The taxi prophet
Ralph Kabab came to New York from Israel 21 years ago, in October 1994, following a loss of faith in political progress at home. An enlightened Palestinian teacher of Arabic and Hebrew, he has met - and taught - some of the region's power brokers, including Mahmoud Abbas, Yasser Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Tsipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu - the last of which had an odd request: "How do you say, I need a cigarette," Ralph laughed as he recounted the first thing Bibi asked of him.
A vocal defender of all people, who sees Arab and Jew as historic and rightful brothers and cannot fathom detractors or obstructionists on either side, Ralph spoke from an informed position about who truly wanted peace, who didn't and who - to his utter perplexity - stood in the way of 'a good deal'. With great love for Carter, Sadat and Rabin after them, he hopes one day for the struggles to end. "Who calls himself a true muslim knows that Allah tells you not to even hurt a cat, let alone a person. This is clear. Who kills people are not true muslims. This is impossible. It is to love others like your brother." If all men were like Ralph, as I told him while he posed with my family once he had dropped us off, we would have no war.
On Christmas Eve, a tough post:
Across the world, the act of removing one's shoes, either upon entering one's home or certainly one's bed, is a common human ritual. The universal assumption is that one keeps external pollution outside of one's sanctuary.
On the streets of New York, beyond the warmth of home, I see a familiar scene, over and over: the homeless, at night, sleeping without shoes, whatever the weather and in spite of the fact that the ground on which they sleep is trampled, continually, by others' shoes.
It is the lack of footwear, or the attempt at preserving one's only pair? Or is it the hard-wired / learned ritual of removing one's shoes before bed? Whatever the rationale, the sight of a fellow human being, shoeless and lying on a sidewalk on a cold, rainy December evening in New York City is incredibly sad; and is one that, with adequate community empathy, is a largely avoidable.
"It's not my real name," he said when I exclaimed, 'Christos!' following his declaration that he was from Greece, and that was "known to everyone in Union Square" as Master Christopher. "Just mention my name," he added, obviously quite proud. "What's your real name," I asked. "It's something else, but as soon as I pronounce it everyone just wants to talk to me about my accent and Greece instead of my game." That game is called 'Give and Take', and it's something M.C. invented "as a child, which was a long time ago, you can see," he said from behind a patchwork of fixed and sliding panels that enclosed Williamsburg his wood shop, where he builds both chess and 'give and take' sets. "The pieces look like the Freedom Tower, but I invented it long before they did," he assured me while he picked up one of the pieces and rotated it. "Simple, elegant." "It's a mix between chess and checkers. If you beat me, I'll give you $100." I said, "But you invented the game. How can I win if I don't even know how to play and you've been playing all your life?" His response: "It's 100 bucks!" #chess#chessmaster#games#greek#immigrant#alias#nyc#newyorkcity#newyork#brooklyn#williamsburg#inventor#blackandwhite#streetphotography#thecolorofnewyork#scam
Fiorello LaGuardia was the mayor of New York City between 1934 and 1945. At 5'-2", 'Little Flower' as he was nicknamed, is considered one of the three greatest mayors in American history. A Republican, he crossed party lines to champion President Roosevelt's New Deal, unified the transit system, built copious amounts of low cost public housing, playgrounds and parks, constructed airports, re-organized the police force, and restored public faith in City Hall. He is credited with cleaning out corruption in government. All this while presiding over the Great Depression and World War II.
In the mid 90s I lived two blocks from his sculpture, on Sullivan Street. I still remember seeing one of his oversized paws holding a ham and cheese sandwich that a prankster had left there one day. 20 years later, as I exited the Citibank behind the sculpture, I found this scene instead of my daughter - a prankster in her own right.
I stumbled across Caranda while ducking the sensory overload of the nearby Chuck E. Cheese, in Harlem, where my daughter was attending a birthday party. The Serengeti Teas and Spices storefront - its cast-iron door full of cut-outs resembling giraffes' spots, caught my eye. I was 5 minutes ahead of opening time, and saw people buzzing inside. As I stared at the door, ponding my next move, the owner, Caranda, came out, explained their delivery was late, but 'please come inside to wait; it's cold out'. I spent the next 15 minutes watching his quiet choreography of the gathered staff: oil the wood paneling; clean the counters; turn the beautiful tea jars 'just so'; discussing the content of the freshly brewed elixirs (these are NOT simply teas - they are recipes, and they are phenomenal); etc... Caranda has been written about much online, and in the 5 minutes we chatted before he took off to scout a second location - one owned by a Turkish friend who has given up on his restaurant business ('stuck in 70's decor', Caranda quipped, good-naturedly) - he told me of his native Liberia, his family's bulk tea/spice business, his grandmother's bequest of the business, and his father's subsequent admonishment about Caranda's focus on America and direct production and sale ('Why do you care? Just sell it to them and let them figure out what to do with it!'). Back story aside, I had the distinct impression that this uber-charismatic man was just getting started. "They will all be individual experiences. The next one will be like sitting in a Safari tent..." Indeed, Caranda, and I will be there.
I saw Nishan walking down Kissena Blvd. in Flushing, Queens and asked if I could take his photo. 'You are a polite man. You asked, unlike the others,' he said, giving me a green light.
After indicating that he lived in the neighborhood, I further enquired if he knew of the Gurdwara (the 'gateway to the guru' - aka Sikh temple) in Richmond Hill, where I'd been just two weeks earlier, even though it was 6 miles to the south, several neighborhoods away. 'Oh, yes. Every day between 6:30 and 8pm. Will I see you there,' he asked, substantiating my belief that in immigrant NYC, it is often religious institutions that are the mortar bonding a community together. #sikh#indian#queens#flushing#newyork#newyorkcity#religion#devotee#beard#facialhair#turban#smile#immigrant#blackandwhite#streetphotography#thecolorofnewyork
This man, sporting a hunter's cap - its fur-lined ear flaps turned down under a thin, white summer sun hat - stood on the corner of Main and Roosevelt, in Flushing, Queens, just one of several people handing out leaflets to the countless passersby at this chaotic crossroads. While he smiled readily, both before and after I took his photo, he refused to lower his paper - choosing to peek through and beyond it instead. I even snuck into an AT&T store just behind him to try my luck at surprising him. (That hat!) It didn't work, but nor did it dampen our mutual enjoyment at the cat-and-mouse antics.
In some ways, that corner is more quintessentially New York than any other in the city: Queens is the world's most diverse metropolitan area, and over 48% are foreign-born, more than any other place, save Toronto, Canada. The 7 train, which stops shy of servicing the Eastern third of the borough, terminates here, which means that people of every religion, color, culture and ethnicity find their way to and from this conduit to the city's subway system.
Ganapati Padmanabhan, or G.P., as he likes to be called, assumed his current role as head of public relations for the Hindu Temple Society of North America in 1993, at the age of 60, after retiring from the United Nations, where he had worked since moving from his native India as a middle-aged man. Now, a very young 82, he is a man with an sense of purpose.
A true gentleman - exuding an air of patience, kindness and compassion - G.P. spent an hour or so with me, sitting in the temple, the chant 'ommmmmm' playing gently in the background, like waves at the seashore - walking me through the rituals of Hinduism and, specifically, what transpires at the Flushing temple, which was consecrated in 1977. 'You should have seen when be brought the cow in, and offered it honey, yogurt, bananas, coconuts, turmeric... It was standing right there,' he said as he pointed to an empty spot on the polished granite floor. 'The elephant was fantastic, but it couldn't fit inside, so we kept it out there - before the stairs.' The ash he smears across his forehead, applied every morning, is sacred: remnants from the 9-day-long annual fire they build, pray over, and feed in September as part of the Ganesha Chaturthi. Though the whole complement of Indian deities is present at the temeple - Vishnu, Brahma, Lakshmi, Shiva... - it is Ganesh who takes center stage, literally placed at the temple's center - around whom the festival, other deities, and the temple itself, are organized.
I found Donna Lewis at the WTC memorial in lower Manhattan, rubbing a fuchsia crayon over a large, soaked sheet of paper to capture an impression of Richard Edward Bosco's name which, like two thousand, six-hundred and five others, is laser-etched into one of two collars of steel that surrounds the former footprint of the Twin Towers. Both she and Richard - and three other 9/11 victims - share an alma mater at SUNY Geneseo, in upstate New York, about 40 miles south of Rochester, where Donna now lives.
Originally from Staten Island, Donna is an eighth generation New Yorker dating to an ancestor from Northern Ireland's Derry, in Ulster, and to several other multi-generational immigrant ancestors from Germany and England.
Richard E. Bosco was from Suffern, NY and worked for Citibank. He didn't work at the WTC. Instead, his job was to cultivate new clients. His first business of the day on 9/11 was a visit to Cantor Fitzgerald, which from its 101-105 floor HQ in 1 WTC lost 2/3 of its workforce - more than any other WTC tenant, the NYPD or the FDNY.
Ethiopia's Jews are many-hued and as ancient as the religion itself. Appearing 15 times in the bible, according to Professor Ephraim Isaac, himself an Ethiopian Jew and a scholar of the first order, Ethiopia is and was a nexus of early civilization.
SIGD is an Ethiopian Jewish holiday that occurs 50 days following Yom Kippur, and commemorates the date that God first revealed himself to Moses. In it, the Kessim - or spiritual leaders - carry the Orit (Torah) to the highest nearby mountain peak and recite passages from it, symbolizing Moses' receipt of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
SIGD is also a celebration - one that involves eating (breaking the day's fast), lectures about history and the diaspora, and, as seen here, Ethiopian traditional dance. #thecolorofnewyork#ceremony#celebration#streetphotography#blackandwhite#ethiopian#jew#jewish#immigrant#dancing#synagogue#tradition#sigd
Yossi, whose birth name is Leonard (Леонард), came to #newyorkcity in 1998 from #moscow . An #engineer by training, with specialities in mechanical, electrical, and infrastructure, he worked until 2012, when he was in a car accident from which he never recovered. The #disability hurts him deeply. He explodes with ideas and ambition, and has no outlet for either. 'Let's start a company; I have so many inventions, do you understand? You'll be very rich.' In another strand of our discussion: 'I've discovered #god ; not the biblical one - energy. I've calculated it' 'You mean, the Big Bang?' 'NO! Before that. What do you think caused the Big Bang,' he snapped, hitting my arm? 'The energy came from somewhere, and I've found it, in a calculation.' Yossi is a beautiful human being. I'll be visiting him again, on the #brightonbeach#boardwalk in #brooklyn . #blackandwhite#streetphotography#russian#immigrant#thecolorofnewyork
#eastharlem used to be a major #puertorican enclave - #elbarrio to the remaining locals. Richie was born on 110th and 5th, and hasn't left it in his 60 years on the planet. He works at the Democratic Club on 110th, near Third Avenue - a center for #nuyorican politics by day and dancing by night - where I met him in the adjacent garden the city designated to the community. He told me that through the early 70's, until he died, 'Papa John' - a prominent Vanderbilt - would dress like a hobo every day and come to the flop house on 110th and 5th, carrying 8 crates (with aides) to feed the homeless. A New York piece of history that continues on only by word of mouth, by those who were there. #blackandwhite#newyorkcity#hispanic#latino#streetphotography#thecolorofnewyork