Growing up coming to FUSW, it was the site of so many profound life lessons and formative memories. Most fundamentally, it was the place where ideals like “Everyone should be allowed to believe what they do and be who they are so long as we respect each other” became woven into my worldview, seeming so ordinary, so obvious, that I had no idea how radical, powerful, dangerous, and threatened those ideas really are.
In childhood, this was the place where Bonnie Hart taught us “We are UU,” with accompanying hand gestures; where Gil Hart played the recorder; where adults watched us dance to Britney Spears' music and did the electric slide with us during Friday night parenting co-ops; where I binge ate cookies after each Sunday service; where we painted the holiday windows every year and looked forward to each winter’s musical-theater-number-filled talent show. When I was thirteen, this was where I was allowed to pour my heart and guts into my Coming of Age sermon, and adults really listened--it was space where I was seen and held during one of the hardest years of my life. During my teens, I had a group of kind, funny, supportive, thoughtful, radiant peers here to grow up with. During my twenties, I was able to come back and speak openly at a couple of services about my fears of not growing up fast enough, and of climate change.
I know that more than anything it is the community–the people, our values, our hearts–that made FUSW what it was, and that that spirit endures wherever we go, even when we are not all together. But for decades, 25 Old Jackson Avenue was the perfect little container for all this growth, hardship, light, and love. Hearing David Bryce and Arlin Roy deliver the most beautiful comments to wrap up candles of joy and concern, and the choir harmonizing on “I thank you god for most this amazing day” as we looked out at the trees and the deer behind the window and stained-glass chalice under the Sunday morning sun is a sacred memory we all made and that I will not forget. Thank you FUSW and 25 Old Jackson for holding so much life-affirming space together, and here is to so, so much more!
My/our gratitude abounds for the embracing care this living space provided for our family.
First and foremost, would be the comfort level achieved, for our father/Grandfather was the proud minister of the community, the loving caretaker of the building, its grounds and fellowship.
The word FIRST is apt here for many official and emotional reasons, for as there were numerous ministers/leaders/nurturers to follow, it was he that embraced this space upon its fruition.
First Unitarian Society of Hastings /of Westchester
Our family treated this location as if a second home. For Bob Smudski, probably in thinking back, it was his first home. The hours he spent in place were many. Our children grew in this building till time of transitioning to Temple Emanuel to enact the age-old family tradition of Bar Mitzvahs, and our daughter grew beyond the gentle pull of Youth Group. Sunday mornings were as much a part of our routine as school was on weekdays, but the other fun adventures were the occasions we would simply drive over on off times to hunt for salamanders under the building and near-by stream.
My father’s golf balls, long after he had moved on to the Orlando, Florida congregation, still prized findings amongst the rushes of the back property for his grandchildren, for when not musing over sermons, he practiced his ‘swing’ on the grounds.
The floods then too were an issue, a rowboat was once used to rescue my father as he wrote and read long into the deluge and lost track of time (and mounting waters). But the land was so giving and responsive, so beautiful to gaze upon during services on sunny, snowy, or rainy days. It was a theater upon which our ever-changing world was exhibited. The community within and upon this land so strongly knit together.
Devoted people toiled to keep the meeting place intact from its very origins! Those names come readily to mind but I’ll not mention them for there are many, and not one outweighs another in importance. Some are still amongst the current congregation (I see this, for I’ve once again been receiving newsletters in a far more modern format than the old, mimeographed pastel colored paper I helped generate monthly).
Even further back, I have rushing memories of my mother composing the ‘church’ newsletter on our parish house spacious stairway landing, where sat a desk with an old black typewriter. Back then there was a delightfully charming little white clapboard church. It was my sister and I that felt the all-embracing comfort as children of that First Unitarian Church, now far behind us.
We went by that moniker back then, Church. My mind thinks of it always as such, though I believe I was a very agreeable trustee when we were voted into ‘Society’ status while on Jackson Avenue.
I mentally bid a very fond farewell to the old Jackson Avenue building, the exciting Clark Thompson designed addition, my father’s beloved study, as well as to the back rooms, where my children all played, learned, and formed foundations in Sunday School.
These grounds will always, in our minds, remain as a space of bonding, nurturing and happiness.
Debbie Smudski Chaim
Submitted By Susan Greenberg
25 Old Jackson had been my “second home” since 1981 when we enrolled our 3-year old son in the Co-op Nursery School. I fulfilled my co-op responsibility by being on the facilities committee. I helped to paint the walls in the classroom wing. Larry helped construct the sand box on the playground. I was still a member of the Unitarian Society in Rockland County and did not sign the membership book at FUSW until 1982.
Being part of the RE program, program groups, finance and pledging, and serving on the Board, all came later.
This history may be what has compelled me to stay with the building and bear witness to the devastation, to mask up and boot up to endure the foul air and cruddy floors. I needed to rescue her and make her presentable even as I realized it would be for a future owner.
As a congregation we cannot and should not return. We have found a good temporary home at South Church for worship and for gathering in small groups once Covid allows. We have each other and can still experience our faith community.
But there are many aspects of my connection to FUSW that were reliant on the location. What would I imagine for our future home Where do we want to settle when and if we have the members and the means?
I believe we want to share the space, whether we be the primary owners, or whether we be shared tenants. This is environmentally as well as financially responsible.
We want members to feel welcome at any time in the building and on the property – with appropriate security and safety measures.
I want the location to be accessible – by public transportation, by individuals with mobility challenges, and via highways from many areas of the county.
I want the location to be within a 5-mile radius of 25 Old Jackson, to minimize travel changes for our current members.
I imagine two large rooms, to facilitate worship as well as multi-generational activities. The era of age-differentiated classroom gatherings for youth and children no longer has appeal.
I imagine needing only a minimal kitchen.
I want some space for gathering outdoors, even if we reclaim a black topped parking lot.
I need my home away from home.
What do you want?
February 21, 2022
The gentleman who has serenaded us with his saxophone periodically on Old Jackson Avenue permitted Betsy to share this video, for our journal. He was pleased to know how much many of us have appreciated listening to him over the years. He is from Japan, and has been playing saxophone for 50 years!
I know it will hit me, soon, that my second home for over 40 years is no longer able to shelter me and I am wandering.
This time the seasons are against us. Even if we had unlimited money, energy, and sweat equity we may not be able to make it habitable in time. Winter is fast approaching and with it the need for heat, light, and electricity. Last time the floodwaters came in April, with an entire spring and summer to repair and replace.
I know in my head we need to choose how and when to say goodbye to the building that has sheltered us as a congregation for 50 years, sustaining a liberal religious community which dates back over 150 years. The land wants to take back this location.
Memories are numerous: my boys in the Sunday School, a quartet of members playing during the service, eloquent and provocative sermons from the pulpit, services led by other members sharing thoughts, Christmas Eve, adults in the congregation developing important relationships with my children, intergenerational field trips, Halloween parties, potlucks, talent shows, formal Past Presidents’ Dinners, sheltering in storms when our remote neighborhood seemed to have heat, electricity, and WIFI when surrounding towns did not, end of the year picnics, and making good friends one by one.
I realize these memories are of being with people; but people who I met there! Where is the there now? How do we find our hub? Perhaps, just maybe, we can find a way to have our relationship with that land be part of our future.
FUSW will always be part of my life. The red bud tree Annie and I planted the Spring after he died is a celebration of Bernard’s life at FUSW. I feel part of it although not as active as we were.
Wishing you continued reaching out of support by all who have entered the doors of the Society in restoring its place in society working for justice, equity and peace for all.
How do you move a memorial garden? A commemorative tree? What do I do with the memories contained inside these walls, the view out of the window behind the pulpit? I picture children running in the hallways, and then I picture our hymnals floating in 4 feet of water - and my grief seems to float with them.
A part of me says it’s wrong to feel sad about a place; that it’s not a human being. But still.