Singer Wes Houston pays tribute to grandfather at Neir’s Tavern

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By Mark Hallum

TimesLedger Newspapers

Americana musician Wes Houston performed with his trio at historic Neir’s Tavern in Woodhaven last Saturday, bringing special significance for both the folk legend and the venue for the fact his grandfather played the same spot in 1908.

Houston, from Queens Village, comes from a long line of musicians and made an impact in the 1960s as a folk musician playing guitar for the legendary singer Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick. Houston’s grandfather Reinhold Petersen was a violinist and band leader in the years approaching the 1920s and lived in a neighboring community.

“It was a magical standing-room-only evening which served as a homecoming of Wes Houston and his family’s legacy,” Neir’s owner Loy Gordon said. “Imagine how many other people have yet to discover their ancestral connection with Neir’s Tavern. It would be a shame if your roots traced back to Neir’s Tavern’s 188-year history and it was no longer here. It yet again confirms the continued existence of Historic Neir’s Tavern is the continued existence of so many people’s history.”

Built in the 1820s at 87-48 78th St., Neir’s represents what little remains of the Union Course racetrack, which was Woodhaven’s main attraction at the time, just adjacent to Neir’s. Much of the development of Woodhaven is attributed to the track.

The Wes Houston Trio, which emerged in 2013, includes Hollis natives natives Ray Forgione on drums and Steve Hawk on bass.

According to a press release, Houston was always close with his grandfather, who was from nearby Cypress Hills, and still has his violin as well as programs from performances including the times Petersen played at Neir’s in 1908.

Petersen and his wife lived well into their 90s despite having to carve out a difficult life in the music industry.

“My grandmother always told me, ‘When you’re a musician, sometimes the money’s good but other times. …’ Of course I had to find out for myself. However, it was a lot of fun for a 15- or 16-year-old to drink beer with my grandfather and hear the stories.”

Neir’s was also featured on a July 2017 episode of CNN’s “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” hosted by chef and author Bourdain, in which Queens showed off its culinary diversity.

Neir’s attracted the support of the surrounding communities in July 2016 as Gordon and elected officials rallied for the Landmark Preservation Commission to grant the business a full protected status.

Former Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley said the tavern was already a landmark in the eyes of the community, since it has served generations and earned a reputation that has attracted Hollywood to its door.

Among the tavern’s cinematic appearances, the 1990 Martin Scorsese mafia film “Goodfellas” shot scenes there.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), speaking in favor of landmark status for Neir’s, argued at the time that while the rest of the borough seems to be changing, developing and growing upward, it is important to protect places such as Neir’s that link Queens to its roots.

According to Gordon, the LPC response to the application was in sum: “Neir’s Tavern does not rise to the level of significance to warrant landmark status.” The LPC went on to assert that giving the tavern landmark status would not protect it from future development altogether.

Lutheran School of Flushing and Bayside

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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NYC Legionnaires cases spiked 65 percent in 2017: Report

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By Gina Martinez

TimesLedger Newspapers

In 2017, New York state had a record number of cases of Legionnaires’ disease, more than any other state in the country per capita, according to the Allegiance to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease.

This news comes months after a cluster that plagued Downtown Flushing in October led to 15 diagnoses of the disease.

Legionnaires’ disease is caused by the bacteria Legionella. Symptoms typically include fever, cough, chills, muscle aches, headache, fatigue, loss of appetite, confusion and diarrhea, and they appear two to 10 days after significant exposure to the bacteria, according to the City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Legionnaires’ disease cannot be spread from person to person; most cases can be traced to plumbing systems where conditions are favorable for Legionella growth, such as cooling towers, whirlpool spas, hot tubs, humidifiers, hot water tanks, and evaporative condensers of large air-conditioning systems, the DOH said.

In August 2015, New York recorded the worst outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the state’s history when 133 Bronx residents contracted the disease, resulting in 16 deaths. Emergency state and city regulations were enacted. The Allegiance to Prevent Legionnaires’ Disease reports that despite the regulations, two years later, New York state led the nation again with 1,009 cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control, a 38 percent increase in cases compared with 2016.

Of the state total, New York City recorded 441 cases, a 65 percent increase over 2016. The city’s 2017 case total outpaced 2015, the year of the city’s worst outbreak.

Daryn Cline, APLD spokesman, said the continued rise in New York is because of the city’s focus on water management.

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“This is especially troubling since New York is holding itself out as the leader in Legionnaires’ disease prevention,” he said. “The truth of the matter is their emphasis on water management inside the building has not had an impact on decreasing the rate of disease.”

APLD has been critical of the New York City and state’s response to preventing cases of Legionnaires’ since regulations were put in place after the Bronx outbreak in 2015.

John Letson, a member of the organization and vice president of plant operations at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, said APLD’s main contention is that the regulations are too narrowly focused on building equipment and do not address the source problem — Legionella entering buildings from the public water supply and distribution system.

“Building equipment uses the same water source that supplies our shower heads and faucets,” Letson said. “Without addressing the bacteria entering our buildings from the public distribution system, the issues we face with Legionella are not going to end.

“According to the CDC, 35 percent of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks can be attributed to conditions and disruptions to water service outside of the building. In order to keep people safe, especially those with compromised immune systems and patients receiving outpatient care, more must be done to remove the threat of Legionella in our public water.”

DOH spokesman Christopher Miller said that the number of Legionnaire’s disease cases reported nationwide has been on the rise since 2000 and that the increase is likely the result of increased awareness, better reporting and improved testing. DOH said other factors include an aging population that is more vulnerable to disease and aging infrastructure.

Miller said that New York City is the most aggressive in following up on all Legionella cases reported and that the department tries to obtain exposure history for all cases. Miller said not all U.S. jurisdictions do this, so there is an incomplete picture of Legionella-related disease in the U.S.

Miller said that every year, there are 200 to 450 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the city. The trend in disease cases in New York City mirrors the national data, according to the CDC.

“After the outbreak in the South Bronx in 2015,” Miller said, “the Health Department announced a comprehensive plan to reduce the risk of Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks in the city, including implementation of the toughest cooling tower regulations in the nation, the hiring of more inspectors and training of existing city personnel to inspect towers if needed, expanded lab capacity, and faster community notification. This robust public health measure is unique in the U.S.”

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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Reconstruction planned at Forest Hills Jewish Center

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By Gina Martinez

TimesLedger Newspapers

Forest Hills Jewish Center will be getting some upgrades.

Executive Director Deborah Gregor confirmed that the center, located at 106-06 Queens Blvd., is in early discussions with developers to “modernize” the building. During the renovation, the center will move into temporary quarters on Austin Street, probably in 2019.

The community center has been a fixture in the Forest Hills neighborhood community for than 80 years. It currently houses a nursery school, a religious school and a self-help senior center.

The main reason for the repairs, Gregor said, is that the building’s original design is outdated. She said the current building was designed and built in the 1940s for a congregation that was much different from the one served now.

“What the congregants of FHJC hope to achieve by this project is to sustain our congregation for generations to come,” Gregor said. “But our building is old. Its design no longer suits the needs of our current community, and it is too big and expensive to maintain and operate.

“Redeveloping our site will allow us to build the Forest Hills Jewish Center that our community needs now and for the future.”

Developers have been chosen, Gregor said, and there is an outline of a plan. The center will move into the temporary quarters on Austin Street while the existing building is being redeveloped. Once the work is done, she said, the center will return to the old location in a new facility designed to meet all congregation needs, housed in a building that will include commercial and residential components, and parking.

Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament

All mission-driven programs will continue to operate in the interim location, including daily, Shabbat and holiday services, and the nursery school, universal prekindergarten and the religious school. The SelfHelp Austin St. Senior Center will continue to be accommodated in the building.

Because the community center is a nonprofit, the plan must first be approved by the board of trustees, voted on by membership and approved by the New York State Attorney General’s Office. The current projected timeline, which is still not concrete, foresees submission of the proposal to the Attorney General’s Office in 2018 and a move to the temporary location in 2019.

“There are many complicated and difficult details to be resolved before the project can commence,” Gregor said, “but our ultimate goal from the start has always been, and continues to be, serving our members and our community, as we have for 88 years.”

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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Jackson Heights Orchestra will offer ‘Four Seasons’

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By Merle Exit

TimesLedger Newspapers

Maestro Patricia Glunt and the Jackson Heights Orchestra will stage their February concert, the second of the season, at 4 p.m. Feb. 3 at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, 33-50 82nd St. The orchestra will present “The Four Seasons,” by Antonio Vivaldi.

Performing the concert will be the JHO strings, and featured violin soloists are Susan Metcalf, concertmaster of the JHO and South Shore Orchestra; Alison Kang, principal second violin with JHO; Claire Smith Bermingham, co-founder of the Baroque ensemble Queens Consort; and Natalie Kriegler, JHO member and artistic director of Capriccio Ensemble. “Each ‘season’ will be performed by a different violinist,” Glunt said.

Joseph Bartolozzi, ASCAP-award-winning composer and assistant conductor of the JHO, will join the JHO on harpsichord.

Along with the music, Vivaldi composed sonnets that represent each season. Bryce Bermingham, a Jackson Heights resident and professional stunt coordinator, will narrate the sonnets. For instance, here is the sonnet that describes the spring season:

Allegro

Springtime is upon us.

The birds celebrate her return with festive song,

and murmuring streams are

softly caressed by the breezes.

Thunderstorms, those heralds of Spring, roar,

casting their dark mantle over heaven,

Then they die away to silence,

and the birds take up their charming songs once more.

Largo

On the flower-strewn meadow, with leafy branches

rustling overhead, the goat-herd sleeps,

his faithful dog beside him.

Allegro

Led by the festive sound of rustic bagpipes,

nymphs and shepherds lightly dance

beneath the brilliant canopy of spring.

Soloist Kang will lead a short pre-concert educational program for children as an introduction to classical music as a program, which will begin at 3 p.m. “We want to show the story aspect of this type of music and will be demonstrating a harpsicord, especially since many orchestras do not have one,” Glunt said.

The concert is a preview of the orchestra’s full performance on March 14 at St. Joseph’s in Astoria, which will include Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto and Hayden’s Symphony No. 104.

A reception will follow the Feb. 3 performance at St. Mark’s, and all are invited. Tickets are $20 and $10 for seniors, and students and children. They can be bought at the door on the day of the concert, in advance online at jhbg.org, or at Table Wine, 79-14 37th Ave., and Espresso 77, 35-57 37th St.

Our Lady of the Snows

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Cypher Dance: Caught in the Middle

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Queens Community House in Forest Hills sponsors a cypher dance contest every year that attracts scores of performers from around the city.

One dancer performs at a time in the middle of a circle of the other dancers, pouring whatever is in his or her heart to the congregation.

In case you missed it, here’s glimpse into the action.

Queens Theater

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Cypher Dance: Caught in the Middle

See this story at TimesLedger.com.

TimesLedger Newspapers

Queens Community House in Forest Hills sponsors a cypher dance contest every year that attracts scores of performers from around the city.

One dancer performs at a time in the middle of a circle of the other dancers, pouring whatever is in his or her heart to the congregation.

In case you missed it, here’s glimpse into the action.

Queens Theater

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Crossing swords at St. John’s

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As collegiate sports go, fencing has 400 or 500 years on football and basketball. But the fine art of thrust and parry does not show its age.

Last weekend, St. John’s University once again hosted an elite invitational tournament at the school’s cavernous Taffner Field House, pitting six of the country’s top 10 fencing schools against each other under one roof.

Harvard, Notre Dame (last year’s NCAA champions), Columbia (champions two years in a row from 2015-16), Penn State (2014 champions) and Ohio State (2012 champions).

Four of the six teams have athletes from Queens on their rosters and most of them have more than one.

Most Holy Redeemer

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Ozone Park man sentenced for child sexual abuse: DA

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By Gina Martinez

TimesLedger Newspapers

An Ozone Park man will face time in prison after pleading guilty to sexually abusing and taking nude photographs of a 14-year-old girl, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

Robert Pou, 54, was sentenced this week to four to eight years in prison after pleading guilty in November to use of a child in a sexual performance, promoting a sexual performance by a child, second-degree attempted criminal sex act and possessing a sexual performance by a child, Brown said.

According to the complaint, in June 2016, Pou served alcohol to the victim until she became drunk and passed out. While she was inebriated, Pou had her perform a sex act on him, the complaint said. The following day, the young girl’s sister found at least 10 nude photographs of the victim on Pou’s cellphone.

Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament

“Betraying the trust of a young innocent girl, the defendant violated her for his own sick gratification,” Brown said. “He served her alcohol and then took advantage of her by taking photos of her undressed and manipulating her to perform a sex act on him. The sentence imposed by the court today is more than warranted.”

Reach Gina Martinez by e-mail at gmartinez@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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The powerful unity of tea and Zen

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By Tammy Scileppi

TimesLedger Newspapers

If you’re an avid tea drinker, you’re probably aware of tea’s calming effect and are instinctively cognizant of how different having a cup of tea vs. a cup of coffee feels.

Sipping your favorite tea can be a spiritual experience. And it’s no wonder, because there’s a kind of unity between the mighty tea leaf and Zen. That spiritual connection makes sense because tea’s back story is infused with a blend of ancient concepts, myths and legends that swirl around spirituality as well as philosophy.

The history of tea, according to Chinese legend, dates to 2737 B.C.E., when the science-loving emperor Shennong discovered the stuff after a leaf from a wild tea tree in his garden happened to fall into his pot of boiling water. After drinking the infused water, the emperor had an aha moment and started researching the mystery plant. Legend has it, this led to his discovery of tea’s medicinal properties.

It’s possible that the tea plant originated in regions around southwest China, Tibet, and Northern India. Ancient rumor has it that traders encountered people chewing tea leaves as medicine.

Gradually, everybody started sipping this new concoction during the classic age of tea, or the Tang dynasty (618-907), and eventually, it was recognized as China’s national drink.

During that period of tea enlightenment, a creative Buddhist monk imbued his writings with a spiritual aesthetic that reflected Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian religious thoughts of the time. His teachings were centered on a traditional tea ceremony, which served as a metaphor for expressing the harmony and simplicity that not only ordered but also streamed throughout the entire universe.

Fang Gourmet Tea is committed to promoting that spirit of teaism, which is believed to be a part of physical and spiritual wellness in daily life.

You’ll find this exotic gem off the beaten path at 135-25 Roosevelt Ave. in Downtown Flushing, nestled behind a mall. It’s a lovely place to visit if you wish to sample a unique selection of world-renowned exotic teas and, while you’re there, take a gander at the myriad styles of refined tea accessories and pottery. These costly items and teas are so special that finding them elsewhere in the country is nearly impossible.

At the shop’s recent yearly Tea Tasting Expo and tea enthusiasts’ reunion, local devotees and visitors from across the United States gathered to relish Fang’s wonderful and complex tea offerings — like a vintage tea from 1890, which was brought out and enjoyed by guests — as they experienced the unity of tea and Zen while sharing tea-related stories.

Visit Fang Gourmet Tea for tea classes and tea ceremony by appointment, and you too can appreciate the Tao of Tea.

Queens Theater

According to Fang’s website: It is an art of living about brewing and drinking tea. With tea as the medium, the Tao of Tea is an etiquette of everyday living, as well as a way of life, cultivating moral character through tea. Tea can purify and clear our minds, purging distracting thoughts; it is interlinked to the Eastern philosophy of promoting “tranquility, simplicity and contentment” and is also in line with Taoism’s idea of “introspective practice.” The core of tea culture lies in the spirit of the Tao of Tea while “confluence of tea and Zen” is considered as the highest realm of it.

Did you know that Indian history attributes the discovery of tea to Prince Bodhidharma, an Indian saint who founded the Zen school of Buddhism? After leaving India in the year 520 to preach Buddhism in China, he made a vow: to meditate for nine years without sleep so as to work out various Zen principles. When he was done meditating, he finally fell asleep. Legend has it the poor saint was so distraught when he awoke, that he cut off his eyelids and threw them to the ground. Amazingly, a tea plant sprung up on the spot to sanctify his sacrifice.

Local artist Hiromi Niizeki, a native from Japan, says she drinks both coffee and tea but has been shifting to more tea recently. “I feel tea is milder for stomach than coffee. I love chai-Indian milk tea with spice which I always get in Jackson Heights. I recently purchased spice, cinnamon, ginger and cardamom at Indian market in Jackson Heights so that I can make chai at home.”

She says her immediate neighborhood, 25th Avenue and Steinway Street in Astoria, is filled with Middle Eastern shops, and she loves their spiced milk teas, as well. “Iced Thai tea is also very tasty. I also drink green tea in Japanese traditional way without sugar or milk.” She explained: “Simply brew with hot water, then slightly lower the temperature so as not to yellow the color green.”

Niizeki added: “I also sprinkle maccha (powdered green tea) over vanilla ice cream, which is my favorite. Recently, I purchased Rooibos tea for evening, with orange vanilla cream flavor … and I love it very much as well.”

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Legal Hand event provides a helping hand to immigrants

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By Naeisha Rose

TimesLedger Newspapers

The second annual Sanctuary for All event, an occasion meant to empower and protect immigrants with social and legal services, was held last week at Legal Hand Jamaica, 149-13 Jamaica Ave.

Legal Hand Jamaica, a nonprofit, assists in civil legal problems for people from low-income communities.

At the event, more than 50 members of nearly 20 groups were there to help provide information, resources and expertise on issues facing immigrants, documented or undocumented.

One of the groups providing legal services for immigrants in an array of areas was the Legal Aid Society.

“We have an army of immigration lawyers, and at Legal Aid, immigration status is not a bar to our services,” said Sateesh Nori, who works on civil cases. “We are not going to ask if you have a green card or what your status is.”

The Legal Aid Society has public defenders, represents juveniles and covers 23 areas of civil practice, including tenants’ rights, foreclosures, benefits, disability, employment and domestic violence.

The Legal Aid Society has a team of about 70 lawyers in its civil practice division in Queens and can be found in Jamaica at 153-01 Jamaica Ave. or in Kew Gardens at 120-46 Queens Blvd.

Virginia Goggin, the director of legal services at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, was at Legal Hand to speak on her work to help people, including immigrants regardless of status, who are in domestic violence situations, especially in the LGBT community.

“We have different support groups for LGBTQ survivors of sexual violence,” Goggin said. “We also have an economic empowerment program … and we offer immigration assistance.”

Our Lady of the Snows

Not only does AVP help survivors with securing work, it also helps people who need an order of protection or a name change or have housing concerns, according to the director.

Survivors who are uncomfortable about reporting an event because of their sexuality and status can come forward to AVP, or file an online report at avp.org., according to Goggin. AVP is also working on app.

Providing legal clinics for undocumented parents who want to ensure their children’s safety in case they are deported was CUNY Law School Professor Joe Rosenberg and his student Stephanie Deolarte.

“The main documents that we work with are temporary care and custody,” Rosenberg said. He also works with “parental designation and temporary guardian forms.”

In addition, Rosenberg works with power-of-attorney forms, and he warned people to be very careful whom they appoint, because someone could abuse the designation for money. But choosing the right person could provide legal security for a child.

“We think of it as a bridge to a more permanent arrangement, if that is necessary,” Rosenberg said.

For help from the CUNY Law School, individuals can go to http://cuny.is/planningwithparents.

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by email at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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