Shabbos in Washington Heights

When the clock struck 4:45 pm I knew I was in trouble and silently cursed my computer for being stuck in central time from Dallas. I was running an hour late and there was no way in hell that I was going to get into Brooklyn Heights, in fact I dreaded the thought of having to turn back and go to Far Rockaway, or having to spend shabbos in Queens, no offense to Queens but it just doesn’t have such shabbos appeal, especially warm sunny shabbos appeal. Unlike Brooklyn and Manhattan, Queens has no parks, no Saturday afternoon street performers, or beautiful girls in spandex running down the street.

I made some quick calculations after the second traffic update and decided that Brooklyn would never happen and I would wind up abandoning my car in the middle of some ghetto neighborhood and have to violate shabbos anyway because I would never leave my keys and wallet in the car. The only logical place was Manhattan, I made a quick call to my buddy in Washington Heights and I was on my way, screaming along at 70 miles per hour down the Grand Central Expressway which is riddled with potholes and concrete fault lines.

Out of all the neighborhoods in New York, Washington Heights looks the best on paper for a single guy like myself, but when all is said and done – the lack of available parking would probably keep me away forever, in fact I had already cheshvaned out the money for the Staples parking garage – because finding a spot on Friday afternoon in the Heights is next to impossible. I passed by people sitting in their cars at fire hydrants, occupants ready picking their nose and ready to pounce the second those coveted backing up lights went on.

It was as if God had wanted me to save my money and have a happy start to shabbos by granting me a parking spot right in front of my friend’s house on 186th and Bennett. Of course I had to pull a middle of the street u-turn which is no easy feet on a side street in the heights. I got in, and could see the envy in several people’s eyes. It was 5:20 and I had 14 minutes to spare for a shower and dressing for shul.

Washington Heights provides a different experience for me then it does for most people and this is because I don’t really know any of the “singles” in the heights. My friend who I stay by lives in the Bruers kehilla building with his mom. The Kehilla Building located at 100 Bennet is the epitome of membership dues. You can move into a 2 bedroom apartment for thirty grand which is a fraction of the market value, but you must sign a contract to stay for 20 years and if you don’t, the money made of the sale goes back to the kehilla.

One of the reasons I like spending shabbos in Washington Heights so much is because there are just so many good looking girls to look at in shul. The mechitza at the main shul Mt Sinai – which is probably the only reason people actually moved to the heights in the first place – is situated in a way that forces you to look at the girls. Everyone faces each other and makes eyes at each other, the sexual tension is unbelievable, and this is all before the big scene which is really the only reason people even come to shul.

Mt Sinai is one of the few shuls I have been to which does not need to make a Kiddush, people simply hang around no matter what, sometimes for hours. My big problem with going to My Sinai is that I don’t really know anyone and therefore look like a pedophile at a playground, just standing around looking at the girls but feeling left out for no one is going to know if I am a guest or not.

My friend grudgingly agree to go with me to shul whenever I show up in the heights and that is only because I regale him with tales of all the hot girls we will meet and take home. This never happens of course, but the fantasy is enough to drag his ass out to shul, if only to meet me at the end so that we can strategically place ourselves at a good vantage point for girl viewing. Luckily this past Friday night a couple people actually recognized me and before long I had a little circle of my own, I felt kind of cool, besides for the fact that the two people I had met were married, so I didn’t get any behind the mechitza action, but I got to stand around in a group and feel cool while socializing in the social hall at Mt Sinai.

For the past three shabbosim Mt Sinai has hosted the American Rabbi competition, in which three YU type of fellows tried out for the glorious title of Mt Sinai Jewish Center Rabbi. Through guts and glory, sermons and shiurim, the three competed for the gold and through a survey and other factors I was not privy to, a rabbi will be chosen to lead this shul of transient folks who never plan on staying longer than three years after marriage at which point they will take up residence in Teanack or Riverdale.

This past Friday night, a beardless kid got up to give a speech about the pronunciation of parshas zacher or was it zaycher? He took two minor jabs at Bruers, their political rivals down the block and he made us laugh a bit. I learned that later that night there would be a Q and A session with the Rabbi trying out, I imagined an all out hock session while we ate rainbow cakes and drank mayim chayim ginger ale.

After a meal in which my friend and his mom talked about my father in the old days, we went back to Mt Sinai for what I expected to be the shlugging up hock fest but was soon disappointed when the Rabbi was asked pre-written questions which were received via email. None of the questions were all that interesting to tell you the truth, questions like what’s your favorite band or flavor of Ben and Jerry’s were not to be asked. Instead, typical modern orthodox philosophy questions like how large should your white knitted yarmulke be and whether or not we should have women dance with the torahs on simchas torah were asked. In fact the only questions which I think anyone cared about were the one’s concerning women, I was also pretty interested, considering the fact that the Heights has been getting progressively more left wing as the lack of funds have forced those seeking the upper west side type of community have been forced to Little Dominican Republic while the more frum people have been going to places like Far Rockaway and Kew Garden Hills.

The prospective rabbi said that shul policy was currently that a torah was placed in the women’s section on a table, but that he wouldn’t be against the women dancing with the torah. I don’t even understand what the big deal is, is anyone really against dancing with the torah? Its not like a woman carrying a torah is that sexy, it really isn’t sexy at all, but for women these issues are huge, and I think if I were a woman it would be as well – because lets face it when you aren’t apart of something you want to be and why shouldn’t they be apart of it? Its not like its against halacha or anything, its just not recommended as they say nowadays when they don’t want to give you a concrete answer.

The only other issue that was raised which seemed to captivate the crowd was the issue of the eruv. The Washington Heights eruv is very controversial because the ruling class of Jews didn’t want it there and felt threaten by this new tribe of young and modern Jews. The eruv went up anyway and although the Bruers community doesn’t hold of it, it was a big deal regardless because “how could someone just come in and put up and eruv against our will?” No idea why anyone wouldn’t want an eruv in their community, although they may have ulterior motives such as the knowledge that lack of an eruv keeps the women at home with the children and the singles from really taking over the community of which they have already.

Am I the only one that thinks a pulpit Rabbi should have a beard? The longer and whiter the better!

They had these amazing mint cookies at the oneg and I was downing them as I talked with someone whom I was acquainted with through writing, one of the creators and I chatted, while I made eyes with one of the people who was a big honcho at the shul, no idea what her name was, but for some reason I could not help but stare every time she brought another item into the back room, pathetic, I know – but I was hoping maybe by some 1 in a million chance, she would catch my eyes come over and ask me out, only in my dreams.

The next day I made it to shul just in time for the end of musaf, perfect, I didn’t have to listen to the speech but I was in time enough to take part in the scene that goes on after shul. Regardless of whether there are trays of stale stella dora cookies and fish balls with toothpicks in them, these people come to shul for the after shul party. I wouldn’t even go to daven at Mt Sinai, I would go to chabad or one of the shteiblach in the area and then come out for the singles scene afterwards. Mt Sinai is way too hot, cramped everyone looks at you when you walk in. The only redeeming factors of the shul besides for see-through mechitzas are the full wall porcelain urinals in the men’s bathrooms which remind me of the old riverside park bathrooms in which homeless people called their home.

My meal plans fell through because the guy I was staying by’s brother didn’t end up at the same shul and so I seeked out alternative options. I found this one fellow bloger I knew and asked for a meal invite which he promptly got me with the people he was eating by.

I don’t think I have ever eaten at a frummy household that had milchigs on shabbos, it just doesn’t exist. In fact, I have a feeling that milchigs is served on shabbos because it goes against the frummies in general with their meat potatoes approach and brings more reasoning and liberalism into the picture. Think about it, milchigs is so much more peaceful and liberal than cholent and kugel, the colors besides for brown. According to pretty much everyone, the rabbi who was the best was the one that I had witnessed, people though he was most honest and knowing, I still thought he needed a beard.

My table was comprised up of one of the most seemingly diverse groups of people. Three rabbinical students from three different yeshivot as anyone who says they are a rabbinical student would say. In my world rabbinical students are older and always more knowledgeable then these three, or maybe its all the fancy yeshivish lingo that traditional smicha students use. Not one time did I hear any of these three use words like Grada, Teitch or Mimayla, something was definitely up. These three rabbinical students hailed from the three streams straddling the line of Modern orthodoxy, there was one rabbinical student from Yeshiva Chovevei Torah, Yeshiva University and Jewish Theological Seminary. When the JTS guy was playing Jewish Geography with someone and mentioned that this girl was in his gemara class with him I caught myself from making any weird, ignorant yeshiva guy comments, I held in my comments, even though I find nothing wrong with women learning gemara with guys, I was still taken aback at the thought of my rosh yeshiva giving a coed shiur in Sanhedrin.

Just because I knock people who serve milchigs on shabbos doesn’t mean it sucked, in fact the meal was quite good and being that the person we ate by lived out of the eruv, no one has to bring him anything – free food my brothers. The whole wheat lasagna, sesame soy sauce-ish asparagus and the lentil soup were memorable, everyone was having this hoighty toity chat about cheese which I totally zoned out for, and the second challah cut was great while the first I found to be terrible and laughed at the fact that everyone besides me had paused and then all at once proclaimed their love of the challah. I came up with this whole conspiracy theory about the fact that people always have to compliment the baker of the challah no matter how poor it tastes. Kind of like complimenting the mother of an ugly child, it must be done no matter what. Luckily we soon found out that the challah was store bought and we could live in peace with our lies.

For about ten minutes I eyed the last piece of lasagna and when I figured that no one else wanted it I went in for the kill. I watched the hosts eyes because I figured he wanted it considering that he looked at it several times but didn’t make a move fearing exactly what I was fearing. I don’t remember how it came up, but someone said something and I said I wanted it and then he came out and said that there was more in the kitchen. Got me thinking all about the mannerisms of people when its comes to the last piece, some people will take the whole thing, others like me will cut it in what seems like half but is really larger than half and leave a small piece, others will take the smaller piece while some will cut off corners until whatever it is they were saving for others is completely gone.

The host benched with chavoray, and the meal was done, if someone would have said that all the rabbinical students were from YCT or JTS I wouldn’t have been able to tell, then again all three of them seemed quite liberal and not willing to make argue with each other. That is my one problem with liberals; they are too nice to get into good shabbos table arguments. They always seem to agree with one another and keep up their level of tolerance unless you happen to be a republican, then of course they can break with tradition and force their views upon you. This all coming from me the social liberal by the way.

The three bloggers I met over shabbos get shout outs I met the people who blog at Yeah Thats Kosher (kosher travel blog) Bargain Jewess and Boro Park Pyro. I met a fourth but I totally forgot which blog she runs, since she rarely updates.