Crawling at turtle speed over the Outerbridge Crossing from New Jersey to Staten Island, we knew that in just a few miles we would be greeted with the welcoming aroma of the Fresh Kills Landfill – or as my dad referred to it, the Staten Island Dump.
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On each Passover, Rosh Hashana or any other family event, traveling from our home in central New Jersey to our cousins in Long Island almost always provided two consistencies: 1) the traffic and 2) a prime view of a colossal garbage mountain just east of the West Shore Expressway. That is, aside from the rare times we took the New Jersey Turnpike straight to the Goethals Bridge and right to the Staten Island Expressway.
Opened in 1947, the landfill was once the largest man-made structure in the world. It certainly outlasted its welcome, permeating the area with its infamous odor and unsightly presence until 2001. Yes, unsightly, but a timeless memory in the chain of stuffy car rides and backseat brawls with my younger brother.
My mother – an environmental health specialist – recalls a particularly malodorous episode in September 1986, when she visited Fresh Kills as a consultant to assess the impacts of the site’s methane recovery system. While she was not yet positive she was pregnant with my brother before the visit, the nausea that resulted from that day’s fragrances confirmed her suspicions.
Little did my mother know that just two-and-a-half decades later her daughter would be covering in great detail the transformation of another equally problematic eyesore – Israel’s “Fresh Kills” – a mere 9,000 kilometers eastward. On Thursday, New York’s garbage dump to remember became an official partner with its Israeli counterpart in the heart of Gush Dan.
Piece by piece, small portions of Israel’s rehabilitated Hiriya garbage mountain began to open to the public in 2011. Although the overhaul of the entire site, now known as Ariel Sharon Park, will by no means be complete for decades, the burgeoning oasis now stands side by side with its New Yorker sister of roughly the same size, undergoing similar trials and tribulations.
When a garbage dump I grew up with joins hands with the one I’ve been writing about ever since I moved to Israel, it’s safe to say that I’ve come full circle.
I hope that, in the not so distant future, some wide-eyed little girl traveling with her family from New Jersey to Long Island will request a stop along the West Shore Expressway to see – and smell – the freshly blossoming vegetation and diverse array of wildlife on a green Staten Island.