Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving Day in New York

A lone runner in Central Park. 2:25 PM. Photo: JH.
A mild and briefly sunny Thanksgiving Day in New York. In the morning, the good portion of Manhattan is dominated by the Macy’s Day Parade which begins up in the mid-80s on Central Park West and extends down to Herald Square. The crowds and activity get started by nightfall on Wednesday night up at its starting off point. It’s the greatest parade for kids of all ages and it’s another one of those aspects of New York that astonish in the seeing.

All the way across the island from the melee, it was very quiet on East End Avenue and it is a fair bet to make that many of its residents had left town for the long holiday weekend.  In this late autumn light, the foliage, wet from the light rains and misting in the parks and along the streets, is now at its most brilliant, with vistas like daubs of Monet’s brushes. Soon it will have deserted the trees.

I picked up a book that a friend of mine had been raving about: Jeanine Basinger’s “The Star Machine” (Knopf). It is about that: how Hollywood created stars. For film buffs it must be like eating a box of chocolates at one sitting. For people over forty who’ve been watching movies all their lives, it’s fascinating, and for any student of American history, psychology, sociology and marketing, it is a thought provoking cultural document. 

Click cover to order.
For example, in a group of chapters on actresses and studios called Defection: Deanna Durbin and Jean Arthur, Basinger traces the entire professional career of a little girl named Edna Mae Durbin who became a Hollywood child star Deanna Durbin and a blazing tribute to formulaic box office success. She appeared in 21 feature films in 11 years, almost all of which were money-makers, and then at age 28, she quit, moved to a village in France and has never been heard from since. In summing up the explanation for the enormous success of her films, Basinger articulates the secret:

“Deanna Durbin’s movies are about innocence and sweetness. They’re from a different time and a different place. Outside the movie house, there was Depression, poverty, war, death, and loss. Audiences then were willing to pretend, to enter into a game of escape. No one really thought that the world was like a Deanna Durbin movie, they just wanted to pretend it was for about an hour and a half.”

Regular readers of the NYSD may recall our first visit to Dubai a month ago when we went to an al fresco dinner party at the house of Anwer Sher and his then fiancée, Eileen Verdieck. I say “then” because Anwer and Eileen got married a couple of weeks ago. A most interesting, and most welcoming couple, Eileen is an American born and bred horsewoman, who has lived abroad much of her adult life. Anwer is Pakistani born and bred, the son of an Army general. A once-upon-a-time banker who has lived in the Emirates for some time now has in hand in several business activities as well as writing a blog from Dubai, which includesthe weekly column he writes for Emirates Today. (

Because of his background and connections, and because I learned on meeting that Anwer is a thinking man and a kind man, I read his dispatches with interest in learning about his part of the world which is so different from mine and yet has much impact on mine. His most recent entry (Tuesday, November 21) is about General Musharraf and Pakistan. He sheds a bit of a different light on it because he sees the situation in terms of the ongoing history of his country.

At this holiday time, many of those who met at the conference of the “Festival of Thinkers” in Abu Dhabi emailed each other on this holiday time not only to send best wishes but also to touch base. The journey to the Emirates was very memorable in many ways. Although the dynamic and incredible growth and development in that part of the world, it is yet without a vibe, per se; that which would define it beyond its architectural feast and splendor. Money is not a a vibe. So instead, we were all pilgrims of a kind, sharing the fellowship of the New and the Exotic of the 21st century.

Sharon Pepper, LCSW, Fern Martin, Director of The Whittaker Center, and Anna Larina, BSW
Meanwhile, back at the homeland, yesterday was a holiday when thousands and thousands of Americans volunteer part of their day or days to serve others, especially to feed our neighbors who are hungry.

JH and his family volunteer every year to participate in serving a Thanksgiving dinner at the Whittaker Senior Center of The Educational Alliance down on the Lower East Side. Holidays are many things to many people. For many they can be stressful,  and lonely. For the older members of the community they can be a time of harsh isolation provoking significant feelings of loss, loneliness and sadness.  

The Whittaker Senior Center is inspiring because it refurbishes and restores the notion of neighborhood that is missing in so much of modern life.  This fact is hardest on children and older, elderly people.  So, The Whittaker Senior Center is an important (and crucial) place that addresses the needs of the older, elderly members of the Lower East Side community.
Some of the guests brave enough to get up and dance along to 'Hands Up."
More than just a Center, the Whittaker provides many things for the community including social, education and recreational programs. There are classes that include a Men’s Group, Women’s Group, Literary Club, Drama, Jewish Philosophy, Reminisce group, support groups, a group for coping with change. There are discussion classes, art classes, Bingo, Ceramics, Aerobics, Knitting, current events, art classes, yoga. They have lots of parties for all the holidays. People pay an annual membership fee of $36. But the cost of many programs, including the social programs are funded through contributions.

This year 85 members of Whittaker Center celebrated Thanksgiving at a dinner. That’s where JH joined his family and friends in volunteering. He had the Digital with him too so you can catch a glimpse of the scene.
If you are interested in learning more about any of the programs at the Whittaker Center and/or would like to make a donation, please contact Fern Martin (Director of Whittaker Center) at 212.780.2300 ext. 316.

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