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Archive for the 'Arts & Culture' Category

Francesca Leobowitz, Middle School English teacher at Poly Prep. (Source: Courtesy of Aliza Eliazarov)

Brooklyn-based photographer Aliza Eliazarov has put together a series on the lives of teachers in New York City, which features many teachers from schools in Borough Park and Dyker Heights.

While there are many aspects to focus on in a teacher’s life, Eliazarov looked at the moment she calls “the calm after the storm,” when students have left school for the day and the teacher is given a minute of reprieve. It’s a rare glimpse into that moment few other professions may experience, the moment when a person goes from stewards of youth and molders of the future to being… regular people again.

Eliazarov was inspired by her own experience as an elementary school teacher, a job she left to pursue photography full time. She writes of the series:

After school is a poignant time in a teacher’s day. It’s one of both reflection and preparation – exhaustion and relief, concern and contentment. This portrait series is a glimpse in to the world of the challenging life of today’s educator.

Among the teachers Eliazarov finds for the set, titled “NYC Teachers After School,” are three Poly Prep Country Day School (9216 7th Avenue) teachers. 

Francesca Leobowitz, featured above, left a career in advertising for a profession where she says she’s inspired by the students. ” I have to say I have the best job. I love, love, love what I do,” she told Eliazarov.


Josina Reaves, a high school level teacher at Poly Prep, is the subject of one of the most compelling photos in the series. She sits at a student’s desk, “exhausted,” while pens and other detritus on the floor tell the story of the just-left students. The teacher was asked about the highlight of her day and she responded, “I read some fantastic student poems – some were really thoughtful, well done and revealing.”

Another cool-yet-totally-unrelated thing about Reaves? She made an appearance on the show “Who Wants To Be A Millionare?” last year. Reaves may know all about writing compare-and-contrast essays, but when it comes to Nostradamus’ predictions she fell short and lost her chance to win a million dollars. (Then again, her answer was totally sensible. But few should expect sense from Nostradamus).

There was also an elementary school teacher from P.S. 164 in Borough Park named Peter Mancini who talked about conducting his student band to play a Star Wars song. Sure beats the Titanic theme I suffered through in school band.


Check out all 12 awesome photos from Eliazarov’s “NYC Teachers After School” series.


Councilman Vincent Gentile honored Bath Beach boxing coach Willie Vargas last week, presenting him with a Presidential Volunteer Service Award and a Gold Lifetime Achievement Award signed by President Barack Obama.

Since 1979, Vargas has been teaching at-risk youth how to box – keeping them off the streets and teaching them discipline. Five of his trainees have become world champions.

Gentile issued the following statement:

“I was happy to recognize Willie Vargas today. Mr. Vargas is a world class boxing trainer who has been teaching young, at-risk children how to box since 1979.

In their training, these young men learn not only how to be a champion in the ring but in the game of life. In fact, five of these young boxers trained by Mr. Vargas have grown – not only into fine young men – but into world champion boxers! All of the young men trained by Mr. Vargas lead by example and help keep at-risk youth off the streets and working towards something positive.

For all of his efforts, Mr. Vargas was awarded a Presidential Volunteer Service Award along with the Gold Lifetime Achievement Award signed by President Barack Obama. Mr. Vargas is a resident of Bath Beach and we should all be proud to call him one of our own!”

Source: Met Council

Source: Met Council

The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty helped 600 needy families celebrate the Passover holiday with free kosher food packages yesterday.

Reps from the organization doled out the kosher meals at the Bensonhurst COJO Sephardic Nursing Center at 2266 Cropsey Avenue.

“For most of us, Passover is a time for festive family seders. But for too many of New York’s Jewish needy, the festival of our freedom is, ironically, just the opposite – yet another painful reminder of the oppression of poverty,” said David M. Frankel, CEO and executive director of Met Council, in a statement.

The event was part of a citywide Met Council initiative, in which they distributed an estimated 2.1 million pounds of food ahead of the holiday, helping a total of 50,000 families in need.

The packages included holiday staples such as matzah, tuna fish, gefilte fish, carrots, potatoes and apple sauce.


For many children, confidence can be a hard thing to come by. In Acting Out, a Bensonhurst business, children and teenagers are taught to sing, dance, act – and believe in themselves. Up on stage day after day, kids learn to be comfortable in the spotlight.

“It’s really important for them to kind of come out of their shell and just have fun in these classes,” Emily Nicholas, a singing and acting instructor, said.

The business is owned by John and Roberta Isgro. In 2012, they opened the school on 7426 15th Avenue. At the time they were seeking a grant to launch the local acting school. More than 10 years ago, they both got into the idea of having an acting school when Roberta opened an Acting Out in Mill Basin, which still operates today. With only a “small class and a handful of vocal students,” John told Bensonhurst Bean, he soon joined his wife.

We put together this little video to bring readers inside the school, and show how they’re helping students build confidence and skills.

Inside Bensonhurst’s Acting School For Kids from Eric Jankiewicz on Vimeo.


The Jewish Community House of Bensonhurst (7802 Bay Parkway) held their popular annual Purim Carnival last Sunday afternoon. This year, the themed “Purim Spiel” incorporated a live theatrical performance and drew close to 700 locals to celebrate this festive Jewish holiday, almost double that of last year.

purimProgram Director of Leadership Development Michael Abdurakhmanov was the emcee at the carnival and said that turnout at the event trumped all expectations. A popular photobooth, costume contest, and hamantashen stand greeted event-goers inside the adorned first-floor gymnasium.

Alena Gomulina, the director of community engagement and communication at the JCH, said that this strong turnout was likely a result of complimentary admission.

“We started having these events for free after [Superstorm] Sandy. We’ll take a small loss if it means benefitting the community,” Gomulina said.

Purim celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people from the wicked villain, Haman, in the days of Queen Esther of Persia. Boys and girls wear costumes as part of the celebration.


Atlas on NY1

Atlas on NY1

At this point, just about every resident of Southern Brooklyn’s boardwalk communities knows Gary Atlas – if not by name, then by sight.

He’s the guy you see out there every morning, regardless of the weather, running shirtless and in thin shorts before taking a plunge in the ocean.

He’s done this every day for 2,369 consecutive days – or six years and counting.

NY1 caught up with him earlier this month, spotlighting his continuous effort to hit 4,000 consecutive runs even throughout this particularly nasty winter.

As workers with the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation spreaded salt on the latest dusting of snow Monday, Gary Atlas emerged from his building shirtless and ready to run. About his only acknowledgment of the cold was the socks that he wears on his hands.

“The fingers tend to freeze up, so socks work better than gloves,” he said. “Gloves, after a while, my fingers will get cold. Socks has a mitten effect. The hands stay warmer.”

The cold itself hasn’t been bothering Atlas, it’s the snow, which makes the six-mile treck a particularly difficult slog. But he handled the worst of the days by detouring to the streets and running in the plow’s wake – the second time in seven years he’s had to leave the boardwalk.

Atlas began the routine in 2007 to clear his mind while his mother struggled with health issues. He continues to do it to honor his mother.

“While I’m running, it keeps the memory of my mother alive,” he says. “She was here when I started, and she’s still with me on every run.”

Check out the full profile here.

And, of course, we’ve had our own little Atlas sighting on our sister site, Sheepshead Bites. On the morning of October 29, 2012, as Superstorm Sandy lapped at our coastline, a Sheepshead Bites reader snapped this shot of him emerging from the rough waters:

The internet is abuzz this morning after the big-budget debut of the reenvisioned Cosmos series last night, starring Neil deGrasse Tyson.

The original series aired in 1980 and was accompanies by a book of the same name. It’s perhaps the most lasting work by cosmologist Carl Sagan, oft-hailed as the best communicator of scientific concepts in the 20th Century.

Sagan was born in 1934 and lived with his family in Bensonhurst. Around the time of the airing of the original series, he returned to the neighborhood for a video segment in which he reflected on his first childhood thoughts about the stars and the broader universe.

“I knew my immediate neighborhood intimately; every candy store, front stoop, backyard and wall for playing Chinese handball,” he said in the video. “It was my whole world.”

The video has some fantastic shots of 86th Street and the elevated subway in the 1980s. Sagan himself lived on Bay 37th Street, and, later, Bay Parkway. The family took frequent outings to Coney Island and “old photos show Carl lolling on the beach,” notes a biography of the famed astronomer.

The video above tells an abbreviated account of what happened next – the occasion that sparked his life long search of the cosmos. But he previously shared a more detailed account:

[The stars] seemed to me different. They just weren’t like everything else.

And so I asked other kids what they were…. They said things like “they’re lights in the sky, kid.”

I could tell they were lights in the sky, but what were they—little electric bulbs on long black wires? … I asked my parents, they didn’t know. I asked friends of my parents, they didn’t know.

[His mother suggested:] “I’ve just gotten you your first library card. Take the streetcar to the New Utrecht branch of the New York Public Library and find a book…. [The answer] has to be in a book.”

I went to the library. I asked the librarian for a book on the stars. She came back and gave me a book. I opened it. It was filled with pictures of people like Jean Harlow and Clark Gable.

I was humiliated. I gave it back to her and said, “This wasn’t the kind of stars I had in mind.” She thought this was hilarious, which humiliated me further. She then went and got the right kind of book. I took it—a simple kid’s book. I sat down on a little chair—a pint-sized chair—and turned the pages until I came to the answer.

And the answer was stunning. It was that the Sun was a star but really close. The stars were suns, but so far away they were just little points of light…. And while I didn’t know the [inverse] square law of light propagation or anything like that, still, it was clear to me that you would have to move that Sun enormously far away, further away than Brooklyn [for the stars to appears as dots of light]….

The scale of the universe suddenly opened up to me. [It was] kind of a religious experience. [There] was a magnificence to it, a grandeur, a scale which has never left me. Never ever left me.

You can read more about Sagan’s childhood in this excerpt by Sagan biographer Keay Davidson.

The Great Fredini (Photo Via

The Great Fredini (Photo Via

Fred Kahl is known in Coney Island as The Great Fredini with his Scan-A-Rama, where he scans and creates prints of people as souvenirs. Now, he has also embarked on a project to create a 3D printout of Coney Island’s destroyed Luna Park, according to the Atlantic.

The Atlantic describes the process:

First he has to make sure the five 3D printers working out of his home studio are churning out the goods. “At any given time I have at least three machines printing,” he says. “I try to start prints every morning and every evening. It’s still a lot of work maintaining them, though; bearings need replacing, boards fry, extruders clog. I can’t even tell you how many hours I’ve put into this. It’s totally obsessive.”

Kahl makes models based on reference from a collection of historic Luna Park imagery that he has gathered. “In the old days I would find postcards at flea markets,” he says. “The advent of Ebay made collecting postcards easier. I have hundreds of cards and photos now, as well as images I’ve scrounged online from the Library of Congress, Pinterest, blogs, you name it.”

… “I basically build the park’s structures in software using photo references, and place a 3D scan of a human in the model for scale to get the proportions right,” he says. “When I’m done, I export parts, scale them and cut them into printable sized chunks that will later be glued and assembled. Its hard to reconstruct because the park changed every season, so I’m just shooting for an amalgam of what it was at its peak around 1914.”

The artist will be basing most of his prints on old postcards and depictions of the the park. He’s collected them on his Flickr. He’s also working miniatures of his Kickstarter donors into the panorama, and a portion of it will be on display at the Coney Island museum beginning in May.

Click to view enlarged image

Courtesy of the United States Coast Guard

Late in the 19th century, Congress approved the construction of a lighthouse on the western end of Coney Island. The now-defunct 124-year-old beacon has become the subject of a mini-documentary that aired last week on MetroFocus.

The documentary focuses on Frank Schubert, the last Coney Island lighthouse keeper- as well as the last civilian in the country to hold that job. In the article that accompanies the four-minute documentary,  creators Max Kutner and Johannes Musial write:

After serving with the Army in World War II, Schubert found work as a lighthouse keeper. In 1960 he moved with his wife and three children to the Coney Island Lighthouse. For three generations of Schuberts, the lighthouse became the family’s home. “My parents got married at the Coney Island Lighthouse, and then I was born the next year and they basically raised us there,” said Scott Schubert. “As a kid it was great. We’d be climbing on the lighthouse. It was like our jungle gym. You don’t even realize that it’s really different than any other house. It’s just sort of grandpa’s house.”

The use of GPS on boats has made lighthouses less necessary, but at one time such beacons helped prevent boats from crashing against rocky coastlines. The original Coney Island beacon was lit by Keeper Thomas Higgenbotham on August 1, 1890, according to United States Coast Guard. The lens used was powered by Kerosene and it was visible for more than fourteen miles.

Here’s the Metrofocus documentary:

Photo by Jim McDonnell

Photo by Jim McDonnell

The creative arts scene of Southern Brooklyn steps into the spotlight as the works of five photographers are showcased in Coney Island USA’s “A Stroll Through Coney Island Among Friends,” an exhibition that displays the artists’ mesmerizing love affair with every nook, cranny, wrinkle and mole of America’s Playground.

The five photographers — Norman Blake, Kenny Lombardi, Bruce Handy, Jim McDonnell, and Eric Kowalsky — will be on hand for an opening reception this Saturday, February 22 from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Shooting Gallery Arts Annex, 1214 Surf Avenue between Stillwell Avenue and West 12th Street.

Admission is free and… oooh, wine will be served too, so it promises to be a very civilized event. Culture. Yes!

“A Stroll Through Coney Island Among Friends” will be on view Saturdays and Sundays, from February 22 to April 6 from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

To learn more, go to

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