I tried to have an open mind, I really did, Far Rockaway cant be that bad can it? I mean aesthetically its reminiscent of my college which was probably designed by the same people that designed prisons in Siberia, but who cares about architecture, if you even want to call the drab that exists in Far Rockaway. A few older nicer looking homes are here and there, hidden by vast pine trees and one really odd placed bamboo forest, but the bulk of Far Rockaway is plain old unpleasing to the eye, but lets not get too negative.
It’s cheaper to live there and as a result it has seen an influx of ultra orthodox Jews over the years, the black and white variety are most common, at least from I have seen so far. Besides for being a bedroom community, or a wannabe mix of suburbia and urban settings devoid of any cultural or interesting things to do, it provides housing and community for a large community Jews.
I am not fond of cut off areas in general and Far Rockaway is cut off from most things, yes you could walk to the subway which can put you into the city without a car, but within walking distance there is exactly one item which one could call entertaining, even though to me its not, that is the beach. The entertainment district which is made up of kosher restaurants and wig shops is a long strip of shops called Central Avenue, and although everyone has told me it has everything you could ever want, I have yet to find a book shop or a nice coffee shop besides for Starbucks – which started to sell instant coffee, leading me to the conclusion that holding the Starbucks cup wont do anything for your social status anymore, unless you hang around teeny boppers who wouldn’t know the difference between Jamaican Blue Mountain and Folgers.
However despite all of these negative connotations I understand why people live in Far Rockaway, it is close enough to the city to get to work and go out, yet far enough to be relatively cheap while providing a Jewish community complete with schools, shuls and yeshivas. I don’t know how my father could move from there from the happening life of the upper west side, but he seems relatively satisfied, because I think he misses the nonconformist shul situation on the upper west side, he complained today about having to wear his suit jacket with his Talis, I told him to take it off, but my father the political rabble rouser said that he didn’t want to stand out. I can just imagine him donning a black hat next, despite the fact he rants like a lunatic about how when he was in Lakewood only the roshei yeshiva wore black hats.
So I tried to keep an open mind, I didn’t want to stay in Far Rockaway for shabbos, I would have preferred to be in Albany or Washington Heights or anywhere more entertaining, but I haven’t seen my old man in a few months so I stayed.
My fathers Friday night shul choice is the Shulitzer or something like that. Its just up the block, it seems that everything in Far Rockaway is “just up the block”. As was expected I was the only one in a colored shirt, until a late straggler with a blue shirt walked in and we locked eyes and resisted the temptation to hug each other as if we had met at Elis Island and ask each other “how they ended up here?” we casually nodded and I went back to listening to my dad tell me that the shul already started bugging him for membership money even though he has only been there a few times.
It wasn’t one of those shuls where rude kids with peyos sit and stare at the “shaigetz” without a suit and a hat, it wasn’t unfriendly and wasn’t friendly, it was do your own thing. My father introduced me to one of his friends whom he knows from the old country. In this case the old country means that they used to hang out in the “Bullshit room” which is this room that was in the back of Sfardishe Shul in Borough Park. We made nice which means, he asked me where I was from and what I did, then went back to davening.
Right before maariv, this older man whom my father had been schmoozing with turns to my father and just so I could hear, he says in a stern voice.
“Let me ask you a question, would your son dress like that if he would go visit president Obama?”
“How can you let your son dress like that to shul?”
For all of your information I was wearing a dress shirt, dress pants and dress shoes.
As you can imagine I was shocked and extremely angry at the rudeness of this individual. I held my anger in and told him that where I come from people don’t care what you dress like, they are just happy to see that you are in shul. I also mentioned that he had no way of knowing that I was religious or if I had driven to shul and that if I were not religious he would probably have just caused me to reject religion all together. Then it was maariv and he wasn’t listening anyway, everyone of course turned to me and made “sh” sounds and said “nu maariv”.
I am not an angry person, I rarely get angry but this guy pissed me off so much. I started debating what I should do next. I leaned to my dad and said I was having a hard time not telling the guy to [email protected]#$ himself, I would have done it, and have done it and my father would have secretly been proud, but I decided against it and simply left early – after telling my father that this is one of the reasons I dislike New Yorkers.
Of course my negativity didn’t last long for my buddies house was filled with old friends talking about chicks and bluegrass music. Oh and I should mention that the food was insane, my one problem with Dallas is that while the food is good – not many people know how to make heimishe food, I know, you can lambaste me for saying that, but people in Dallas just don’t know how to make kugel.
For starters we had this phenomenal salmon, with several salads and packaged salads. The soup was a perfect match of carrots, sweet potato and onions which needed no spices at all. For the main course, I and everyone around the table was impressed with the meat, schnitzel, potato kugel, carrot muffins and string beans with almond slivers in a light tomato paste.
After the meal I joined my friends at the shul/yeshiva if Mordechai Groener who was having an oneg. We got there during a speech and naturallu sat at the end of this absurdly long and narrow table, I am a huge fan of onegs by the way, although I was disappointed to find that no women were present and there were none of those vanilla cookies with sprinkles that pratically every oneg shabbos has.
The Rabbi or shall I say Rebbe was wearing a spudick, I’m a huge fan of Spudicks, they are just so pimp looking, they also make the wearer look fat no matter how skinny they happen to be. I drank some sprite and listened to the pimpin rebbe with the tall spudick. He spoke up a couple of times about us stragglers in the back who were talking. Then he related this vort which totally related to my situation earlier that night.
He said that many people would look at us guys on the end of the table who were not paying attention to the rebbes speech and scoff at them with comments like how could they come here and disturb, they just came for the booze whatever. But his view as I have found with most open minded Chassidim was that at least these guys who could be doing a number of different things on a Friday night at 10pm had trudged out of their homes to sit and hear words of torah and sing a little. Good stuff, I instantly liked the guy.
At some point after he learned my name, he was sitting over 100 feet down the table and I was on the opposite end he pointed at me and gave me the sign to come on down to the front. I sat right in front and suddenly someone said “oh my God its frum satire” and the next thing I know this hefty yeshivish guy is hugging me and thanking me for bringing joy into his life, the attention was a little much for me but I felt good and started to wonder if making people laugh is a mitzvah, then I realized that the entire front end section were all fans.
This guy from the Mir started talking about this video I did in Pomegranate grocery store in Brooklyn, and this dude who owns a janitorial supply company started talking about lulav shaking – he said that his life a little easier with my videos – a big honor I thought – now if only they started throwing beautiful girls at me I’d be set. I had a little chat with the Rebbe about my evening and left with a warm feeling in my heart.
The next day I asked my old man if we could go to the White Shul, I figured it would have a decent Kiddush because it was relatively big and that there may be some women to look at over the mechitza. I was wrong on both accounts, but I saw two people I knew so that was interesting.
My father pretty much switches off between young Israel and the White Shul, I think he hates them both, but needs a little diversity – in the upper west side you have a bunch of whacked out shuls and shteiblach to the point that most upper west siders do not stick to one shul ever. Shul hopping is more than acceptable it’s the norm.
The White Shul is classic late 1950s shul architecture and is ugly as sin. It looks like a Midwestern church from the outside and inside it looks like a wrestling ring with a balcony. The women sit upstairs and although the mechitza is low and should provide a good view, the windows are situated at the perfect angle in which the sun shines through and creates silhouettes out of the women thereby allowing you to see black figurines which are almost better then nothing at all.
Everyone in Far Rockaway is gung ho about the rabbi at the White Shul, even my dad likes his speaking. The rabbi spoke very well, but it was painful to listen to because his voice sounds fake, it also sounded as if he was holding his breath for a long time – but his speech rocked. All I remember from the speech is that he spoke about his favorite movie growing up which was Ferris Buelers Day Off, and his jaunt to ben yehuda for the first time in his life. It was a very interesting speech which I don’t recall having anything to do with the parsha or torah theme at all, but I was riveted which is totally weird because rabbis sermons are anything but riveting.
Since there was no view of any women I left shul for laining and wandered around, I found a Russian minyan and several empty rooms before I happened upon the library which had several kids reading books in it. The library was great, tons of books and even what one may call “socialist Yiddish” section of a bunch of historical type books published by random Hebrew Theological societies. I found a book on the history of the lower east side from 1880-1920 and it was super interesting, I brought it into shul and sat down with it.
After shul there wads a Kiddush, but it was lame. The only redeeming quality of the Kiddush was that they had tam tams and cream herring, it seems that the inventor of tam tams made these crackers for a shidduch with herring for I could never figure out why else they were made as octagons if only to scoop herring out of hard to fit in jars. Besides that it was shvach, it was even more displeasing due to the fact that every week in Dallas there is a hot Kiddush with cholent, and the cholent in Dallas is phenomenal.
We walked home and I had lunch with my new family which was weird but not as awkward as I thought, its kind of odd to have step sisters that are half my age and to see my dad at a real table with clothing on. Actually I haven’t even asked my dad yet how he feels to not be able to walk around in underwear anymore, now that women are in the house. I just miss the old situation, but I must say that Far Rockaway has some conveniences all of which have to do with parking spots and a high concentration of relatively cheap restaurants, while the upper west side had none. I will be hanging around the area for another month or so, if anyone wants to hang out – just email me.
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My first shabbos in Dallas
Guide to saying good shabbos