Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Go West, Young Jew

2011 started rough. Then I went to LA, and life became beautiful.

It wasn't because of the weather, although stepping up from 15° to 80° was pretty much okay by me.

It wasn't because I managed to miss the flat tire and clogged main drain that popped up, so to speak, in my absence. Although that was okay too.

It wasn't even because of Fish Grill, where fish tacos became a reality for me, or the All American Sausage Company, where no one but the handful of Jewish diners realizes -- or cares -- that the food they're eating is kosher.

But that last one does begin to explain.

See, aside from its relatively low-pressure atmosphere and relatively great weather, there isn't much that Los Angeles has to offer that New York doesn't. Unless you're a Jew and prefer a variegated, warm, welcoming community. Which is to say, unless living in New York has utterly drained you of any hope that such an animal exists. And if so: SNAP OUT OF IT! And get out of New York. It can be done.

There's just something heartwarming -- no, elating -- about having Shabbat dinner with over a dozen Jews, most younger, some older, some with velvet kippot, some with no kippot, around a small table in a small apartment without enough chairs. Singing kiddush together, sharing divrei Torah, wandering to an oneg Shabbat at someone else's place on the other side of the neighborhood -- it's what New York could have been, and may have been, but assuredly no longer is.

And more's the pity. Because between the high pressure, bad weather, and isolationist Jewish community[ies], it's very difficult to rationalize living in New York. Unless, of course, you work in finance or are striving to correct chronically low blood pressure.

LA isn't exactly a no pressure place. And it's kinda smoggy, has atrocious traffic, and trumped NYC as 2010's rudest city in America. But it's a place where all Jews can fit under the umbrella, and none are left out to get wet. And that's a beautiful thing.


  1. Hmmm... your experience sounds great..... but aren't you generalizing about both NYC and LA based on your personal experience?

  2. I miss California... I want to move there, and your Shabbat table story is making it worse :(

  3. @Irina: Yes -- my personal experience as a religious centrist whose Shabbat adventures must be pursued on foot only. There's no big tent among NY Jews as there is in other locales. Here you belong either to one segment of the 'community' or to another; some people manage to straddle two segments, and there may be a few places (and a few people) that welcome Jews of all stripes. But that should be the rule, not the exception. The Jewish community here, such as it is, SUCKS on a grand scale.

    @Aliza: Yeah... sigh. I'm not a Californiophile but, man, it blows NY out of the water in every way.

  4. Was this your first trip to the west coast? Have you had experiences in other "out of town" Jewish communities? You should travel more often: outside of New York, Judaism is a whole different ballgame--and generally a more pleasant one, in my opinion.

    So when are you going to leave New York forever?

  5. What do you think can be done to create that big tent atmosphere in NY?

    Since it's a big issue, then we should be working on fixing it, rather than fleeing from it, no?

  6. @Ella: Basically, yes. And, sadly, not really. I know New York is an island of Jewish dysfunction. The question has always been one of where else to go instead.

    @Irina: Given the sheer size of NY Jewry, the entirely divided nature of its constituent communities, and the tendency of each of these communities to take itself and its own philosophies very seriously and reject the legitimacy of other philosophies and the people who embrace them... I think nothing can be done, and I fully intend to flee to a place where Jewish anti-brotherhood is not so firmly entrenched.

    NY's only hope is for today's young Jewish parents to teach tomorrow's young Jews tolerance and respect for all fellow Jews, and to teach it by example. I do not know of a single Jewish community in New York that does this -- many that claim to, but not a single one that actually does.

    Shavua tov!


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