Bronx Senior Citizens Make Long Trek for Peace with Monday Protests
THE BRONX, NY - A cacophony of honking livery car horns, shrill ambulance sirens, the "whup whup" of an unmarked police car, a blaring blast from a bus and a short loud salute from a fire truck at W. Kingsbridge Road and Webb Ave. hurt the ears last Monday morning, but leave you smiling.
The gleaming silver Veterans Administration hospital is on one corner, and across Webb are 19 elderly folks from the Kittay House seniors' residence down the block. Some sit in white plastic lawn chairs, canes at their side, and some sit on walkers with built-in seats.
They are holding signs reading "Seniors for Peace," "Senior Patriots Against the War," "More Funding for the Wounded" and the message that has caused the at-times deafening eruption - "HONK FOR PEACE."
But the low, raspy voice of 97-year-old Martin Harth, barely audible through the din, utters the ultimate proclamation.
"War is a terrible thing," he says, shaking his head. "A terrible thing."
He wears a Jewish War Veterans hat and a natty blue blazer. He holds his sign, unmoving except for a wave at a vehicle once in a while.
He knows of what he speaks. He came from Germany in 1938, to escape the Nazis.
"I'm a German Jew," he says.
Harth joined the U.S. Army and asked to serve in Germany, but they sent him to the Pacific.
He was at Okinawa, "April, 1945, Easter Sunday," he recalls.
"War is a terrible thing."
The group of Kittay seniors has been carrying out this simple, powerful protest against the war in Iraq every Monday - unless the weather is bad - for more than four years.
The sight of these dignified gentlemen and the elegant ladies dressed in bright summer colors, with lipstick and pearls, spurs people to make a ruckus for peace.
"It's a three-way light, so sometimes they're all blowing at once," says a laughing Kay Grant, 66, who brings down the average age of the protesters to 87. "I used to be up there closer to the corner when I could walk better." She sits in a wheelchair.
"It's time we brought the boys home," says Jean Sneddon, 94.
Ida Kotowitz, 90, in a beige pantsuit and wearing big, dark glasses, sits in the shade. "I can't sit in the sun," she says. "When it's cold, we don't come out until the afternoon." She says she feels good about protesting the war. "I try to do my part," she says. "We had no business starting it."
Sarah Schnurr, "93 this week," one of the charter protesters, holds a sign reading "Make Love Not War," and raises two fingers in the peace sign.
"It's Time for Peace," reads the sign held by Betty Gumanow, whose husband fought in World War II.
"Somebody's got to speak up for it," she says.
Laura Singer-Magdoff, 92, lost her husband in the Philippines in World War II. Their daughter was 4 months old.
"He was on his 25th mission, and he was shot down," she says. "So we bring a lot to this."
And they get something out of it, too.
"This provides us with the opportunity to show we're alive and have great interest in the world," says Singer-Magdoff.
"I'm realistic....I know I don't have a big political impact," says Dave Massey, who protested the Vietnam War 40 years ago. "But it makes me feel better."
Judi Aronowitz, the social worker at Kittay, says she saw video of residents of a California nursing home protesting the war, and mentioned it to the residents.
"They immediately started three committees, to make posters, to contact the police about it, and to write letters and petitions to elected officials," Aronowitz says.
"A lot of veterans from the hospital would join us," says Grant. They protest for an hour, and shortly before noon gather all the hand-printed signs and put them in a plastic bag. Harth takes them on his walker, slowly making his way back down Webb Ave. to Kittay House.
Massey helps load the chairs onto a cart and it is pushed to the residence.
Kotowitz pushes her walker haltingly, and rests on a bench at the entrance, taking a deep breath.
Another lady in a purple jacket and hat, with hearing aids, is the last to arrive. She uses a cane, and touches the plywood wall of a construction site next to Kittay House every few steps to steady herself, until she gets back.
I count only about 200 steps from Kittay to the corner, but for most of the demonstrators, it's a long trek. They make it every Monday, because they don't want us to forget about those who march in Iraq.