I firmly believe that God knows the future and I’ll tell you how I came to this belief, it all has to do with my father moving to Far Rockway. It’s hard to imagine the horror I felt when my father decided to give up our beloved apartment on the upper west side and move to Far Rockaway, a place so terrible that I cringe thinking of spending any amount of time beyond what it takes to fulfill the obligation of honoring my father. But God saw all of this, he pushed me to start this here blog and he knew that despite the boring, culture free place that Far Rockaway is – he knew that I would find the local wildlife really entertaining and I do. Far Rockaway is a yeshivish community that isn’t quite Queens, isn’t quite Long Island and isn’t quite anywhere, but what’s most important is that it’s cheap and apparently some people think it’s “out of townish” which means that some strangers may say good shabbos to you on the street.
To say I hate Far Rockaway would be a bit extreme, I don’t hate anywhere, every place has something to offer me. Far Rockaway does have the beach and if walking along a syringe filled beach in the back of high rise housing projects isn’t your thing – you can walk across the Atlantic Beach Drawbridge to the Long Beach and hang out with the Guido’s and abercombie yeshiva rebels there.
“God knew Heshy wouldn’t be able to handle visiting his father in Far Rockaway and knew that making him a frum social critic would be the only chance for him to keep up a relationship with his Father” Sefer RaHaF chapter 14:9
When I lived in Far Rockaway it didn’t seem all too interesting, I would go with my old man to the White Shul on shabbos morning, eat herring, try to see if there any hotties (I have never seen a single girl over the age of 16 in Far Rockaway) and go home dejected for there were no cool places to walk to on shabbos afternoon, but when I moved to the Bay Area things changed, like many things viewed from afar, the frum community is funnier when you don;t have to be a part of it, when you aren’t invested in mainstream frumkeit it becomes entertaining again, less negative and just plain old amazing. So this past shabbos when I stayed in Far Rockaway, I felt like my old self again, able to look at the community through my “woa there’s a guy with a hat, so cool” eyes that I haven’t has since I moved out of Albany 3 years ago.
Everything frummy takes on a new meaning when you don’t live in the regular frum community (I live in a frum community, but I’m usually the only FFB around and the local communities are not mainstream by any standards) The first thing I noticed in the Young Israel of Far Rockaway this past Friday night was the inordinate amount of hockers and aspiring hockers. It seemed that half the shul was made up of guys in pimp looking suites, designer frame glasses, loud mouths and hatzoloh walkie- talkies.
I also saw something which I have never seen before, I saw a 55 year old hocker in a wheelchair, I swear this guy knew everyone and everything. He was one of those goes that spent as much time looking around and staring at people (hockers tend to stare at people, look around and nod a lot) he was one of those fellows that sits in a wheel chair but uses his feet Flintstones style to move around. I just had no idea that hocker society allowed handicaps to enter their crew.
The man sitting behind me was also a bit of a hocker, maybe a macher, or maybe just someone who everyone wanted to talk to. Every 30 seconds or so, someone would walk up to him and they would do one of those super long unmoving handshakes that accompany every inquiry into great places to lease a car and the latest yeshiva credit card hock (Starwood resorts is the chofetz chaim hock of the year).
The Young Israel of Far Rockaway is one of those modern orthodox shuls of yesteryear that has since become yeshivish black hat. The rabbi has a long white beard and black hat (he’s a good guy, my father says so – which is a good thing considering the fact he says rabbis of today are a bunch of amartzim) The downstairs woman’s sections are used predominantly by men wishing to relive their pre-sex change status by davening mincha there. Almost everyone in the shul wears a black hat and unlike many still modern orthodox Young Israel’s, the people here pronounce davening with Suf’s rather than Tuf’s.
They happened to be having a Carlebach shabbos this past week and I started to think about the recent adoption of the Carlebach kabalas shabbos davening by the black hat world. It’s been done for years by the modern orthodox movement, but suddenly I have started seeing yeshivish places sing these same tunes and even bust out the post lecha dodi round the bimah circle, but I have my reservations and my theories as to why the yeshivish community loves to screw up Carlebach tunes.
You see Carlebach is one of those people that the yeshivish world doesn’t know how to approach, similar in fact to Hirsch and The Rav, they acknowledge their good deeds, yet wonder how to take from them without daring compare them to any sort of gadol. Carlebach is an interesting case, he is probably the most successful chabad shaliach ever, thousands of people have become frum due directly to Shlomo Carlebachs unorthodox practices, especially the drugs and sex from the Bay Area years (since moving to the Bay, I have met lots of frummies who became frum in some way due to the House of Love and Prayer, though they decline to tell me what went on there) but, the yeshivish world and pretty much every sect within Judaism cannot help but acknowledge Carlebach as the king of Jewish music, almost every popular tune for davening is from Carlebach and this is the dilemma for a group of people that has come to terms that God can give gifts to “evil” people (I have unfortunately heard that one multiple times)
Regardless, I was impressed that a black hat shul in Far Rockaway, a place as far as you can get from any sort of Carlebach type people (if I were a chabadnick I would be afraid of Far Rockaway, it has that much spirit) would have a great chazzan who sang the niggunim passionately and even have a post lecha dodi bimah dance.
My minhag is to walk out of shul after lecha dodi, this will be explained in a later post, so I walk out of shul and immediately see an old classmate of mine, we’re shooting the shit and this other random dude not really a hocker, but a hatzoloh guy nonetheless wishes me a mazel tov (he saw my facebook status about my brothers wedding) and tells me to write about the back section talking spot. The area, in the Young Israel of Far Rockaway where the siddurim are located is a haven for talking, so much that a woman walked by wondering allowed why we were talking – she didn’t look at us, I wanted to say, because we were all a bunch of skeptics who came to shul for social reasons and not really to daven – but she left before I could.
On the walk home, my father and I were stuck behind two guys reminiscing of their drug abusing days at Priority One (rehab for frum kids) They were talking about all the pills they used to take, they wouldn’t ask and they would just pop em it was interesting. Far Rockaway happens to be full of yeshiva screw ups (this is a term to talk about disenfranchised yeshiva guys who are at varrying stages of unintellectual off the derechness) lazy orthodox you may say, there are apartment houses filled with “bums” as the yeshiva world likes to call them.
You can hem and haw about the off the derech yeshiva guy issue of Far Rockaway but it comes with the baal teshuva territory, you see the children of baalei teshuva have a much bigger chance of going off the derech than regular old FFB kids, there are lots of reasons and this may be for another time, but take a look at any large off the derech community and you will see a lot of BT parents, Far Rockaway, Monsey and Baltimore come to mind.
When I was living in Far Rockaway I didn’t find it interesting at all, someone recently asked me if I could blog about a community I wasn’t living in and my response was that my favorite writing had always come to me when I wasn;t in the community. I started blogging when I lived in Albany and when I lived in New York (you folks realized that I spent 8 months in NYC in my entire adult life) I could never really find interesting stuff, because what you see everyday takes on a normalcy that doesn’t make it cool to write about.
Why do you hate Far Rockaway?
Far Rockaway is on the edge of Queens, it is mildly subruban looking and surrounded by highway, beach inlet and ghetto, there is really only one way out and it is frequently jammed (I do like that they have repaved the Nassau Expressway)
There is no mass transit, unless you count the A train which takes over an hour before it drops you off anywhere you can walk without getting shot, this may be one of the reasons why there are so many yeshiva screw ups in various stages of off the derech drug addiction living in Far Rockaway and Bayswater, there really is nothing to do. You need a car to leave and it still takes forever to get anywhere worth going.
It is in the direct path of JFK airport making for a noisy place, at least it;s easy to get to the airport.
It is not s diverse place, there is the ghetto and there are Jews, not much else. The Jews tend to be of the black hat variety, not that this is bad, but in the diversity department Far Rockaway is severely lacking (the Jews there tend to like that though)
There is no arts or culture, none, zilch, zero. You have to go to Brooklyn for that.Again, the population doesn’t strike me as the type to enjoy the symphony, art shows and readings. This is purely my reason for disliking the place, or location of the place.
The people are boring, you have to figure if they are willing to forgo the joys of life, music, outdoors, culture and good food – they can’t be too entertaining. Granted I have old friends that live there, but not all of my good friends are into those things.
It’s aesthetically displeasing, I’m an aesthetics guy, I like my food to be pretty, I like wild gardens in the front of homes and I like nicely molded cornices on my roofs. Imagine major development with no trees and urban griminess – trying to be suburbia but can’t pull it off – although I will give it to you that those streets in back of Shar Yashuv are nice.
So why on earth would anyone live in Far Rockaway?
You have to understand that these are my own views, the view of someone who wants to be really close to everything cultural and outdoors and have the ability to socialize with a variety of Jewish types, not just ultra orthodox. I don’t even think there’s a reform, conservative or open orthodox shul in Far Rockaway.
Far Rockaway is like an affordable Brooklyn, it’s a very young community, there are loads of young couples. You can get a 4 bedroom apartment for $2000 a month, you can;t do that anywhere else in the city, besides for Bayswater (just across the ghetto and completely surrounded by ghetto)
Far Rockaway is nicer than Brooklyn, this seems to be the gauge of out of town status, nice enough not to shove you off the sidewalk when we walk past?
Many of the folks who live there became frum through Shar Yashuv and they want to remain in that community regardless of the cultural mesiras nefesh.
There is a tremendous amount of learning and loads of opportunities to do so, I myself would even voluntarily go to Rabbi Groeners to learn when I was off on weeknights. One of my biggest complaints about the Bay Area is that there is no open beis medrish situation with chavrusas standing by.
Did I mention that it’s really cheap to live there?
It is a small and densely populated area making everything especially schools really accessible.