Category: Archive

Harbor and Heights united in anguish

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Stephen McKinley

BELLE HARBOR — Two devastated New York neighborhoods came together last Sunday afternoon for a joint service of mourning for those lost in the city’s most recent tragedy, the crash of Flight 587 on Monday, Nov. 12.

In bright sunlight, prayers were said by the edge of the ocean at Jacob Riis Park, near where the jet with 260 passengers, many of them Dominicans from Washington Heights, crashed into the largely Irish and Jewish neighborhood of Belle Harbor. Five Belle Harbor residents were killed on the ground. Citizens from Haiti, France, the U.S., Britain, Isr’l and Taiwan were also killed in the crash.

“A crash like this opens our eyes like never before to the bond two different communities can share,” Msgr. Martin Geraghty, from Belle Harbor’s Church of St. Francis de Sales, told the crowd. Other religious leaders also did their best to offer consolation. Mayor Giuliani had organized the service in the hope that it would unite the communities during their grieving.

Irish tenor Ronan Tynan sang “Ave Maria” and many in the 4,000 strong crowd wept as the two communities united in mourning. Afterward, the mourners visited the crash site itself, cordoned off but cleared of the wreckage of the plane.

Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the plane to go down, although the focus has remained on the likelihood that it was a tragic structural failure.

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Both parts of the city lost relatives, friends and neighbors on Sept. 11 – more than 40 victims came from Washington Heights and more than 90 residents from the Rockaways were killed, many of them firefighters and police officers.

But in the face of this double tragedy, religious leaders marveled that the communities were being so resilient.

“Some of the ancestors of the Irish in Belle Harbor may even have once lived in the Heights, and the Dominicans are a lot like the Irish,” Msgr. Gerald Walsh of the Church of St. Elizabeth in Washington Heights said.

“They’ve been coming here to get a better life. As immigrants, they watch out for each other. If someone is in trouble, there’s an extended family, and an inner strength from their faith and from the immigration experience.”

At the Church of St. Francis de Sales in Belle Harbor, Geraghty’s colleague, Father Luis DeG’tano, agreed.

“People will share this bond and a strength that will help us to emerge from this tragedy stronger than ever,” he said.

Also in Belle Harbor, Rabbi Allan Blaine of the Temple Beth-El on Rockaway Beach Boulevard worried that people might bottle up their feelings of distress.

“Outwardly, people seem to be going on and being stoical,” he said, “but there is a lot of inward trauma.

“I am very happy that the police were able to close the area so fast. It preserved many of us from seeing the worst of the crash site. It’s just a terrible situation, but we are being stoical.”

Blaine had helped organize an interfaith service that took place in Belle Harbor on Monday evening. Sometimes, he said, it was important for religious leaders to be present, even without saying anything.

Walsh agreed. “You just offer to put your arm around them, or let them cry on your shoulder,” he said.

In the Heights, Walsh has been organizing prayer services and waiting to respond to what the grieving locals will want to do once bodies are released for burial. He expected many would simply want to have a wake before taking the body for burial to the Dominican Republic. He said he was surprised that no one was asking more questions about why the tragedies had happened.

“No one is askin,g ‘Why this, why that?’ ” he said. “I am very impressed. They have an inner strength, and inner faith. It will not be easy, but they will survive.”

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