Nyack Sketch Log: Exhibition Shows the Seeds of Modern Art Sowed in Rockland Soil

by Bill Batson

A current exhibit on South Greenbush Road in West Nyack  features the work of a group of Rockland residents who introduced America to radical new ideas in expression, including impressionism and cubism in 1913.  This 2012 Nyack Sketch Log tells the story of how Rockland County has long been the home of major figures in American culture, leaving us a living institutional legacy: Rockland Center for the Arts.

In the contest to draw an audience for the arts, Rockland County is David to the Goliath of New York City. But when it comes to attracting artists to take up residence, the region has assembled a pantheon of American cultural deities worthy of Mount Olympus. Figures like actor Helen Hayes, composer Aaron Copland, painter Edward Hopper and writer Ben Hecht, to name a few, made their home in our neck of the woods.

American Modernism: 20th Century Influencers in Rockland


On view through February 23rd this exhibit features the work of men and women who broke from the norm and forever changed visual art in America. Artists include Maurice Heaton, Richard Pousette-Dart, and Mary Mowbray-Clarke and Arthur B. Davies, organizers of the pivotal 1913 Armory Show.

RoCa is located at 27 South Greenbush Road, West Nyack.

One Good Story

with Bill Batson

photo by Kris Burns

On Tuesday, February 11, from 6:30 – 9:30p, I will be filming interviews with local artists and community members inviting them to share their favorite story in front of a live audience.  Witness first-hand the interview process with the hope that you will replicate the format and tell your own stories. The interviews I record on the 11th will be looped together and shown in The Media Space during RoCA’s spring exhibit, Perspectives, which opens on March 8. Workshop participants will be encouraged to send in their interviews to be looped onto RoCA’s website. All ages are welcome, open to the community.

In 1949, Hayes and her talented contemporaries helped erect a temple to the creed of culture, staging  a benefit performance of the Glass Menagerie at Nyack High School. The play’s author, Tennessee Williams, drove from Manhattan to attend the performance.  On his way, he picked up his friend, author and South Nyack resident Carson McCullers. Joining Hayes on stage was the young actress, Julie Harris.

The performance funded the work of the Rockland Foundation (the organization would change its name to Rockland Center for the Arts or RoCA in 1970). Hayes was joined in this effort of cultural institution building by some of the most celebrated names in the arts including Copeland, Paulette Goddard, Kurt WeillMaxwell Anderson and Lotte Lenya. Mary Mowbray-Clarke, who with husband John Fredrick and abstract artist Arthur B. Davies organized the 1913 Armory Show in New York City that introduced French Impressionism and launched the modern art movement in America (and included the work of Edward Hopper), described their mission in a 1946 essay:

  • “To share with their neighbors whatever insights and power of expression they possess,
  • to help in the quickening of talent among children,
  • to take advantage of the presence in Rockland County of so many creative people”

The energy released by this big bang of talent continues to propel RoCA.   For its first few years, the organization operated from the basement of a building at 35 North Broadway. The group found a permanent home when Ms. Anne Emerson bequeathed her property in West Nyack to RoCA in 1949. The parcel included a stone and clapboard house dating from the late 1800’s, a small barn, and a chicken coop situated on 10 acres. Hayes headlined a fundraiser in 1970 at the dedication of a new building for RoCA, designed by local architect Charles Winter to accommodate galleries, studios and offices. The sprawling grounds have been transformed into the Catherine Konner Sculpture Park, which currently features 14 pieces of outdoor and site specific sculpture.

RoCA employs 45 instructors who offer 200 arts classes annually for everyone from the advanced practitioner to the hobbyist.  For 56 summers, RoCA has offered a day camp style arts program for children ages 5 – 12.

The face that frames the building in my sketch is part of an installation titled “Red Faces” by Monica Banks. This work was part of a series of dozens of faces exhibited in Times Square from 1996 – 2009. Like many of the sculptures that are on display in the Catherine Konner Sculpture Park, the Banks installation was made possible with the cooperation of New York City’s Public Art Fund.

Henry Varnum Poor

One of Monica’s sculptures was discovered in the yard of local blacksmith James Garvey, who fabricated the works for Banks.  RoCA was able to re-purpose Red Faces thanks to the generous contribution of talent and material from welder Peter Artin, who built the stands that support the sculptures.

With a 260-slot summer art camp, children’s winter classes, a year round Sculpture Park, an art school and a seasonal schedule of world-class exhibits, RoCA continues to honor the legacy of Hayes, Copland and their contemporaries.

We need to continue the tradition of investing our creativity and philanthropy in the local cultural organizations that were inspired by the world renowned artists that called this place their home. When we do, we can harness the brilliance of these luminaries, attracting cultural tourists and audiences from around the world to Rockland County, enriching our lives and rejuvenating our local economy.

Rockland Center for the Arts is located at 27 South Greenbush Road, West Nyack (just south of the intersection of routes 59 and 303) 845-358-0877

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Exhibition Shows the Seeds of Modernism Sowed in Rockland Soil” © 2020 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more.

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Nyack Sketch Log: Manufactured Minstrel Mascots

 

The Golliwogg Circus, 1903

by Bill Batson

When the American economy could no longer benefit from African slavery, companies found a way to continue to use black bodies: manufactured minstrel mascots. From the 1880s through 1930s, derogatory images of blacks were casually used to sell everything from household wares and souvenirs. A panel discussion on Thursday, Jan 30 at 7pm at the Nyack Library will explore the hurtful practice of racist branding.

Sadly, the commodification of negative stereotypes persists. Just last year, a company based in Verplanck, New York called Harry Hutter, had its “Feel Good Doll” recalled. The black cloth doll, with red, black, green and yellow hair, large eyes and a big white smile came with the following alarming instructions:

“Whenever things don’t go well and you want to hit the wall and yell, here’s a little ‘Feel Better Doll’ that you just will not do without. Just grab it firmly by the legs and find a wall to slam the doll and as you whack the ‘feel good doll’ do not forget to yell ‘I feel good. I feel good.'”

After wide spread outrage, the dolls were pulled from shelves, but the world, and African Americans in particular, were placed on notice. There are still companies who believe they can profit from trafficking in blatantly racist stereotypes, and stores that willing to sell them to the public.

Most African Americans can recall the gut-punch feeling of seeing the first object that denigrates your identity. In 1990, while visiting England, I spotted a book in the home of the family that was hosting me. A minstrel stared back from the cover of a children’s book. I examined the copy of The Golliwogg Circus, published in 1903. Golliwogg is a doll, in black face, with exaggerate features and thick, unkempt black hair. When I told the family how offended I was by the material, they apologized and told me I could dispose of the book as I saw fit. But as offensive as these images are, the thought of throwing out the book never occurred to me. I knew that this book had to be included in the historical record.

Dr. Cora Wilder

Nyack Library Trustee Dr. Cora Wilder has lived in South Nyack for over 55 years. In 2002, she retired from Rockland Community College, being the first African-American to achieve the rank of Dean of Arts and Sciences.

Her collection of nearly 100 Black Collectables of American Stereotype inspired a Nyack Library panel discussion on Thursday, January 30, @ 7pm.

African American Memorabilia as Cultural Symbols features Dr. Lori L. Martin, Louisiana State University & Dr. Tracyann Williams, The New School.

Moderated by Bill Batson

This panel is presented as part of Nyack Library’s Black American Culture & Art Series: The Legacy of Toni Morrison.

 

Examples of the racist origins of our nation, like the clause in the Constitution that apportioned votes by counting African Americans as three-fifths a person, must never be deleted. Every shred of documentary and physical evidence of how African have been treated in the Americas must be preserved. These fact can be used to educate the public, lest we forget and Feel Good Doll’s proliferate.

The panel on Black Memorabilia was inspired by the collection of Nyack Library Trustee Dr. Cora Wilder. Although Dr. Wilder can not participate in Thursday’s, panel discussion, much of her collection will be on display in the library later this year.

Nyack Sketch Log spoke with Dr. Wilder to learn more about her collection.

What inspired you to start and maintain your collection?

I didn’t start as a “collector.” I’m inclined to be more interested in items that reflect me, my culture, and who I am.

What was the first object you acquired?

I don’t recall the first item I acquired. It may have been the “Jolly N—-r” bank.

What is the most objectionable piece in your collection?

The most objectionable pieces in my collection are two postcards, each entitled “The Sleeping Beauty.”

One is the stereotypic Aunt Jemima and her mate.

Your objection?

“Sleeping Beauty” is sarcastic and demeaning. Also, household help were at the beck and call of everyone in the house. They worked from sun up to sun down.

In these postcards, both are asleep, invoking the notion (wide spread) of  being “lazy.” A deceased friend from Alabama told me this story. Her family were share croppers. They started work at 6am and everyday at noon a truck arrived with their lunch – warm cokes and saltine crackers. They had 15 minutes before returning to work.

Where do you search for these objects?

I have purchased many of these items and some have been given to me. The Pygmy dancers (in all the obscene positions) was given to me by my mother-in-law; a neighbor from England had given them to her. Several pieces were purchased from antique dealers on Broadway, Nyack. One “Jolly N—-r” bank was purchased in upstate New York;  A second was purchased in Bath, England.

How many pieces have you collected?

My collection is small – maybe 100 items – including books.

Where would you like this collection to be placed, ultimately?

I would like the ultimate placement of these items to be decided by my daughters and granddaughters. The National Museum of African American History and Culture at the Smithsonian has amassed many items.

My offspring represent Howard University, Cornell, St. John’s School of Law, the US Naval Academy, etc.

They can deal with this issue. I’d be happy to see them divide it among themselves.

Did you ever encounter any of African American stereotyped objects as a child?

I don’t recall seeing any of this as a child. I am a Washingtonian (from age 6) by way of South Carolina. I realize now that our parents tried to shield us from overt forms of racism – ie, We never went to a movie house where Blacks sat in the balcony.

Have you seen other similar collections?

I have not seen a similar collection in the homes of either family or friends.

Do these images still disturb you?

Yes, these images still disturb me because they are so deeply ingrained in American culture.
They represent the truth about the African-American experience.
They are reminders, too, of both a painful history and great triumphs.

I truly believe that knowledge of our history and roots can provide the self-esteem and ego so necessary to becoming
a good person.

What are some of the most prominent America brands to use stereotyped imagery?

Aunt Jemima pancake mix
Gold Dust Twins
Cream of Wheat

Did you hear about the Feel Better Doll? Are you surprised that stereotyped objects are still commercially available?

I’ve never heard of the Feel Better Doll? By no means am I surprised that stereotyped objects are still available commercially. Recently, I received such an item from Turkey advertising Rum. Making money seems to be the goal.

What do you think people should come away with when they look at these pieces?

I suppose people will come away with varying feelings – guilt, shock, anger, disbelief …

I would hope that many leave with the concern that the history of the USA is, in may respects, distorted and ugly.

This has never been “the land of the free and home of the brave, ” neither for Black people nor for many white people.

Special thanks to Tracy Dunstan, Head of Reference, Nyack Library

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketch logs in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Manufactured Minstrel Mascots” © 2020 Bill Batson. To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com 

Special thanks to Laurie Seeman, Peggy Kurtz, Jacqui Drechsler, Rick Tannenbaum and Susan Hellauer


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Nyack Sketch Log: Watershed Moment for Provocative Suez Proposal

by Bill Batson

A hearing to consider a provocative proposal from Suez Water, that includes a parking lot for its fleet next to Lake DeForest reservoir will be held on Wednesday, January 15 at 7:30p at Clarkstown Town Hall. The hearing occurs as a facebook group “Suez Stinks,” has gathered 985 members, all worried about the cause of malodorous tap water and a case against a 18.6% rate hike request by Suez makes its way through the courts.

Members of the public, who have the wherewithal to attend this sixth round in this public policy skirmish, will witness how much oversight the Clarkstown Planning Board will exercise in this urgent matter. The board deadlocked at their last meeting in August.

Maybe the spirit of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was born on January 15th in 1929, will be present in the meeting room, helping reasonable people join together to hold the multinational corporation that controls our water supply to account.

Urgent Public Hearing

Clarkstown Planning Board

Wednesday, January 15
7:30pm
Town Hall Auditorium
10 Maple Ave, New City

Many residents in Rockland County have a bad taste in their mouth, not only from the drinking water, that was recently described as “Earthy” by some, but by the water giant’s efforts in the last decade to open a desalination plant on the Hudson River in Haverstaw. In December 2015, the NYS Public Service Commission agreed with the activists and said the plant was not needed, directing Suez, the company formerly known as United Water to focus, on conservation instead of desalination. Rockland ratepayers still had a hard pill to swallow. The never-built project’s planning expenses of $62 million were passed on to consumers.

The reservoir of goodwill for Suez has been poisoned on both sides of the pond.  In 2009, Paris, France said au revoir to Suez, and another private company that operated the city’s water resource. In 2016, County Executive Ed Day filed of an Article 78 lawsuit in NY State Supreme Court against the PSC and Suez-NY, relating to planning costs for the desal plant. “Rockland ratepayers are being hosed,” Day added.

A flyer circulated by local residents to mobilize turnout for the January 15 hearing accuses the company of failing to follow regulations to stabilize silt fences that protect the reservoir from contaminants.  Inspection site surveys’ from October, 2019 through Jan, 2020, provided by Clarkstown, reveal that Suez consistently ignored recommendations, failing to implement runoff and sediment control practices.

If this is how complaint the company is while under scrutiny, how will Suez behave when the public and inspectors are not looking?

Approximately 12% of Americans get their water from the private sector.

According to the website Rapid Transition Alliance, “between 2000 and 2015, there were 235 cases of water ‘remunicipalisation’– the process by which a city, region or national government terminates or refuses to renew water concessions, leases or management contracts with private companies, in order to bring water back under public control.” Two of those cities included Atlanta, Georgia and the previously mentioned, Paris, France. The company that they flushed: Suez.”

Maybe water is too urgent a need to trust to a private, profit-driven entity? Maybe we must reconsider the very notion of a privately controlled water supply?

“In an emergency, you can survive without most utilities—electricity, gas, garbage pickup and, yes, even the internet,” observes Earth Matter columnist Susan Hellauer. “But without one basic utility—potable water—you can count your remaining days on one, maybe two hands.”

Read also:

Nyack Sketch Log: Lake DeForest, Where Eagles Have Landed, May 2019

Nyack Sketch Log: The Source of Our Water, July 2019

Earth Matters: The Suez Saga and Why You Care, June 2019

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketch logs in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Watershed Moment for Provocative Suez Proposal” © 2020 Bill Batson. To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com 

Special thanks to Laurie Seeman, Peggy Kurtz, Jacqui Drechsler, Rick Tannenbaum and Susan Hellauer


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Nyack Sketch Log: Cafe La Talaye

by Bill Batson

Every week, Michelle Timothee puts on a virtual cooking clinic at the Nyack Farmer’s Market. With produce purchased just steps away from her booth, Chef Michelle creates fusion meals that combine the cuisine of her childhood in Haiti and the skills acquired at Rockland Community College and the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. Her recipes, complete with a list of locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients are often published in the farmers market weekly newsletter.

When Timothee first arrived in Nyack in 1998, she was reminded of the hilly landscape of Petion-Ville, Haiti, where she opened her first restaurant. Entranced by the landscape and the warm embrace of a significant Haitian population that began arriving in Nyack in the 1960s, Timothee is now expanding her culinary enterprise. If you haven’t yet tasted her Caribbean-infused fare, visit Nyack’s Indoor Farmer’s Market that meets at the Nyack Center every Thursday from 8a – 2p until March 5!

Nyack Sketch Log managed to put down the fork long enough to conduct this interview.

What does La Talaye mean?

The proper name is Saint-Michel-de-Attalaye. It’s located on the Central Plateau of Haiti. It’s very beautiful with farmlands and mountain in the distance. It’s where my parents and grandparents are from.

Now a cover story

 

You can meet Chef Michelle Timothee and sample the cuisine from the Cafe La Talaye kitchen every Thursday from 8a – 5p in Nyack at the indoor Farmer’s Market at the Nyack Center until  March 5.

Cher Timothee’s flagship restaurant, Cafe La Talaye, is located at 3 Main Street, Haverstraw. Call (845) 304-2998 for reservations. The cafe is open Wednesdays through Sundays.

Where did you learn how to cook?

Inspired by watching my grandmother cook with seasonal ingredients, I add in my own touches of ginger, garlic, lime, turmeric, thyme, rosemary, scotch bonnet peppers and curry.

I studied Hospitality Management and Tourism /Culinary Arts at Rockland Community College and also honed her skills at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. I have travelled extensively throughout the Caribbean, Europe and the U.S. to cultivate and diversify my craft, but honestly, watching my grandmother cook for years with seasonal ingredients was the best training I ever could have gotten,”

Did you have a restaurant in Haiti?

Yes, I had a restaurant in Haiti at the time of the invasion 1993, (NSL: when the United States overthrew the government of democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide) where I had to meet people from all over the world from organizations, embassies, humanitarians… little babies to dogs and so on.

When did you immigrate?

I came in 1998.

Why?

I needed better health care for my son.

Why Nyack?

My best friend came here when she was 14. She was always writing letters. I saw the name Nyack on the envelope. It was unlike any French or Creole word I’d seen before. My brother moved here first to Spring Valley. I used to come and visit. One day, my brother said ‘I am going to take you to a special place and you are going to love it.’ He drove me to Nyack. Where I had my restaurant in Haiti is similar to Nyack. We have a mountain like Hook Mountain. It had restaurant s and boutiques. You don’t need a car, you can walk. When I saw Nyack I said ‘wow I love.’

When Did you Join the Nyack Farmers’ Market?

Six years ago, I came to the farmers market and was so excited. I talked to Pam right away. All my vegetables come from the market, my honey. I also go to Rockland Alliance. I’ve picked some produce right out the ground. Between Bloooming Hill and Madura, and Taliaferro is where all vegetable.

What has been the greatest challenge in launching a restaurant?

Time.

When did you become the Chef at the Marian Shrine?

I became a chef at the Marion Shrine in 2011 I make holy dinner for the priests and brothers.F or the past 6 years, I have been volunteering  my time with my son cooking Thanksgiving Dinner for the community at the retreat center at the Marion Shrine.

How would you describe your cuisine?

My cuisine is unique… delicious fresh, colorful and healthy creative choices -a fusion of contemporary and innovative dishes and more favorites. I season everything I cook with love!

Who helped with the decor and design of the restaurant?

The decor is a vivid imagination of my home land, special touches from my parents house in Haiti where I grew up , my old apt in the states, the farmers markets (women in Power) and my Cousin Gary helped me with the design.

How do you stay in contact with the Haitian community in Rockland?

Attending community events, churches and support their businesses.

Chef Timothee in Haiti with a bashful friend

What are some of the more interesting catering jobs you’ve had?

Colleges, Commanding general retirement party at West Point military academy.

When were you home last? What’s going on in Haiti today?

I was home in 2009 to feed some kids in St. Michel De L’attalaye for Christmas literally 2 weeks before the earthquake.

Haiti today is still striving for success, warm and the beauty in everyone heart keeps the county alive regardless of challenges the country has encountered within the past 10 years. With faith and hope every goal is achievable.

What’s next?

I’m going to become a herbalist.  I am studying at the Herbal Academy.

To learn more about Chef Michelle visit latayale.com.

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketch logs in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “La Talaye Cafe” © 2020 Bill Batson.  To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com 

Timothee Photo at Farmer’s Market by Luis Bruno. Find Luis on Instagram at lbfoto318


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Nyack Sketch Log: Congregation Sons of Israel

NSL159_CSI_Featured_Final revisedby Bill Batson

During the last days of this decade, attacks and threats against the Jewish community in our region have escalated to levels not witnessed since World War II. This coincides with continued shootings at churches and mosques around the world. An approaching new year should resemble a threshold, leading to a promising future. These hate crimes make the end of 2019 feel like the edge of a precipice.

In 2014, when researching the history of a synagogue in Nyack, NY, I came across two examples of solidarity across race and religion, a century apart, that have the power to inspire. In both 1863 and 1963, members of the Congregations Sons of Israel led by example during periods of national racial conflagration. These instances are only a part of the Nyack Sketch Log that follows, but as we move closer to the abyss of intolerance, I hope these enlightened episodes, and the rich history of this Jewish house of worship, can help people of good will find a way to move forward, together.

NSL159_Nyack in the early 20th century

Nyack at the turn of the 20th Century

This column is informed by “From Generation to Generation, One Hundred Years of Jewish Life in Nyack.” The splendid and sweeping volume, edited by Myra Dembrow, offers a glimpse into the formation of  the congregation that now worships on North Broadway in Upper Nyack. Thoroughly researched and beautifully written, the centennial journal explores the evolution of the congregation and their interaction with the surrounding community from 1891 to 1991.

NSL159_CSI Rabbi Lehrman

Rabbi Abraham Lehrman escaped the pogroms in Poland to become the congregation’s first salaried spiritual leader

Dembrow describes the late 19th century village that attracted itinerant Jewish peddlers from New York City as “a bustling center of commerce, lying as it does at one of the Hudson River’s premier harbors and the intersection of the only two roads that completely cross Rockland County, the roads that are now known as Route 9W and Route 59.”

One of these early arrivals was founding member of Congregation Sons of Israel, Abraham Meyer Brown, who opened a tailor shop in Piermont. In March of 1870, a space in Brown’s shop, which had relocated to Main St. in Nyack because of a fire, became the meeting place for the Jewish Society of Nyack. On August 22, 1891, that group incorporated as the Congregation of Nyack, B’nai Israel.

NSL159_CSI_The GoldsteinsAs the congregation grew, services were held in rented spaces and homes. The Sifrei Torah (the sacred scroll on which the first five books of the Bible are written) was carefully transported to the various venues each week. In 1907, Jewish women of Nyack established the Ladies Hebrew Aid Society of Beth Israel.” One of their early projects was to engage a teacher to teach children how to read Hebrew.

NSL159_CSI_Hudson Ave

Drawing by A. Bretschneider

Gert Goldstein Mages recalled being the only Jewish girl at Liberty School in 1914. When prayers were read, Goldstein was sent to stand in the hall.

By 1917, the nascent congregation invited a shochet (ritual slaughterer), Hyman Schwartz, to help the community observe Kosher dietary codes. Around this time, Gert Goldstein’s parents brought a family to America that was fleeing the pogroms in Poland. The father of that family, Abraham Lehrman, was an ordained rabbi and became the first salaried spiritual leader of the Jewish community in Nyack.

NSL159_CSI_Bar Mitzvah

Marvin Waldman’s Bar Mitzvah, November 1945

On March 2, 1920 the congregation acquired a parcel of land next to the library from Tunis Depew for $100. After four years of fundraising, a corner stone was laid at the corner of Hudson Avenue and South Broadway. The building was completed in 1925.

NSL159_CSI_Berea

A Star of David can be seen from the rear of the building that now houses Berea Seventh Day Adventist church.

When the congregation changed their name to Sons of Israel in 1936, the Jewish community in Rockland County was still so small, congregant Charles Barracks claimed that he knew every member. The entire social and professional lives of many of the families who belonged to Congregation Sons of Israel revolved around downtown Nyack. “Everyone lived, worked and played together. There was no other social life, there didn’t need to be. The women would work all day in the family store, then spend the evenings at the synagogue, cooking, planning and meeting about one thing or another,” Kenie Mittleman remembered.

During World War II, Rockland County hosted Camp Shanks, the embarkation point for troops in route to fight in Europe. Camp Shanks did not have a Chaplain for Jewish personnel, so Jewish soldiers were brought to Nyack by truck to observe their faith.

Meet Rabbi Russo

NSL159_CSI_Rabbi Russo
Rabbi Ariel Russo came to Congregation Sons of Israel in July, 2014.

“I love Nyack. It’s an idyllic place. There’s breathtaking natural beauty with many nearby parks for hiking and a charming downtown that has an urban feeling to it. I have been completely welcomed and embraced by the synagogue community and the community at large,” said Rabbi Russo.

Rabbi Russo shared her excitement about programs at CSI that support mothers and families. “We have a  mom-to-mom support group, run by a congregant who is a doula, social worker and perinatal specialist.”

And we also have a vibrant pre-school, Hebrew school and an adult education program with many different options for learning.”

Rabbi Russo hails from Cherry Hill, NJ. She moved to New York City for college and graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Double Degree Program at Barnard College and List College, with degrees in Psychology and Talmud.

Rabbi Russo received her rabbinic ordination, master’s degree in education, and certificate in pastoral counseling from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

When Erica Rubin became Cantor in 2019, Congregation Sons of Israel became the first all women led clergy team in a synagog in Rockland county.

The post-World War II economic boom and the construction of the Tappan Zee Bridge brought a period of growth to the region and the synagogue. The congregation now had about 100 families. This was also the moment when seeds of dissension were planted in the congregation. In 1955, traditionalists held separate Yom Kippur services at a nearby church hall. Even though the rancor died down, a fault line that would eventually become a full blown schism had emerged.

The 1960s’ were a period of social activism around issues of racial justice in America. A bond was built between Congregation Sons of Israel  and the African American community in Nyack during the 19th century. Founding members Abraham Brown and Moses Oppenheimer were active in the underground railroad in the 1860s. One hundred years later, in February 1963, 70 members of St. Philip’s AME Zion Church worshiped at CSI in a race relations sabbath. Rabbi Krantz and his congregation were invited to a service on a following Sunday at St. Philip’s by Reverend McKinney.

Like much of the country, the 1960s were a time of tumultuous change, with trends sometimes going in contradictory directions. For CSI, plans to obtain a new building reopened an old rift.

In June 1964, having outgrown their aging temple on South Broadway and Hudson Ave, CSI sold the building to Berea Seventh Day Adventist Church for $70,000. A property on North Broadway was acquired, a colonial style mansion was demolished and new construction undertaken.

By March 1965, the congregation broke in two. Here is how Temple Beth Torah, the new synagogue that was created from the breach, described the moment of separation in a document published in 1990 commemorating their 25th anniversary: “13 families gathered in a south Nyack basement to organize Nyack’s second Jewish congregation…The first Friday evening services were held in Eugene and Evelyn Levine’s basement, led by a part-time Rabbi and Cantor. Later, services were moved to the Bobin Bungalow Colony. As to a permanent home, plans were soon afoot for the purchase of a wooded track on Route 9W and the original building opened in 1966.”

Fundraising for the Congregation Sons of Israel’s new synagogue on North Broadway continued despite the balkanization. Hyman Schwartz, the shochet who had arrived in Nyack before there were any synagogues in the village was among the first donors.

The stone sculpture that makes the Congregation Sons of Israel one of the most distinctive structures in the region was designed by Connecticut artist James Hennessy. Hennessy was commissioned to create a work of art depicting the tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were engraved. The firm of Marchese and Hamersma of Clifton, New Jersey created the massive wall that tells the story of the tribes of Israel in stain glass.

While construction was being completed, services were held in a carriage house on the property that was converted into a house of worship by congregation member and owner of Rockland County’s largest construction firm, Harry Degenshein. At noon on December 19, 1965, after a traditional Chanukah candle was lit, a motorcade brought the sacred Torah scroll from Hudson Avenue to 300 North Broadway.

In keeping with ancient tradition, a procession of elder members of the congregation carried the scrolls around the makeshift chapel seven times before placing the Torah into a ceremonial ark.

Special thanks to Alan Englander for lending me his copy of Generation to Generation, One Hundred Years of Jewish Life in Nyack.

Bill Batson is an activist, artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: Congregation Sons of Israel ©2019 Bill Batson. To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com



Nyack Sketch Log: Roaring Into 2020

by Bill Batson

There is a word that describes a decade that began with a President Obama and ended with a President Trump: schizophrenic. Typically locally focused, on occasion, Nyack Sketch Log has documented national policy mood swings, weighing in on issues of broader impact like school shootings, health care, unionized labor, climate change and the loss of giants like Nelson Mandela and our own Toni Morrison.

I hope this round-up of the 2010s provides some winter break reading as we prepare to roar into the 2020s.

Thank you for following my illustrated column over these tumultuous years. It is always an honor to share words and images with you each week.

Have a safe holiday season. Looking forward to another year of Nyack Sketch Log!

Nyack Sketch Log: A “Dirty Rat” on Route 59
November 8, 2011

Earlier this month, a super-sized rat was seen near the corner of Main Street and Midland Avenue in Nyack, NY. No doubt, some motorists were startled. And others maybe mystified or just amused. Some even honked their horns at the sight of a 12 ft. tall inflatable rat keeping an eerie vigil at the gate of the construction site of a new Walgreens.

Nyack Sketch Log: Brand New Normal
November 6, 2012

On a recent phone call with President Barack Obama, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo observed that we seem to have a one hundred year storm every year now. Fortunately for us, the senior levels of government are providing more than gallows humor in the aftermath of the super storm Sandy. As a resident of a county declared a disaster area, I feel well represented by the federal, state, regional and local governments that are overseeing this natural catastrophe. But are we ready for the next storm, like the one that is coming literally and figuratively tomorrow?

Nyack Sketch Log: 25 Days Since the Newtown Massacre
January 8, 2013

For the first 17 days after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the flag at the Soft Cloth Car Wash on Route 59 flew at half-mast. The massive flag dominates the view from my kitchen window. The custom of flying a banner at half-mast is to allow the invisible flag of death to ceremonially occupy the top spot. The flag returned to full mast on the first of January, but I detect a specter of despair that still hovers around the summit like a fog, dimming the stars and blurring the stripes. I wish that flags in our country could remain at half-mast until something concrete is done to restore domestic tranquility.

Nyack Sketch Log: Hail to Health Care Reform
January 22, 2013

I spent four nights at my 91 year old father’s bedside last week. Before his hospitalization, I had already decided that I was going to sketch log about the Affordable Care Act, Barack Obama’s singular achievement from his first term, as he took his second oath of office. When my  father was admitted to Nyack Hospital on the morning of January 10 with pneumonia, he became the subject of my column and the involuntary model for this drawing. That he was discharged five days later, smiling and on the mend, is a minor medical miracle and made my interest in the issue of health care more than just academic.

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013: Full House of Kings, Queens and Presidents to Attend Funeral
December 7, 2013

According to a somber South African President Jacob Zuma, Mandela will receive a state funeral. Mandela’s service will be on the scale of the late British statesman Winston Churchill and Pope John Paul.  As many as five kings, six queens, over 70 presidents and prime ministers and over 2 million faithful are expected to bid the internationally respected leader farewell. President Barack Obama and all living American Presidents that are healthy enough to attend will join the US delegation. This global full house of heads of state is a fitting tribute for a person of Nelson Mandela’s impact and stature.

Nyack Sketch Log: Earth Day Edition
March 31, 2015

Each April, Earth Day gives us a chance to add environmental healing to our spring cleaning. To inspire you, here is the story of a local climate scientist, Robin Bell, who travels to Antarctica to monitor global sea levels; and a local merchant, Maria Luisa Whittingham, whose campaign to reduce waste has become a formal resolution adopted by the Rockland County Legislature. Once motivated, you will find a list of upcoming clean-up dates and sites from Keep Rockland Beautiful so that you can engage in a day when local activities are globally beneficial.

Nyack Sketch Log: GW Bridgegate
February 11, 2014

Having grown up within walking distance of the George Washington Bridge, namesake of our country’s most recent scandal large enough to warrant the suffix “gate,” I was already intrigued when I read the first headlines. Then it got personal. Governor Chris Christie rudely rebuffed an inquiry into the matter by New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg, the mother of a dear high school friend. Driven by umbrage, I began dredging through the reporting to see what was at the bottom of the traffic-themed political pile up

Nyack Sketch Log: National Student Walkout Tomorrow
March 13, 2018

The last time a wave of student protest reshaped the political landscape of a country, Nyack High School students attended  classes in a building with a clock tower. After the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, (17 dead, 14 injured) the nation has witnessed a cadre of student activists who are making progress where adults have failed for decades. In the wake of shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 (15 dead, 24 injured) and Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 (28 dead), a Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired and no major gun control measures have passed.

Nyack Sketch Log: Lake DeForest, Where Eagles Have Landed
May 21, 2019

I have lent this space to my friend Ray Wright, a passionate naturalist, who wants to put his opposition to a proposal by the Suez Water Company to build a new headquarters near Lake DeForest on the record. This Nyack Sketch Log will be submitted as testimony at a public hearing at Clarkstown Town Hall on Wed May 22 at 7:30p. We are hoping to others will attend and share their concerns.

Nyack Sketch Log: Toni Morrison’s Full Measure
August 13, 2019

“We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” These words, uttered by Toni Morrison when she received the Nobel Prize for Literature have gone viral since her death on August 5, 2019. Not only do they capture the blunt style of her prose, they boldly invite us to judge her by her own high standard. In a verdict delivered by countless voices, as an editor, educator, novelist, scholar and public historian, Toni Morrison gave her full measure.

Bill Batson is an artist and writer who lives and sketches in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “Roaring Into 2020” © 2019 Bill Batson. To see more, visit billbatsonarts.com 


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Nyack Sketch Log: Thirsty for Local History?

by Bill Batson

Are you thirsty for history? Have a person on your holiday gift list with an appetite for art and culture? Nyack Sketch Log has produced a second local history mug that celebrates iconic buildings in Rockland County.

Every sketch log image that adorns a hat, shirt or mug originally illustrated a column the explores the history of our village and our county.  The drawings on my recent mug originally helped tell the stories of four structures:

  • a building in Haverstraw that inspired both Edward Hopper and Alfred Hitchcock,
  • a train station in Piermont that now houses a museum,
  • a South Nyack mansion once owned by a colleague of Thomas Edison,
  • a barn in Pomona operated by the oldest family run business in New York State.

If you’d like to share some Nyack Sketch Log-inspired gear with friends and family this holiday season, you can find me at the Nyack Farmer’s Market on this Thursday, December 19, our last outdoor session from 8a – 2p, or Sat., Dec. 21 , noon – 7p at Casa del Sol, 104 Main St. Or visit nyackgift.com!

Here are the Nyack Sketch Log entries where the images on my Rockland Mug first appeared:

Nyack Sketch Log: Edward Hopper Mania
February 7, 2012

The building in Haverstraw that was the subject of Edward Hopper’s 1925 painting “House by the Railroad” still stands proud. The haunting depiction of the three story house by Hopper came to the attention of the cast and crew of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie classic, Psycho. Hopper’s painting inspired not only the design of the Bates Mansion in the 1960 production, but the mood of the film as well. “Psycho might be the most Hopperesque of Hitchcock’s films,” says Joel Gunz from AlfredHitchcockGeek.com. From Nyack to Haverstraw to Hollywood, Hoppermania is contagious.

Nyack Sketch Log: Will The History of Piermont Leave This Station?
April 14, 2014

According to Piermont Historical Society President Richard Esnard, the exhibition train has not left this historic railroad station. “Village of Piermont Trustees want to lease the interior of the station for commercial or residential use,” Esnard said. On May 1, the Piermont Historical Society is holding a benefit to secure the funds to derail the plan to rent the station. Esnard believes that with community support, the future of this local history resource will stay on track.

Nyack Sketch Log: The Ross-Hand Mansion
August 14, 2018

Since the 1850s, only four families have called 122 South Franklin Street home. The first two families built and expanded what is in many ways a monument to American architectural and scientific innovation. A third and fourth family, who sought to restore and preserve this significant piece of local and national history had shorter tenures

Nyack Sketch Log: The Orchards Of Concklin
July 17, 2012

When you buy your fresh fruit and baked goods from one of the booths at the Nyack Farmer’s Market, you are rubbing shoulders with American history. Within the span of 300 years of family farming in Rockland County, the Concklins have witnessed the birth of this nation and its darkest hour.  During the Revolutionary War, the family produced dairy products in the path of advancing armies. On 9/11 a Concklin was setting up for the farmer’s market at the World Trade Center when the Twin Towers were destroyed.  The Concklins’ story speaks volumes about the resilience of a family and the depth of the community support they enjoy.

You can find me at the Nyack Farmer’s Market on this Thursday, December 19, our last outdoor session from 8a – 2p, or Sat., Dec. 21 , noon – 7p at Casa del Sol, 104 Main St.
Nyack Sketch Log Vol. 1&2
Tote Bags
Long Sleeve Tees
Hats
Baseball Caps
Mugs
Magnetic Decals
Blank Note Cards

Local orders on nyackgift.com before midnight December 22 will be delivered by December 23rd.

Read also:

Nyack People & Places: Bill Batson, Artist & Columnist

Mug photo by Luis Bruno

An activist, artist and writer, Bill Batson lives in Nyack, NY. Nyack Sketch Log: “A Cup of History” © 2019 Bill Batson. Visit billbatsonarts.com to see more. Weld-Sponsor-Graphic_Final