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My first trip to New York in 2 years

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new york traffic jamThe last time I was in New York it was for sheva brachos, that was the last time I saw most of my friends and family (besides for the tech folks who come for work and the outdoors folks that come to do outdoorsy things) in fact, my father hasn’t actually seen my wife and I together since the sheva brachos. The company I work for(Epic Bites), was hired to do multiple ultra high end (aka michelin lite) fundraiser dinners in New York. The work was intense and didn’t allow a lot of time for visiting friends or old haunts, but it gave me a taste of how New York has changed or rather how I may have changed in the past 2 years.

One of the things I instantly noticed was how I no longer feared that some unforeseen circumstance would force me to stay in New York and leave my norcal paradise. I’m settled and happy in California and that allowed me to be happy in NY. Ironically, it was the first time in my entire adult life that I’ve visited New York City and not hated it, I didn’t instantly become an angry Anti-Semite like I normally do. I became a tourist and watched the frum community with a special curiosity, without the hate that I once knew.

Of course, I was stuck working 12-15 hour days for most of the time and that didn’t allow me to sit in traffic jams and experience NY in all of its gritty glory. From Wednesday through Tuesday morning I was confined to Far Rockaway and Lawrence. Not exactly destinations, but places that friends, family, and work called me to. The people weren’t as rude as I remembered them, the people weren’t as frum as I remembered them either, it was an interesting experience.

It was the first time in many moons that I was surrounded by frum Yidden who weren’t extreme in any fashion. In my neck of the woods they’re either super left wing or super intense Baalei Teshuva. I suddenly missed being able to shoot the shit with regular guys who grew up going to yeshiva, were married to women who wore sheitles but you could throw down an F-bomb without receiving blank stares. Guys who wanted to eat cholent on the weekdays and hang out in the lobby during laining. Even at shul on shabbos, I had this tinge of worry, that the only person in my community that I could real get down with was my wife. Yes, I like the impassioned BT’s pushing me to new levels of cult membership, but I miss the down to earth FFB’s. It seems that I’m surrounded by converts and BT’s and all too serious about life FFB’s. In my shul, every black hatter is either an impassioned serious FFB or a Rabbi.

What’s important to me is that my life isn’t perfect, I used to think that New York had nothing to offer me. Everyone kind of hates where they grew up. Besides for a social life, I noticed that I had missed free plastic bags or plastic bags at all. I hate paying 10 cents for a bag, I also noticed and was a bit shocked that many people don’t recycle, but after a while I started missing the nonchalance of garbage. I missed being able to have one big garbage can without being yelled at for throwing my banana peel in the wrong container. I missed the quickness of walking in New York, I’m always the fastest walker out here, but in NY people were passing me all the time.

One of the things I missed the most was black people, where I live it’s all Mexicans and Vietnamese. Yes, the Bay Area is super diverse, but once you get out of Oakland, you don’t have much of an African American culture and I loved riding the train, walking from Far Rockaway to Bayswater and seeing that.

I missed hearing political arguments at the shabbos table. In New York people love bashing Obama constantly and it was quite enjoyable. The anger and vitriol surrounding the apparently Communist mayor and the general adherance to Rush and Savage is alarming but really fun.

I miss talking in shul. In my shul, the Israelis sometimes talk, but no one else does. In many parts of NY, talking is more commonplace than davening. I admit it, I’d rather talk than daven. I also loved that random people show up to kiddush and that there are tons of people just hanging out in the lobby and not davening. Like you can go to shul and never actually step foot in shul.

I miss marveling at women in mini skirts and sheitles, even in LA it’s not so commonplace. I also miss modern orthodox people who are actually modern orthodox. In my neck of the woods much of the folks who identify as modox are actually conservative or reform folks who belong to an orthodox shul. I miss modox folks who aren’t liberals.

So yes, I miss things, I won’t go into the things I don’t miss or that I never noticed, like the high prices of groceries, alcohol, and car insurance. Or the filth and uninteresting-ness of east coast frum people, but overall it was an enjoyable experience. I especially loved walking around my old neighborhood (Upper West Side) and seeing that some of my friends have really achieved self actualization.

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  • http://YeahThatsKosher.com Dani Klein

    Heshy – you hit the nail on the head for the reasons I love and hate living in the NYC area. I also think your lack of vitriol for NY Jews from this trip may stem from the fact of where you where (UWS / 5 Towns) vs. central Brooklyn, Lakewood, Monsey, etc. It’s telling that you spent most of your time in modox areas, no?

  • Batya Medad

    Heshy, like it or not. You’re a NYer. You just need your “space.”

  • frum single female

    Cool. Sometimes it takes distance from somewhere to appreciate it. I am glad that you have found a community that you feel more comfortable in .