Say No To Plastic


"I'm Not a Plastic Bag" designed by Anya Hindmarch

"I'm Not a Plastic Bag" designed by Anya Hindmarch

      The danger of plastic bags to children is well known. Less known are the dangers plastic bags present to the environment. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, however, in his efforts to paint the city green, is hoping to lessen plastic bag waste by taxing them 6 cents per bag.


    As with many of Bloomberg’s ideas, New Yorkers are divided. Message boards, such as the one on contain long back and forth discussion. With no end in sight for the current recession, and a transit hike looming ahead, people are already feeling over-taxed. Yet those who support Bloomberg, feel that saving the environment is worth having to carry around a re-usable bag, or pay the charge.

    The city is hoping to gain the needed support of both city and state legislature by this summer. Bloomberg would like New York to join a growing list of cities that are taxing or banning plastic bags.

     Over the past year Ireland and China have passed plastic bag taxes. Bangladesh, several African nations, and Australia are looking into plastic bag elimination. San Francisco banned plastic bags last year in favor of biodegradable bags made out of potato starch, but the blog “Emerald City” from the Los Angeles Times points out, this “still supports a one-use, disposable bag habit, while a per-bag fee encourages reusable bag use.” 

    It doesn’t look like New York needs to worry about the tax anytime soon though. Just recently, on Dec. 12th, Gov. Paterson signed an amendment to state shopping-bag recycling laws, allowing New York City to keep it’s bag recycling programs. The New York City Council had already passed a bill requiring recycling for plastic bags, as well as bins where bags can be returned, in stores more than 5,000 square feet. Bloomberg would like to use part of the $16 million a year the bag tax is estimated to generate to fund these bins.  This tax, however, as The New York Times points out, is not a reliable source of revenue if shoppers adopt to bringing their own bags with them, as they did in Ireland. 

     In an article called “The Real Cost of Free,” breaks down the real cost of plastic bags. From the petroleum and natural gases used to makes plastic, to the annual $4 billion estimated consumption cost which retailers pass onto consumers in higher prices, and the deadly effects plastic bags have on both animals and humans, plastic bags are currently costing us much more than six cents.

     Having to carry around a reusable bag at all times is an inconvenience. Yet so is digging new landfills to make room for all the waste we produce.

     Is paying the six cents the only solution for those who don’t remember to bring their own bag? Perhaps the bag return bins in supermarkets can be used like the penny trays at cash registers. Deposit your extras for someone who needs it. It would cut down on the production of new plastic bags, reuse the ones in circulation, and be a safety net for those who forgot their bag at home.

     Or maybe New Yorkers could remember that their small island is part of a big world. According to a survey conducted by the Princeton Survey Research Associates International, 78 percent of New Yorkers believe global warming is happening, and 69 percent believe parts of New York City may have to be evacuated over the next 50 years due to rising sea levels. Are these the same people who are stubbornly opposed to carrying a cloth bag with them? Maybe they need their plastic bags to build flotation devices in anticipation of that day.


Don’t worry, be NaNach


Dancing In The Rain

NaNachs Dancing In The Rain

By S. Levine


It’s raining as cars pull into to the dark wet driveway, lit only by a throbbing blue strobe light. The light moves to the beat of the loud trance music coming out of the back of a van covered in stickers reading “Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman.”  

As people arrive they receive the greeting “Chag Sameach (happy holiday). Men and children, with white knitted skullcaps, also proclaiming “Na Nach Nachma Nachman Meuman,” are dancing to the music. Some are wearing the traditional black and white of Hassidic Jews, while others are dressed in all white. 

It is the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Yisroel Ber Odesser, a controversial Breslov figure of the 20th century, and the founder of the Na Nach sect of Breslov, named after the mantra of “Na Nach…” 

Over the past couple of decades, Na Nach’s have made their presence, as an entity different from mainstream Breslov Hassidus, known in Israel. In New York City however, they are small but growing. 

Breeah Berezin- Bahr is a Na Nach currently living in Staten Island, but hoping to make her way back to Israel very soon. She became Na Nach at age 19, when she was studying in Tzfat.  

“I changed my whole life in three months,” Berezin-Bahr said “I knew I always had to live in Tzfat and I had to be Breslov.” 

A highly conspicuous group, Na Nachs spread their message through music, dancing, and displaying their logo wherever possible. This sub-group of Breslov Chassidim believes that Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) was the last righteous person in the world, and spreading his name and teachings is considered to be a large part of fixing the world. 

As this group grows in popularity, so does those who are twisting the ideology, and meaning of the mantra “Na Nach.”

This mantra comes from the signature to a letter of comfort, found by Odesser in a time of despair after he transgressed a religious fast. Odesser believed the letter to come from Rebbe Nachman himself, calling it the “Letter from Heaven.” The validity of this letter is highly controversial, and many Breslov Hassidim do not believe in this letter. Those who do are called Na Nachs.

A large number of Na Nachs are Orthodox Jews and understand the letter not as an allowance to sin, but a comfort in case one has sinned. 

Berezhin-Bahr understands the mantra of  Na Nach as reminder that God loves us, and sees we’re trying, so we shouldn’t worry if something goes wrong.  “We have to be the best we can at every moment, and if not – Na Nach. But you can’t plan to do something wrong – it’s there so that if God forbid you do something wrong you don’t get depressed,” she explained.

Wearing The NaNach Mantra

Covered in NaNach



However, more recently there are those who use the mantra of “Na Nach” as an excuse, a way to right any wrong.  

Another NaNach, who says that Rebbe Nachman saved his life, used to be very upset with those who used this mantra to justify sin. “If you have your own problem, deal with it. God still loves you, but don’t say it is Na Nach,” he said. 

Simcha Hochman, one of the largest spreaders of Na Nach in New York, is the son of a rabbi and grew up in an extremely religious home in Toronto, Canada. He found Na Nach seven years ago after a lot of spiritual searching and is now a large contributor to

His reaction to those who use the phrase Na Nach as a justification? “Someone who is intentionally going to do wrong is going to do it anyway. If they say Na Nach that’s a step in the right direction. Na Nachs do whatever they want,” he said. “Na Nachs want to keep the Torah. If you really want to do an aveirah (a transgression) what’s going to stop you? At least you believe that God is greater than everything, at least you have faith in God.” 

Rabbi Moshe Weinberger, the Rabbi of Congregation Aish Kodesh in Woodmere, N.Y., studies and gives classes on the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. 

He views Breslov Hassidus as the most contemporary of all Hassidus, yet does not align himself with NaNachs.  As someone who studies the teachings of many Hassidic masters, he spoke out strongly against those NaNachs who believe that there have been no true teachers of Torah since Rebbe Nachman, calling such people ignoramuses.



Simcha Hochman's License Plate

Simcha Hochman's License Plate

The Media Made Me “Do It”

Pregnant Shadow

Pregnant Shadow

In June, Time Magazine reported on 17 pregnancies in Gloucester High School, calling it the “Juno effect.”  In September, WRAL from Raleigh, N.C. ran an article on the increase in teen pregnancy, pointing a finger at media attention on “high-profile teen moms-to-be, such as Jamie Spears and the daughter of Republican vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin.” In October, The Birmingham News reported an increase in teen pregnancy rates in Alabama, calling it a “national trend.”

Ann Shoket’s blog for Seventeen magazine, (which ran a teen pregnancy issue in February), talks about how people blame celebrities such as Jessica Alba, Nicole Richie, and Ashlee Simpson, for the glamorization of pregnancy.

            But can the nations current 3 percent rise in teen-pregnancy, the highest is 15 years, really be blamed on the media?

Jane Brown, a professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and a principal investigator in the Teen Media project (“Teen Media: The mass media and adolescents’ sexual health”) funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, says there is a definite correlation between media content and teen sexuality.

            “Media have become powerful sex educators, especially in this culture where parents are still not talking to children about sex, schools are not allowed to talk about it, and the church says sex is a sin,” Brown said. “This isn’t a good thing because the media doesn’t address the Three C’s: Contraception, Commitment, Consequences.”

            However, she said it is hard to pinpoint the media as the cause of risky sexual behavior. Yes, her study has found that those exposed to sexuality through the media at ages 12 to 14, are more likely to become sexually active by 14 to 16. Yet it could be that sexually curious teens chose to look at sexual media at an earlier age.

            Brown outlined the three factors needed in order to solidly link the media to teen sexuality. “First, the study needs to show a relationship between exposure to sexual content in the media and sexual behavior. Secondly, it must be proven that exposure to sexual media content comes before sexual behavior. The third factor is that all possible factors must be taken into account and controlled, such as communication with parents, sex-ed in schools, and stimulation seeking.”

            A study by the Rand Corporation, released on Monday, is the first to establish a correlation between exposure to sexual media content on TV and teen pregnancy.  Teens were asked how often they watched “sexy” TV shows. Shows like “Sex and the City” and “Friends” were part of the list of 20 shows they were asked about.

            In 2001, 2,003 12- to 17-year-old boy and girls across America were interviewed about their TV habits. They were re-interviewed twice, the second time in 2004, and questioned about pregnancy. During this time period, 58 girls had become pregnant and 33 boys said they had gotten a girl pregnant.

            It was found that pregnancy was twice as common among those who regularly viewed such shows, as compared to those who hardly watched them. In the press release for the Rand study, Anita Chandra, a behavioral scientist and lead author of the study, says that even with other factors considered, such as grades, family structure and parent’s education level, TV watching is strongly connected with teen pregnancy.

            Reactions to this study are varied. The Associate Press quotes Elizabeth Schroeder, executive director of Answer, a Rutgers University-based teen sex education program. “The media does have an impact but we don’t know the full extent of it because there are so many other factors,” Schroeder explained. 

            Others, like Bill Albert, chief program officer at the nonprofit National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, said he feels that the study “catches up with common sense.”

            But whatever the reaction, many are troubled by the current rise, and hope that it is not in fact a trend, rather just a statistical blip, for as the drugstore clerk says in Juno, “This is one doodle that can’t be undid.”

Books for Sale

By S. Levine

 If she removed her bed and added another couch, Emilia Cataldo’s bedroom could be a neighborhood bookstore. It’s hard to decide what to look at first: the stacks of books or the inviting clutter. Bright metallic  colored Mardi Gras beads hang off a smiley face bulletin board.

Brightly Painted Windowpane

Next to that is a windowpane covered in painted flowers, that was found on the street. A table covered in different colored silk scarves holds multiple earring/necklace trees, off of  which hangs intricate jewelry, mainly silver or bright stones. A keyboard is set up  under a row  of windows, and a harp sits next to it on a dresser top. An acoustic guitar with a  Guayaki Yerba Mate sticker rests in the corner. 

Cataldo, a 27-year-old student/musician/ independent bookseller, sits cross-legged on her bed, surrounded by brown paper packaging, as she wraps a book that’s to be shipped to Michigan. 

An aversion of the 9-5-work day has instilled her with an entrepreneurial spirit. Cataldo has been making and selling things, from bottle cap earrings to crocheted water bottle holders, since the age of 7. Currently she supports herself by selling used books. 

Her goal? “Ultimately what I want out of this is to not be beholden to someone else…to never again set foot in an office.” 

Cataldo has found a lucrative way to “beat the system” and plans on becoming a full-time bookseller after graduating this spring.

Environmentally conscious, Cataldo also collects second-hand wrapping materials, which has the added benefit of cutting down on her costs. Beyond the set percentage that Amazon takes per sale, since she searches for free books, she is mostly making all profit. 

The books mainly come from friends, though sometimes she is lucky enough to find books on street corners, or left with in the basement of her building as garbage. She is always on the lookout. She then checks the ISBN number on to make sure that the book is worth something. Once she posts it on-line she just has to wait for someone to buy it. This month she has made close to a thousand dollars. 

Cataldo has traveled all over the city, even venturing as far as Union City, NJ, to collect books. Her boyfriend Jacob, who was the first person to suggest that she sell books, often worries about the neighborhoods she goes to. He often tells her, “Don’t go into people’s houses.” 

A former co-worker of Cataldo, Chana Auerbach, who worked with Cataldo at EGL, a diamond certification company in midtown, remembers Cataldo as being responsible in showing up on time every day, but always felt that a 9-5 job was not going to work for Cataldo. “She is less conventional and follows her own path,” Auerbach said. 

A music major at Yeshiva University, Cataldo finds that having ansdc10341 unconventional job gives her more time to work on her music. Her band Nehedar, which means resplendent in Hebrew, is hoping to release a third album this year. As neither book selling, nor her music are full time projects, she is confident in her ability to juggle both.

The daughter of wandering parents, Cataldo has lived in Massachusetts, Florida, Illinois, and New York. Yet according to her father no matter where she went to school, teachers would write on her report card “Emilia is an avid reader.” 

These days Cataldo mainly reads non-fiction. A staunch liberal, she stays well informed on the issues which worry/interest her. Cataldo cares a lot about the social justice aspects of society, and deeply respects those who give back to the world. She views Angelina Jolie as a role model; she admires her for her philanthropy. “People are going to look up to her looks wise or lifestyle wise, she does good things and she advertises them,” Cataldo elaborated. 

Like many she is currently concerned about the upcoming election, the environment, and the economy. Cataldo is concerned about the disappearance of a middle class. “I used to think it was a terrible thing – like it was tacky or something, but I was coming from the lower class…but it’s really important to be able to survive without debt and it’s just such as uncertain future right now.” 



Books not yet filed

 A personal concern of hers is Kindle, a digital book reader, and while it “might be better for  trees” she would be “really sad” if books were to disappear. It would be a loss not only of the  esthetic pleasure some get from a physical book (holding it, turning the pages, feeling the  weight of the paper); it would also mean the end of her slowly expanding business. 

 “Learning is really important to me right now,” she explained when asked what about selling books she enjoys. “Part of the excitement is sharing learning with people … there’s plenty of negative ideas out there, but there really aren’t that many negative books…there’s just a striving for the truth and it’s really nice.”

Cataldo’s penchant for truth is something her roommate Danielle Shay admires about her. “She has a cool personality because she’s super real. She’s smart, she knows what’s up, does what she believes in and doesn’t give a shit as to what other people think,” Danielle says with a laugh. “What do I think about her job? I don’t care as long as she pays the bills. She’s an easy roommate, she’s respectful and not annoying.”


Cataldo Getting Ready To Leave The House






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