Congregation Rodeph Sholom was preparing for its 175th birthday when I visited in 2016. The guard at the front desk was kind enough to allow me in and notified Barbara Zakin, the director, that I was interested in learning more about their magnificent temple. I was grateful that she immediately came downstairs to greet me and led me into the sanctuary. It was a breathtaking sight to behold. Seeing the expression on my face, Barbara simply stated, "They don't build buildings like this anymore." She then went on to tell me that they are "one of the 'Big 5' largest Reform synagogues in the city" with 1800 members.
Formed on the Lower East Side by eighty members from Bikkur Cholim, the congregation moved to several different locations before constructing their current building in 1930. Though the congregation started out orthodox, like most nineteenth century synagogues, it transitioned to Reform in 1901. After allowing me a few minutes to stand inside the grand sanctuary, Barbara was then eager to show off the rest of their space. As she described it, "There is a hub of activity going on throughout the building on any given day." They have a book club, mahjong, theater productions, a Jewish Day School, a homeless shelter, and, she added proudly, "We have even had the same rabbi for twenty-five years."
A few weeks later, I returned with members of the Manhattan Sideways team. On this day, we met with Rachel Evans, the operations director, who gave us a more extensive tour, stopping in a wood panel room, known as the Leader Board Room. Rachel enjoyed telling us that the space had been scouted by various TV shows, including "30 Rock," who filmed several scenes in the room. We then continued on to the Schafler Room, an event space used for a variety of purposes. The school children utilize the room for recess, and there is a stage where the synagogue puts on a performance each May. The musical series was in its eleventh season after being revived in the mid-2000s and the synagogue was looking forward to "Seussical the Musical" in the spring of 2016. Rachel informed us that the space is also very popular with nonprofit organizations. Galas, auctions, and dinners have all been hosted here, as well as private celebrations such as weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs.
Continuing our walk, I admired a survival torah mounted on the wall, which Rachel said had been rescued by a Czechoslovakian family after World War II. At our final destination within Rodem Sholom, I found myself standing in the balcony of the sanctuary gazing down in awe, yet again. Turning to Rachel, I commented, "I do not believe that there is a bad seat in the house." She agreed wholeheartedly.
All parents throughout New York, locals and tourists alike, should know about the educational and transformative experience of the Children's Museum of Manhattan. The 83rd Street institution, although it opened in 1973, has been at its current location since 1989. It is an extraordinary (not to mention really fun! ) resource for both kids and adults. I happened to visit during the week that constitutes winter break for New York schools, and so I witnessed an incredible amount of excitement and enthusiasm on each of the floors. Children as young as a few weeks old were in their mother's arms or being pushed in a stroller while their siblings were running around, checking out the interactive exhibits. Almost every aspect of the museum had something to push, touch, or listen to, giving children a tactile way of learning and remembering. I received an eye-opening tour from David Rios, the Director of Public Programs, who guided me from the fifth floor back to ground level. An exhibit called Playworks, designed for early learning, is located upstairs. For more than ten years, the museum's team worked side by side with child development experts to create a space where little ones can enhance their motor skills and problem-solving abilities. I enjoyed standing on the sidelines and observing children climbing in and out of a large wooden FDNY truck, a NYC bus, and a deli with plastic foods. As David explained, "Some museums have a supermarket, but we're in New York, so we have a deli. "I was amazed by how often the museum catered to varying age levels within the same space. For example, in the Movers and Shakers section, older children could learn math and physics by building mini roller coasters while younger siblings could crawl through tunnels and slide down slides. I was delighted to see parents participating with their children: this is definitely a museum where entire families can enjoy themselves, and children's learning is enhanced by parental guidance. Though there are plenty of buttons that encourage children to learn on their own, there is also signage so that parents can provide a further explanation to their kids. The museum is designed so that parents and older children do not feel intimidated or shy about trying out the different exhibits. As David stated so nicely, "This is a fun, non-judgmental environment for all ages to learn. "Continuing on, I entered The Lab, where children can read stories, sing songs, and learn more about art and science. All of the writing and sound bites are bilingual, since Spanish-speaking families make up such a significant portion of New York City's population. David told me that The Lab sometimes holds special events, such as a visit from members of Alvin Ailey, who danced with the children in an effort to teach them about movement. The next room took Peek-a-Boo to a whole new level with a digital version of the game and in the following room, I had to laugh out loud as I explored the digestive system, complete with a talking toilet. The grand finale of the tour was the America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near and Far special exhibit that is running from February 2016 - February 2017. The visually compelling exhibit is a multimedia exploration of the diversity of Muslim cultures within the United States and abroad. It is a collaboration between the museum's staff and members of the Muslim community and is an ingenious way of introducing children to topical cultural differences in an age-appropriate way. For example, there is a section where kids can press buttons to smell a variety of fruits and spices, as well as a collection of "Objects and Stories from American Muslim Homes. " Some other highlights included a life-size camel, musical instruments, and a virtual reality room that allows visitors to explore the architectural styles of different mosques. I was pleased to find out Mayor Bill de Blasio supports the exhibit. He has stated, "With America to Zanzibar, children will have the chance to learn about Muslim cultures in an engaging and thoughtful way. We only grow stronger when we embrace and celebrate the multitude of cultural backgrounds that make up New York. "
The Metropolitan Republican’s Club began its life in 1902 as the Republican Club of the 29th District. It originally met on Madison Avenue before moving to the Croyden Hotel in 1929. The current clubhouse was built in 1930. Past and present members include Theodore Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, Michael R. Bloomberg, and Rudolph Giuliani.
Taka Tokuyama came to the US from Tokyo in 2004. He began his career in New York working not only in salons, but also as a hair stylist for fashion shows and some leading magazines. In 2011, he decided that it was time to launch his own brand. The first business that he opened was on 83rd Street. He immediately drew customers from the neighborhood, and he is proud to say that many of the celebrities he worked with over the years also frequent the salon. In 2013, he opened another space in the East Village, followed more recently in 2016, with one in Tribeca. Each week, Taka divides his time as evenly as possible, accommodating his clients at all three of his salons.
When I knocked on the door to Engine Company 74, two firemen sprinted to the door and opened it with big grins on their faces. It was quite a welcome, and another example of how New York's firemen are consistently friendly and kind. The disposition of the two men clashed with the ominous dinosaur skull that marks their doors, but I soon learned the reason for the design: the doors to the firehouse used to be painted black, and so other firemen would often accidentally miss the building while looking for it, earning the company the nickname "The Lost World. " It also helps that the Museum of Natural History, home to a vast collection of dinosaur bones, is a few blocks away. The company started on 77th Street, with Hook and Ladder 25. Engine Company 56 occupied the 83rd Street building, which had been donated to the FDNY by Harry M. Archer, doctor and Deputy Chief of the fire department. His donation, however, came with a special stipulation: the building had to always house a fire truck, or else the property would revert back to his family. Engine Company 56 was disbanded in 1960 and replaced, in the same firehouse, with Squad Company 6. According to James Riordan, a former member of Squad Company 6, their initial apparatus was a hose wagon, then a van, and eventually a pumper before they, too, were disbanded in 1972. The Squad 6 firefighters were assigned to the then newly formed Ladder 59 in the Bronx, and Engine 74 moved in. In addition to its interesting origin story, Engine Company 74 has another element that makes it stand out from other companies: A Dalmatian. We met Yogi, the twelve year old dog who is the firehouse's mascot. He has also become a neighborhood icon, to the extent that when Yogi got sick, the community raised $7, 000 for his medical bills. I learned that Dalmatians are associated with fire departments because back when there were horses and buggies, rather than fire trucks, Dalmatians were discovered to be the best at keeping the horses on course. Sadly, not many firehouses still have Dalmatians, which is all the more reason why Engine Company 74 shows Yogi so much love. They raised him from a pup, and the fireman admitted that the canine has spent more time in the house on 83rd Street than any of men. As I said my goodbyes to the firemen, I mentioned that firemen were consistently the friendliest, most optimistic people on the side streets. One of the firemen nodded, "Of course – it's the best job in the world. You get to help people. "