2019 IN REVIEW

Hard weeks, overbuilt streets, and an unlucky deli

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The last few months have been busy for the community, including a number of stories, which have earned broader attention.

Like an administrator accused of preying on kids at SAR Academy, a few decades after the last time someone was accused of such a crime.

Or the closure of a deli in Kingsbridge that hasn’t been closed in six decades.

 

Surviving SAR’s ‘hardest week’

Rabbi Binyamin Krauss described it as SAR Academy’s “hardest week.” There have been some real tough ones in the past, so hearing that about this particular week to kick off the 2019-20 academic year, it really had to mean something.

And it did.

One of the school’s administrators, responsible for Judaic studies in SAR’s middle school, was arrested by the FBI. Jonathan Skolnick was accused of posing as teenaged girls online as a way to solicit sexually explicit photos of boys as young as 11. In fact, investigators believed there were up to 25 different boys Skolnick may have targeted.

Krauss seemed to have his hands full — how would he address this, while still assuring parents that SAR was safe for their children to attend? He chose the path of full transparency, and now some months later, it appears to have been an effective one.

“This was a very, very hard week for the kids. Most importantly, the victims,” Krauss said. “Every single night we had meetings with parents, with the FBI. The next night with a psychologist who was bringing guidance. Every single day and every night.”

One of the FBI agents investigating the case, Aaron Spivak, told a reporter that there was no way SAR could have known Skolnick was “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

“What can be done better? That’s an important part of this, too,” Krauss said. “There was the FBI statement … nothing could have prevented this. But we have a responsibility to do whatever we could possibly do.”

 

Health care for all … if we can afford it

What would New York be like if some Democrats get their way and pass the New York Health Act — the legislation that would create a general public single-payer health care system for the first time anywhere in the United States?

The Riverdale Press actually explored that in October, talking to a number of doctors, politicians, and even future doctors. Like Joseph Tharakan, who is working his way to earning his medical license at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Morris Park.

“In medical school, we never get any education on how health insurance works,” Tharakan said. “We learn all the science, but nothing about the money or insurance or malpractice or anything.”

But one of the biggest questions is how would New York pay for it? In fact, that’s one of the key factors that prevented the New York Health Act from coming up this past session, and will likely continue to curtail it until those issues are worked out.

“You want to do it right, and not sloppy,” said state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, who campaigned as a proponent of the New York Health Act. “If we’re going to do this, we can’t fail. It would just provide ammunition to the arguments on why this program doesn’t work, so we have to do it right.”

A little bit closer to home, people who live around the Jerome Park Reservoir have a serious beef with the city’s environmental protection department. No, it’s not that the reservoir is still treated like Area 51. Instead, it’s plans to keep one of the reservoir’s basins dry — permanently.

But at an October meeting, there weren’t many answers to go around, which angered some of the reservoir’s longtime advocates, like Anne Marie Garti.

“Most of the people from DEP there that night are new and don’t know how long we’ve been learning about the reservoir and fighting to protect it,” she said.

“Just like everything else, they don’t consult, they don’t ask, they don’t discuss,” said Gary Axelbank, a local television personality, and a reservoir neighbor. “They just make up their own minds and tell us what they’re going to do, and you saw that there the other night. They didn’t even show up.”

 

Being a little too safe in Spuyten Duyvil?

As voters were getting ready to head to the polls, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority unleashed its plans to revamp bus service in the Bronx. While the Community Board 8 area came out of it mostly unscathed when it came to local buses, straphangers who depend on express buses were hit the hardest.

That’s because the MTA decided it might be best to cut evening service for express lines like the BxM1, BxM2 and BxM18.

“I moved to Riverdale because I commute to and from Manhattan every day, oftentimes during off-peak hours,” said regular express bus rider Vittorio Bugatti. “I will take the last bus of the evening on a Sunday evening. The train is often knocked out, and that is a very quick alternative. No transferring or anything.”

The MTA, however, maintains that its “final” plan is just a final preliminary plan, and nothing will be implemented for a year. That, officials said, would give them time to hear community concerns, and make adjustments where necessary.

Commuters weren’t the only ones distressed by getting from Point A to Point B. Some Spuyten Duyvil residents were quite unhappy with the city’s transportation department, complaining about massive changes made to the intersection of Palisade Avenue and Kappock Street, which created two large curb extensions.

DOT officials said the curb extensions would help shorten crosswalks, and make pedestrian travel safer through that intersection. But neighbors like Joseph Rosenbaum feel it’s overkill.

“With the new configuration, almost every car traveling northbound on Palisade that was now navigating the right-hand turn onto Kappock was making the turn so wide that they were literally over the double yellow line.”

 

The loss of a landmark

All it took was a single call to 311. A business was accused of having a gas line setup that was not safe — or legal. And when city officials came out to cite that business, they decided to look a little further at the neighbors.

That extra look may have put an abrupt end to nearly 60 years of business for Loeser’s Kosher Deli on West 231st Street near Godwin Terrace. Its setup was just old — and no longer in compliance (although it’s unclear if it ever was) — forcing them to lose gas, and with it, any chance of keeping the doors open.

“My dad loves that deli,” Pam Halpern said of her father, Fredy Loeser. “He started it with his bar mitzvah money, and he built it up with his father. It’s a lot for him to lose, especially since he loves the community so much.”

But the city didn’t have a lot of sympathy to share. Safety takes precedence over landmark status, and for officials responsible for enforcing gas piping, what was underneath Loeser’s just wasn’t safe.

“I’m certainly worried about losing a business that’s been here for so long,” Councilman Andrew Cohen said. “But also, at the end of the day, as loyal as I am to Loeser’s, it’s important that we have safe gas in the community. I don’t want to put anybody’s safety at risk.”

Loeser’s could reopen with a $100,000 retrofit and about three months of locked doors, Halpern said. But that’s if the city lifts an order that blocks any work from being permitted on the site, dating back to past tenants who share the 212 W. 231st St., building.

“He just keeps saying to me, ‘Pom-Pom, I don’t understand why they won’t just let me fix it,’” Halpern said of he father. “’I’ll do whatever they say.’

“He wasn’t giving it up anytime soon, and he wanted us to continue it with him. But now he’s crying, we’re crying, the grandkids are crying, and we don’t know what to do.”