. The woman is 57 years my senior and I think she has a better social life than I do!

And as we capped out the day with BINGO, among covert mumblings about health insurance, next week’s entertainment, and the weather, I was so grateful to be where I was — spending the day with one of the people I love most in this world. Relishing on the roast beef sandwich on rye that she packed for me as if it were a NY strip steak; cutting into the Tiramisu that her friends presented her with; enjoying something so bubblegum, and feeling a bit sad when it had come to an end. I was also disappointed that Harriet won three games and I won zero.

I wish I could look at my life through a senior’s eyes and know that there are plenty of happy and sad times to come, but that they will make me who I am. That each laugh line and wrinkle I collect will signify a pit stop on my journey. That life is a gift and living is a privilege, and at the end of the day, being a good person is all that matters. Age is but a number and friendship has no timetable. 

And as I held Grandma’s hand on the way out, I whispered, “I can’t wait to come back.”

Park poses for his portrait on Christmas, 2021. Photo by Barbara Anne Kirshner

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

I begin with a heartfelt thank you to all who have joined Park and me on our life’s journey through the pages of TBR News Media. Readers with whom I had the privilege to meet have shared how they enjoyed our stories, how they sympathized and even empathized with our bond.

It pains me to tell you that this is our final chapter.

Park crossed the Rainbow Bridge on Oct.  26, at 16 years and almost 4 months. He valiantly fought for the past year and a half to stay with me even as his aged body was breaking. He fought against the paralysis that took over his hind legs last year keeping him down for four months. 

But the resilient little man miraculously bounced back. At the point when I broached the subject of having a wheelchair made to fit Park, he started to push his hind legs up, to arch, then to straighten those legs and to my amazement, the day came when he walked on all fours again! 

Life was beautiful with my Prince Charming Park by my side — until Aug.  28. Park put his head down and when he raised it up again, he was blind. This blindness was proceeded by two weeks of noticeable head tremors which I reported to the vet who felt that at his advanced age, anything could happen.

We went to an ophthalmic dog specialist at VMCLI who, after giving Park a thorough examination, diagnosed that his blindness was not due to cataracts, but probably to a tumor pushing against his eyes. An MRI would corroborate this diagnosis, but I was cautioned of the danger of putting a dog of his advanced age under anesthetic. They could not guarantee he would survive the procedure. There was a very real chance that he might die on the operating table or have a negative reaction shortly after. The doctors at VMCLI were caring and understanding. Their advice was to hold Park close for whatever time we have left, but to put him through procedures that might reveal a tumor and then to follow that up with radiation was really too much for my little senior man. 

I followed their advice. We went home and I held Park tight, praying for more time.

BUT that was not to be. He started stroking out, falling into a coma. The first time it happened, I revived him with an eyedropper of water, prying it into his mouth through clenched teeth. As he revived, I tried giving him a spoonful of canned dog food, but he turned away from it which was alarming given the never satiated appetite of a dachshund. That’s when I thought of his favorite treat, McNulty’s vanilla ice cream. It worked like a charm!! He sniffed the plate, then licked it clean. That restored enough energy so he could sit up on his own.

I laughed thinking McNulty’s needs to advertise “Our ice cream is not only scrumptious but it saves lives too!!”

This wasn’t the last of the strokes though. A few weeks later, another took him down and he fell into a coma again. Once again, through his clenched teeth I pushed water into his mouth with the eyedropper. When he started to come around, once again, he needed several scoops of vanilla ice cream to revive, but this time he remained extremely weak, unable to hold himself up with his front legs, the legs that had remained strong even when his hind legs were paralyzed. This episode proved so debilitating that his frail body couldn’t go on.

Park crossed the Rainbow Bridge as I kissed his sweet forehead and held him, talking him from this world into the next.

I am empty without my sweet boy, my loyal companion, my protector, my travel buddy, my everything.

I try to take solace in Brandon McMillan’s quote, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

I smile when I think of my boy which is every minute of every day — about our shared trips to Park’s Bench in Stony Brook Village, about all of our journeys, our fun, his antics done deliberately to make me smile and make me give him extra attention like his penchant to stand in the rain until sopping wet knowing full well that when he sauntered into the house I would be there to towel all that long, luxurious fur.

I smile to recall how Park, the Christmas Puppy, pranced into my life ignoring my concerns that three dogs were maybe three too many and I will feel blessed for the rest of my days that Park, the Angel Puppy, chose to share his life with me.

A resident of Miller Place, Barbara Anne Kirshner writes theater reviews for TBR News Media and is a freelance journalist, playwright and author of “Madison Weatherbee — The Different Dachshund.