2007-08-31 / Columnists

It's My Turn…

Creating Unity Within The Community While Still Respecting Diversity
By Richard Altabe

Whether we like it or not, the Wave is "Rockaway's Newspaper" for the entire Rockaway Peninsula. As such, it needs to represent a diverse constituency with diverse lifestyles and views. In response to a 1999 charge leveled by members of the African- American community regarding the alleged bias of editor Howard Schwach in reporting crime incidents in the eastern end of Rockaway, Mr. Schwach wrote:

"It is the intentions of The Wave to work with the Far Rockaway community and make them aware that this is their paper too…Rockaway is one community. The Wave will not divide our community by "west end" and "east end." Politicians have done that and look where it has left us. The Wave wants to be in the forefront of making Rockaway one again. We all share the same concerns, and the only way we can bring prosperity to our community is if we stop being our own worst enemies. The Wave will be the voice of all Rockawayites. Put us to the test… together we will bring Rockaway to new places." (Wave, October 9, 1999)

After reading the editorial page of the Wave last Friday, one wonders how the paper can claim to be the voice of "all Rockawayites" after its editor's baseless attack on the Orthodox Jewish community of Far Rockaway. Describing any demographic or ethnic group as "taking over" a neighborhood is an outright racist and ethnically biased statement designed to heighten tensions and divisions between groups, rather than to bring diverse groups closer to unity. If you doubt my opinion, try re-reading the following and insert your own ethnic category to see how it sounds:

In Bayswater, the Satmar community is taking over, buying property and converting many of the large homes into synagogues… There are many people who believe the influx of Orthodox to the Five Towns has ruined it for the rest of the population. A great number of the stores and restaurants have been taken over by Orthodox owners… This question could easily overtake Rockaway as it has the Five Towns area.

Unfortunately for us in the Rockaways, Mr. Schwach does not limit his anti-religious sentiment to Orthodox Jews. In a July 2002 piece he attacked the use of the words "Under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, claiming that it had been the work of the Knights of Columbus and the Catholic Church. He painted a picture of poor Jewish kids in Far Rockaway High School in the 1950's feeling that "God" referred to in the pledge was not "their God."

One angered Catholic reader at the time responded with the following statement, "Mr. Schwach, your anti- Catholic views have been documented in this newspaper for years. It is well known and has been discussed among the Rockaway Catholic community since I have been reading this paper. Many Catholics I know have stopped buying this paper because of your slant. Rockaway's population consists largely of Jewish and Catholic people, and your publication can be a great tool in improving relations between these communities. Instead, you seem to prefer to create hostilities between the two. It's a real shame." (Wave, July 13, 2002)

n 1999, Mr. Schwach asked the diverse communities of the Rockaways to put his paper to the test because he as editor was going to use his position to "bring us together." Perhaps he believes that attacking organized religion is a great way of bringing people together. If only we would all put aside our diverse beliefs, enroll our children in public school and adhere to his secular humanistic definition of Americanism, we would certainly all come together.

The problem with this view is that it flies in the face of the very pluralism our great democracy stands for. As Americans, we have a constitutional right to Freedom of Religion. Decades ago, the Supreme Court recognized the right of individuals in this country to send their children to parochial schools and these same parochial schools have been part of the backbone of American society ever since, producing many of our nation's leaders.

Our community is strong precisely because Catholic, Jewish and Floyd Flake's Church of God schools are able to coexist and even cooperate when needed. Who can forget the sight of the boys from Belle Harbor Yeshiva running a soup kitchen for our firefighters on Beach 129 Street the night after Flight 587 almost came crashing down on their dormitory? Was their effort an expression of Orthodox Jewish communal isolation?

Mr. Schwach indicts an entire community because of three alleged and unsubstantiated stories of perceived religious coercion. Of course as editor, he does not need to verify his story, as he is merely expressing his views. While he is free to do so, we wonder how he can claim that his paper aims to unite all diverse groups in the Rockaways.

He is correct on one thing, however, we do need unity. However, our unity must also respect our diversity. Unfortunately "Rockaway's Newspaper" has failed in its stated goal to bring our communities together, because it fails to respect our American pluralistic tradition.

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