By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Polish immigrants first made Riverhead their own when they came to New York via Ellis Island and were escorted to the East End by farmers needing field workers. By the turn of the century, many families eventually earned enough to buy farmland and open businesses.
But it's the new wave that's kept the area thriving, and, in just the past few years, two new businesses joined the Polish Museum and the 15 or so stores that sit mainly on the mile-long strip of Pulaski Street.
There's Polonez, a Polish-Russian restaurant (on West Main Street), and the Euro Deli, where the scent of floury rolls and puffy babka loaves mixes with the smoky whiff of kielbasa and herring.
"We wanted to see the United States," says Grazyna Rusiecki, who owns the deli with her husband, Roman, about their journey to Long Island. Roman, who worked as a driver with a meat delivery business in Poland, followed the lead of some friends in 1985, around the time of the Solidarity movement upheaval, and came to areas of Long Island like Copiague, Pt. Jefferson and Riverhead where they had relatives, to find work. He landed a job as a worker in a junkyard and found an apartment in Copiague, then sent for Grazyna, who left their two young daughters behind with relatives for a time.
"The first year I was scared," she says. The couple wound up waiting seven years until they were financially stable enough to have the children join them. "I can't think about it now," she says. "It was terrible."
The family moved to West Babylon and, in 1991, they opened the first Euro Deli specializing in kielbasa, cold cuts, pierogi and baked goods in Copiague, which, along with Lindenhurst, also has a substantial Polish population. So many people came in from Riverhead to Copiague that they decided to open a store out in Polish Town four years ago.
Ten-year-old census figures, the most recent available, put the Polish population in Riverhead at 4,101, second only to those of German and Irish descent. The Nassau-Suffolk count was 198,403. While many young people in the Polish community leave to attend college and then settle somewhere else, many stay.
"You get the support you need over here. Then if you don't make it out there, you come back to your family," says Stolarzewicz' son Erik. "But it's safe to say that in 50 years, this place will still be here." BG
Great Neck's Iranian connection
It's no surprise that many members of Iran's tiny community of Jews decided to get the hell out of there when Islamic zealots started fomenting revolution against the reactionary shah in the late 1970s. And it's no shock that many of them wound up around New York City.
But why Great Neck? The new wave of Middle Easterners has changed the complexion of the already heavily Jewish area: There are three Iranian Jewish temples, a Syrian one and an Iraqi one not to mention a couple of restaurants that serve as temporary places of worship for the overflow.
Raymond Iryami, a 27-year-old lawyer who left Iran in '82 and grew up in Great Neck, has an insider's explanation for the clustering of Iranian Jews on the North Shore instead of other Jewish areas.
"Iranian Jews are not quite as Orthodox as, from what I understand, the population in the Five Towns is," says Iryami. Besides, many of the Jews who fled were merchants who had been preparing for the worst, so the high prices of the North Shore didn't scare them off. And the reputation of the schools attracted them.
"It was considered dumb to go to the United States with no money," says Iryami. "Apparently, word had gotten out that, 'Look there's a nice space over there, but you need money.' That is not to say a lot of people didn't leave a lot of wealth behind. But some people were smart enough to have money in a foreign account."
Waiting for many of them was Fred Hawa, who in 1985 opened what's believed to be the first Iranian Jewish market in the area. Hawa had come to the States in 1968 to study at NYU. Now, he runs the A-Z Super Market, a general store on Middle Neck Road featuring such ethnic wares as cooking pots, Persian tapes and CDs and a variety of dried nuts and fruits and spices, like sumac.
Current estimates are that up to 10,000 Iranian Jews now live in the area, but Hawa says he can always use more customers. "I used to be the only store," he says solemnly, "and now there's seven or eight." Stacy Albin
Cash puts one ethnic group on the fast track
by Laura Conaway
Asian Indians living on Long Island want a place at the political table, and they're not fooled about what they'll need to get one: connections, consensus and most important cold cash.
"We have been doing a lot of fund-raisers for politicians, and educating our community that you get involved in politics," says Bhupi Patel, a Muttontown Democrat. "It seems we don't have the numbers to make a difference in the election, so we must do it financially and get involved early on so we can have a voice."