Category Archives: Blog / Personal Business

Holy Week Memories

This date, April 21, has special significance to me. On this date in 1974, I was admitted to Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn—the same hospital in which I was born—to undergo life-saving intestinal by-pass surgery for Superior Mesenteric Artery Syndrome. I often think of that hospital as the place in which I was born—and re-born.

It was also on this date—in 1995—that my mother, Ann Sciabarra, passed away at the age of 76, after a five-year-long battle with lung cancer. It was in the wee hours of Good Friday morning that she left us. She was one of the eight children of Vasilios P. Michalopoulos, my Papouli, who was the first pastor of the Three Hierarchs Church in Brooklyn. Her name in Greek was Anastasia. Father Eugene Pappas of that same church remarked at her funeral that it was just like my mother to have died on Good Friday, “only to be resurrected with Christ on Easter, her name day.” “Anastasia” is a derivative of “Anesti”, of the Resurrection, which is why Greeks say to one another on Orthodox Easter: “Christos Anesti” (or “Christ is Risen”).

This year, Good Friday falls on April 22, but it just so happens that today is Holy Thursday on the Greek Orthodox calendar. Which brings me to another one of those classic family memories …

Every year, Mom took my sister Elizabeth and me to Holy Week services. She never forced us to go weekly to Church as children or to attend Sunday school or Greek school (though, in retrospect, I could have used the latter—instead of a year-length course in dreadful statistics—toward a second foreign language requirement in my doctoral studies). But Holy Week was a different story altogether. We received communion, and typically attended services throughout the week, including Palm Sunday, the anointing of the Holy Unction on Holy Wednesday, the Holy Thursday evening procession of the cross, Jesus’s descent from the cross on Good Friday, and both the midnight resurrection service late Saturday night and the multilingual Easter Sunday morning Vespers of Agape. It should be noted that the Greeks go all-out. Those church services certainly helped me to appreciate the beauties of ritual, which speak to a sublime part of the human soul, whatever your religious beliefs.

On the night of Holy Thursday, in keeping with the Jewish tradition that the new day begins at sunset, Greeks begin to commemorate the events of Good Friday, marking the crucifixion, in which the cross is carried around the church, a replica of the body of Jesus often carried behind, only to be symbolically nailed to the cross once the procession makes its way to the front of the altar.

On this Holy Thursday night, back in 1971, when I was 11 years old, my sister and I accompanied my Mom to Three Hierarchs Church. The Twelve Gospel readings pertaining to the Passion were highlighted, in a re-enactment of the crucifixion. After the Fifth Gospel, the church was darkened and the cross was carried around the church in a mournful procession. Atop the cross were three lit candles. I was seated at the end of one of the front pews in the church, with a right aisle up-close view of the cross. The scent of the incense only heightened the sounds and visuals of the moment.

As the cross passed by me, the priest tipped it ever so slightly and hot wax from one of the candles dripped right onto my scalp. I let out an “Ow!” so loud that a few people turned around in obvious shock and contempt. Liz started to giggle, and I lost it. My mother saw what happened and kicked me under the pew. She leaned over and whispered in my ear: “Shhh! You got burned because you don’t go to Church!”

Well. This did not make matters better; my sister and I became convulsed with laughter, trying desperately to hide it. While elderly Greek women and men were moved to tears by the solemnity of the service, the tears were literally rolling down our faces, as we tried to contain our hysterics. Somehow, we made it out of that church without getting struck by lightning.

Safely outside, even Mom could not contain her own laughter, just shaking her head over the events of the night.

Memories, hilarious memories …

Hiromi Shinya Memorial Date

As Notablog readers know, I memorialized the trailblazing Dr. Hiromi Shinya in two previous posts back in December 2021 and January 2022. I was just informed by his daughter, Erica Kim, that a memorial service will be held for her father on Sunday, October 9, from 3:30pm at the Marble Collegiate Church, 1 W 29th St, New York, NY 10001.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to attend, but I’m very happy that Dr. Shinya will be so honored.

“Better Call Saul” Returns …

As a huge fan of “Breaking Bad“, “El Camino“, and “Better Call Saul“, I can’t wait to pick up where we left off as the final season of BCS gets underway tomorrow night!

Brooklyn Subway Shooting

By now, the whole world has learned of the subway shooting in the Sunset Park section of my hometown, Brooklyn, New York. The action eventually shifted to my own neighborhood, where the suspect left a rented van—two blocks from my apartment, on West 3rd Street and Kings Highway, in the Gravesend section of the borough.

As I noted on Facebook, law enforcement had cordoned off the entire area, with helicopters flying above. Leave it to my sister to find a moment of gallows humor in all this: “Just lock the doors. We don’t need any hostage situations on top of everything else we’re dealing with.”

The suspect has not yet been apprehended.* Thank goodness nobody was killed; let’s hope those who were affected survive and flourish.

But to all you New York Naysayers out there: Yes, there has been an uptick in crime in this city, in the wake of a pandemic and all the civil unrest that followed the George Floyd killing. I remember a city than in 1990 had in excess of 2,200 murders. Even with upticks in various crime categories, the city is nowhere near those horrific days of murder and mayhem. A cursory look at CompStat data shows massive declines across the last 29 years in every category—from murder and rape to robbery, burglary, and grand larceny.

This city has massive structural problems, but it is still a magnificent tapestry that draws its strength from its diverse neighborhoods. I’ve been a lifelong Brooklynite—and will be here until the day I die. Because, for me, this town is still the greatest city on earth.

___
* Oh, yes he has!

A New FB Profile Pic, Part II

In Coney Island, Brooklyn, in the shadow of the Parachute Jump.

Also see Facebook post here.

Ski & the BTHS Homecoming 100

2022 marks the centennial year of Brooklyn Technical High School. This weekend is the Tech Homecoming, sponsored by the Brooklyn Tech Alumni Foundation.

My sister, Elizabeth (“Ms. Ski”) Sciabarra, began her career at BTHS as an Apprentice Teacher of English in September 1972. She was officially appointed in 1977, and would go on to become Coordinator of Student Affairs and Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services at Tech. She later served for nearly a decade as principal of New Dorp High School on Staten Island, moving on to the Deputy Superintendency of Brooklyn and Staten Island High Schools and the Deputy Superintendency of High Schools. Her career with the NYC Department of Education reached its apex when she became Superintendent of Selective Schools and founder of the Office of Student Enrollment and the High School Admissions Program.

Upon her retirement from the DOE in 2010, Ski would return to her Tech roots, and eventually become Executive Director of the Alumni Foundation, a position from which she stepped down at the end of June 2021 due to her current health challenges.

Even though she was never a Tech graduate, she has always held Tech close to her heart. One might say that as a member of the “class of 1972”, she has had a depth of love for Tech for virtually half the years of its existence. So, yesterday, she was elated to receive from the Alumni Foundation this wonderful Centennial Package (pictured below). She hopes to participate in the Virtual Homecoming event on Saturday, April 9, 2022.

Ski & BTHS 100
#GoFundSki

Also see Facebook post here.

#GoFundSki Goal Exceeded!

My sister, Elizabeth Sciabarra, wanted to extend her heartfelt appreciation to every single person who has donated to the #GoFundSki campaign to raise $150,000 toward her care needs as she remains in-hospice at home. Over a thousand people have contributed since this project was posted, at 5:26 pm on Friday, March 26, 2022. The goal has been exceeded—in just ten days!

Ultimately, what has most moved my sister are the words of encouragement she has received and the personal reminiscences that have been posted to the #GoFundSki page. These are the kinds of testimonials that one reads at a memorial. But they are now a living testament, which she is processing daily in a deeply emotional way. It has allowed her to truly grasp that her life really did count—and continues to count—in terms of the professional and personal impact that she has made. This outpouring of love and support is the greatest gift of all.

My sister’s at-home care is a constantly evolving situation. Every cent we raise helps to maintain her quality of life moving forward during this increasingly difficult period. We appreciate any additional contributions—whatever the amount of your donation.

#GoFundSki

Addendum: Several friends expressed their apologies to me on Facebook, in email, and even on the phone, that they have not been able to contribute to this successful campaign for my sister. One friend on Facebook stated: “I’m sorry that I cannot help.” To that friend, I said:

You have helped with your comforting words of love and support all these months as my dear friend. So many people are unable to provide material assistance at this time. But we have been blessed to have experienced spiritual support on every level, and nobody should ever apologize for being unable to help financially. You’ve been by my side for so many months now. So I say this not only to you, but to others who have been unable to donate. Your kind and caring words, expressions of love and support are so deeply appreciated during difficult times like this … and I thank you for that from the bottom of my heart.

Also see Facebook post here.

#GoFundSki

On behalf of my sister, I am sharing this publicly—and sending our appreciation to those who have continued to show their love and support. This is a GoFundMe for my sister. #GoFundSki to donate!

***

This is the kind of appeal that the family of Elizabeth Sciabarra (Ms. Ski to her students) never wanted to post. But we are facing some very difficult realities. My sister became seriously ill and nearly died in November 2020, which was followed by extensive spinal surgery in mid-March 2021. We nearly lost her again in mid-October 2021. Since that time, she has been receiving in-home hospice. As her devoted brother, I have been her primary caregiver—despite dealing with my own lifelong medical issues. As my own health has been compromised over these many months, we have been compelled to turn to health aides to assist with my sister’s in-home care.

My sister brings in a pension from her many years of service as an educator in the New York City public school system. She also brings in a Social Security retirement check. Given the state of American healthcare, she is in the unenviable position of being in that great “middle” ground where so many others find themselves—not “wealthy” enough to cover all her medical expenses; too “wealthy” to qualify for Medicaid. As a woman who has worked for over fifty years, and paid millions of dollars in taxes to local, state, and federal governments, she qualifies for a single Medicare home health aide, 4 hours a day, 5 days a week, though she needs 24/7 care.

Having maxed-out some assistance from the Council of Supervisors and Administrators for both the 2021 and 2022 calendar years, she is spending, on average, approximately $15,000 a month on aides and other non-insured medical supplies—more than she earns with her pension and Social Security combined. She has sold her car, exhausted her savings, and cashed-in retirement accounts—paying taxes on that too. Complete financial collapse can be avoided if my sister is placed in a Medicare-insured inpatient hospice, which would constitute a dramatic change to her quality of life. She wanted to remain at home, but without the financial capacity to do so, she will be compelled to make a decision that will break all our hearts. And hers most of all. Out of personal embarrassment and a sense of pride, she never wanted to make an appeal such as this. But after being in-and-out of hospitals and medical facilities for 17 months, even she realizes that this situation is financially unsustainable, threatening her ability to pay for even the basic necessities of life … food, clothing, and shelter.

We appreciate anything anyone can offer; we have no hope of paying anyone back. We only hope that a woman who, as an educator, devoted her life to helping thousands upon thousands of children and young adults, can raise enough funds that would allow her a level of dignity moving forward—despite the serious health challenges she continues to face every hour of every day.

Sincerely,
Chris Matthew Sciabarra (on behalf of my sister)

My dear sister, Elizabeth Sciabarra

Also see Facebook post here.

Sciabarra Household Getting Ready for Easter

Western Easter falls on April 17; Eastern Orthodox Easter falls on April 24. But here in the Sciabarra household, we’re getting ready for the holidays!

On Our Front Door
In the Dining Room
Toward the Kitchen
On the Hutch, with the Daffodils
By the Window
Toward the Living Room
And Our Window Display

Memories of Dad

As ballroom dancers, Mom and Dad met on the dance floor. Nobody could cut a rug doing a swift Peabody or a Lindy-Hop better! Dad always said if he had to die, he wanted to go out dancing.

And that is exactly what he was doing when he died on this date, fifty years ago.

On March 4, 1972, my father, Salvatore Charles Sciabarra (“Sal” to his family and friends), died of a massive coronary at the age of 55. He would have turned 56 on June 11, 1972. At the time, I was 12 years old, suffering from serious life-threatening medical problems, and the news of his passing shattered me. It was my first experience with death as a fact of life. It was so very hard. But the cherished memories I have of him are still very much alive.

Mom was born in Lowell, Massachusetts in 1919; Dad was born in Manhattan in 1916. As young children, they both moved to Brooklyn, New York and met as teenagers because of their mutual love of dancing. In 1935, she was 16 and he was 19. They had attended a wedding together and Mom missed curfew and didn’t want to go home to the wrath of her father, my Papouli, the first pastor of the Three Hierarchs Church. They decided to elope. Times were very different back then; intermarriage between faiths and ethnicities was frowned upon. Mom was an American-born Greek Orthodox woman whose parents had emigrated from Olympia, Greece. Dad was an American-born Roman Catholic man whose parents had emigrated from Porto Empedocle, not far from Sciacca (hence the last name), in the province of Agrigento, Sicily. Or as I put it, tongue-in-cheek: My maternal grandparents came from the home of the gods and goddesses and my paternal grandparents came from the home of the godfathers; clearly, this Brooklyn-born boy came from tough stock!

My parents were not gods, goddesses, or ‘godparents’. But they were very human renegades for their time. And, in many ways, they raised three renegade children, each of whom danced to their own music. My brother Carl—exposed to my father’s mandolin, guitar, and drum-playing, would go on to become a virtuoso jazz guitarist. My sister Elizabeth—exposed to my mother’s love of education (Mom was the first in her family to graduate from high school, James Madison High School in Brooklyn)—would go on to become a lifelong educator. And both my parents encouraged me to follow my own dreams; I would not have become what I am today without them.

Mom and Dad separated when I was 5 years old. Though my sister and I lived with my Mom, my Dad remained a very strong presence in my life. In fact, in the wake of that separation, his presence in my life only grew. There were difficult times for sure, but these were far outweighed by fun times. Trips to Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, its hills like huge mountains to me, its zoo full of wonder, nourished my love of nature. Coney Island, Manhattan Beach, car rides, music, and movies delighted me.

One of those movies was “The Love Bug,” whose action centered around Herbie, a Volkswagen Beetle. Dad had proposed taking my sister and me to see the film, which was playing at the Cinema Theatre on East Kings Highway (previously known as the Jewel Theatre). Mom was flustered by both the title and the theater. “You’re taking them to see a film called ‘The Love Bug’ at the Cinema!”—knowing all too well that the theater was an infamous headquarters for first-run racy porn flicks. Dad explained that it was a Disney film.

Like Mom, who worked in the garment industry for most of her life, Dad too was a factory worker. Initially, he was an eye-setter in a doll factory. We still have some of those dolls, with their life-like eyes, which my Dad brought home for my sister Elizabeth. Eventually, he would become a cargo worker for Trans World Airlines at JFK International Airport. I still have plenty of TWA memorabilia, including TWA soaps and TWA Flying Magic Boards, given to kids of all ages on flights (see the collage below). Today, you’re lucky if you can get complementary snacks! I hadn’t flown on a plane in my Dad’s lifetime, but I got to see planes up close at the airport as a kid. It fueled my awe of the heavens and sparked my lifelong fascination with the human journey into air and space.

Despite losing my Dad in 1972, I continued to be nourished by a very loving and supportive family throughout my entire life. And it was to these family members that I dedicated each of my books. I told Mom that I would dedicate my first book, Marx, Hayek, and Utopia, to her. Alas, she died in April 1995, before that book was published. I told my Uncle Sam—my Dad’s first cousin, who married my mother’s sister (my Aunt Georgia) and who was like a second father to me—that I would dedicate my second book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, to him. But he died in 1994. It got so that I was very concerned about who would have been “sentenced” to death-by-dedication, for my third book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. So I opted for strength in numbers, a group dedication—to my brother, sister, sister-in-law, friend Matthew, and dog Blondie, and all, except for Blondie, are still kicking till this day!

I never had a chance to honor my father. I was his “Chrissy Bear”; he was my Daddy. This post acknowledges his joyous impact on my life.

That’s me with Mom and Dad in September 1969, along with that TWA memorabilia …