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Club2Jeff Deskovic addresses the Innocence ClubA visit to the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery Alabama spurred SHS student Scott Goldban to do more than feel badly about the many who are wrongfully convicted and spend years behind bars. The experience spurred Goldban’s interest in criminal justice reform and the creation of The Innocence Club at Scarsdale High School in 2018.

The mission of the club is to educate other students by bringing speakers to the school. The group invites both exonerees and legal experts and has hosted sessions with Glen Garber, founder of The Exoneration Initiative and a Skype session with Professor Sarah Sommervold who discussed her work with the Center for Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University. The club recently completed a book drive, collecting approximately 6,000 books for the Voice 4 The Unheard, an organization that distributes used books to prisons to help promote literacy. Most of these books are going to Rikers Island. The club has now grown to 100 members and includes Levi Ring (VP), Carrie Ortner (Communications), Ben Hoexter (Secretary) and Ryan Silberfein (Treasurer). Faculty advisors are Andrew Morgan and Beth Colleary.

On February 5, 2020 The Innocence Club hosted Jeffrey Deskovic, a man who was falsely convicted for rape and murder and spent 17 years in prison, to speak about his experience and how he turned his life around after exoneration. In addition, Mimi Rocah, candidate for Westchester County DA, spoke about the integrity in the criminal justice system.

Deskovic shared the story of his wrongful conviction. When he was 16 years-old, he was targeted by police in Peekskill for the rape and murder of a 15 year-old classmate. Deskovic explained that because he was shy and didn’t fit in with his classmates, he fit a psychological profile that led police detectives to target him. He said that he was naive and wanted to be a police officer when he grew up, so that when they police told him that they wanted him to help them in their investigation and lead them to the killer, he obliged. He skipped school one day to assist them and described how they drove him to an undisclosed location approximately 40 minutes away and hooked him up to a polygraph machine and proceeded to forcibly interrogate him for six hours.

No one knew where he was or how to find him. His mother was not informed of his whereabouts and he feared for his life. He was not provided with a lawyer. When police told him that he would never be found unless he confessed to the crime, he did. He was thinking only about how to get himself home safely -- not the long-term consequences of a confession.

Using this confession, the district attorney was able to get a conviction even though the DNA evidence collected from semen found in the body of the victim did not match Deskovic’s DNA. The medical examiner falsely testified that the mismatch in DNA was explained by the victim’s prior sexual contact even though they had no evidence of a prior contact. Deskovic spent 17 years in prison trying secure a reversal on appeal or a new trial. It was only after the real killer killed someone else and his DNA was recorded in a database and found to match that obtained in the Deskovic case, that Deskovic was able to be freed.

InnocenceClubThe Innocence Club
Deskovic is thankful to the lawyers at the Innocence Project who took his case. Deskovic noted that his is not an isolated case. While he was in jail, he personally knew 17 other inmates who were eventually exonerated. Deskovic had a horrific experience in a maximum security adult prison, was attacked, and had to battle depression and thoughts of suicide. While in prison, Deskovic got his GED, and after his exoneration, he was given a scholarship to attend Mercy College, and then put himself through law school at Pace, where Mimi Rocah was one of his law professors. He now has his own Foundation (Deskovic Foundation) which works to help exonerate others. Deskovic offered thoughts on criminal justice reforms that could help decrease wrongful convictions including his advocacy of mandatory continuous video camera recordings during interrogations to deter police misconduct, and an oversight body to review prosecutor conduct.

Mimi Rocah, current Democratic candidate for Westchester County DA, agreed that certain reforms should be made in the criminal justice system. As a former prosecutor, she recognizes that there are cases where there are bad actors on the prosecution’s side. She said, believes here is no bad intent but professionals get “tunnel vision” where they are so focused on a suspect that they fail to recognize red flags that could suggest innocence. Rocah favors an open door policy for defense attorneys to discuss their evidence with prosecutors and noted that prosecutors should pay attention when defense attorneys say that their client is innocent. If elected DA, Rocah plans to create an Independent Conviction Integrity Unit to review cases where convicted inmates allege their innocence. This is especially crucial in cases that involve a bad actor identified in a case where a defendant was falsely convicted.

HoneyBowlScarsdale Foundation Honey Bowl: Janice Starr, Randy Guggenheimer, Frank Lichtenberg.The 2020 Spelling Bee at SHS on Friday night January 31 was a challenge for the 57 contestants on stage as well as all of us in the audience, striving to spell some puzzling words. The event attracted 19 teams, with clever names like the BEEtles, Killer Bees, We Spell Trouble, Don’t Stop Bee-lievin, Ladies of the Loft (from the library) and a group of library trustees, called the TrustBees. Also on stage were two teams of realtors, four teams of high schools students and previous winners who not surprisingly won again!

The event was sponsored by the Friends of the Scarsdale Library, to raise funds for the large-scale renovation of the library now underway. Introducing the fun were Library Friends President Dara Gruenberg and Scarsdale Library Director Beth Bermel.

Ed Coleman, a community member and Voice of the Mets, returned as MC, and clearly articulated some very obscure words. Expert judges included Library Director Beth Bermel, NYS Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Scarsdale Mayor Marc Samwick.

The opening rounds included a few giveaways like NECESSARY and SCISSORS, but it wasn’t long before teams were dropping like flies – after tripping up on LIAISON, BOURGEOIS and INOCULATE (In fact, it doesn’t have two “N’s”)

Another stumper, DUMBBELL, was misspelled by all four teams in one of the swarms. And in that case, with no one spelling it correctly, all four teams remained.

In the first swarm, Killer Bees Jenn Love, Sharon Hoffman and Chris Riback successfully spelled ONOMATOPOEIA, and won their swarm.

We Spell Gud with Judy McEvoy, Kevin McEvoy and Simon Landless emerged the winner of the second swarm after correctly spelling EMBARRASS, NONPAREIL and MERETRICIOUS.

Swarm C proceeded quickly, when DACQUIRI proved easier to drink than to spell. The second H in the word DACHSHUND tripped up another team and a third team was eliminated when they spelled CAMARADERIE – with an O rather than an A as the second letter.

That left Bee Bee Kings and Scarsdale Foundation Honey Bowl to spar for the swarm. They successfully spelling DILETTANTE and wespellgudWe Spell Gud: Judy and Kevin McEvoy, Simon LandlessFLUORESCENT, before the Bee Bee Kings lost their ARRYTHMIA, and the Foundation Honey Bees, including Randy Guggenheimer, Janice Starr and Frank Lichtenberg dominated their swarm.

The last swarm consisted of four high school teams, who all successfully spelled PALINDROME and JEWELRY before all the teams misspelled CAPPUCCINO. The round ended in an instant, when three teams misspelled CALIOPE leaving the Bee Gees to go to the final round.

After intermission and refreshments, the competition heated up, with the four winning teams from Swarms A through D competing in the championship round. In this round, teams took turns spelling, and the teens survived the spelling of ADOLESCENT. Randy Guggenheimer spelled BIVOUAC, “We Spell Gud” outlived the GUILLOTINE (who knew it had two L’s?) and the teams traded words until the teens missed CURMUDGEON.

The contest continued with DOPPELGANGER and CREPUSCULAR. Sharon Hoffman of the Killer Bees spelled MAELSTROM, QUESTIONNAIRE and CARDAMOM and appeared to be the queen of the hive but was ultimately knocked out by QUOTIDIAN – using an E for the A – a mistake anyway could make.

That left We Spell Gud and the Scarsdale Foundation Honey Bowl to duke it out.

The words got tougher by the minute – from ANODYNE and BADINAGE to REVEILLE and DIPHTHONG. This round featured words from all over the world, laced with extra vowels. Simon Landless and Randy Guggenheimer, backed by their teams, wowed the crowd spelling FRANKINCENSE and DAGUERREOTYPE.

When Guggenheimer missed BOUILLIABAISSE, it looked like “We Spell Gud” would take home first prize. But lo and behold they were given a middle English word dating back to Shakespeare, “GUERDON,” and got that wrong, so the contest went on. The suspense continued as both HASANPFEFFER (German Stew) and FAIENCE (French China) were also misspelled. Finally the Foundation Honey Bowl spelled PHAETON, We Spell Gud missed URCEOLATE and the night ended with a victory for Scarsdale Foundation Honey Bowl team members Randy Guggenheimer, Janice Starr and Frank Lichtenberg. 

Janice Staff said, "It was a pleasure to participate in one of my favorite activities, the Scarsdale Spelling Bee, and to contribute to the success of the fundraiser benefiting the Scarsdale Library. Whether I win or lose, it is so much fun to compete (and I have experienced both winning and losing!), but it was a delight to be a part of the winning team along with Randy Guggenheimer and Frank Lichtenberg, both amazing spellers! I cherish these community moments and encourage others to give the spelling bee a try."

Commenting on the event, Simon Landless from "We Spell Gud," said, "This was the second time we came second at the Bee! We all had a great time. I guess I’m pretty good with spelling obscure words because I took Latin at high school. Also, this was truly a team effort. Both Judy and Kevin McEvoy are terrific spellers in their own right. Judy excels with all food-related words. And Kevin was our tie-breaker when we couldn’t agree."

KillerBeesKiller Bees: Jenn Love, Sharon Hoffman, Chris RibackIt was an impressive performance by everyone who had the courage to take to the stage.

Dara Gruenberg, President of the Friends of the Scarsdale Library commented on the event, “The Friends of the Scarsdale Library was thrilled to see such an enthusiastic turnout for the Bee! It was truly a special community event, and Scarsdale was clearly excited to come out to watch the competition and support the library. With 300 people in attendance, both adults and kids, and $40,000 raised, we could not have asked for a better outcome. Thank you to all who participated, donated, sponsored the event, and attended! Congratulations to the Scarsdale Foundation Honey Bowl team on their victory!”

(Author’s note: Following the Bee we relieved our SCIATICA from the auditorium seats and ARRYTHMIA due to the excitement, by enjoying BOUILLIABAISSE and HASANPFEFFER on our grandmother’s FAIENCE.)
BeeGeesBee Gees: Eve Mainster, Craig Carroll and Gabe LesserBeeJudgesBee Judges: Marc Samwick, Beth Bermel and Amy Paulin

BronxRiverThe Scarsdale Historical Society in cooperation with the Scarsdale Public Library invite the public to join them for an afternoon of films at Quaker Ridge School Auditorium at 125 Weaver Street., Scarsdale on Sunday, February 9th at 3:00pm.  Admission is free and light refreshments will be provided.

THE LIFE AND ART OF ANNA RICHARDS BREWSTER is a short (9 minute), poignant film that rediscovers the magnificent work of Anna Richards Brewster (1870-1952), a Scarsdale resident, who in her day was recognized as one of America’s finest Impressionist painters. Her work was widely exhibited in Europe and America, and she painted many familiar stunning landscapes of Scarsdale.

A RIVER RETURNS: A HISTORY OF THE BRONX RIVER is a 40 minute film that provides a historical journey down the Bronx River and a tale of how it was rescued from severe pollution to become a model for restoring natural resources nationwide. The Bronx River may be a small river but it played a large role in shaping the towns and lives of people in Westchester County, including Scarsdale. 

These documentaries were professionally produced and directed by Scarsdale native Lesley Topping with Barbara Shay MacDonald, VP, Historian of the Scarsdale Historical Society.  Ms. Topping is an independent filmmaker, producer and film editor whose work includes dramatic films, documentaries, and television programs. She has edited award-winning films for the Cousteau Society, CBS, PBS, and A&E, and worked on many feature films.  She also produces multimedia content for businesses and not for profits.  

After each film, there will be an opportunity to ask questions of Ms. MacDonald and Ms. Topping.  

About the Scarsdale Historical Society
The Scarsdale Historical Society exists to discover, preserve, and disseminate historical information as well as inspire others to learn about and contribute to the history of Scarsdale and the Central mid-Westchester region.

spellingbeebannerTeams have been dusting off their dictionaries in preparation for the upcoming Scarsdale Spelling Bee on Friday, January 31st at 7:30pm. Spectators of all ages will swarm to the Scarsdale High School auditorium on Friday, January 31st for a night of stellar spelling, silent auction, food for purchase and trivia, including local celebrity emcee Ed Coleman, the radio voice of the New York Mets. This community event is brought to you by the Friends of the Scarsdale Library and aims to be the Friends’ primary fundraiser for 2020, supporting the Scarsdale Public Library.

Corporate event sponsors include Country Bank, Houlihan Lawrence, Mercedes of White Plains, The Gabelli Foundation and Pilates Glow. Bites from Chop’t, Giannoni’s and Once a Lil Cupcake will be for sale starting at 6:45pm.

Arrive early to check out the silent auction featuring items such as Shakespeare in the Park tickets, SAT/ACT Prep packages, Manhattan art walk, F Factor Counseling Package, Yankees tickets, empty Metropolitan Museum of Art tour with docent, fitness classes and more! An early arrival will also enable you to catch a glimpse of the library’s construction progress slideshow. Prizes to be given to trivia winners!

Spectator admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children under 18. Entrance on Brewster Road.

This is also a perfect time to become a ‘Friend’ of the Scarsdale Library or renew your commitment to FOSL. For further details visit scarsdalelibrary.org or stop by the Friends’ table at the Bee. Throughout this transition period during construction of the Olmsted Road building, Friends of the Scarsdale Library continues to play a pivotal role in sponsoring popular programs such as free museum passes, children’s events, book talks, writers’ workshops and so much more! Proceeds from the Spelling Bee will go towards the enhancement of these enriching programs.

marchbridgeThis past Sunday, under bright skies, thousands of people showed up in unity to protest anti-Semitic attacks in the region. This “No Hate, No Fear” event began at Foley Square in lower Manhattan, continued with a march over the Brooklyn Bridge, and ended with a rally at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn. According to event organizers, the NYPD estimated the crowd at approximately 25,000. The event was organized by the UJA Federation of NY in collaboration with the AJC, Antidefamation League of NY/NJ, Jewish Community Relations Council and the NY Board of Rabbis.

While dignitaries were in abundance at the event – including Governor Cuomo, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, Mayor De Blasio, Congressman Engel, among others – the rally featured other speakers who moved the crowd. In addition to event organizers and Jewish community leaders, speakers included activist Deborah Halberstrom, whose son was murdered on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994, Pastor Gil Monrose, co-founder of the “GodSquad”, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Bishop DiMarzio of Brooklyn.

The majority of the march-goers came from synagogues in the greater NY region, including Scarsdale’s local Temples. Many also came by the bus load from Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston, Montreal, and Toronto. The event was organized as a “Solidarity March” and included a large group from the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, a national group of Muslim and Jewish Women, with local chapters who marched together.

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It was clear that participants felt unified under a common theme – to voice concerns about growing anti-Semitism. Additionally, the importance of showing Jewish pride was echoed by speakers and marchers alike. Scarsdale residents Joy and David Chalfin put it simply: “Sometimes you have to stand and be counted, and this was one of those times.”

marchspeechMarchEngel

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