Wednesday, April 07, 2004

The World's Other Jewish President

The World's Other Jewish President
By Mordechai Arbell

Ricardo Maduro, who was sworn in January 2002 as president of Honduras, in the wake of democratic elections held in that country, is the second Jewish president in Honduran history. In 1847, Juan Lindo, the son of a Spanish Jew, Joaquin Fernandes Lindo, was elected to this post. He served as president until 1852 and is remembered for his extensive activities in the field of education. He founded an efficient, centralized system of education and set up a school in every village.

Previously, in 1841 and 1842, Juan Lindo was the president of the republic of El Salvador. Here we have a rare historical event, in which the same individual served as president in two different republics. In El Salvador as well, Lindo is remembered as a distinguished educator and as the founder of the national university. Ricardo Maduro is not the first member of his family to become the president of a country.

A distant relative, Eric Arturo Delvalle, was sworn in as president of Panama in 1987. During his presidency, Delvalle brought a Torah scroll from Jerusalem and donated it to the Spanish- Portuguese synagogue in Panama City, Kol Shearith Israel, of which he was a member. His uncle, Max Delvalle, became president of Panama in 1969. In an address he delivered after his election, he said, "Today there are two Jewish presidents in the world - the president of the State of Israel and I." On the day of his inauguration, the British ambassador to Panama told him that Delvalle's inauguration as a Jewish president reminded him of Benjamin Disraeli. To which President Delvalle replied, "Yes, but Disraeli was only a prime minister. I am the president of a country."

The Maduros are one of the most illustrious and highly respected Jewish families in the Caribbean Islands and Central America. The members of this family meticulously recorded its chronicles from one generation to the next. The first recorded event relates to the year 1512.

Antonio and Leonora Roiz lived as marranos (crypto-Jews) in Portugal and concealed their Jewish identity from the authorities. Their son, Diego, added to his family name the title Maduro, which means mature or senior.

Diego's son, Antonio Roiz Maduro, was sentenced to be burned to death by the Inquisition in Portugal for "crimes against the Catholic faith and for observance of the laws of Moses." He was burned alive at the stake in the central square of the Portuguese city of Coimbra. His wife managed to escape to France in 1618 and publicly resumed her observance of Jewish law. Her daughter, Clara, changed her name to Rachel and moved to the Netherlands in 1619, where she met Moshe Levy. As a gesture of respect for the Maduro family, Levy added Maduro to the name of his own family, which from that time on became known as Levy Maduro.

Levy's grandson, Moshe Levy Maduro, arrived with his family in the Caribbean island of Curacao in 1672. He came there to serve as cantor in the local synagogue and subsequently settled on the island, becoming the owner of several farms and an exporter of tropical fruits, which he sent to Europe on his own ships. His siblings settled in Jamaica and on the island of St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.

Commemorative stamps
The fact that close ties were maintained between the members of the Maduro family was a major factor in their prosperity. The Maduros, who were involved in a wide range of economic activities, were strict observers of the laws of Judaism and served in voluntary capacities in the synagogues in the region. A prominent member of the family, Samuel Levy Maduro, who resided on the island of St. Thomas, was recognized in 1845 as a great scholar in sacred Jewish studies. Other members of the Maduro family made a name for themselves as writers and historians. Some of them were affluent and contributed generously to Jewish causes.

Shlomo Eliahu Levy Maduro was a prominent member of the family. In 1837, he founded the company that is known today as Maduro Holdings. The company's holdings include a shipping firm, storage facilities for coal and crude oil, airlines, and factories for the manufacture of paints and construction materials. The holdings are located throughout the Caribbean Islands, as well as in South America and the United States. The government of the Netherlands Antilles issued a series of stamps to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Maduro Holdings, which made a major contribution to the prosperity of Dutch colonies in the New World.

The Maduro family's bank, the Maduro Bank, was founded in 1916 and merged with another bank, owned by the Curiel family, in 1932. The new bank was named the Maduro & Curiel Bank.
Today, it is the largest bank among the Caribbean Islands and it funds development programs throughout the region. The Maduro & Curiel Bank set up loan funds for Holocaust survivors who settled in the Caribbean Islands and helped them rebuild their lives. The Netherlands Antilles government
issued a series of stamps to mark the bank's 75 anniversary. A prominent intellectual in Curacao was Jossy Maduro, who specialized in the study of the history of Spanish Jewry in the Americas.

He established libraries and assisted academic institutions. His work came to an abrupt end when his son, George Levy Maduro, was murdered by the Nazis.

Award for bravery
George Levy Maduro was born in Curacao in 1916 and traveled to Leiden in the Netherlands to study law. When the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, he joined the Dutch army as a captain and fought with great courage against the invading German forces. He participated in one of the few counter-offensives against the Wehrmacht. Following the Netherlands' surrender, he was taken prisoner by the Germans.

After being caught in a daring escape attempt, he was turned over to the Germans. He died on February 9, 1945 in the Dachau concentration camp. In his memory, his father donated the funds for the construction of a miniature city, Madurodam, that is located near the Dutch capital, The Hague, and which was created to bring joy to the hearts of children from all over the world. The revenue from the admission fee to the site is transferred to institutions for the care of the infirm and the chronically ill in the Netherlands.

The Dutch government posthumously granted George Levy Maduro an award for bravery.

When the Panama Canal was built, the economic center of gravity in the Caribbean region and Central America shifted to the republic of Panama. Members of the Maduro family from Curacao, St. Thomas and Jamaica began to move to Panama, where they soon occupied key positions. Other family members moved to Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala. In all these countries, Jews of Spanish and Portuguese origin were warmly welcomed and, within a short while, they integrated into public life and the economy, playing an active role in the regime.

According to the testimony of East European Jews who arrived in Central America in the 1930s, the center of Jewish life in Costa Rica and the main synagogue in that country was the home of Moshe Levy Maduro. A member of that branch of the Maduro family, Osmond Levy Maduro, a native of Panama, moved with his children to Honduras. One of his sons, Ricardo, was elected president of Honduras in January 2002.

Mordechai Arbell has served in Israel's Foreign Ministry and is a consultant to the World Jewish Congress on Latin America and Spanish Jewry. His book, "The Jewish Nation of the Caribbean," was published recently (in English) by Gefen publishing house.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Rezoning West Harlem: Good for Harlem, Good for New York

The Manhattan Institute’s
Center for Rethinking Development
Ideas that shape the city’s planning, housing, and development
A Monthly Newsletter by Julia Vitullo-Martin, MI Senior Fellow

Rezoning West Harlem: Good for Harlem, Good for New York

Julia Vitullo-Martin, April 2004

Rarely in the history of New York City's development wars has any one side been able to make as effective a case for rezoning as Columbia University's plan for the desolate neighborhood to its north. The familiar signs of Manhattan's prosperity (handsome buildings, good stores and restaurants, well-tended public areas, lively street life) are absent in the West Harlem neighborhood that Columbia calls Manhattanville. The reason is simple: much of Manhattanville and environs is zoned for manufacturing - meaning that the city has for decades outlawed nearly all new residential and many new commercial uses. The city has also maintained low height restrictions on all buildings. The result is a swath of land that holds few businesses, few jobs, and almost no residences other than huge public housing projects.

At an April 21 breakfast briefing for Harlem business leaders, Columbia President Lee Bollinger released Columbia's urban design plan to build a new campus of science, academic, retail, commercial, and support spaces, including a new school of the arts. What he called "the build-out" would generate about 9,000 permanent new jobs and provide $4 billion in economic stimulus to the city. It would take up 18.3 of Manhattanville's 27 acres.

The plan is gorgeous and enumerates many of today's fashionable planning principles. (The architects are Renzo Piano Building Workshop and Skidmore Owings & Merrill.) The buildings will have transparent ground floor sections, to create a light and airy, seamless transition from building interiors to outdoor spaces. The now narrow sidewalks will be widened. Streets will be lined with trees to encourage pedestrians. Ground floors will have new retail establishments such as banks, drug stores and restaurants.

The city is doing its part by beginning construction next month on a $10.4 million waterfront park between St. Clair Place/125th Street and West 133rd Street on what is now a city-owned parking lot. "The idea," says Janel Patterson, spokesperson for the city's Economic Development Corporation, is to encourage economic development in the area by providing public amenities."

Great cities need their great universities - and smart cities do all they can to nurture and sustain them. As New York's 12th-largest employer, with 9,000 employees and 23,000 students, Columbia is one of New York's strongest economic engines. After decades of trauma and decline, Columbia is now back at the top of its game, fully restored to its former eminence. But it needs precisely what caused it so much tribulation in the 1960s: more land. With only 194 square feet per student, Columbia has far less space than Princeton's 561 square feet, Penn's 440 or Harvard's 368.

Columbia's Morningside Heights campus is nearly as land-locked as Afghanistan. It is bordered on the east by Morningside Park, onto whose sacred land Columbia tried building its infamous gym in 1968. It is bordered on the west by apartment buildings, many of which it owns, as well as Riverside Drive and Riverside Park. It has bought whatever property it could to its south, but owns very little below 111th Street. Only its northern border of 122nd Street is somewhat permeable - or would be if the zoning is changed to make the property usable.

Columbia considered moving out of town, to either New Jersey or to Rockland County, and had also looked at Trump's property on the West Side, according to executive vice president Emily Lloyd. The first two options held calamitous implications for New York. The Trump option, which might have worked, would have been extremely expensive. Ms. Lloyd says they "talked on and off for four years but never really came close to agreement." The Manhattanville option is ideal.

Of the mostly underused 17 acres in the expansion plan bounded by Broadway and 12th Avenue and 125th and 133rd streets, Columbia already owns or leases a little over 40 percent. The area has languished for decades. Marred by the emergence of the West Side subway into an elevated line on Broadway, the area has developed as a jumble of gas stations, auto repair shops, warehouses, storage facilities, locksmiths, and a few food outlets, generating very little income for the area and employing few people. Indeed, the area's employment dropped from 1900 to 1100 over the past 20 years, according to Lloyd. And over 300 of those jobs are with public agencies: the NYPD, New York City Transit's two bus depots, and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.

Like Columbia itself, Harlem is a famous American franchise that stumbled badly, brought down by crime, poverty, riots, and self-defeating politics. And like Columbia, Harlem has made a spectacular comeback. This marriage can benefit both partners.

As mayoral adviser and Barnard/Columbia professor Ester Fuchs points out, "Right now Manhattanville is contributing little to the economy of Harlem. The plan will displace blighted, abandoned industrial sites with productive uses. It will regenerate the area, which is what New York is all about. No urban site is perfectly empty but this comes close."

Community activists are skeptical that Columbia will indeed hire Harlem residents, and it's their job to make sure that Columbia does. Bollinger said that under his reign Columbia has made 20 percent of its new hires from the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, which is made up of Harlem, plus Washington Heights and Inwood.

Many of Columbia's sins of the past were simply the planning sins of the times. Yes, Columbia built a tower for faculty housing with its back to the community, in this case Harlem, and its front door to the university - but so did every other university. Walk any urban campus - Harvard, Chicago, Penn - and you can easily identify the hostile buildings erected in those fearful decades. Now we all know better - and so does Columbia. We know that street life is good, and has to be encouraged with retail services even when the landlord is a university.

But the most important point is that Manhattanville is mostly derelict now. And though some opponents have been trying to argue that the neighborhood is historic, it really is not. As the distinguished urban historian Kenneth Jackson says: "The area is not historic in the sense that architecturally important buildings occupy the site or that major events ever took place there. Rather, that part of Manhattanville is somewhat nondescript and for most of its history the rats have outnumbered the people because the area has been filled with commercial and industrial and meatpacking structures rather than with houses or apartment buildings."

In other words, there is virtually no preservation argument against developing Manhattanville.

Much of the area is currently zoned for manufacturing and commercial use with Floor Area Ratios of two. Columbia is likely to ask for mixed-use zoning and for an upgrade to a FAR of six. This would represent a huge increase that would allow Columbia to build substantially larger buildings than anything now there. But that's good. Bounded on one side by a highway and on the other by public transit, this area should be developed to high density - similar to the density typical of the West Side, which generally has a FAR of 9 or 10 on the main avenues and a FAR of 7 on the brownstone streets. Density will provide the critical mass of people who will in turn demand good services, stores, cafes, and restaurants - thereby also ensuring the active street life that will keep the neighborhood safe.

Columbia will ask the city to certify that its application for rezoning is complete and therefore ready for public review some time in the next few months. This will mark only the very beginning of what will be a long and difficult series of public hearings and reports.

April 2004
Columbia University plans for expansion
The Columbia Spectator tracks Columbia's plans
Community Gazette for District 7 (West Harlem & Washington Heights)
City planning on revitalizing West Harlem
Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone
Kenneth Knuckles, Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Head
Community Board 9 calendar
NYPD 30th Precinct
City says lead paint abatement will be costly
Housing groups at odds over lead-paint law
Mayor will demolish Staten Island's Homeport
Community facilities zoning text proposal
Municipal Art Society report on zoning variances
IBO report: as federal aid drops, city's cost for policing public housing climbs
Will development improve or ruin Brooklyn? asks New York Magazine
South Brooklyn group declares Red Hook a neighborhood on the verge
Bloggers weigh in on Red Hook

“Manhattanville has relatively little of historic interest. The eclectic Fairway grocery store, with its huge meat section, is a reminder of the old meatpacking operations which so long dominated the streets under the viaduct. Nor is this a historically black section. African-Americans came later to the streets west of Broadway than to central Harlem, and there was only a small black population there before World War II.”
Kenneth T. Jackson, Barzun Professor of History, Columbia University

“What's wrong here is that people think neighborhoods should stay the same. But the strength of New York has always been neighborhood regeneration. Columbia's commitment to engage the community is strong. This should be a win win for everyone.” Ester Fuchs, Special Advisor to the Mayor