People of the Year: East Enders Who Made the World a Better Place in 2022

Cars honked in support of the rally for Ukraine in Riverhead - those who supported Ukraine were among our People of the Year in 2022
Cars honked in support of the rally for Ukraine in Riverhead
Timothy Bolger

From the rich and famous who advocate for various causes, to the homegrown grassroots community organizers, the East End has no shortage of influential donors and volunteers fighting the good fight daily.

And these days, there are plenty of struggles that people are facing, from the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic to inflation and an increasing sense of divisiveness among the public, just to name a few.

But who stood out from the benevolent crowd of do gooders in the past 12 months?

Dan’s Papers People of the Year for 2022.

Dan’s Papers People of the Year 2022

Protesters were out in force to support Ukraine in Riverhead.
Protesters were out in force to support Ukraine in Riverhead.Justin Meinken

FROM HERE TO UKRAINE

After millions of Ukrainians fled the Russian invasion that has caused widespread suffering across the Eastern European nation beginning in February 2022, some East End residents headed into the fray to assist in person.

They include a chef who brought food and other supplies to volunteers on the front lines, a rabbi who flew to Poland to aid refugees at the Ukrainian border and a Mattituck couple.

“We’re supposed to understand what it feels like to be refugees, to understand their plight, to understand and to really have empathy for their experience,” said Rabbi Josh Franklin of the Jewish Center of the Hamptons, whose trip preceded Passover, which commemorates the Isrealites’ exodus from ancient Egyptian slavery. “Now we’re going to make sure we can help other people who are going through that same experience that we went through.”

Franklin said that as a descendant of German refugees who fled the Nazis in the 1930s, he needed to answer the call to assist those displaced by the biggest attack on a European nation since World War II. His five-day trip in April was part of a rabbinical mission with a delegation of American and Israeli rabbis in partnership with on-the-ground refugee aid organizations, including the Jewish Community Center of Krakow.

Across the border in Ukraine, Kristofer Kalas, the chef/owner of the restaurant Hello Oma in East Hampton, traveled across the war-torn nation with a band of volunteers trying to assist those in the middle of the conflict. His calling came from the fact that his family had split their time between the South Fork and his wife’s homeland for several years.

“My focus is making sure that there’s still a Ukraine for my daughter to grow up in,” Kalas told Eyewitness News. “We have so much that we can do and each day is not enough so we just, we just try to focus one day at a time and keep things moving.”

Jeff Beri, founder and principal of No Dogs Left Behind — a nonprofit fighting for animal welfare laws that also provides emergency response in some of the harshest regions of the world — spent many days helping animals in and around the front lines of the Ukraine war zone, evacuating dogs and delivering massive sacks of dog and cat food to hard-hit towns in the region.

On the North Fork, Dr. Tom Mercier and his wife Barbara, a nurse, reportedly flew to Poland and crossed the border into Ukraine in March to help treat casualties.

“When the war started, something in my heart said, ‘How can we not go?’” Barbara told The Suffolk Times. “We had been there. These were people we knew. They were crying out for help.”

Father Alex Karloutsos joyfully receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Joe Biden
Father Alex Karloutsos joyfully receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Joe BidenMike Manatos

OUR FATHER

Father Alexander Karloutsos, head of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church of the Hamptons, was among 17 people who President Joe Biden presented the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The honors were awarded during a ceremony at the White House,

where the president shared why each recipient was chosen. Biden described Father Alex, who has counseled several U.S. presidents and is assistant to Archbishop Demetrios of America, as “one of my dear friends.”

The 17 honorees “have overcome significant obstacles to achieve impressive accomplishments in the arts and sciences, dedicated their lives to advocating for the most vulnerable among us and acted with bravery to drive change in their communities, and across the world, while blazing trails for generations to come,” the White House said.

“I take special pride in the bestowal of this honor upon Father Alex, and am delighted that he is now receiving national and international recognition,” said Dr. Anthony J. Limberakis, Commander of the Order of Saint Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Fully restored "Stargazer" in November 2022 with Stucco of the Hamptons sign
Fully restored “Stargazer” in November 2022 with Stucco of the Hamptons signOliver Peterson



STARGAZER’S SAVIOR

Art is a tie that binds the East End, and few public pieces evoke such an outpouring as late artist Linda Scott’s iconic “Stargazer” sculpture, widely considered the unofficial welcome sign for travelers approaching the Hamptons.

But after three decades spent exposed to the elements, the 50-foot sculpture of a deer with a branch in its mouth had seen better days. After years of being held together with patches and repairs, builder David Morris gave it a total restoration that was completed in November. It was no small feat.

“Everything that was there before except for the steel was taken off and redone, stripped down to the bare bones,” he said, describing the extent of work required to properly refurbish the beloved landmark. “It’s exactly the exact same shape. I painstakingly made it the exact same. Exactly. If you look at it you’ll see,” explained Morris, who was partners with Linda Scott and helped fabricate “Stargazer” according to her vision when it first went up more than 30 years ago.

The Manes American Peace Prize Foundation, run by Lindenhurst orthopedic surgeon Dr. Harvey Manes, donated the bulk of necessary funds, to the tune of $100,000, last fall, and FLAG Art Foundation in Manhattan gave $50,000, all of which is managed and protected by a Brooklyn-based nonprofit called the Arete Living Arts Foundation. Additional pledges were given through lindascott.org and the “Save the Stargazer” GoFundMe page.

Along with the monetary donations, Sherwin Williams gave paint, GO Solar donated lighting, and Morris said Ed Quiros of Stucco of the Hamptons was instrumental in getting the sculpture over the final hurdle by coating it with beautifully applied stucco, which has a relatively smooth surface that should keep the structure protected for years to come.

Photo courtesy of Matthew Fertig.

ON YOUR MARKS

The list of people who have run from Montauk to Manhattan to raise money for a cause close to their heart is as long as the island itself, but it is no less impressive each time someone does it.

Among the latest to tackle this tall task was 22-year-old Matthew Fertig of Brooklyn who made the trek in November with the goal of raising money for Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit advocating for gun law reform. His run was in response to a gunman killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. on February 14, 2018.

“I was a senior in high school when the Parkland shooting happened and know several people that lost friends and family that day,” he said. “Sadly, four years later, we have made little progress in the fight to prevent gun violence and mass shootings in this country.”

Everytown for Gun Safety (everytown.org) was formed in 2013 for the purpose of educating the public about the detrimental effects of illegal guns in order to reduce gun violence in the United States and to lessen the burdens of government by assisting local governments and law enforcement agencies in their efforts to develop effective policies that would combat illegal guns.

Rabbi Marc Schneier of The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach
Rabbi Marc Schneier of The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach



ROCKIN’ RABBI

Rabbi Marc Schneier, leader of The Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, has been as busy as ever in his bid to effect positive change wherever he goes. The influential East End rabbi helped open the first-ever kosher kitchen in Qatar to feed Jewish soccer fans who traveled to the Muslim nation that hosted the monthlong FIFA World Cup series. He announced the kitchen, which was under the supervision of Rabbi Mendy Chitrik of Istanbul, who is also chairman of the Alliance of Rabbis in Islamic States, and his son, Rabbi Eliyahu Chitrik. The kosher food included the baking of the first bagels in Qatar and other Jewish delicacies.

“The leadership of the State of Qatar is performing a mitzvah by making kosher food available for members of the worldwide Jewish community, including those traveling from Israel,” Schneier, who is also president of the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, said at the time. “Furthermore, the Qataris have stood by and followed through on every commitment that was made to welcome Jewish fans to this prestigious event.”

Qatar has no indigenous Jewish community or kosher food production, which made it harder for Jewish football fans to share in the celebration of the World Cup, which ended December 18. It also has no relations with the State of Israel, but ran direct flights from the Jewish state for the duration of the competition.

His synagogue is also advancing efforts to build Jack’s House Children’s Center, named for Holocaust survivor Jack Gora, a founding benefactor of the center who died in 2020. The building was dedicated in July. Phase one was a project that cost more than $13 million. The Hampton Synagogue needs to raise up to $7 million more for phase two.

“It’s the oldest commercial building in Westhampton Beach,” Schneier said of restoring the historic property, which is displaying brilliant artwork by master glass sculptor Dale Chihuly, including the first menorah the artist has ever created. “Truthfully, it’s like a museum,” Schneier said of the new children’s center.

-With Associated Press, Queens Courier, Oliver Peterson and Briana Bonfiglio

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