Ridgewood, Queens

Photo: Gabrielle Schatz

Ridgewood, a pocket of Queens I’d barely heard of growing up at the far end of the borough, borders two even more obscure to me names, Middle Village and Glendale. On the Myrtle Ave. subway line, Ridgewood, once farmland for the British and Dutch, then populated by Germans and soon other immigrants, abuts refurbished Bushwick in Brooklyn. It’s home as well to hipsters and people who do art. Overnight a new Mideast demographic seems to have sprung up though it’s hard to actually encounter a member of that community.

From the drugstore on Myrtle Ave. my daughter calls to chat. She’s in line waiting for antianxiety meds. The neighborhood’s become stressful.

Finally, prescription filled, she heads back home describing sights en route. I encourage picture taking but the pings on my phone make it tough to get a word in edgewise. It’s less than a 20-minute walk but a lot’s going on.

The entrance to the Wyckoff subway station where you catch the M train ─ I hadn’t even known such a letter existed ─ urges us in red paint to FREE GAZA with a small modest sticker exhorting riders to LET GAZA LIVE. There’s another train on the line but its identity  concealed by these demands.

However, if you prefer a different mode of transport, NYC has bikes for rent, a service of Citibank. One right next to the subway even has FREE PALESTINE daubed on its handlebars, meter a rectangle between the words.

A few minutes later from Linden Street comes a barrage of pings. On a row of power line poles the messages this time tacked are wordier. The first reminds us Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. In case we’re not convinced, on the following pole, printed on a priority mail envelope, we’re informed “israel is a settler colony not a country” and the solution: “From the River to the sea”, not only in English and Arabic but inclusively in Spanish too (del rio al mar). An outline map of “israel” shows the settler colony to be removed.  Meanwhile a couple of trendy locals in keffiyehs stroll by.

On the drab street, apartment windows flush against the sidewalk, a poster on the next pole could double as a course syllabus. It assigns a heavy load of tasks and readings, headed What You Can Do For Palestine. Numbered 1−6, it’s easy to follow: Educate yourself and others (terms to look up, ie. Great March of Return, Israeli Apartheid), Follow non western news sources, links given, Follow Palestinian accounts on social media, more links ─ Instagram and X, Contact your representatives for a ceasefire and humanitarian aid, Join local action and protests!, Instagram accounts to check out, and bringing up the rear good ole Boycott Divestment and Sanctions, a few companies (“like McDonalds, Starbucks and Denny’s”) helpfully given as starters. Although clearly laid out, it’s too much work. It’s a class I’d be tempted to drop.

We’re still on the block. The usual From the river to the sea Palestine will be free makes its appearance on a city electric meter and a graphic I hadn’t seen, three FREE PALESTINEs each with keffiyehed profiles. The pattern makes a pretty design until you look close and note eyes peeking through slits. That was Fairview Ave. and the gauntlet’s been run.

I’m wrong. At home she opens Instagram and regrets it, immediately hit by a post from a pre-Hamas attack friend. Over in neighboring Glendale, the artist, a Utah native who’s updated his caption from Painter of Life to Free Palestine, long live the resistance, has found a new canvas ─ his Subaru, a convenient white. LONG LIVE THE INTIFADA is splashed across the trunk. The oil painter and figure drawer is exploring other surfaces as well. LONG LIVE THE RESISTANCE and GLORY TO OUR MARTYRS scroll across windows. Kneeling in back, a woman in keffiyeh is scribbling with marker under the orange arch of the Utah license plate. It’s Jan. 1, Arches National Park far from Palestine but they’re setting off to jam access to New York City airports.

A week later there’s more and we consider standup. On the steps of her library down the street, she watches pro Palestinian paraders march by, snare drums and wooden spoons beating the message. A stranger comments it’s nice people have causes. A woman she’d asked earlier about coming to a gardening group says it depends if the protest ─ sponsored by Ridgewood Tenants Union (“Building power among community members to fight displacement.”) ─ lets out early. Her roommate is annoyed. She’s visiting her parents in Brooklyn and has to map a different driving route out of Ridgewood; the marching blocks streets, like a marathon.

Meanwhile I’m getting photos of FREE PALESTINE stamped into the cement in front of the library and a big Palestinian flag swings above an overpass, RIGHT TO RETURN plastered on top of UNIQUE MEN, UNIQUE LIVES, UNIQUE SUPPORT, Navy Seal Foundation Join Us. A few days later comes a photo of a stenciled sticker on a pole, Protect Trans People, and right under, Free Palestine. We’re in stitches, but I’m hoping she’ll move from the neighborhood, hipster vibes and all.

About the Author
Donna Schatz is an Israeli-American photographer, documentary producer and former TV camerawoman who worked in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon as well as Bosnia and the US.
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