Zion Triangle Park is for whole community, local leaders emphasize at memorial ceremony

May 26, 2016 By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Joseph Fuscia (right, with guitar) leads students of the Brownsville Ascend Charter School in singing “God Bless America.” Eagle photos by Francesca N. Tate
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Zion Triangle Park in Brownsville carries a deep history in the community, one that is now being taught to the youngest generation of schoolchildren. The students at Brownsville Ascend Charter School, whose building stands directly behind Zion Park, actively participated in a pre-Memorial Day ceremony at Zion Park on Wednesday morning.

The Brooklyn Jewish Historical Initiative and the Greater New York Chamber of Commerce were principal sponsors of this program.

Zion Triangle Park sits on Legion Street, between Pitkin and East New York avenues. Ascend Charter School has its address on Pitkin Avenue and was, at one point, a Loew’s movie house. Zion Park dates back to 1911.

Ascend’s music director Joseph Fuscia led the students in the national anthem and in “God Bless America.” However, it was the children’s attentiveness to and interaction with the Jewish war veteran leaders that provided some of the most poignant moments of the ceremony.

The students were particularly attentive to the story of Howard Radish, a veteran with the organization American Ex-Prisoners of War. Radish spoke of his upbringing in Brownsville.

“Memorial Day in my day was called Decoration Day. The first parade was on Eastern Parkway 149 years ago. I grew up in Brownsville — as my parents said, ‘Brunsville,” Radish said. He grew up on what was then-called Stone Avenue and is now Mother Gaston Blvd., and he took part in Brownsville Boys Club. “So I’m all Brownsville.”

“I left for [the] Army from Pitkin and Stone avenues in front of Manufacturers Bank Co. I trained Camp Shelby at Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I learned of a different world down there at that time,” he remarked.

Radish served as a replacement, joining the 90th Division of the 3rd Army. Serving in France, he was captured at the Ziegfried Line, the West Wall between Germany and France.

“Being Jewish and a prisoner of the Germans, I was constantly mentally and physically on guard,” he said. Radish threw away his military dog tags, which bore an “H” on them, standing for “Hebrew.” Dealing with horrible conditions that included vermin and dysentery, Radish credited his survival to “a loyal and faithful comrade and friend” that kept him going — waking each other up each morning — encouraging each other. “I was lucky; I teamed up with a buddy. JJ McEntee, who passed away, is my real hero. To me, this is his Memorial Day.”

“The whole idea of this is to bridge the people. This memorial is not for the ’20s, but it’s all of us together,” said Howard Teich of the Brooklyn Jewish Historical Initiative.

City Councilmember Darlene Mealy (D-District 41), chair of the Committee on Civil Rights and whose district includes Bedford-Stuyvesant, Ocean Hill-Brownsville, East Flatbush and Crown Heights, gave some history of Zion Park.

“The Triangle here on East New York Avenue was formed as early as 1911,” Mealy said. “The space was renamed as Loew’s Square because of the Loew’s Theater right here [now Ascend Charter School]. When that closed down, it was named back to Zion Park.

“This is about the community that sacrificed their children. Most of the young men and women — children of immigrants who came here by boat less than 20 years before. All of us are immigrants,” Mealy added.

Jonathan Kuhn, director of Art and Antiques for the NYC Parks Department, provided history on the war memorial monument in the park, whose architect was Henry Beaumont and sculptor was Charles Perry Rumsey. Kuhn described the efforts to preserve its future.

The central sculpture on the monument is a victory figure, Kuhn explained. He also told the Brooklyn Eagle that the whole park will be renovated, with an estimated start date of fall 2016. The modernization effort will preserve the monument and widen the park, remove the fencing and design an amphitheater. This will open up space so that more groups, like neighboring Ascend School, can use the park for community gatherings.

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