Remembering Laura Deckelman

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 She perfectly captured Rockaway life behind a lens, and now the many subjects of her photos are mourning the sudden loss of someone who fought hard for her community through the best way she knew how—photography. Laura Deckelman died on May 5.

On Tuesday, May 5, many in Rockaway were shocked to hear the news of Deckelman’s death. According to her longtime neighbors in Bayswater, Deckelman died of a heart attack at 66, leaving behind her three children, David, Michael and Shifra, and reuniting with the love of her life, her husband, Paul Deckelman, who died on March 27, 2018 due to melanoma.

As word spread about the sudden loss, the many who knew her were left devastated, and those who simply knew her from her thousands of photos documenting some of Rockaway’s biggest to its smallest events, along with her advocacy efforts, were saddened by her passing.

Deckelman was never seen without a camera. With a smile on her face, she captured Rockaway’s moments of devastation, to moments of strength, to things that simply exemplified Rockaway life. Following Hurricane Sandy, she documented the devastation across Rockaway to show the world beyond the peninsula, what was happening to her neighbors. Through her photos, she became an advocate for Rockaway, especially when it came to the Rockaway ferry.

When emergency ferry service began after Hurricane Sandy in November 2012, Deckelman became a regular rider, and even more so when the ferry was under threat of being taken away. Deckelman was such an avid rider that the ferry company at the time, Seastreak, gave her an unlimited pass in exchange for use of her photos documenting the beauty and necessity of the quick ride to Manhattan. As the de Blasio administration threatened to stop the ferry service after the A train was back up and running, Deckelman’s photos became even more important. Deckelman was a vital member of the Rockaway United to Save the Ferry group, advocating for continued ferry service. She attended every rally, and documented them along the way, to show the city how much the ferry meant to the community with limited transportation options. Ultimately, the ferry service was discontinued at the end of October 2014, but Deckelman’s battle to bring it back never ceased.

Her efforts did not go unnoticed. In May 2015, she and longtime ferry advocate Joe Hartigan, were honored as “Heroes of the Harbor” by the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance. In 2016, there was a bigger win for all ferry advocates as de Blasio announced that the ferry would return as part of a citywide service in 2017. Fellow ferry activists, Danny Ruscillo and the late Linda Ruscillo, called for Deckelman to be recognized for her efforts by naming Rockaway’s ferry stop, “Deckelman’s Landing.” The Ruscillos began a petition for the effort and delivered more than 2,000 signatures of support for the naming to City Hall. The mayor ultimately decided against naming the city’s ferry landings, but Deckelman was given a very special honor. On April 30, 2017, before the first NYC Ferry operated by Hornblower took its maiden voyage, Deckelman was named godmother of the ship Urban Journey, and was given the honor of christening it. She proudly wore a smile as she smashed the celebratory bottle of champagne on the boat’s railing, marking the moment ferry service had finally returned to Rockaway.

Beyond her photos and advocacy efforts, Deckelman had many other talents. While her parents wouldn’t let her study art in college at Hofstra University in the 1970s, she did study sociology and went on to become a radio engineer. Deckelman celebrated her Jewish faith, often making it a subject of her creativity. In 2000, she wrote and published a book called “The ‘Final Solution’ is Life: A Chassidic Dynasty’s Story of Survival and Rebuilding.” After returning to school from 2004 to 2007, she took painting courses at Queens College and went on to win an award from the Rockaway Artists Alliance for her oil painting, “Rebbe With Lulov.”

It was at Hofstra that Deckelman met her husband, Paul, in the early 1970s and it wasn’t long before they married. They rarely left each other’s side, until Paul’s unexpected passing in 2018. Having lost her other half, Laura was left devastated. However, she still turned to her second love of photography to seek solace. 

At three years old, Deckelman received her very first camera from her father and she never stopped snapping away. She turned to digital photography in 2009. In addition to using her photos for advocacy efforts, Deckelman had a knack for capturing the simple things that make Rockaway special—surfers, beach life, sunsets, Lisa G’s Zumba classes, memorials like the yearly 9/11 ceremony at Tribute park and the Flight of 587 and beyond. It is those photos, and the memories of the kind, joyful, creative woman who took them, that Rockaway now has to hold on to.

Laura Deckelman was laid to rest on Wednesday, May 6 at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont.

By Katie McFadden

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