Category Archives: Garden State Living

Hip New Jersey spotlights the businesses and communities that are making the Garden State fabulous!

“A Thousand And One Journeys: The Arab Americans” Documentary

By: Armand V. Cucciniello III

Actor Morgan Freeman once said, “Black history is American history.” The same might be said of Arab American history according to #HipNJ resident and independent filmmaker Abe Kasbo, who recently completed production of the first-ever documentary chronicling Arab immigration to the United States.

“A Thousand & One Journeys: The Arab Americans” brings to life the rich heritage of Americans of Arab descent and their contributions to American society and culture. The film presents an otherwise untold story of nearly 200 years of immigration history of peoples from the Levant, North Africa, and the Arabian Peninsula to the U.S. from the late 19th century to the present day.

Produced by Zeitoune FilmWorks, the film was the brainchild of Kasbo, a resident of West Caldwell who emigrated from Syria in 1980 at the age of 10.

“I grew up in Syria, I came here as an immigrant,” said Kasbo. “There are misperceptions about people from Syria and the Middle East, Arabs in general. I found that there’s an extraordinary chapter of American History missing that is built on these people and their accomplishments.”

Topics covered in the 86-minute documentary include immigration struggles, cultural practices, religion, family and folk traditions. The film brings a much-needed balance to the emotive political discourse in which Arab immigrants often find themselves.

“The Arab American story is unique because of what is happening right now [the widespread misconceptions about Arab Americans], because of what is happening in the political life cycle of the country,” Kasbo said. “It’s more important now than ever to be able to tell this story.”

Featured in the production are previously unseen historical film footage, antique photographs, and a series of interviews with prominent Arab Americans like M*A*S*H actor Jamie Farr, Senator George Mitchell, the late two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Anthony Shadid, consumer advocate, Ralph Nader, White House correspondent Helen Thomas, General John Abizaid, and many others.

The stories narrated are, in many ways, similar to those told by other immigrant populations in the U.S., like the Italians and Irish. From economic and linguistic hurdles faced by immigrants, to overcoming stereotypes, the stories told – when juxtaposed next to other immigration narratives – are distinctly American.
“The story of Arab immigration is the American immigration story,” said Kasbo at a screening of the film at Seton Hall University in January. “And Arab American history is American history,” he added.

“A Thousand & One Journeys” was released in October 2015 and has been screened in New York City and various locations across the country. The film should be of interest to historians, anthropologists, folklorists, documentary film buffs, and the general public interested in immigration and American history.

Upcoming screenings of the film include the Garden State Film Festival in Atlantic City on April 2. To purchase a copy of the documentary, and for more information, visit the film’s website.

Other Voices: NJ Art & Oral History at the Newark Public Library

Other Voices: NJ Art & Oral History at the Newark Public Library
By Armand V. Cucciniello III

“We Found Our Way: Newark Portraits from the Great Migration” is on display at the Newark Public Library from Feb. 4 through April 9.

NEWARK, NJ – Written history is frequently incomplete, and at times inaccurate. Napoleon once said: “History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon.” Too often notable figures, events, and phenomenon get misrepresented – or go undocumented altogether.

In honor of Black History Month the Newark Public Library is helping to correct the written record by making available to the public an oral history collection and art exhibit that illustrates the history of African-American migration to and life in Newark.


The exhibit showcases oral histories, complete with listening stations, of black Americans who migrated from the American south to Newark between 1910 and 1970.

We Found Our Way: Newark Portraits from the Great Migration” is a rich multimedia display that provides a unique, human-centered perspective of a city that has often been depicted as an example of post-industrial urban decay and racial contention. Anchored in the Krueger-Scott Collection, the exhibit presents a more nuanced story of the city, illustrates how the black migrant experience was formative, and presents history with a remarkably human face.

The Krueger-Scott Collection is comprised of over 200 audiocassette recordings and interviews with more than 100 residents of Newark conducted in the 1990s. It is the single largest collection of oral history interviews conducted with black Americans who migrated from the South to New Jersey between the years 1910–1970.

The library exhibit includes portraits of the narrators, audio recordings from the interviews, digital video presentations, fine prints, historic images, and glass artwork inspired by the oral stories.

Personalities featured in the oral history collection include black Americans like Katheryn Bethea, a migrant to Newark who had to continually reinvent herself to keep up with the changing times. During World War II Ms. Bethea mastered needlecraft and subsequently obtained a supervisor position in a hospital uniforms factory – a time when there were no black women in such positions.

Isaac Thomas Jr., a native of Birmingham, AL recalled during his interview 1940s labor dynamics in the South due to segregation: “I worked at delivering ice. We delivered ice to the white folks in the morning while it was cool. We delivered ice to the black folks in the evening while it was hot. White folks got their ice in the morning, and I earned $4.00 a week for that.”

“Onions” by Italian artist Andreá Cassar is inspired by the story of migrant and Newark resident Ms. Katheryn Bethea. “Onions are multi-layered,” said Cassar, “as was Ms. Bethea’s life.”

As we celebrate Newark’s 350th anniversary, this exhibit provides an opportunity to honor this aspect of the city’s history and include these voices in the conversation,” said Dr. Samantha J. Boardman, curator of the exhibit.

Also featured are glass artworks by Rutgers University students and faculty, which form part of a larger artistic endeavor called The Glass Book Project. Each piece on display at the library is an abstract, conceptual portrayal of specific details drawn from seven of the oral history interviews that form the Krueger-Scott Collection.

Andreá Cassar – a painter, sculptor, and graphic designer from Italy who was a contributor to The Glass Book Project series titled “Provisions” – called the exhibit “informative and an opportunity for us to realize that not all history is recorded in written form.”

Using the Krueger-Scott collection to create art was a very natural fit. Oral histories offer a unique perspective on people and their experiences, and art can do the same,” Cassar said.

Ms. Bethea’s story was illustrated by Cassar through glasswork that draws inspiration from a story she told about her family’s use of onions in apotropaic magic practices. “I used to have an aunt that would put onions and sprinkle them with sugar on the back of the stove, and that was supposed to keep my uncle from running around with other women,” recounted Bethea.

Nick Kline, the founder of The Glass Book Project and art professor at Rutgers, created a sculpture resembling a melting block of ice to exemplify Mr. Thomas’s story. Kline’s sculpture is complete with a vintage ice pick from Birmingham.

We Found Our Way: Newark Portraits from the Great Migration” should be of interest to historians, anthropologists, folklorists, sociologists, artists, and everyday residents of New Jersey that want to experience a unique, unconventional way of learning local history.

The exhibit runs from February 4 through April 9 at the Main Library building, located at 5 Washington St. Additional information and library hours can be found here.


Glass art, inspired by the stories told and produced by Rutgers University students and faculty, are on display. Shown here is the Italian artist Andreá Cassar next to a case containing his work “Onions.”

Cipher Seeker

Cipher Seeker

The “Escape Room” rage has officially hit #HipNJ!

Located in Waldwick, Cipher Seeker offers room escape challenges for adult groups of two to eight people. The group has 60 minutes to search their room, locate clues, solve riddles and puzzles, and work together as a team to complete their objective and “escape”.

We spoke with Chris Bartlett, founder and owner of Cipher Seeker, about this #hip concept!

First thing’s first- what’s an escape room?

It’s a relatively new field that started out in Japan and is exponentially growing in the United States.  Room escapes are also known as “Mystery Rooms”, “Puzzle Rooms”, “Adventure Rooms”, and “Escape Rooms”. Originally created as online computer games, the player was stuck in a room until a level was completed, thus the need to “escape”. The thrill is in solving all the puzzles before your time is up.

How does the concept work?

You get together with friends, family or coworkers, go into a room of your choice, look for clues and solve the puzzle needed to escape! Some facilities lock you in, and some don’t. We do depending on which room you go into and what your objective is.

How did you become interested in this concept?

I actually saw an episode of “The Big Bang Theory” that did one and I thought to myself, “Hey, that looks cool!” So I Googled it and found that there were already some in New Jersey. I tried a couple in the area and realized how much fun they were. Since I had recently lost my job, I figured my best option was to start working for myself instead of someone else and open an escape room myself.

What are the room setups?

Room one of them is called DEFCON 1 and involves an old missile silo where the computer system has gone rogue and is trying to launch its battery of missiles. The objective is for your team to try and disable the launch system before its too late.

The second room is called Graveyard Inlet where you and your friends are on a tour at an old lighthouse and decide to start exploring on your own. In doing so, you get yourself locked in the keepers quarters and have to get out before the tour guide catches you.

Are actors involved?

We do not have any actors in place because of the not-so-positive feedback we’ve heard. Usually the actors stand to give hints and help groups through the puzzle, but we find them to be distracting to the groups. Therefore, in place of actors, we have a T.V. screen in the room where we watch the groups from a control room. If we see them struggling and they’re stuck, we send hints that appear on the screen.

Are the rooms “creepy?”

Not yet, but we have a third room opening next month that’s a murder mystery! The story is that you got accused of a crime and you have to figure out who actually committed the crime and what their murder weapon and motive was.

Who is this activity ideal for?

A lot of people do it as either a family or friend thing. It’s more interactive and thought-provoking than doing something like going to the movies.  I have yet to meet someone who didn’t have fun during this activity.

It also works for company team building.  The managers usually stay in our control room where they can watch the group solve the puzzle and see who the leaders are, who the real problem solvers are, and who their idea people are. It’s a good and fun way for them to really see how the team works together.

How can people find you?

Visit us on our website at and follow us on Facebook and Twitter where we occasionally run promotions!