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Category: new york city

madrassa house rock

Six days after I moved to New York in August 2007, Debbie Almontaser — an educator, inter-faith worker, and founding principle of the city’s first dual-language Arabic public school, the Khalil Gibran International Academy — was forced out of her job. Her employers at the New York City Department of Education had succumbed to a months-long smear campaign led by the NY Post and a swelling group of critics who called themselves the Stop the Madrassa Coalition. Terrorist, radical, Islamist, indoctrinator. “Dhabah,” they called her, attempting to paint her and the others who helped guide the school as alien and enemy.

As this was happening, a very different story was developing. Arabic, the language under siege by those opposed to the dual-language academy, had become the fastest-growing language in the United States. According to a November 2007 report by the Modern Languages Association, there was a 127% jump in Arabic class enrollment between 2002 and 2006, pushing it into the number ten spot.

Almontaser’s case dragged on. After a painful stretch with no movement and no news, earlier this month, a gleam in the distance: the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that the New York City Department of Education had discriminated against Almontaser “on account of her race, religion and national origin” when they forced her to resign in 2007. Days later, the current principal stepped down.

I wrote about the Khalil Gibran saga over one year. Here’s an excerpt. Better brew some tea, it’s a hefty one.

you can sneak up on me

I never did make it to Jones Beach or Staten Island or to Ralph’s Icees. I meant to spend more time in Brownsville and at that East NY high school. I meant to spend more time on rooftops in Bushwick and sweating it out in Harlem.

I’ll miss the friends I was just starting to build with. I’ll miss the rats, sauntering along the subway platform ahead of me. I’ll miss the ride on the 7 train into Queens for Arabic class and the rooftop view beyond PS1. I’ll miss my fire escape and dangling halfway out of the window to sneak a glimpse of the sky. Hearing R Kelly and Wu Tang from the ladies next door, their children screaming and laughing and playing right below my window.

I don’t think I could ever get sick of the Hudson at sunset or fireflies in Prospect Park. I’ll miss the riverside bike path so so much, especially the part where you dip under the highway, through the tunnel, and first see the sparkling, nasty waters that flow between Manhattan and New Jersey. I won’t miss cheating death every time I biked off the track and onto the road, but the adrenaline rush was nice.

I’ll miss my guy at the bike shop and his little bulldog, Sam. I’ll miss the dudes from the copy shop, the pizza joint on the corner, the bodega on Amsterdam, and from the hospital across the way, all watching out for me and asking about school, wishing me a good day. I’ll miss my campus, the all-consuming excitement of just being there.

I’ll miss APT on Mondays and Wednesdays (Ricky’s Rib Shack!), Libation on Thursdays (whatup Joelle and Carmela!), and outdoor festivals on the weekends. I’ll miss bumping into YOUR ass at every damn open bar art show in the Lower East Side, but I won’t miss the flash blog photography.

Maybe I really loved it without realizing it. New York snuck up on me, and this year went by far too quickly.

Thank you for indulging. We’ll see how this next adventure compares…


Today the air was heavy, cool with moisture. The city smelled like:
garbage juice,
fried fat,
wet soil,