The battle between culture and religion Lebanese Jews.

Sheila Haya

Raymond Dana shrugs from behind the counter of his small discount store in Astoria, NY. “Sometimes I have customers come in and tell me, you know Raymond, I just saw my lawyer, he’s Jewish, very nice guy, or my dentist is Jewish, or something like that, I don’t understand why, why they feel the need to tell me about every Jewish guy they know.” Dana like many Lebanese-Jews left his homeland in the 1980’s during the height of the Lebanese Civil War and moved to France before coming to The United States in 1992. Before Jews were living peacefully among Christians and Muslims, until they felt that their safety was compromised, and so they left. The Lebanese civil war created many tensions between the different religious groups that were living in Lebanon at the time. Prior to the war, Maronite Christians had a heavy political hand and large influence. Post-Israel’s creation, many Palestinian refugees made their way to Lebanon, changing the demographic of religion favoring Muslims and creating militias like Hezbollah which was backed by Iran. Israel’s invasion in Lebanon also created additional turmoil between Arab countries, causing a rift between all religions in Lebanon. The civil war lasted 15 years and resulted in over 250,000 causalities. Now there is a population of less than 100 Jewish left in Lebanon.
Raymond Dana was among that diaspora, his entire family left Lebanon in hopes of starting a new life. He and his family settled in Bayridge, Brooklyn once arriving to New York, and opened up his shop in Astoria, Queens. When asked if he would return to Lebanon, he replies that no Lebanese Jew would go back, “we are too scared. Everybody practice religion, so when you practice every day it’s important.”
Many Lebanese Jews resettled in Western Countries, like the US or France, while others moved to Israel seeking asylum. In Israel, however, they were faced with prejudices and tensions within the Ashkenazi Jewish community.
Despite the stigmas, Lebanese Jews have a strong loyalty with their culture. They speak Arabic, they eat Lebanese traditional food, they dance dabke, a Lebanese traditional dance, and they listen to Lebanese music. Because of this Ashkenazi Jews often look down upon them, and don’t fully accept them into the community. Many Lebanese Jews don’t speak Hebrew or Yiddish.
Rola Khayyat is a documentarist and film maker; she was born and raised in Lebanon, and is currently working on a project based on the Jewish community in Lebanon and New York. Although she is not Jewish she was able to break into the community which is otherwise impossible.
Khayyat is currently working on the documentary “Brooklyn to Beirut” where she follows a Brooklyn Lebanese Jew returning back to his roots in Lebanon. The main character talks about how Lebanon hasn’t fully recovered from the 15 years of civil war, but also how much progress he has seen thus far. He goes on to say that it is a big deal that he is able to return to Lebanon at this time.
“They are more Lebanese than I am,” she explains. They have preserved the Lebanese culture, it is pure and untarnished whereas she feels that other Lebanese immigrants have assimilated more with Western culture. She recalls the sites that still remain in Lebanon and elders that reminisce about their old Jewish neighbors.
“They are always very nostalgic.” In fact, there is a synagogue that is being restored in downtown Lebanon today. She says that the people of Lebanon would love to have their Jewish neighbors back. Many people outside the religion and culture don’t realize that Lebanese Jews are constantly battling their identities and faced with choosing one over the other. “It’s like choosing a parent” Khayyat explains.
It might seem surprising that Shia Islamist militia Hezbollah would be ok with such a party but Khayyat said they are even encouraging it and are very positive about the project, “Because they are Lebanese after all.” The country is largely run by the Hezbollah Leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, and although he has been quoted expressing his desire for the three religions to live peacefully in a democratic state, many Jews are still scared to return. Lebanese Jews, although A-political, may have received financial aid from Israel during the height of the civil war, a lot of Lebanese Jews carry a stamp on their passport, therefore it becomes a major risk when entering Lebanon. Although Lebanese Jews are not Zionists, they are still seen as traitors, for the sheer fact that Lebanon is at war with Israel.
Soft rock is quietly playing throughout the store. Raymond mumbles something in Spanish to his employee as he looks at me with tired eyes, “I am 100% Lebanese. Religion is not the issue, but people they make it the issue. Religion is inside of people it is very hard to take it out.” In Astoria, he is among the Arabic community and never faces any stigmas, regardless of the faith in which he follows.

King of Shwarma A taste of home


Fares “Freddy” Zeideia came to the United States from the West Bank in Palestine as a young adult in the ’80s. He was pushed to leave his homeland and family for a better future in the engrained land of opportunity. He landed in New York and started working as a taxi driver. Although he was excited to be immersed in a new country and culture, he longed for the tastes and flavor of Palestine, so he searched for that sense of comfort, yet couldn’t match it. He decided that this was something that New York was missing, and there the king of Shawarma and Falafel was born.

He started with a small cart off the Broadway stop on the n/w train which later progressed to a food truck and finally a brick and mortar, all within the same 10 foot radius. He has gone to win countless Vendy awards, gain momentum from various news publications, as well as teach customers his heritage. He has gotten the whole family involved with his wife making sure the recipes aren’t compensated, daughter working the cashier, and son making the food to order. Zeideia wants to keep building and growing giving people a taste of his crispy oval shaped falafel that is a long tradition in Palestine. Although he is happy that he built his “American Dream,” he has still been able to pass his culture and traditions to his family. He says, “Food is love, and that’s all you need to bring people together.” With Arabic music blasting in the den of the king of Shawarma, Freddy shares with us what exactly is the Palestinian taste.

2nd Story, Lara Djonggrang: Story Behind the Restaurant

Jakarta, Indonesia – Friday, April 21st 2017 is Kartini Day and the Lara Djonggrang restaurant staffs are celebrating it with their beautiful uniforms.

I asked, “do you wear this uniform as today is Kartini Day or is this the regular uniform?”

Spokesperson of Lara Djonggrang, Mayang Pratiwi stated, “The uniform today is different, but the uniform is still a kebaya but because this is Kartini Day. So, it’s special, the kebaya is different than usual.”

Lara Djonggrang is a restaurant established and opened in 2005. The restaurant has an experience of 13 years in business. It is located in the bustling streets of Menteng, it’s a 5 star restaurant and reservations are needed on a busy day.

Their signature dishes are Nasi Merah Gunung Kidul which contains Sayur Lodeh (vegetable soup), fried chicken, and onion chilli. There’s also Pasar Sate Tugu which is the specialty food at Lara Djonggrang. On top of it are cow tongue sate, tempe sate, squid sate, shrimp sate, goat sate, beef sate, chicken sate moroc, sate lilit bali fish, chicken sate with cane stick. There are six variety of sauces; Matah sauce, dabu-dabu sauce, soy sauce, terasi sauce, tomato sauce, and lombok hijau sauce. And of course, we ordered Nasi Bakar Ayam (Chicken Roasted Rice) and an Indonesian favorite, Bakwan Jagung with Chilli. As for the dessert, Es Dawet.

The interior design of each room has its own unique character and charm. Annette Anhar is the director of the Tugu Hotel Group, she created the idea for the interior and Imperial Indonesian food menu concept. While the company owns the Lara Djonggrang restaurant.

I asked,”What is the actual theme of the restaurant? Is it universal?”

According to Mayang Pratiwi’s statement,”The actual theme is from the owner that loves to collect pieces from everywhere. And even any places in Indonesia and at any country. She appreciates her desire and wishes in this way. So, it’s not just about Indonesia. She wants to appreciate the antiques in this world. The items and stories that’s in other countries, not just Indonesia.”

The first room that Pratiwi introduced me to is the Soekarno Room which includes his memorabilia (pictures of him with his family and colleagues), pictures of him as the first president, Soekarno’s signed document from the Indonesian invasion era, bamboo runcing photograph, a painting of Prince Samber Nyawa (Soekarno was a fan of him), and the tables with seats from Oei Tiong Ham (king of the sugar industry) for Soekarno (It was given by Megawati for the owner of the restaurant).

The second room is called China Blue as most of the owners are Chinese people. The room has an iconic statue of Beerwah, the guardian of the heaven door and the artwork portraying Yama, which is the god of death.

The third room would be the La Bihzad bar and lounge which has a replica of (Afghanistan painter) La Bihzad’s painting. There are only three La Bihzad’s original paintings in the world. Another fascinating piece would be the wooden cantilever beam which supports the building and it’s from a temple in Tuban, Central Java. They recycled it from a torn down temple.

The last room would be the Lara Djonggrang room which has a Javanese atmosphere to it. Lara Djonggrang is based on a famous Javanese folklore.

Spanish Harlem Profile Final Story #3

A signature street in Spanish Harlem bearing legendary musician “Tito Puente” name

Spanish Harlem (aka “El Barrio”) located in the Upper East Side of Manhattan is a neighborhood many Puerto Ricans can call home. According, to census data the East Harlem’s population was at 123,579 with 50% being Hispanics. While the area has suffered through many social issues such as unemployment the culture and spirit have remained unscathed. “I moved here during college and its had its ups and downs but I love it, besides you cant beat the food here” said Rey Makloskey 33, long time resident.

El Museo Del Barrio located at 104 st East Harlem (under renovations)
Beatriz Santiago Munoz “A Universe of Fragile Mirrors” short film (Cameras were not permitted)

Spanish Harlem has a rich history dating all the back to the first World War, which saw its first surge of Puerto Rican immigrants to arrive. El Museo has been a staple in Spanish Harlem and played an integral part in retaining that Latino history. Many exhibitions inform and counter stereotypical depictions of Latinos. Santiago’s ” A Universe of Fragile Mirrors”  focuses on indigenous cosmologies of Puerto Rico/Hati that challenge the boundaries between documentary and fiction.

Its no secret that you can find some of the best Puerto Rican cuisine in Spanish Harlem. La Fonda, opened in 1996 when Puerto Rican born Jorge Ayala acquired the property and transformed it into the local hot-spot it is today.

Server at La Fonda arriving with Puerto Rican cuisine in hand
Pernil (Classic Puerto Rican Style Roast Pork) with classic style rice and beans
Bistec Encebollado (Sauteed Steak with Onions)

Ayala, has been in Spanish Harlem for two decades and has seen many things change including the gentrification that has occurred over the years. “25 years ago a lot of these people wouldn’t have dared to come to Harlem,” He also shares he thoughts on the ongoing Puerto Rican debt crisis.

Murals on the streets of Spanish Harlem showcase Puerto Rico’s family and heritage two integral parts of its spirit.

“CHE GUEVARA” Mural, East Harlem
“CHE GUEVARA” Mural, East Harlem
“The Spirit of East Harlem” on E. 104th St.

Spanish Harlem is an area that embraces its history, food and art. While thing have changed (perhaps for the better) the roots of family and heritage remain the same.

1st Story, The Rainbow Current in Indonesia

There are articles that’s recently released about the LGBT Community in Jakarta, Indonesia. People are starting to discuss the topic on whether it is in a positive or negative way. There are discriminations towards the LGBT Community according to the organization “Arus Pelangi.” The Indonesian Psychiatric Association is also divided into two regarding the topic on whether being LGBT is an illness that should be treated or not. Also, the idea of accepting and integrating of the LGBT citizens in Indonesians daily life whether it’s in college, work, family, traveling or in the media. There’s major conflict between Indonesians vs. the LGBT Community.

When asking Ponti in respect to his future plans, he stated, “Well I’m 29, so I’m in that age where I’m still deciding ‘Should I have a family? Should I have a kid?’ At the end if I decide I’m going to adopt a kid or have a kid, then yeah I’ll consider to leave somewhere overseas or at least Bali.”

Being gay and to start a family in the future seems like it’s out of reach unless if person leaves Indonesia and seek an LGBT friendly country. Indonesians still believe that same sex couples should not have children and that it’s best if children are raised by opposite gendered parents. This is not the fact as countries such as the USA and Canada have accepted the LGBT Community; they legalized adoption, artificial insemination, and same sex marriage.

The next day, Arus Pelangi was interviewed, a woman named Ajeng Kartika, a member of the organization shared her story, “I’m Ajeng, I identify as a transgender. When I was young, I feel that I’m a woman. Although I played with my guy friends, played soccer, played tag your it, and be treated as a boy by my family. But I still feel that I’m a girl. It’s from an early age that I feel like I’m a girl. Although I’m treated as a boy and played with my guy friends. Overtime, I feel that I’m a woman. After my family knows that, my family feel and thought that there’s an abnormality in me as I feel like a woman. Then they try to enroll me in a pesantren. But after I got into the pesantren, I felt like I received oppression such as sexual harassments and so forth. I feel that this is not right if I continued to be there. I tried to tell to my family what I felt, I feel that indeed, it’s true that I have a penis but I feel that I’m a woman. I cannot do this continuously. Now, since then, I never wanted to be treated as a man. I only wanted to be treated as a woman.”

Ines Cintya from Arus Pelangi shared her discrimination story based on her campus and experiences as a transgender woman in Indonesia, “Discrimination amongst the transgender community is very high. Especially, when I’m in campus. Joining a discussion, my fellow scholars and lecturers. When I enter the campus. For example, they look at us and wonder why there’s transgender people in campus. That really makes it uncomfortable. Because why? College is a place for people to study. But there, I received discrimination that’s very striking, in my opinion. Until now, I’m more likely to choose to cut my hair because it makes it easier for me to enter the campus. As a result, there’s no more discrimination because our goal is to study right. Secondly, when we want to access public service. For instance, such as to ride the train, transgender that want to fly on the plane. When they enter to check in or boarding, people still look at us as if we are strange. Well, actually when people want to see its a transgender, well alright. You don’t have to look at us for 5 minutes or more than 5 minutes. In fact, that doesn’t make people feel comfortable If you want to see someone’s expression, you can just look at a glance. But sometimes, when they see a transgender, they really view us from top to bottom. So there’s many discrimination towards the transgender community.”

Yuli Rustinawati is the leader of Arus Pelangi and an LGBT advocate, she stated, “Indonesia just view it as different sex, woman and a man. While the issue of gender identity, it cannot be included. This becomes a problem for the transgender community. Where there’s more than 60% of them. Especially for a transgender woman with high mobility. From one region to another. Beyond that, also now they receive domestic violence from their family. After they see that their gender is very different. Then, there’s also violence in school, transgender people cannot enjoy or continue their studies in school. When their gender expression is different than their sex than their sex that they were born in. Then their families don’t accept it, there’s plenty of violence. Whether or not they want to, they need to runaway. Now that is how they rarely save their identity paperworks or birth certificate, now that becomes a problem as well. After I finish college, Arus Pelangi is my job, I became an LGBT advocate. So you don’t need to apply for a job. That’s why I previously said that I’m one of the most lucky people. But not within the last two years though. Last year, from January to July, there were about 186 incidents starting from sexual violence, dismissal from work, and being expelled. They dissolved a lot of LGBT discussions. The culprit is also an intolerant group, this included the country and media. In the context of work dismissal also happened, we don’t have a specific data as a lot of LGBT people are afraid because this is regarding their life. For the last 10 years, we keep on hearing reports from our community. They said I was fired because I’m gay, but we cannot take any actions as those that reports to us only wants to tell their stories. One of the cases that happens in South Sulawesi, there’s a Limited Liability Company that has a rule in the company that doesn’t allow people to dress as an opposite gender. Man can’t dress like woman, woman can’t dress like man or different gender expression than that was assigned since birth. A person is not allowed to wear what they wanted during work or outside of work. So, these companies have started to commit all these discrimination towards the LGBT Community or maybe, they might not even be LGBT and it’s their gender expression. So, it’s starting to be more structural on the violence towards the LGBT Community. Structural from family, this is homework, that there’s still violence in family at times. Then Indonesian citizens, then the country takes action by the number of discriminatory policies in a level of village, district, province, or national level in Indonesia. According to our data in 2013, 9 out of 10 of us goes through violence.”

Zoya Amirin, a clinical Psychologist discussed about the LGBT Community in Indonesia and how people approach it. She stated that Indonesians think that transgendered people are dramatic and are seeking attention. When Zoya tried to explain to people, they still didn’t understand. She commented that being transgender is not a choice and that talking to people, trying to explain it is “one hell of a job” according to her. She tried to take them from their perspective and that people don’t really learn how to process their feelings. If someone is coming out as gay or a lesbian, then it’s hard for their family and friends to accept it. And people actually think that bisexuals are gay in disguised. She also mentioned that both the the people who are coming out and their parents, family or friends struggle to process their feelings. Zoya said, “they are still the same person that’s born and become a family member but most people that I’ve interviewed and up in my counseling couches, they just said ‘I feel like I fail as a parent when I have a kids that are actually a lesbian or gay.'” In the media, Zoya explained that in Indonesian television, being transgender is also less accepted now since the LGBT movement. The media felt that they gave too much freedom on TV. She thinks that this is against humans rights and people just behave accordingly to keep their job on TV. She said, she’s only ‘one voice’, most people don’t want to be too strong against it because you become a minority. If your not a part of something major, if your just a minority, the message seems like you better be quite.

Little Manila: Home Filipino New Yorkers Final

The borough of Queens is the most diverse borough of all New York and Filipino Americans have made a home in Woodside, Queens. Just walking down, the strip of Roosevelt Avenue between 61st and 70th Streets are dedicated to the Filipino community with its restaurants, bakeries, and other establishments.

Woodside Residents walking down Roosevelt Ave.

“Woodside is home away from home” said Luis Mendoza 54, a retired construction worker. 38,000 Filipinos reside in Queens the 2010 Census reported. Not only Filipinos are living at Woodside, but Irish, Indian, and Ecuadorian. A melting pot of diversity.

The No. 7 train is the main mode of transportation for woodside locals. The neighborhood’s two stops at Woodside 61st and and 69th Street are within walking distance for the entire neighborhood and get straphangers into Manhattan in half an hour on the local or less on the express.

Woodside Residents are have access for No.7 Subway Station.

According to Woodside resident Geraldine Torres, 34, “If you want authentic Filipino meal you must go to Kristal Cafe.” Krystal Café is Filipino restaurant known for its modern of classic dishes and bake goods. The Flan is most popular pastry, but they also sell different pastries like Coconut cakes and Ensamanda ,

Krystal Bakery.. Woodside , Queens
Filipino bake goods ready to served at Krystal bakery at Woodside. Prices range $1 to $4
Kyrstal best seller the flan.. The Flan originated from the Philippines.
Customers enjoying a traditional meals at Kyrstals.

Filipino fast food chains, Jollibee and Red Ribbon are only in Woodside. Jollibee, the fried chicken fast food chain in Philippines has 1,800 stores worldwide, “Forget about KFC, sells delicious Fried Chicken” said Javier Ocampo, 34, Woodside Resident.

Jollibee,The only one New York City, Woodside, Queens


Red Ribbon Bakery, The only one in the Tri-State Area. Woodside, Queens

Interview with Glen Aiagasi

Glen Aiagasi Owner of Sari-Sari Deli at Woodside, Queens

Different grocery products from the Philippines. At Sari Sari Deli, Woodside Queens
Different chips and snacks from Philippines. Only at Sari Sari Deli, Woodside, Queens
Outside Sari Sari Deli, Home to Filipino groceries, Woodside, Queens

Lately the residents of Woodside, are in fear of gentrification. Neighboring  Long Island City and Sunnyside have already seen their fair share of gentrification. The average rent is $1,500 to $2,000. Some Filipinos business are nervous their stores can be priced out by high real estate. Glen Aiagasi the owner of Sari- Sari Deli, is seeing some changes, “If you go to Woodside Avenue, some new condo buildings are being built, but I have faith the culture will remain” said Aiagasi.

Story #1 – Bodega Shutdown (Final Draft)

The election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States has left a sizable amount of the population feeling concerned about what the next four to eight years would have in store for them. One such group is the Muslim American community, which faced ever increasing stigmatization in the years after the September 11th attacks. Both the campaign and subsequent election of Trump have increased incidents of bias against Muslims. But the apex of this occurred shortly after he took office.

           In a controversial move, President Trump signed Executive Order 13769 into law. The order reduced the number of refugees that were allowed into the United States, suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for four months, and indefinitely barred entry for Syrian refugees. But the area of the order that attracted the most attention was a complete ban on immigration from countries that Homeland Security deemed as a threat to U.S. safety. In addition to Syria, these countries are identified as Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

         Enforcement of the new law began almost immediately by border officials. Reports soon came in about people from the aforementioned countries were barred from flights to the U.S, regardless of whether or not they had valid visas, to Muslim travellers that were just arriving to the U.S., only find themselves detained in the airport immediately after stepping off. In response, several states took the order to court and many of them blocked it. But it paled compared to the protests that followed in cities across the country.

         In various international airports across the country, including New York’s JFK Airport, lengthy protests were staged, calling for both an immediate repeal of the band and the release of detained passengers. But after protesting at the airports, some decided to take it even further and show New Yorkers what life could be like without Muslims.

          On February 1st, delis and bodegas across the city, many of which are owned by Yemeni immigrants, closed down for eight hours in protest for the executive order. During the shutdown, a massive rally was held in front of Brooklyn’s Borough Hall for the rest of the evening. According to organizer Debbie Almontaser, a thousand businesses were involved in the shut down, with several other restaurants and stores participating out of support. “They are part of the American fabric through the service they offer day in and day out for their communities.” A lot of store owners hung signs on their doors urging their regular customers to join them at the rally and show support for the Muslim community. Others added more personal signs to their doors. One such bodega had a sign that simply said, “Closed. My family is detained at JFK” At Brooklyn’s Borough Hall, thousands of Yemeni-Americans gathered to voice their concerns about the travel ban. As one bodega owner explained, “This order goes against everything we came here for and everything America stands for.” The protest has also gained support from figures like Mayor DeBlasio and Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams. By the end of the event, the Muslim community staged one of the most successful anti-Trump rallies after the inauguration. “This is the first time that the Yemeni-American community has come out in such numbers on an issue that has affected them.”, as Almontaser explains.

J.K. Deli & Grocery in Flushing, Queens. One of a thousand bodegas to participate in the day long shutdown on February 1

One such bodega that participated was the J.K. Deli And Grocery in Flushing, Queens. The store’s owner, Ali Mazumder, moved the U.S. in 1987 and has been operating the deli since the early 90s. “While thankfully nobody that I know was detained at JFK, I still felt that what Trump was doing wasn’t right and that he needed to get a loud and clear enough message from Muslims that he was doing more harm than good.”

        While he was grateful by how customers were understanding towards him participating in the shutdown, Mazumder wishes that it didn’t have to come to a boycott. After spending years in the country and gradually establishing himself amongst the neighborhood with the store, Mazumder is disheartened by how quickly Trump managed to raise anti-Muslim sentiments both during the campaign and after his landslide victory. “Before Trump ever thought about running for any sort of public office, let alone president, I never once felt unwanted or scared because my background. After the election, reading stories about Muslims being profiled by strangers made me become more precautious whenever I’m not home. You never know when you might run into one of these crazy people.”

       For now though, it’s business as usual in the city. Not just at J.K. Deli, but at the thousand other bodegas that voiced their opposition to Trump and his new immigration laws.

Final Story – We Are India

The WE charity has been helping children in impoverish countries gain education opportunities and social empowerment since 1995. Recently, Suswana Chowdhury, a junior student at Baruch College, recently started a campaign to raise $10,000 to build a school in the Rajastan region of India. One event that the charity planned in order to raise the money was an elaborate party known as “We Are India”

On the side, Suswana runs a YouTube channel called The Afternoon News With Sarah Taylor. As a means of spreading the word about WE and the fundraiser, she added an element of synergy to the channel.