Pesach in New York is a unique American experience. It is a time when Jewish families can be seen throughout the city, sampling its numerous cultural and natural attractions. Walk through Central Park during Chol HaMoed and it seems that every other person is a frum Jew, just remember to pack some lunch as most kosher eateries will be closed for the duration of the holiday. Closer to home, there are plenty of places to explore. In no particular order, I give you a brief guide to our hometown borough:
Museum of the Moving Image
36-01 35th Avenue, Astoria
Located on the same block as the active Kaufman Studios, this museum is filled with film technology artifacts going back more than a century. Aside from a century of film technology, the museum is popular for its ongoing Jim Henson exhibit that includes props used for the Muppets and Sesame Street. This year’s exhibits include A Whole Different Ball Game: Playing Through 60 Years of Sports Video Games, on display through October 20.
New York City Building
Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Located inside a building designed for the 1939-1940 World’s Fair, its top attraction is the Panorama of NYC, the largest architectural model in the world. If you have relatives coming in from out of town and there is no time to take them on a tour of the five boroughs, the Panorama will suffice. I’ve done this for my family members. Instead of sitting in traffic to visit Manhattan, your Panorama visit should be followed up with a group photo by the country’s largest globe, the unofficial symbol of our borough. This year’s exhibit, Mundos Alternos: Art and Science Fiction in the Americas, offers science fiction visions from artists across the Americas, an international perspective on a possible future using paintings and giant sculptures. On view through August 18.
Sixth floor of Queens Gymnasia
60-05 Woodhaven Boulevard
Call Aron Aronov at 718-896-8999
Many of our readers either know Bukharian Jews as neighbors or happen to be themselves Bukharian, so why does there need to be a museum? For historian Aron Aronov, it is a place to tell the stories of families through artifacts collected over the course of a quarter century, resulting in the narrative of a community. What began as a collection in his basement is now in a school where the next generation of leaders in this community learns about their heritage. Numerous diplomats, politicians, philanthropists, and regular people have been here. As a historian, I find Aronov’s do-it-yourself museum an inspiration and so do many larger museums, which often borrow his artifacts for their exhibits on Central Asian Jews.
New York Hall of Science
47-01 111th Street, Corona
What began as an exhibit for the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair has since expanded in 1971, 1986, and 2004, each time reopening with new offerings such as a planetarium, indoor play area for infants, art exhibition space, restored Atlas and Titan rockets, and the Science Playground with mini-golf, the largest playground of its kind in the Western Hemisphere. Hands-on, interactive, energetic, and educational, the Hall of Science demonstrates an engaging approach towards the interplay of nature and technology in resolving the mysteries of the universe. On exhibit through May 5, Bionic Me shows how prosthetic technology enhances the human experience in vision, mobility, and other senses. The show Backyard Wilderness 3D introduces visitors to the wonders of nature here in the city. On view through September 30.
34-56 107th Street, Corona
This museum defines the term “neighborhood celebrity.” From 1943 until his death in 1971, this townhouse was home to the world’s leading jazz musician, one who gave free lessons and bought ice cream for local children. The inside is nearly untouched from the day of his death. A guide pushes a button and Satchmo’s voice gives you tidbits on his life along with a few tunes from his cornet. It’s as if he never left the place.
Queens County Farm Museum
73-50 Little Neck Parkway, Floral Park
Sure our borough has plenty of green rooftops, community gardens, backyard plots and windowsill spices but the largest and last true farm in the borough is in Floral Park, taking up 47 acres. In operation since 1697, this farm has livestock, heavy farm machinery, planting fields, and a vineyard. Events on its calendar include a children’s carnival, antique motor show, and a Native American pow-wow.
Fort Totten Park
A pristine peninsula at the borough’s northeast tip surrounds a preserved Civil War fortress. Feel the breeze of salt air from the Long Island Sound as you walk through the tunnels connecting the fortress with the park. As the park still shares the peninsula with a National Guard Reserve base and a Fire Department training academy, you may still pass by companies of young recruits jogging to humorous rhymes barked out by their drill instructors. This past March the fortress briefly hosted a replica of the Iron Throne, from the Game of Thrones fantasy novel. Although it has since been removed, it put Fort Totten on the map, if hasn’t already appeared on it.
169 State Rd, Breezy Point
Amid the wild dunes what appear to be hilltops are concrete installations that were designed to protect New York during both World Wars and the Cold War. Decommissioned in 1974, Fort Tilden is a unit of the Gateway National Recreation Area, a series of federally administered parks ringing the city’s oceanic shores. Along with vacant military structures, Fort Tilden has a pristine beach filled with seashells and wildlife. Pesach is a perfect time to explore Fort Tilden for Orthodox Jews as it precedes the influx of immodestly-clad tattoo-covered hipsters who invade the beach every summer. Enjoy it while you can.
Bound by Park Lane South, Park Lane, Union Turnpike,
Myrtle Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard.
Forest Park sits atop the terminal moraine, a ridge of heavily wooded hills sculpted during the last ice age that spans the length of Long Island. Its main thoroughfare, Forest Park Drive, was designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and features a design similar to Central Park and Prospect Park. The third largest park in Queens, it includes a historic carousel, greenhouse, band shell, golf course, sports fields, and monuments. Near Woodhaven Boulevard is Strack Pond and closer to Park Lane South and Myrtle Avenue is a pine grove. Were it not for the noise of Jackie Robinson Parkway, which runs through the park, the forested scene couldn’t feel more distant from being in the city.
Alley Pond Park
Bound by Little Neck Bay, Long Island Expressway, Union Turnpike, between Springfield Boulevard, Douglaston Parkway
Located in a deep ravine in eastern Queens, this park offers geological variety including freshwater and saltwater wetlands, tidal flats, meadows, and forests, an ecosystem with plenty of birds and animals on view. The Alley Pond Environmental Center on Northern Boulevard offers hand-on displays and hiking trails with signs that explain the park’s ecology. Among the park’s trees, the most distinguished is the 133-foot Queens Giant, a tulip tree that may be the tallest and the oldest living organism in the city. It is estimated to be between 350 and 450 years of age.
Parks and Playgrounds
We’ve already mentioned the Science Playground as one option for your toddler but here are a few more to make the most of the “exploring phase” as your children takes its first steps. My 18-month-old daughter has been to all of the parks mentioned below and heartily approves of their place in this guide.
Gantry Plaza State Park
Center Boulevard between North Basin Road
and 50th Avenue
Long Island City
This park opened in 2008 with postmodern style landscaping preserves the industrial past of the site, most notably with a pair of gantry cranes that lifted railroad cars off barges and onto tracks. The playground overlooks the East River and offers colorful play equipment situated on a very soft surface.
Hunters Point South
Center Boulevard between 50th Avenue and 54th Avenue
Long Island City
This city operated counterpart to Gantry Plaza opened in 2013 with its own examples of adaptive reuse of a former rail yard and includes a waterfront promenade, picnic lawn, and playground. Don’t be surprised to see so many Satmar families enjoying this Queens park during Chol HaMoed. Williamsburg is 10 minutes away by car. The NYC Ferry dock at this park takes the public to other locations along the East River at the cost of a subway ride, but without the signal problems.
Socrates Sculpture Park
Vernon Boulevard at Broadway
In my teenage years when my parents went shopping to the Costco in Astoria, I spent that half hour (at least) on the neighboring property, Socrates Sculpture Park. Boasting the largest collection of outdoor art in the city, it also offers views of Roosevelt Island’s lighthouse and Manhattan. A short walk from this park is the Astoria dock for NYC Ferry, which takes the public to other locations along the East River at the cost of a subway ride, but without the track work that slows down trains running below the river.
Francis Lewis Park
Third Avenue beneath
the Whitestone Bridge
Named after the Queens resident whose signature appears on the Declaration of Independence, this 17-acre park offers a sizable lawn, postmodern-style playground, and a beach on the East River. As you can guess, swimming is prohibited here, but one can walk on the sand, collect rocks and shells, and imagine the past before this corner of Queens was urbanized. Parking around this park is usually plentiful; I sometimes play here with my children while my wife shops at the Target on 20th Avenue, a five minute drive from this park.
Between Beach 9th and Beach 116th Street
The symbol of the rebuilt Rockaways is the oceanfront boardwalk, built out materials designed to withstand a storm surge. Along its route one can find postmodern style playgrounds with skateboarding parks. Along the way, there’s Arverne By the Sea, an urban renewal project that put Jersey Shore-style houses within walking distance of low-income projects. Old and new oceanfront living. As the water is still cold the beach scene is tsnius, a good time to search for seashells.
New Sights in Manhattan
If you’re willing to elbow your way through the crowds of Manhattan on Chol HaMoed, there are some attractions that recently opened and have quickly become part of the city’s fabric. You’re not the first to snap a selfie here, but why wait any longer?
34th Street at Hudson Boulevard
Accessible by the 7 train at its 34th Street-Hudson Yards terminus, this is Manhattan’s newest neighborhood. The Vessel is a 16-storey sculpture of stairs where one must reserve a free ticket in advance, or just pose for a photo below. More creative in its design is The Shed, a performance space with a retractable wall and roof that moves on rails. A couple of blocks north of 34th Street, Hudson Yards Park, recently renamed after local politician Bella Abzug has a postmodern-style playground and park landscaping by Michael Van Valkenburgh, the architect whose other post-millennial works include Brooklyn Bridge Park and Teardrop Park. This new neighborhood of glass box towers and condos connects to High Line, and one can then a walk a mile downtown above the streets without leaving the park.
Battery Place at West Street
Battery Park City
Battery Park is filled with monuments documenting the city’s 400-year history, such its explorers, builders, immigrants, and heroes. It also has a lawn, garden, and carousel, enough things to see that one may miss the boat to Liberty Island. At the corner where Battery Park meets Battery Park City is Pier A, the long-neglected former fireboat station that marks the point where Hudson River flows in New York Bay. Inside the restored pier are long hallways decorated with nautical charts, images of grand cruise ships, and other maritime memorabilia. The furniture and design of the interiors brings to mind a transatlantic ship from a century ago, when this was the only way to cross the ocean. After a visit to the nearby Museum of Jewish Heritage, with its holocaust history, this pier offers a contrasting narrative of giving thanks for readers whose ancestors fled Europe and arrived here safely before the genocide took place.
Perhaps our readers are not aware that the borough of Manhattan comprises of multiple islands. Among them is Roosevelt Island, the former asylum and hospital campus transformed into a neighborhood of residential towers, parks, technology campus, and a scenic state park at its southern tip. Take the F train to the Roosevelt Island station, then the Tramway cable car to Manhattan’s Upper East Side. This two-mile island that is only 800 feet in width is ideal for biking and jogging, with Manhattan island on one side and Queens on the other.
By Sergey Kadinsky