December 11, 2019

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  • Arab in NYC: Yom Kippur

    Yitzhak Rabin Way in Manhattan, NYC.


    New Yorkers have always accepted that there will be a certain amount of rough-elbowing between the various races, ethnicities and sometimes even competing religions that underlie the complicated social fabric of their city.

    Christmas is still big, for example.

    Ditto Yom Kippur, the Jewish Holy Day of atonement.

    Ramadan is not officially observed, nor are any of the other holidays in Islam (but then again, neither is, say, the Chinese New Year).

    No big deal, except perhaps when raw pork was found strewn on the grounds of a public park where New York City Muslims this year planned to celebrate Eid El-Fitr.

    Yom Kippur has of course acquired special added meaning to Egyptians since 1973. In fact, most Egyptians puff out their chests a little when October 6 rolls around. There’s often a little quiet defiance in their step. That was the year when Israelis saw a different Egyptian army, the one they most likely would rather not meet again.

    Yet few Arab-Americans who are old enough to actually remember that war can forget hearing on TV all about the massive, game-changing airlift that Henry Kissinger engineered, when things were starting to look grim for Israel. He did this to ensure that the Jewish state would not lose the war Egypt started that day to reclaim the Sinai.

    Apart from public schools being closed this Wednesday, there are other little signs in New York that may be of particular interest to Arab-Americans who live here.

    Today, if you walk around E. 70th Street in Manhattan, for example, you might notice that portions of it are officially designated as United Jerusalem Place, although no one really calls it that.

    If they are going to that neighborhood by cab, most New Yorkers will usually say take me to East 70th, particularly since many of these drivers now are Egyptian!

    And should you walk from 70th down Second Avenue south to 43rd Street, you will also notice a street sign that reads Yitzhak Rabin Way. This happened in 1995 under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. But few Palestinians, in particular, are likely to be overjoyed, after hightailing it away from Rabin Way down 43rd toward Madison Avenue, and coming up on David Ben Gurion Place.

    To be fair, foreign Jewish leaders are not the only international dignitaries to have a locale in Manhattan named after them. Mandela’s Corner, for example, is the next block over from Rabin’s, and both are steps away from Dag Hammarskjöld Plaza.

    But search high and low in Manhattan, and you will be hard pressed to find any official recognition of any Arab public figures, despite the fact that a Little Syria existed on the island from the 1880s to WWII.

    And yet today there is not even a little hara, ruelle, or back alley up in the Bronx somewhere, with, say, Mohammed El Baradei’s name on it, a man who, after all, is a Nobel Peace laureate, just like Rabin and Nelson Mandela.

    One can joke about this, and say, heck, you’ll never get two Arab-Americans, or even two Egyptians, to ever agree on much, let alone who should be so honored. And of course it’s no joke that we are talking about this in a town that justifiably can never forget what happened that nightmare of a morning in early September.

    Still, you never can tell.



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