“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


“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


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


Mary in front of one of her photographs in her Sunnyside apartment
Festival of Mexican Artistic Expression, Tepeyac Association, Queens, NY
©Mary Teresa Giancoli

“I wanted to find out what is the root of these traditions.”

When Mary Teresa Giancoli began to immerse herself into Mexican culture in New York City it was a challenge. The patrons at the small Mexican church on 14th Street celebrating the Virgin of Guadalupe were suspicious and did not want to be photographed.“I am not fluent in Spanish and I don’t look Mexican,” says Mary, who has photographed Mexican rituals for 17 years. But having had a Mexican grandfather, whom she has never met, was “a touching point” and “a mystery” that she was determined to unravel. “I really wanted to find out where the center of Mexican life is in New York and this was part of my search.”

One thing Mary found at the little church was her husband, Cristian Peña, a Mexican and fellow photographer. (Cristian even appears in some of her early photographs.) Eventually the couple had iced tea after one of the events. “That was when the grand love was born,” Mary says giggling. Mary, Cristian and their seven-year-old daughter Leila now often travel to Mexico to visit remote villages where the couple documents festivities and everyday life.

“I wanted to find out what is the root of these traditions,” Mary says. “What is it like in Mexico, how are they celebrated there? So there is this continual dialogue about what is happening in Mexico and what is happening in the United States. There is a lot of fusion because the traditions evolve in the United States and mix with the American traditions.”

To trace Mexican customs in the U.S. back to their origins, Mary visited Mexican tortilla factories in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and tortilla makers in Cuetzalan, Mexico. Her award-winning work documents Mexican celebrations in community centers and churches in New York and in Puebla, and market scenes in Atlixco, featuring protagonists whose relatives have left to work in America.

In the podcast Mary talks about the photo of the three little girls above and the origins of the traditional China Poblana costumes they are wearing.


Chumi Lerman and her daughter Shoshana

“The rabbi’s wife is the unofficial filling-in-the-blanks-of-whatever-is-needed.”

A wooden dining table that seats ten people or more welcomes guests as they enter the home of Nechama, or Chumi, as Rabbi Lerman’s wife is commonly known. Chumi’s four-month-old daughter Shoshana gurgles and fidgets on the couch nearby.

I begin the conversation by asking, “What are the traditional duties of the rabbi’s wife?” but quickly realize that my question may be premature (or even obsolete, considering the large table and newborn). Chumi became a “rebbetzin,” the official title, just last March, when her husband took on the available position at the Young Israel of Sunnyside Synagogue. The couple moved their three-year-old twins Chaim and Ahava and their six-year-old daughter Bracha from Jerusalem to Sunnyside just in time for Chumi to give birth to Shoshana. While having to settle and furnish their new house in Sunnyside Gardens, attend to a long chain of holiday and Torah celebrations, and find Jewish schools for the older children, Chumi made efforts to get to know the members of the orthodox community and familiarize herself with their needs. The couple is constantly broadening their email list and Chumi has joined the Yahoo Group SunnyMoms to find out more about how she can help the community grow.

“The rabbi’s wife is the unofficial fill-in-the-blanks-of-whatever-is-needed,” she says, giggling at her understatement. While each couple and community decides on the rebbitzin’s role and duties, she is traditionally expected to host guests for meals over Shabbat. At those meals, the small size of Sunnyside’s orthodox Jewish community allows Chumi to pay special attention to people they “want to connect to more.”

Chumi’s new role is familiar to her not only because giving and caring is one of the three pillars of Judaism. The daughter of a rabbi and an educator, Chumi earned her master’s degree in education from Long Island University before she moved to Israel 11 years ago. In Jerusalem she taught at a public school and acted as a “dorm-mother,” counseling American girls studying abroad.

Chumi’s commitment to service only continues to grow. She and her husband have planned a series of events for this and next week’s Chanukah celebrations, including an open event on Friday night with songs, “Inspirational Torah” and hot kugel at their house on 47th Street. On Sunday, the community plays “Jewpardy,” shows an animated Chanukah children’s video and serves potato latkes, doughnuts and a dairy buffet at the synagogue on 43rd Avenue.

In the podcast Chumi tells us about orthodox Jewish dating traditions and how she met her husband.

Listen to Chumi’s interview