The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

wondered whether

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My Bubbe would have described the first shot as “Yoyzel on de cross.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For those of you who didn’t grow up in a Jewish family, “Bubbe” is Grandma, and let me tell you this – Sarah would not have liked me even taking pictures of a crucifix, let alone hearing about me wandering through First Calvary cemetery on a regular basis. She was not a big fan of Halloween either, preferring to see the masks and costumes come out for Purim instead. Hailing from the Pale, and having lived through late 19th and early 20th century Pogroms (and other indignities) inflicted upon her rural community by the Cossacks, my Grandmother was particularly suspicious of the Goyem. She instructed that one should dwell with their own kind, because at least then “you’d see it coming when somebody had it in for you.” You have to cut the old lady some slack though, she saw her younger brother’s head chopped off by the Cossacks, who played a drunken match of polo with it afterwards. For Bubbe Sarah, the word “Russian” was a synonym for “rapist.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While reminiscing about transmitted generational prejudices and familial lore, one happened to notice this odd scene at the monument to Sarah Bell and the Kelly family. A doll lay upon the loam, in a position which would be familiar to crime scene investigators. No investigation of the Bells or Kelly’s has been undertaken, but one suspects that their sentiments about the English were probably quite similar to my Bubbe’s feelings about the Russians. It amazes me to this day how much effort, finance, and political capital these two empires expended in the name of oppressing and exploiting rural peoples – the Irish and the Jews of the Pale – over the centuries. The same goes for the United States, incidentally. How much has our government spent over the centuries suppressing – not just the aspirations of negroes and native Americans – but a vast rainbow of minority opinions?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Personally, I’m in the “if it doesn’t affect me, why should I care what you do” camp, and that’s the end of my progressive neo prudentialist liberal politics for the day. Bubbe would have been beside herself at the idea that some child had lost her dolly, however. She would have used the astoundingly forceful personality for which she was famed, during her “shtetl” and Lower East Side garment worker days, to compel me to stand out in the middle of Greenpoint Avenue and ask every passing motorist if their child had lost their toy until it got dark. The old lady was tougher than leather, but had a big heart, which bled for everybody that told her a sad story. She also made one hell of a pot of chicken soup, which is dearly missed by one such as myself in the autumn.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Upcoming Walking Tours-

Saturday, November 8th, Poison Cauldron
Walking Tour with Atlas Obscura, click here for tickets and more info.

Note: This is the last Newtown Creek walking tour of 2014, and probably the last time this tour will be presented in its current form due to the Kosciuszko Bridge construction project. 

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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 28, 2014 at 11:20 am

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