Don’t Take Great Neck For Granted

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Jacqueline Harounian

If the past several months have shown us anything, we are a country in flux. And based on some recent conversations I’ve been part of, Great Neck is a community in flux, too. The metamorphosis of our increasingly diverse peninsula is a popular topic among local real estate agents and business owners, not to mention the moms in my circle. It fuels the chatter at parties, board meetings and local political-action groups. One of the consequences of our polarizing elections is that almost everyone I meet is paying more attention to political issues, both national and local.

With so many immigrants and refugees in Great Neck, and dozens of synagogues, many issues resonate deeply and personally: immigration, anti-Semitism, the restrictions on travel to and from Iran, support of Israel and fear of Islamic terrorism. Like any occasionally dysfunctional family, most of us have disagreed at times with our friends and neighbors. It is certainly convenient that any time we encounter information that doesn’t fit our particular world view, it can be discarded as “fake news” or “alternative news.” As for myself, I have lost count of the times I have been called out as a “leftist” or “snowflake.” Thankfully, my safe space is warm and inviting. (FYI: I am a second-generation Iranian-American who grew up on Long Island. My husband, Maurice, and I have called Great Neck our home for more than 25 years.)

The defeat of the public school bond vote on Feb. 14 really shone a spotlight on the divisions and fault lines in Great Neck’s various communities. There has been plenty of speculation, finger pointing and angst in the days that have followed. Other points of local frustration include the empty storefronts in Great Neck Plaza, zoning changes, high property taxes and, in the eyes of many, the tipping point when the changes in the community become too much to tolerate.

But, I was inspired to write this column because I recently had the privilege of seeing another side of Great Neck, a side that we do not often see or hear about as we live our busy lives, wrapped up in our own individual bubbles of family, work, book groups and synagogue. On March 8 and 13, I attended two public meetings, in Great Neck and Kings Point respectively, among nearly 200 friends, neighbors and perfect strangers in our very diverse community.

Like witnesses to the battle of David versus Goliath (i.e. Northwell), we spoke with one voice: Our volunteer EMTs and firefighters are what make Great Neck the greatest. No matter who I spoke to—American, Persian, Asian, liberal, conservative, young or old—there were stories of gratitude and appreciation for the impressive responsiveness and competence shown by Vigilant. I learned of the cooperation and camaraderie of young volunteers who work as a team at all hours of the day and night, and who speak Korean, Hebrew, Spanish and Farsi. I learned that the firehouse has a kosher grill, and stocks kosher food. With my own eyes, I saw teenagers who stood for hours at public meetings (without looking at their iPhones!). They were there to show their commitment to Vigilant, which has more than a 100 years of history in Great Neck.

Spending time in the company of public servants, including the many dedicated elected officials in Great Neck government, is a reminder of how fortunate we are to live in this beautiful corner of the world, and how critical it is to get involved and speak up regarding issues of concern. Our local government leaders put in countless hours of their time and labor, and they do get it right most of the time.

Our hardworking local public school board is also to be strongly commended. There are abundant challenges in addressing the needs of a diverse community such as ours. The board members execute their responsibilities with perseverance and class, and Great Neck Public Schools consistently rank near the top the charts. As a parent of four children who had the very best education in Great Neck schools, and as a homeowner, I am most thankful. The diversity of the residents in Great Neck is a fundamental asset as well. We are blessed with a thriving, multicultural and multiethnic community. We are more like a mosaic than a melting pot. Although our community is in flux and there are challenging problems to be solved on a local level, most people I speak with appreciate the blessings of living in this community and do not take it for granted.

The next public school budget vote is coming up on May 16, which offers another chance for our community to get it right. I urge you to get involved in this beautiful, diverse community of ours. Don’t take it for granted!

I will leave you with these inspiring words from Elad Nehorai: “First, in our individual willingness to be who we are truly meant to be. Secondly, in the transformation of our communities through connecting our voices and valuing them. And finally, in repairing the world itself through those connections. May it happen today.”

4 COMMENTS

  1. Obscene school budgets and unnecessary bonds are not what make Great Neck schools great. It’s the intelligent children, who are encouraged by their intelligent parents, as well as prudent budgeting by the district.

    Further, encouragement of the passage of a bloated budget is particularly odd when one of the author’s main gripes about Great Neck is rising taxes.

    • What part of the budget is bloated, in your opinion? You would prefer a smaller budget, that eliminates music, art, science, sports, cultural events, or schools that are closed because they are in need of repair?

  2. Jacqueline – thank you for this thoughtful article. Adam, my understanding is the board meticulously studies the budget to ensure it is not bloated but sufficiently provides for the many fantastic programs and educational opportunities we have all come to cherish and expect from this district, not to mention outstanding educators. The bond is going to allow extremely necessary repairs to be made to our schools. Therefore, I am perplexed by your characterization of the budget as “obscene” and the bond as “unnecessary.” Throwing around disparaging descriptions does not provide for helpful insight into this debate. Thus, I am curious to know what specifically you find bloated about the proposed budget.

  3. Adam, I did not gripe about rising taxes in my article. I am not sure if you are aware, but the school taxes in Great Neck are actually lower than other top school districts, based on assessed home value. That means we pay less for school taxes than Jericho, Roslyn, Syosset, etc.

    I don’t know anyone who loves paying taxes, but in Great Neck, we are getting a lot for our tax dollars. Our school district is the top in New York State and top ranked nationally. We live in a safe community with gorgeous parks and libraries. I see a lot of reasons to be positive about Great Neck, and I have no problem paying my fair share to invest in the future generation of this community.

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