At the height of the pandemic, when hosting guests for Shabbos posed a health risk, many families in West Hempstead socialized outdoors at Halls Pond Park. Now that shuls have reopened and the mitzvah of Hachnasas Orchim can be practiced again, the park remains an afternoon favorite among residents. But in a town where the budget and staffing are tight, trash accumulates in the park, detracting from its natural beauty.
That’s when my friends Yonatan and Elisheva Oliver stepped up. “It would be a kiddush Hashem for the Jewish community to clean up the park, so that our neighbors see that we are contributing to the park that we use,” he told me. Having organized park cleanup events at work, he presumed that it would be easy to unite all local shuls behind this event, fill out the paperwork, and receive the permits. It took time for all the steps to be completed, and at a certain point we were ready to either give up on the project or simply buy the bags and gloves ourselves and get to work. Oliver’s persistence paid off when the Young Israel of West Hempstead agreed to sponsor the event and an email blast was sent to the hundreds of members of this shul.
“I grew up here. This playground is new. Unfortunately, it comes with a lot of garbage and people feeding the ducks,” said Sruly Szpiegel, who came to the cleanup with his wife and two children. “We think that it is a great way to show that we can be part of the solution.”
Toby Schnall cleaned up the park with her grandchildren Shragy Lermer, 13, Izzy, 11, and their sister Mati, 7. “I’ve lived in West Hempstead for 43 years. In its heyday, this park was beautiful; it had a weekly gardener. That was more than 20 years ago. There’s less money available for these things, but more people have moved in. There’s tremendous use of this park on Shabbos,” she said.
It is a mere 11 acres, five of them being the pond, but it is the largest park within West Hempstead, and it offers passive recreation with a forested section and a playground. In winter, the slope facing Nassau Boulevard is used for sledding. On weekends, it is a popular backdrop for wedding portraits. But without proper maintenance, the oaks and maples of the forest are crowded out by the invasive ailanthus. Without a functioning pump, water in the pond stagnates, causing algae blooms, and keeps ducks, geese, and swans out of the water. The park appears naturalistic, but unlike an actual nature preserve, it requires maintenance.
“The pond should be dredged, then it could serve as a beautiful nature preserve,” said Howard Taber, who cleaned up the park with his wife Nechama. “We should show the community that we care.” In total, 24 families participated in the cleanup of the park this past Sunday.
Across town at Beis Torah U’tefila (BTU), the Youth Department had dozens of children make get-well cards for patients at the Gurwin Jewish Nursing and Rehab Center.
“It was a practical one. It’s the Sunday of The Nine Days, not necessarily a day when families go out on fun outings due to the somber nature of this time of year,” said Melina Mendelson. “I wanted to create an event that would bring families to the shul. The world stands on Torah, avodah, and chesed.”
In the week approaching Tish’ah B’Av, the West Hempstead community demonstrated that through public events, ahavas chinam is put into practice, building the foundations of Bayis Sh’lishi.
By Sergey Kadinsky