“I think they chose it by accident. It must have sounded like a lovely name.”

Social worker Liivia has lived in Sunnyside for 61 years

Liivia (bottom left) and her parents on the ship to America in 1949

Liivia practicing ballet behind her home in Sunnyside Gardens

Liivia and “the boys” in front of the former candy store on Skillman Avenue and 46th St.

After Liivia married, she and her husband found a house coincidentally also on 45th Street. Liivia had two children in Sunnyside. This was also where she had her first Chinese food, her first Pizza and her first kiss. In Sunnyside she organized neighborhood protests against the Vietnam War and fought for women’s and civil rights and for the landmarking of Sunnyside Gardens. Not surprisingly, it was a neighbor who suggested she pursue a master’s degree in social work, steering her toward what she calls “the passion in my life.” Continue reading


“I am a picky girl. I’m too picky to pick.”

If you find yourself at the supermarket on 43rd Avenue on a gloomy day, with a little bit of luck you might find Ormi cheerfully working the cash register and inquiring about your well-being.

I complained about being tired one recent morning as she rang up the vegetables for my two pet rabbits (who refuse to eat lettuce from any other supermarket in Sunnyside).

“Maybe you just need to do something. Sometimes tiredness goes away once you start moving…”

I felt much better after taking Ormi’s advice and decided to meet with her at Café Aubergine after her evening shift.

A challenge at first, the cashier’s job with its constantly changing prices and codes, its idle times and meager wage—in three years Ormi has worked her way up from $7.25 to $7.75 an hour —is only a temporary solution for her. She has always enjoyed taking care of her younger cousins and nephews and wants to turn her compassion for children into a profession. Hoping to become a social worker one day, she currently studies Human Services at LaGuardia Community College.

Ormi moved to Sunnyside from Bangladesh six years ago. She says that among five siblings she is the shiest and quietest and had the most difficult time adapting to the new culture. She couldn’t speak any English and the first weeks she could barely eat; even the water tasted differently.

While her mom tried to find the unique South Asian vegetables the family was accustomed to, the dishes didn’t taste nearly as fresh as they did in her home country. Worse yet, Ormi couldn’t find any of her favorite fruits—Kathal, Lukluki and Bubi—and she missed the elaborate wedding ceremonies where the women would prepare sweets from these fruits and bring them to the bride’s house.

At age 20, Ormi is still very close to her mom and wants to stay with her until she gets married. But she thinks it will take some years to find a “good-hearted, good-looking, funny and educated gentleman.” She is not interested in an arranged marriage as is still the custom for many young people in Bangladesh.

“What if the guy is the opposite of me? No ‘yes’ to a stranger!” She says, sipping her Coca-Cola at Café Aubergine. “I am a picky girl. I’m too picky to pick.”

But between school, work and the usual hobbies (TV, music, reading the Twilight series), there is little time to think about dating. Besides, before Ormi picks the right guy, she still has to work on her shyness, she says. And with an admirable dollop of self-confidence she adds, “There is no problem with me. Either way, I will be fine.”

* Name has been changed upon request.

Listen to Ormi’s interview


Acupuncturist and herbalist Dong Soo Chang

“The real treatment begins from the moment the patient walks into the clinic.”

Dong Soo Chang, a former accountant who lives in Maspeth, had a very pragmatic reason for opening up his acupuncture and herbology practice on 43rd Avenue and 46th Street. The close proximity to the 7 line and to the city would allow people easy access to his services at rates far lower than those of his colleagues in Manhattan. After working with and learning from his father-in-law for several years, he and his wife opened up their Sunnyside clinic four years ago. It has since attracted clients not only from New York City, but also from Boston and Long Island, and even as far as California.

“The real treatment begins from the moment the patient walks into the clinic,” Chang quotes one of his old professors to explain the holistic approach. This, together with his knowledge and technique, is responsible for his success. (With 35 percent of his patients being Hispanic, it also helps that Chang, who used to live in Buenos Aires, is fluent in Spanish.)

Having studied in both the U.S. and Korea, Chang takes advantage of the benefits of both cultures. In his home country acupuncture and herbology stem back thousands of years and are considered the primary medical treatment options. Chang explains that while Korean acupuncturists know more techniques, the U.S. leads in terms of double-blind studies, proving and disproving alternative healing methods and showing the chemical process initiated by such things as herbs, minerals, roots, leaves and seeds. American scientists have also conducted magnetic resonance imaging during treatment to show the effect acupuncture has on a patient’s brain.

While the 80 percent of his patients who have been referred to him by relatives and friends are generally trusting, walk-ins often express doubt. “Does acupuncture really work?” some ask. Chang always takes the time to explain the benefits to them, most notably that acupuncture is natural and strengthens the immune system so the body can pick up from there and heal itself. “If I explain these positive aspects to them, they become hopeful,” he says, “and try acupuncture.”

Listen to Dong Soo Chang’s interview


“The newer children who are coming here unfortunately do not have this available to them, and their parents don’t know all the history.”
Dorothy Cavallo has lived in Phipps Garden for 46 years.

Dorothy appreciates her home and her garden.

The original apartment rental brochure (courtesy Rev. Michael J. Moran and

Forty years ago, when her little son ran through one of the hedges of the Phipps Garden Apartments, Dorothy Cavallo immediately received a phone call from the management office reprimanding her. Phipps’s on-site nursery school and playground offered sand boxes, slides, swings and a swimming pool to romp around in, but the Gardens were just to be seen.

“Our site here has diminished somewhat in its outside appeal,” Dorothy laments in her Phipps Garden apartment of 46 years. “It’s sad to see and sad to say.”

An anniversary brochure from 1980 likened Phipps Garden to the great Botanical Gardens in the Bronx and in Brooklyn. “To step into the gardens through the archway,” it reads, “is to move into a world whose existence in the midst of New York City is as astonishing as the land into which Lewis Carrol’s Alice tumbled.” Continue reading


Rabbi Lerman in front of a fabric painting by Betty Ann Weiner

The synagogue has been housed in the basement of an apartment building at the corner of 43rd Avenue and 46th Street after the old synagogue was demolished in 2005.

Young Israel’s three Torahs, with the newest one on the right

The Yizkor candles are lit several times a year to commemorate the six million Jews that were killed in the Holocaust.

“As Jews we have something unique to contribute to this diversity.”

As I arrived at the Young Israel synagogue one recent rainy Tuesday morning, Rabbi Nesanal Lerman was bending over the brand-new Torah scroll, making sure that none of its assiduously hand-written letters were overlapping and thereby implying new meanings. The 37-year-old rabbi experienced a hectic start after being installed only three months ago in Sunnyside’s small orthodox Jewish community, which had been without a rabbi for several years.

“It’s been a little bit erratic up until now,” Rabbi Lerman admits as we sat in the basement of the apartment building that houses The Young Israel synagogue. A month ago the community celebrated the dedication of a new Torah with a joyful procession down 47th Street, Skillman Avenue and up 46th Street. This was followed by Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkoth, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. In addition to all the professional duties that come with holiday celebrations, the rabbi and his wife Nechama care for two young children and a little baby girl who was born only two months ago. But enthusiastic and ambitious by nature, Lerman appears to thrive on challenges. He now plans to renovate the synagogue, which he proudly notes is the only one offering daily services in all of Western Queens. He also wants to create a Jewish daycare center for those congregants who wish to expose their children to a Jewish learning environment.

Raised in the orthodox community of Borrough Park, Brooklyn, Lerman lived in Jerusalem for the past eleven years, where he studied and helped establish a Jewish structure for its Anglo-Saxon population. He hopes that Sunnyside’s 20 observant orthodox Jewish member families will benefit from his intense and focused religious experience in Israel and that his presence will enrich the community as a whole.

“We were looking for a place where there is a diversity of culture and where we can contribute,” Rabbi Lerman says about Sunnyside. “As Jews we have something unique to contribute to this diversity.”

While he is still trying to read the map of his new territory—he considers finding out people’s needs and reaching out to fulfill them among his most important tasks—he relies on his two main philosophies, learning and believing. “The Torah says man’s created in the Godly image. There is so much that people can accomplish if they only believe. Every person has to look at himself as a deep text that they have to learn.”

Listen to Rabbi Lerman’s interview