Meet a Newburgher: Yaakov Sullivan

Yaakov at Yellow Bird

Meet Newburgher, Yaakov Sullivan, a retiree who has moved to Newburgh from Brooklyn. He is passionate about Paris, he is an actor, and president of the Newburgh Heights Association.

Where are you from and how did you end up in Newburgh?

I am originally from Milwaukee, WI, but came to New York to do my graduate work a few decades ago. Then moved to Israel where I lived for 12 years. What brought me to Newburgh was a Newburgher with family roots in the city. I worked for 15 years at Columbia University and Kevin Burke was working at the time in the same office. During this time, my dream was (and still is) to retire to Paris, a city I love passionately. Kevin persuaded me that if I wanted to buy something in France, I would need to move from my Brooklyn rental to a place where I could own my own home which I could eventually sell and use the proceeds to buy something in Paris. And where better to buy than in Newburgh!  So I did in March 2008. Whether it will get me any closer to my dream of owning a place in Paris…well,let’s say that hope springs eternal, reality often lags behind. But I love my house and my neighbors. We have a real sense of community in the Heights.

You went from living in a studio in Brooklyn to a 3 bedroom house in Newburgh. Tell us about your house.

The house was built in 1881 and had been turned, like so many, into two separate units. The couple I bought it from had returned it to its original one house arrangement. I wish that were the case throughout Newburgh where so many homes have been cut up like body parts for landlords to collect more rents.

Why did Newburgh’s blight and other problems not deter your from purchasing a home here? How is the Newburgh Heights Association involved with the community?

Newburgh has many problems plaguing it; poverty, lack of an economic base providing people with good paying jobs, many youth who have dropped out of school, gangs, a population that is terribly divided by race and class. All of this in a setting along the Hudson that is breathtaking.  The way I look at it is that all of the problems are surmountable and part of living in any urban area.  The problems may seem intractable but much of what needs to be done can be done on a neighborhood level, very local, since it is at that level that all of us are challenged by the same problems, safer streets, making our area more livable and aesthetically pleasing which can have a calming effect on a population, holding landlords accountable for code violations and making sure that tenants are responsible and respectful of their external and internal space. This is one of the motivating factors that led us to form the Heights Association. To date we have held garden sales for residents to buy flowers and plants for their yards, we have an annual caroling party at Christmas. This October we have a program for the children of the neighborhood to work with a professional artists group designing banners which will be placed along Liberty St. from Benkard to Bay View Terrace. We will be working with the police to express what are concerns are in the neighborhood and to learn what they are doing to stay on top of the situation in the Heights. Communication is critical. We are working to make the bluff more utilized. These are a few of the things we have been working on and of course we are always looking to expand our membership in wider areas of the Heights.

Tell us about your Off-Broadway play that you are performing in NYC.

While I was working at Columbia, I was a writer and researcher but since my retirement, I have gone back to acting which was my career for a good number of years. I recently closed a show at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row in the city. It was called “The Great Society” and dealt with the LBJ years, the conflict in his life as a president who wanted more than anything to be remembered as America’s greatest social reformer but had the millstone of the Vietnam War around his neck which seriously damaged his presidency. I played Georgia senator, Richard Russell. It was a great experience being on the boards again. The show may move on to a bigger venue and I look forward to the having the opportunity of working on other theatre projects. Living in Newburgh presents me with challenges of working in theatre but I believe they can be adequately met.

What are some of your hopes for the City of Newburgh?

I hope to bring cast members from “The Great Society” up to visit Newburgh. I talk up Newburgh with all those I meet since I think it has a unique community and is a wonderful environment for artists. I look forward to my future here and in helping to make our small city on the Hudson, a community that is working together to make it a place that can provide good jobs and one in which all parts of the city will be pleasing to live in and walk in, a community that is a credit to all of its residents.