Last year, when many Jewish newspapers posted cancellations of Pesach resort programs, and others entirely scrapped their Chol HaMoed travel sections, the Queens Jewish Link published a staycation guide that highlighted local parks where one can commune with nature, taking a break from Zoom classes and GoToMeetings. Since then, most public attractions around New York have reopened with caution, which involves mandatory masks, temperature checks, and limited capacity. The New York Hall of Science in Flushing Meadows remains closed to the public, while Liberty Science Center requires reservations days in advance of a visit.
In Manhattan, the streets are again congested with vehicles, bikes, and people, but some of the attractions relating to Jewish life remain closed, such as the Tenement Museum, the Eldridge Street Synagogue, and the Center for Jewish History. Each has online exhibitions and virtual events to connect with the public. The Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City is open with advance registration, and the same policy applies at The Jewish Museum on the Upper East Side.
The Queens Museum is festooned with a colorful banner honoring service workers, and inside there is much more space between the exhibits to allow for social distancing. On view at this time is Ridgewood Reservoir for the 21st Century, on the unintentional nature preserve that emerged on the site of a decommissioned reservoir on the Brooklyn-Queens border. This urban forest and freshwater wetland is part of Highland Park, located near the western end of Jackie Robinson Parkway. One can begin Chol HaMoed at this exhibition and then visit the real thing and observe bird species that use this hilltop park as their stop on their migratory flyway.
In Long Island City, there is another pair of an indoor attraction with an outdoor counterpart. The Noguchi Museum is a set of indoor and outdoor rooms containing stone, wood, and metal sculptures of its namesake artist and examples of Akari light sculptures and black ink paintings by Koho Yamamoto. I enjoyed taking my six-year-old daughter to this museum, where she could interpret the untitled non-objective works as she imagined them. A couple of blocks to the north, on Vernon Boulevard, is Socrates Sculpture Park, which offers views of Manhattan and the Roosevelt Island lighthouse.
On Long Island, there is a row of museums at a former airfield whose history is told at the Cradle of Aviation Museum. Its entrance lobby conceals the massive collection of airplanes, engines, and memorabilia in its sizable and labyrinthine halls. One of the displays notes its history as the Hempstead Plains, a once-vast grassland in the middle of Long Island that was ideal for potato farming, golf courses, and early aviation. Not much is left of this great prairie, as it was covered by shopping malls, tract housing, Hofstra University and Nassau Community College. But on the edge of the former plain, near the Nassau Coliseum, is the Hempstead Plains Education Center, a trailer-sized building with a green roof that has the look of a field research station, where one can learn about the plants and animals of this unique ecosystem.
On the south shore of Long Island, the Jones Beach Energy and Nature Center is perhaps the best thing to see when parking is free at this state park. It opened last September as the off-season educational facility that offers displays on local wildlife, the natural development of barrier islands, and energy efficiency. Seeing examples of insulation, varieties of brick materials, recycled building materials, and solar panels could be inspiring for new homeowners seeking to reduce their energy bills.
A couple of miles north of Jones Beach, on the Meadowbrook Parkway, is a former landfill-turned-park that offers views of Jones Beach, South Oyster Bay, and the ocean beyond. Operated by the Town of Hempstead, the Norman J. Levy Park transformed a 155-foot mound of trash into a public greenspace topped by a windmill. In this tax-conscious municipality, the park has an unpaid workforce of resident goats to trim the grass, and give this park the appearance of a farm. Hike to the summit of this park and take in views of Manhattan and the coastal plain.
If one must travel beyond Queens this Pesach, perhaps to see family members in Monsey, my favorite indoor-outdoor combination in that region is Bear Mountain State Park, where the Trailside Museums & Zoo have reopened. Located on a portion of the Appalachian Trail that runs through the park, this set of displays offers examples of local wildlife, plants, geology, Native American artifacts, and a Revolutionary War fort. Situated on a cliff overlooking the Hudson River, one can observe lengthy freight trains below that follow the shoreline, bringing goods to the metropolitan region.
If one must travel even farther this year, please observe your school and workplace COVID guidelines, which include wearing a mask at public venues, taking a test upon return, and vaccinating if eligible. You have the choice in your experience of Chol HaMoed, but not in the invisible manner in which the virus continues to spread between people. Do not allow your Chol HaMoed break to result in an involuntary at-home “extension” of the school break for colleagues who wish to return to their classrooms and workplaces.
P.S. City Vaccination Travel Guide
Finally, having received my first shot earlier this week, I’d like to share a few scenic vaccination destinations in our borough. My first shot was at Beach Channel High School, an uninspiring brick structure overlooking Jamaica Bay. But at its main entrance is a set of concrete sculptures installed in 1974. Their simplicity evokes the architecture of the school and the style of its sculptor, Constantino Nivola. Born in Sardinia, he was inspired by primitive art and the simplicity of modernism. His works can also be found on a school wall in Brighton Beach, and an apartment complex in East Harlem.
The vaccination site at Aqueduct Racing Hall offers displays of jockey uniforms and murals of horses. At York College, one can find sculptures relating to Black history on its outdoor plaza and inside the main hall of its Academic Core Building. Knowing where to look for public art and inspiring architecture, even a vaccination appointment can serve as a cultural experience on Chol HaMoed during this pandemic.
By Sergey Kadinsky