Voices in Focus: Neighborhood Braces for an Influx of Jewish Pilgrims

In today’s linkfest: a Queens community braces for an influx of religious pilgrims; a call for cool heads in the brewing “pushcart wars”; historical treasures buried in a Lower East Side basement; and a grungy Chinatown gaming arcade re-opens as a family-friendly games center.

Among the community's preparations for the Lubavitch pilgrimage, signs to prevent blocked driveways will be posted. (Photo via the Queens Chronicle)

* In Cambria Heights, a predominantly black Queens neighborhood near the Nassau border, ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities do not have a strong presence, as they do in Williamsburg and Crown Heights. But that changes for a few days each June, when some 20,000 Lubavitch pilgrims visit the grave of the sect’s leader, Rebbe Menachem Schneerson and his father-in-law, the rebbe Yosef Schneersohn, who are buried at Montefiore Cemetery, The Queens Chronicle reported.

This year, community leaders are determined to prepare for the influx, expected on June 23, to avoid the complaints and tensions that have been common during previous pilgrimages:

On many occasions the pilgrimage coincides with the Sabbath, as it does this year, so individuals will not able to leave until the next day. Members of the sect are not allowed to travel by vehicle, carry things in their hands or push baby carriages on that day.

In years past, residents have complained about blocked driveways, traffic jams, excessive trash and people urinating in the streets. Now, area leaders are developing a strategy that they hope will alleviate those problems.

“My job is to make sure the community doesn’t get trashed, and that people coming here for their religious observances can do what they have to do, get out, and get home as expeditiously as possible,” said Larry McClean, the district manager of Community Board 13.

To that end, local block associations are working with rabbis from the Lubavitch community, the Police Department and the Department of Transportation to make arrangements for the pilgrims.

* With battles between street vendors and brick-and-mortar businesses heating up across the city, and particularly in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, an opinion column by the attorney Brian Kieran in the Home Reporter called for a cool-headed discussion:

We should debate about food cart regulations rather than injecting emotional and divisive issues into the controversy. The food carts are popular because the inexpensive food served is good. Brick and mortar merchants can compete but are subject to more regulation and tax than the food carts. This area is part of a Business Improvement District where merchants pay extra to provide the public with more sanitation services.

Kieran called for better and more consistent regulation of food carts, including a grading system and rules on signage.

It is time for the City Council to examine the issues and pass appropriate legislation in order to make a food cart behave more like a regular business without destroying the owner’s ability to making a living. We need calm and rational debate, not heated and emotional argument.

A small tin with the French word “Compacte” written on it could be a makeup tin. (Photo by DNAinfo/Serena Solomon)

* As the Lower East Side’s Tenement Museum renovates the basement of its Orchard Street building for an upcoming exhibit on the area’s “shop life,” workers have made some fascinating discoveries, DNAinfo reports. Inside two covered up fireplaces, the debris of lives lived a century ago — cosmetics bottles, crumpled checks, a doll’s head.

“More than 7,000 people from 20 different nations made their homes in our building during that time period,” Kira Garcia, the public relations manager at the museum, told DNAinfo.

The exhibit will provide a glimpse into the immigrant communities that moved through the neighborhood — and the building itself.

Inside the basement, the “Shop Life” exhibition will replicate the diverse businesses that occupied the building between 1863 and 1988. It begins with a re-creation of  John and Caroline Schneider’s 19th-century German beer saloon, which served as an important community gathering space when the neighborhood was known as Kleindeutschland or “Little Germany.”

Other restored rooms will detail Israel and Goldie Lustgarten’s 1890s kosher butcher store, Max Marcus’ 1930s auction house, and Sidney and Frances Meda’s 1970s undergarment store.

Patrice Laud, a Bronx resident, tried his luck at a basketball game at Chinatown Fair arcade. (Photo by DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro)

* DNAinfo also reported on the recently re-opened Chinatown Fair Arcade. Once a grungy Mecca for serious video gamers to play “Street Fighter” and other fighting games, the arcade’s new incarnation is brighter, roomier, and skews toward Skee Ball and other family-friendly entertainments, the website reports.

The arcade, which has been the subject of not one but two documentaries, was a Chinatown institution that was a haven for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens. It closed last year after three decades in operation.

One game that many of the old regulars miss is the live chicken that played tic-tac-toe.

“A hundred people must have asked about it,” [Lonnie Sobel, the Jersey City amusements entrepreneur who revived the legendary arcade] said Monday afternoon. “I’m trying to get one.”

The chicken that once challenged Chinatown Fair’s customers to games of tic-tac-toe has died, and Sobel needs to invest in a $25,000 computerized machine — which works with the chicken to pick the moves — to re-launch the popular attraction.  A visiting chicken will likely make a temporary appearance within the next month, Sobel said.

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