What is a culture or a community without its stories? For stories are what preserve our past, inspire our present and guide our future. A community that stretches across the world, 92Y is made up of thousands and thousands of stories of the people whose lives it has impacted over more than 140 years. Here are just a few of them …


 

92Y is honored to have Margot Friedlander, on behalf of herself and Adolf, as a generous donor to support the Himan Brown Senior Program and the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life.

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Born in Berlin in 1921, Margot Friedlander is a Holocaust survivor and memoirist who dedicates her life to keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive by telling her story around the world.

Margot was only 21 years old when she was separated from her mother and brother in Berlin; she went into hiding, but eventually, in 1944, was taken to the concentration camp Theresienstadt. There, she reconnected with Adolf Friedlander and they married after liberation. Margot and Adolf moved to America and two years later Adolf started working at 92nd Street Y.

After his death in 1997, several staff members at 92Y suggested that Margot join 92Y’s senior program, where (after much urging) she decided to try a memoir-writing class. As a result of that class, alongside the support from senior program director Jo Brown, Margot went from thinking she had nothing worthwhile to say to finding a powerful voice.

“That is how I started to write the story of my life,” said Margot of her memoir writing class at 92Y.

Her prize-winning autobiography Try to Make Your Life: A Jewish Girl Hiding in Nazi Berlin was written in German and recently published in English. The book describes how Margot’s family had planned to escape from Nazi Berlin but on the eve of their escape, her mother and brother were taken by the Nazis. When young Margot returned to the family’s apartment shortly after those arrests, a neighbor gave Margot her mother’s handbag and said that her mother’s message was simply “Try to make your life.”

Margot was interviewed in May 1998 for Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation. She is the subject of two documentary films by Thomas Halaczinsky. In the course of making the first film in 2003, she went back to her native Berlin — for the first time in 57 years — and she moved there permanently in 2010. She continues to read from her book in schools and educational institutions as often as she is able, and hopes that this will help to prevent history from repeating itself. For her continuous and tireless work in sharing her own experience in the Holocaust to inform others, Margot was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2011.

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“What a Special Place”: Author Rivka Galchen

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Last year at the 92nd Street Y I shared the stage with Karl Ove Knausgaard; I loved that evening; I also loved the evening, fifteen years earlier, when I went to see Saul Bellow, then already in his mid-eighties, read aloud, standing the whole time, from Ravelstein; of course I also loved the series of Monday nights when I took a fiction workshop through the 92nd Street Y with the brilliant writer Joyce Johnson; and the Sunday afternoons when I went to the 92nd Street Y for my niece’s and nephew’s birthday parties; and then also the series of summer early evenings when I taught a fiction workshop to Y students who ranged in age from nineteen to seventy-nine; and the evening when I got to hear Javier Marias and Paul Auster read together … and … and … Even when I was still just a high school kid living in Norman, Oklahoma, I remember learning that the Alvin Ailey dance company had had its first performance on 92nd Street in Manhattan, and I thought, what a special place that must be, my first vivid sense of what New York City might be like.

Rivka Galchen is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances and American Innovations, both New York Times Best Books of the Year. She received her MD from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Her writing has also appeared in The New Yorker, The Believer and other publications.

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A Dancer's Heart, A Second Home: Mary Freeman and 92Y

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Mary Freeman has always loved dance. And it was at 92Y that she first discovered this passion.

Mary, who attended nursery school at 92Y — as did all four of her children! — started taking dance classes at 92Y at the age of 10. As a young adult, she took dance labanotation and teacher training because she aspired to teach dance. “I really thought I would become a dancer,” she says. “But then I got married.”

While Mary ultimately didn’t pursue a dance career (she’s a psychotherapist and still practices), she has kept a vital connection to the art form and nurtured many other talents and interests over the years at 92Y. “I’m here pretty much every day,” says Mary. “Each day is a different class. It’s the center of community as far as I’m concerned.”

Today, one of Mary’s biggest passions is jewelry making. She serves on 92Y’s Jewelry Center Committee, which raises awareness and contributed support for the Jewelry Center, the largest of its kind outside of a university setting. In addition, Mary has taken full advantage of so many of 92Y’s programs over the years, from piano and music appreciation lessons to attending many concerts and lectures to exercising daily at the May Center for Health, Fitness & Sport.

“What makes New York so special is its culture and diversity, and these are to be found at the 92nd Street Y,” says Mary. “Even though it is a Jewish institution, its members and staff are very diverse. And it provides a complete range of cultural activities really not found in any other single institution in this city. So it goes a very long way to making New York such a rich place to live.”

But Mary’s first love remains dance. “It’s in my lifeblood,” she says. “I love to move.” And it’s 92Y that helps keep her moving forward. “There’s really no end to the possibilities here. It’s my second home.”

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A Rosh Hashanah Reflection Heard Round the World: Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein, Director of Jewish Community and the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life

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On the way to Rosh Hashanah Eve services, my tech-savvy wife poked me and said, “It’s at 9,000!” Knowing she didn’t mean the stock market, I asked her what was at 9,000. “It’s that video about Rosh Hashanah — a reflection about what it means and why it matters — that you filmed in our apartment,” she informed me. “More than 9,000 people have viewed it!”

This was when I began to comprehend the revolutionary impact that 92nd Street Y and I could have together in shaping Jewish life globally. The enthusiastic response to the video suggested the difference we could make in enhancing knowledge, identity and involvement among Jews who might not otherwise be connected to their heritage.

The Rosh Hashanah reflection eventually received more than 115,000 views. And the Global Blessing we launched from 92Y was passed by 14 communities — synagogues and Jewish community centers — through every continent and time zone with Jewish inhabitants, from Australia to Hawaii. I believe it was the first time in history that Jewish people worldwide celebrated Rosh Hashanah in unison, embodying the Talmudic aspiration that all Jews are responsible for and linked to each other.

Personally, I’ve been embraced by both lay and professional leadership at 92Y. Everyone here is dedicated to one shared vision: that 92Y has a unique role in this new era, as we redefine, re-imagine and reassert the power of Jewish community and the necessity of Jewish innovation. Together we can wrestle with the most searing issues confronting us as Jews and as world citizens.

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Dance it Forward: A young dancer discovers herself by helping others

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When Kaia Olsen first started dance at the age of 5 in 92Y’s Tap Basics class, she was so shy her mom wasn’t even sure she was going to come into the studio. In fact, Kaia would become so nervous at showings or recitals that she often asked to be placed in the back line, even though she knew the choreography.

But sometimes it takes more than talent and long hours of practice to unlock one’s true potential and bolster belief in oneself. In Kaia’s case, the key was helping others by using her prodigious dance talent. Three years ago, she joined 92Y’s Junior Performance Team, a group of dancers who perform at nursing homes and community centers throughout our area.

According to her mom, Kaia has grown so much by participating in this program. Most importantly, learning to use her talents to help others has allowed her to come out of her shell. Today, Kaia is a scholar in 92Y’s Recanati- Kaplan Program for Excellence in the Arts, which offers merit-based scholarships for exceptional talent in art, music and dance, and has performed all over the city.

“The biggest change I notice in Kaia is how much self-confidence she now has,” says her mom. “At school conferences I used to hear comments like ‘Kaia needs to take more risks. Kaia needs to participate more in class discussions.’ Those types of comments are now replaced with ‘Kaia is a leader in class. Kaia is happy to share what she knows to help her peers.’”

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A Place to Raise Our Kids: The Chung-Lee family and 92Y

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Ernest Chung and Mary Lee didn’t move to the Upper East Side of New York just to be near 92Y. But today it would be hard for them to imagine life without it.

That’s likely because the entire family takes advantage of so much of what 92Y offers. For starters, daughters Karina (age 11) and Rebecca (age 6) are dedicated members of the 92Y GymStars gymnastics team and love training in the Gymnastics Studio in the Sky. They also take violin lessons, are involved in swimming and soccer, and have had their birthdays here. Between it all, Karina and Rebecca are typically here five days a week. “It’s like their second school,” says Ernest.

In addition to the kids’ many activities, the entire family adores classical music and attends many concerts every new season. “This is one of the very best places anywhere to experience music,” says Ernest. “The intimacy of the Kaufmann Concert Hall brings you closer to the performers than anywhere else.” It’s a sense of quality and excellence that Ernest says extends to so many aspects of his family’s 92Y experience, including “world-class instruction” for his children.

While conventional wisdom holds that personal and cultural enrichment is easy to come by for anyone living in New York City, for a busy family like the Chung-Lees, it’s especially valuable to have access to so much of it all at one place in their area. “We discovered this unique and special place that provides both physical and cultural enrichment,” says Ernest. “To have such a valuable institution in the neighborhood is something we are very grateful for … It’s a place to raise our kids.”

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Standing Tall and Moving Forward: J. M. Tolani’s Portrait on Parkinsonism

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“Amazona” — one of J. M. Tolani’s timeless photographs of rural life unchanged, snapped in Ecuador in 2005.

Burma-born photographer J. M. Tolani has traveled the world to capture images of indigenous cultures and street life in rural areas — life as lived unchanged by the modern world.

It was upon his return to his current home, New York, from such a trip to Latin America when he first noticed something wrong: a slight tremor of the right hand. After several rounds of doctor’s visits and tests, a diagnosis of Parkinson’s was confirmed. He was not yet 50. For someone whose passion and trade requires skillfully and steadily holding a heavy camera to capture the perfect image, it was an especially hard-to-take diagnosis.

But J. M. has persevered and refuses to let the disease stop him from living life as an artist. One thing that’s helped dramatically improve his quality of life is PEP! Parkinson’s Exercise Program, a new fitness-related program at 92Y designed exclusively for people with Parkinson’s disease. Launched in June 2015, PEP! uses highly specific exercises and movements with modifications so that patients of any age and level of the disease can participate.

The results have been impressive for many participants, and J. M. is no exception. “Since I started PEP! at 92nd Street Y, my Parkinson’s condition has improved considerably to a degree that my quality of life and confidence have gone up by several notches,” says J. M., who attends PEP! helped by a 92Y scholarship. “I am able to walk with more confidence and have less fear of falling, which is such a relief. I also feel more motivated than ever and find myself doing things that I could have never imagined just a year ago.”

“I do have Parkinson’s, but Parkinson’s does not have me,” he adds.

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