By Deirdre Bardolf, September 14, 2022
Near the New Howard Beach-Lindenwood border, an area is being cultivated that will serve as a permanent reminder and lesson for younger generations of the sacrifices made as a result of the Sept. 11 attacks.
A sapling taken from the Survivor Tree, a Callery pear tree rescued from Ground Zero, now stands beyond the Belt Parkway overpass on 156th Avenue. Only three saplings are given out each year.
“We will continue the beautification of this area so that all those who pass through will now know that this community of Howard Beach will never forget,” said Phyllis Inserillo, co-president of the Howard Beach Lindenwood Civic Association, at a ceremony on Sunday.
The civic transformed the area and secured the sapling with help from Councilwoman Joann Ariola (R-Ozone Park).
“It shows resiliency,” said Ariola. “It shows our fortitude as Americans and it shows that nothing can take us down.”
The work there has been a community effort. The tree sits on the property of the former Rockwood Jewish Center, something offered by the Circle Academy owners who bought the building. Donations from the community provided 2,977 little American flags, representing each life lost, which dotted the area.
Hundreds gathered for the ceremony, which opened with a blessing from Deacon Richard Elrose of St. Helen’s and included remarks from state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Rockaway Park) and Community Board 10 Chair Betty Braton.
The Survivor Tree garden and surrounding areas were landscaped by Lisena Landscaping, and Mike Tricarico power-washed. Resident Eddie Earl upkeeps the area almost every day. The murals, which were unveiled last Sept. 11, were done by Mark Amato and other volunteers.
“Even as the paint on the mural fades and it becomes a memory, revel in the fact that we have a beautiful Survivor Tree,” said Jay Frango, an FDNY firefighter and 9/11 first responder. “Watch it grow and flourish as you would your children and grandchildren. But never forget to let them know what the tree actually represents.”
Frango called up Dominick DeVito, whom he later helped plant the symbolic tree.
“Me and Dominick both suffer many ailments from breathing the toxic dust,” Frango said. “But if you asked, neither one of us would change what we did that day and in the months following. Dominick is the face of an FDNY 9/11 survivor.”
Other survivors, first responders and families of those who died on that day or as a result of related illnesses gathered to plant the sapling.
Gabriella and Xavier Tufano helped bury the tree and wore shirts that read, “My uncle is my hero and my angel” in memory of their uncle Christopher Christodoulou, an NYPD sergeant who died in 2017 as a result of 9/11-related cancer.
“He was the best,” said his sister and the kid’s mom, Suzanne Tufano of Howard Beach. “He was funny, he was honest, he was fair. He was a great cop.”
The tree honors heroes like Christodoulou but is just as much for his niece’s and nephew’s generation.
“For young ones, Sept. 11 is no longer an experience lived,” said Inserillo. “It is now history learned. And one that is our obligation to teach.”