In honor of National Poetry Month, WNYC challenged listeners to write tweet-length, original poems about the five boroughs. It makes me happy that my poem was among those chosen to appear on the air:
Jackson Heights, where/⁰no one thinks it odd/⁰for Southern Baptists⁰/to worship Sundays/in the synagogue/that once was Sizzlers #NYcityverse
— Richard J Newman (@richardjnewman) April 24, 2017
Here’s the spot that was broadcast on WNYC this morning:
There is some personal history behind the poem. When I was a boy, my grandparents lived in Jackson Heights and we went regularly to the Jackson Heights Jewish Center, which was a large two or three story building about three blocks from where I live now (which is, actually, in the building next door to where my grandparents lived and where my mother did a lot of her growing up). At that time, there was still a large Jewish community in the area, and my grandparents were very involved in the Center’s activities, taking leading roles in various committees and organization. Over the years, the Jewish community shrank and there were just not enough people to support the Center being in that large a building, and so they sold it to New York City’s Department of Education and it’s now a public school.
After the sale, the Center relocated to the building where it is now, which for as far back as I can remember was a Sizzlers Steakhouse. The Center rents out space to various community groups, among which was, for a while, the Bible Baptist Church. When they started holding services in the Center, I thought “only in Jackson Heights” would you see a profoundly homophobic Christian church—their website talked about them being right in the heart of Sodom—holding services in a Jewish center that also rented out space to one of the local LGBTQ groups, along with other progressive groups that I am sure the Church did not support.