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Father of 12 gunned down by masked robbers

A native of Dominican Republic who works at a Bedford Park bodega was killed inside his apartment in the early hours of Dec. 21 following an attempted robbery, according to the NYDaily News.

Police identified the victim as Anselmo Porras, 51, an employee of Nizao Grocery along Briggs Ave. The robbers reportedly followed Porras home because they suspected he had the night’s receipts.

According to NBC New York, Porras left behind nine children who live in Spain, two kids who live in the Dominican Republic, and one who lives in New York.

Posted in Newswire0 Comments

Tapping into stimulus funds to create green jobs

Trainee Anthony Maleton gets a new free uniform from the program. Attracted by the opportunity to get a more stable job, the 35-year-old former delivery truck driver in the city decided to enroll. He wants to be an asbestos inspector.

In the borough where the unemployment rate hovers around 12.3 percent—the highest in the state–“green-collar” jobs in heating, cooling, and window retrofitting are still experiencing modest growth. That’s due in large part to 2010 federal stimulus money earmarked particularly for the environmentally friendly industries, according to the Hunts Point-based Sustainable South Bronx advocacy group.

“We are at 70 to 75 percent of people getting jobs,” said Annette Williams, training director at Sustainable South Bronx. “Within the last month, we have gotten 13 people hired.”

Williams’ organization advocates environment-friendly solutions to the chronic joblessness endemic to the South Bronx. Eight years ago the group initiated a green jobs program that trains unemployed and low-income residents in building maintenance, urban forestry, landscaping and hazardous waste cleanup. In 2010, the organization received an extra $150,000 windfall from President Barack Obama’s $396 million federal green technology stimulus funds for New York State.

“It’s not saying everybody who needs jobs are going to get one,” Williams said. “But for our program and other organizations that I see and know about, people are being hired for the skills that we’re training them in and that’s good.”

Since 2003, 300 trainees have graduated from the 17-week program. Based on the three-year period of monitoring after graduation, more than a quarter of them are either “enrolled in higher education or employed,” said Rebecca Manski, a spokesperson of the organization.

Earlier this year, 29-year-old Tanesha Koonce graduated from the program and went on to work at APEX Engineering Inc.

Koonce’s success inspired her younger sister Kimberly Jones to sign up as well. Jones is part of the latest batch of 21 trainees who started the program on September 28. Of the 21 people enrolled, eight are women including Jones.

By January 2012, the 21-year-old single mother will be ready to take on the next green roof installation job, asbestos inspection and handling, or building air sealing and insulation.

The slightly-framed Bronx local, with neat hair bun and a shy smile, has been waking up at 6 a.m. every weekday over the past 10 weeks in order to make it to her training sessions. A single mom of a 2-year old, she needed enough time to drop off her child at a babysitter before heading to the classes. When the training was held in Long Island, she had to wake up at 4:30 a.m.

Jones said she does not mind the routine adding that she’s excited to come to school for the training. “I love doing hands-on work,” she said.

Each graduate is certified in each component, from handling hazardous waste to emergency response. They also receive training in storm water management, weatherization of houses and concrete installation.

When she lost her job as a manager of a laundry, Yolanda Regis, of Kingsbridge, decided to enroll as well, saying that at age 42, she needed to be financially independent. She said she is determined to finish the training and start anew.

“I’m very flexible and I am strong,” said Regis, referring to the physical requirement to lift 25 pounds. “If I put my mind to it I can do it.”

Regis said she was wants to learn how to seal and install new energy-efficient appliances.

The $8,010 tuition cost is fully subsidized by private grants. Participants also receive transportation support. To qualify for the training, participants must be 18-years-old or older and have a high school diploma or a GED certificate. They also have to be currently unemployed and considered low-income residents of New York to qualify for the tuition waiver.

They are required to commit five days each week for four months to finish the course. And as Williams said, trainees must have “the hunger and desire” to change their lives.

Most of the green jobs are traditionally for men, but more and more women are taking on the challenging skills.

“Women can do that kind of work,” Williams said. “We don’t have to be planting trees or sitting behind a desk taking notes or answering phones. We are able to get these skills embedded into us and able to do the same job a man can do.”

Attracted by the opportunity to get a more stable job, Anthony Maleton, a 35-year-old former delivery truck driver in the city decided to enroll. In his previous job, he did not receive bonus pay for overtime work. He said the program will not only give him a new set of skills, but also give him more flexibility with his schedule.  He said he wants to be an asbestos inspector.

The state of New York has received a total of $396 million dollars in federal stimulus money for its green jobs program. The money is then distributed to different government agencies and not-for-profit organizations. Two years after its implementation more than 50 percent has been completed and an estimated 1,400 jobs have created, according to, a U.S. government website which tracks stimulus spending.

The Sustainable South Bronx works with two other jobs training organizations to implement its program.   Hunts Point, where the organization is located,  is part of the South Bronx Congressional District 16, the poorest congressional district in the U.S. About 39 percent, or 269,136 of its residents live in poverty. The children in the community fare even worse with 52 percent under poverty rate, or 105, 153 children.

Some critics argued that President Obama’s green jobs program is not producing enough results to ease the national 8.6 percent unemployment rate, but Williams challenged those who oppose the initiative to visit South Bronx to see what residents go through every day.

“Come live in out shoes for a week, where you watch children have asthma in our community,” she said.

Williams said that at her office, every employment created through her program is a cause for celebration.

“It’s awesome to see that jobs are opening up,” said Williams. “They’re not opening up like they’re hiring thousands of people but they are opening up to people that are skilled in green jobs.”

Posted in The 12 Percent0 Comments

Mosque, ultra-Orthodox synagogue share one roof in the Bronx

Members of the ultra-Orthodox synagogue Chabad of East Bronx were mostly members of Parkchester's Young Israel congregation in Parkchester, which closed down because of low membership. (Ted Regencia/THE BRONX INK)

Near the corner of Westchester Avenue and Pugsley Street in Parkchester, just off the elevated tracks of the No. 6 train, Yaakov Wayne Baumann stood outside a graffiti-covered storefront on a chilly Saturday morning. Suited up in a black overcoat with a matching wide-brimmed black fedora, the thickly bearded 42-year-old chatted with elderly congregants as they entered the building for Shabbat service.

Nothing unusual here except that the green awning above the entrance reads Masjid Al-Iman in bold white letters with an Arabic inscription below. The building is owned by the Islamic Cultural Center of North America, home to the Al-Iman mosque. For the past two and half years, the Chabad of East Bronx, an ultra-Orthodox synagogue, has also worshiped under the same roof.

At a time when New York’s Jewish community is facing tension after the recent anti-Semitic attack in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, this Bronx neighborhood’s Muslim community and its remaining Jewish residents have shown that they can worship peacefully side by side.

And while many view them as historic adversaries, a demographic change in the Bronx has propelled the two religious groups into a unlikely bond.

“There is no reason why we should fight,” said Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, the center’s founder.

Baumann only recently found out about the Chabad when he spotted six Orthodox men walking briskly in his area. They then invited him to their unusual prayer space for food during Sukkot, the Jewish harvest festival in October. Baumann said he was surprised to find the synagogue was housed in a Muslim center, but also happy that there is still a place for Jews in Parkchester to worship.

“People have a misconception that Muslims hate Jews,” said Baumann. “But here is an example of them working with us.”

It all started a few years ago at the now-shuttered Young Israel Congregation, also in Parkchester. The congregation used to give away clothing for needy families in the neighborhood, said Leon Bleckman, 78, the treasurer of Young Israel, who now attends the Chabad.

Drammeh was in charge of collecting clothing donations for members of his mosque, many of whom are immigrants from Africa. The 49-year-old is an immigrant from Gambia in West Africa who came to the U.S. in 1986. After a year in Harlem, he moved to Parkchester, where he eventually founded the Muslim center and later established an Islamic grade school.

Through that initial interaction, cooperation between the two houses of worship was developed. It didn’t hurt that Drammeh is a likable person, Bleckman said. The synagogue continued to donate to the Islamic center, among other organizations.

But in 2003, after years of declining membership, Young Israel was forced to sell its building at 1375 Virginia Ave., according to Yeshiva University, which keeps historical records of  synagogues in New York City. Before the closing, non-religious items were given away, including chairs and tables now used at Drammeh’s Islamic center.

Meanwhile, Bleckman and the remaining members moved to a nearby storefront location, renting it for $2,000 a month including utilities. With mostly elderly congregants, Young Israel struggled to survive financially.

That decline followed a trend in the Bronx. In the 1930s, the Jewish population was estimated at 630,000, according to the Bronx County Historical Society. Bleckman remembered that when he was growing up in the South Bronx, there were six or seven synagogues and on Saturdays, they were always packed.

But by 2002, the number of Jews in the Bronx had dropped to 45,100 in the borough of 1.3 million people, based on a study by the Jewish Community Relations Council.

At the same time, the Muslim population has been increasing. According to a 2001 Columbia University study, there were 600,000 Muslims spread across the five boroughs. In Parkchester alone, there are currently five mosques, including Drammeh’s Masjid Al-Iman.

At the end of 2007, Young Israel ran out of money and closed for good. The congregants were left without a place to pray.

During the farewell service a day before the closing, members of Young Israel were surprised when four young men from the Chabad Lubavitch world headquarters in Crown Heights showed up. Three months earlier, Bleckman, then chairman of the synagogue’s emergency fund, had appealed for help from the Chabad.

“The boys from the Chabad said they came to save us,” said Bleckman. “We were crying.”

From then on, Chabad took over from Young Israel. The members adopted the new name Chabad of East Bronx. Still, for the next six to seven weeks, Bleckman said they could not even hold a service because they had nowhere to hold it.

On weekdays, when the makeshift synagogue is not in use, students from the Islamic school use it as their classroom. (Ted Regencia/THE BRONX INK)

When Drammeh learned of their plight, he volunteered to accommodate them for free at the Muslim center at 2006 Westchester Ave.

“They don’t pay anything because these are old folks whose income are very limited now,” said Drammeh, adding that it was his turn to help.

For about six months, the few remaining Jewish members held their Friday night service inside Drammeh’s cramped office. As more people began attending the Friday prayer, Drammeh offered a bigger room where the Chabad could set up a makeshift shul, the Yiddish term for synagogue.

Inside the synagogue, a worn, beige cotton curtain separates the men and women who attend the service. A solitary chandelier hangs just above the black wooden arc that holds the borrowed Torah, which is brought weekly from the Chabad headquarters. A large table covered with prayer books stands in the center. In one corner, a table is stacked with pastries and Seagram’s ginger ale. A picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the leader in the Chabad-Lubavitch dynasty, is displayed prominently nearby.

During Shabbat, when Jewish congregants are strictly prohibited from working, they have to rely on the Muslim workers at the center or on Drammeh to do simple chores such as turning on the light and switching the heater.

Drammeh said he admires the dedication of the rabbis, who walk 15 miles from Brooklyn every Saturday so that they can administer the service for the elderly Parkchester residents.

Bleckman said he was comfortable attending service inside the Islamic center. “They were very friendly to us when we were in Young Israel, so I knew that it was okay,” he said.

“They are funny and nice and one of the most hospitable people in the world,” Drammeh added.

At first, it did not make sense, said Hana Kabakow, wife of Rabbi Meir Kabakow. “I was surprised,” said the 26-year-old congregant who was born and raised in Israel. “But when I came here I understood.” The Kabakows have been coming to the service from Brooklyn for the last two years.

Harriet Miller, another congregant, said she appreciated the center’s accommodating the synagogue. “They are very sweet people,” said the 79-year-old Bronx native and long-time resident of Parkchester of her Muslim hosts.

Miller said she welcomes the new Muslim immigrants in her neighborhood, adding “we were not brought up to hate.”

Drammeh also understands the importance of teaching tolerance. That is why fifth-grade students at the center’s Islamic Leadership School are required to participate in an interfaith program organized by the Museum of Jewish Heritage, a Holocaust memorial in Manhattan.

And it seems that he is making a conscious effort to make the school a model for religious tolerance in New York. The Islamic school was originally founded at the nearby St. Helena Catholic Church on Sept. 11, 2001.

“We’re not as divided as the media portrays us to be,” Drammeh said. “Almost 90 percent of Jewish, Muslim and Christian teachings are the same.”

The project introduces fifth-grade Jewish and Islamic school students to each other’s religious traditions. Other participants of the four-month program include the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, the Al Ihsan Academy of Queens, and the Kinneret Day School of Riverdale.

“It has been more successful than we thought possible,” said Shireena Drammeh, the principal of the Islamic school and wife of the center’s founder. She credited both the Muslim and Jewish parents and students for embracing the “opportunity to interact with each other.”

The program, now on its sixth year, involves Jewish and Muslim students visiting a mosque and a synagogue. At the end of the program, they also organize an exhibit that shows family artifacts of their respective cultures and religion. At the Islamic center itself, the makeshift shul doubles as a classroom for the Muslim students during weekdays.

The principal said that even after the program ended, the student participants became “fast friends” and would visit each other’s homes.

“They would have birthday parties together,” Shireena Drammeh said. “When someone invites you to their house, I mean, that says it all right there and then.”

The two faiths have a lot in common and its critical to teach students about those lessons at a young age, said Dr. Paul Radensky, Museum Educator for Jewish Schools. “We want to build mutual understanding and mutual respect between Muslims and Jews.”

Patricia Tomasulo was the community leader in Parkchester who introduced the leaders of the synagogue and mosque to each other.

“Nowhere in the world would Jews and Muslims be meeting under the same roof,” said Tomasulo, who is Catholic. “That’s why it’s so unique.”

While the Jewish congregants are thankful for the welcome, they hope that one day they can rebuild their own synagogue. But that day may be far off. Even now that they have space to worship, they still struggle to operate. They don’t have proper heating inside, and the portable working heater could not reach the separate area where the elderly women are seated, forcing them to wear their jackets during the entire service. Congregants are appealing for financial support from the Jewish community and other congregations.

Even with the less than ideal conditions, they hope to use Hanukkah to attract new congregants.  Rabbi Notek said hopes to publicize the Dec. 26 Festival of Lights celebration to local Jewish residents through the mail and on the web. Leon Bleckman said the goal is to revive the Jewish presence in the neighborhood, while reaffirming the positive relationship with their Muslim friends.

“We are able to co-exist together side by side in the same building,” said Assistant Rabbi Avi Friedman, 42. “That’s sort of like a taste of the future world to come, the messianic future where all people live in peace.”

Despite his many efforts promoting religions tolerance, Moussa Drammeh said he still has a lot of work to do even within Parkchester’s diverse Muslim community. “Not every Muslim likes us because not every Muslim believes that Muslims and Jews should be like this,” Moussa Drammeh said referring to them sharing a space with a Jewish synagogue.

“There’s no reason why we should hate each other, why we cannot be families,” Moussa Drammeh said.

Aside the from the mosque, the Chabad of East Bronx synagogue also shares space with an Islamic school. All fifth graders at the Islamic school are required to participate in an interfaith program organized by the Museum of Jewish Heritage. (Ted Regencia/THE BRONX INK)

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, North Central Bronx0 Comments

Images of the Libyan conflict find a South Bronx audience

Images of the Libyan conflict find a South Bronx audience

World Press Photo award winner Tim Hetherington was killed in Libya on April 20, not long after he took the image above. (TED REGENCIA/The Bronx Ink)

One image shows an elderly man and two boys posing with spent mortar shells. Another captures a family fleeing a wrecked building, terror etched on their faces. In still another, a young soldier brandishes a machine gun, bullets wrapped around his body.

These full-color photos from the recent civil war in Libya are on display in Mott Haven as part of “Visions: Tim Hetherington,” the inaugural exhibition of the Bronx Documentary Center that opened on October 22, to honor the slain photojournalist and award-winning director of the documentary, “Restrepo,” a feature-length film on a U.S. platoon in Afghanistan.

Some of the photos on display were taken on the fatal day, when Hetherington and his fellow photographer, Chris Hondros, were caught in a crossfire in the Libyan rebel stronghold of Misurata.

The grim images notwithstanding, the center buzzed with energy in anticipation of the opening.

The newly renovated Beaux-Arts building on the corner of Courtlandt Avenue and 151st Street is home to the new center, the first of its kind in the South Bronx, which seeks to educate students through photography and video, while serving as a venue for world-class photojournalists and filmmakers to engage an “underserved” local community.

“Despite his success, Tim never lost sight of the human dynamics behind the violence he documented,” reads the exhibition’s synopsis posted on the wall.

The gallery was the brainchild of Michael Kamber, 48,  a New York Times photographers and reporter, to honor his friend, the late Hetherington. “I came up here with Tim, and we thought this is a community that doesn’t see documentary photography,” said Kamber, 48, who renovated the historic four-story building with financing from Fractured Atlas, a non-profit organization for the arts.  “This is the place to build it.”

After the legendary photographer was killed in Libya, Kamber moved back to the Bronx after a 20 year absence, and rushed to finish the first-floor gallery space. The top floor of the building that Kamber bought for $614,000 serves as Kamber’s home.

Sebastian Junger, another award-winning photographer and friend of both Kamber and Hetherington, said the center is an important addition to the community. “The South Bronx obviously is a community that’s had some tough years in its past and I think it’s just amazing that the photo community has an outpost here,” said the author of the bestseller, The Perfect Storm. “Typically you think of that as being in Manhattan.”

For Kamber, a three-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize — twice for photography and once for reporting — it’s his way of enriching his own neighborhood.

“We want to get young people in here,” said Kamber. “We’re going to show them this work and explain them what documentary photography is.”

The Bronx's newly opened Documentary Center displays Hetherington's work (TED REGENCIA/The Bronx Ink)

Aside from welcoming students, Kamber also plans to organize talks about veterans and post-war trauma – two of Hetherington’s most cherished issues.

It took five months of hard work for Kamber and his team to renovate the gallery. Photography students and friends, as well as fellow veterans of the war in Afghanistan pitched in to help.

On opening night, many of New York’s photography aficionados trooped north from Brooklyn and Manhattan for the event. Attendees huddled around the photo installations, while an overflow crowd packed its backyard. Spotted among the hundred or so attendees were veteran South Bronx photojournalists Mel Rosenthal and Ricky Flores, as well as Bronx artist Carey Clark from the community group, The Point.

Lawrence Scott, a 64-year old television producer, said he “fell in love with the concept” of a documentary center and decided to volunteer his time.

“A lot of people that would not normally come to the Bronx would come and realize that it’s a neighborhood just like any place else,” said Scott, who lives nearby.

Fanny Placentia, an 18 year-old Bronx native studying visual arts, said she was excited to learn that a new gallery was opening in her neighborhood. The young brown-haired teenager came with a classmate and their teacher to have a look at the 36-by-30-inch war photographs.

“I don’t have to go to great lengths to get to the center,” said Placentia, who found the exhibition inspiring, even though she had never heard of Hetherington. “It’s right there near my home.”

The photo exhibit runs until Dec. 2, 2011.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Multimedia, Southern Bronx, Video0 Comments

A view from the Bronx: The 2011 New York City marathon

2011 New York City Marathon

Picture 1 of 10

With their running shoes ready and their energy in high gear, this year’s 47,000 plus New York City marathoners gathered last Sunday in Staten Island for the 41st time that the race has been held.

In South Bronx, home to a number of top African competitive runners, local residents lined up the intersection of 3rd Avenue and 138th Street, near the 20-mile marker, to cheer on the runners.

Students from the Bronx Preparatory Charter School had their chants and pink pompoms in place. Nearby volunteers from the Seventh Day Adventist congregation distributed energy drinks in their white and orange jumpsuits. On the other side of the street, Latin music fused with Katy Perry’s, “California Gurls” blasted next to St. Jerome’s Catholic Church. The Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center set up a makeshift stage and a banner that read, “Go, Buzunesh Deba, Go.” Deba was the marathon champion from Ethiopia who has been living in the Bronx for six years.

As the runners crossed the 20th-mile maker in the Bronx, Deba and her compatriot, Ferihiwot Dado, were both running behind Mary Keitany, the early race leader. That dampened some of the excitement in the crowd. But both runners eventually overtook Keitany. Dado won 2:23:15, four seconds ahead of the favorite, Deba.

On the men’s side, Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai ran alongside a pack of seven African runners trying to outpace each other.

Only a sliver of the 26.2 mile race cut through the Bronx, even though it is home to the race’s top runners. Still, Bronxites made sure the runners felt welcome.

To read the full story, please click here

Posted in Bronx Life, Bronx Neighborhoods, Featured, Sports0 Comments

After midnight with the fishmongers

A Trip to the New Fulton Fish Market in New York by Ted Regencia

It’s been almost six years since the New Fulton Fish Market moved to The Bronx on Nov. 14, 2005 after 180 years of smelling up lower Manhattan. The $86-million, half-mile long facility houses more than 30 wholesale distributors, bringing over a billion dollars in annual revenue. Critics contend it lacks the character of the old market by the Brooklyn Bridge, and its remote location contributes to a recent slump in sales. Others say the city-owned Hunts Point warehouse has modern amenities that keep the produce fresh and in high demand. Most recently, one operator declared bankruptcy leaving the warehouse 15 percent empty. But on a midnight visit not too long ago, the market still pulsates with energy. And with the thick smell of the sea wafting over the vending spots, there’s no mistaking this is the world’s second largest fish market.

Posted in Bronx Life, Featured, Food, Multimedia, Slideshows, Southern Bronx0 Comments

Tour de Bronx 2011

Some 6,000 cyclists biked the Bronx on Oct. 23. Bike enthusiasts young and old took over the streets from Bronx County Courthouse to the Sheridan Expressway and Pelham Bay Park.


Posted in Bronx Life, Culture, Featured1 Comment

Bronx church tests First Amendment guarantees before Supreme Court, UPI

“Will a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court succeed in putting God back into the public schools, at least when classes aren’t being held?” the news agency UPI asked.

At issue in the case is whether government can ban worship services of a Bronx congregation at a school property, to enforce the constitutional separation of church and state.

In 1994, the Bronx Household of Faith church applied to use space in the Anne Cross Mersereau Middle School in The Bronx for its Sunday morning worship service. The issue triggered numerous challenges and it is now up to the justices to decide on the case.

Posted in Newswire0 Comments

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