I never really got New York. It always seemed to be so fast, and so crazy and everyone seemed just a little full of themselves. Who in their right mind would want to live here, my Midwestern mind would wonder. I’d have a heart attack.
And then I lived in Israel. Where things are faster, crazier and the people more intense.
For two years I struggled and toiled in Israel, dealing with a country where everything seemed to frustrate me. From the people who cut lines to the insane, criminal landlords to sewage and bugs literally coming up from my bathroom floor, there always seemed to be something testing me, pushing me.
For some bizarre reason, most people I knew loved living in Israel. Not just liked… loved. They kept talking about all the amazing things about it, all the wonderful things they experienced, Jews everywhere, etc etc. These were happy people. When I pointed out all the insanity of Israel, all the difficulties, these people gave me a sort of blank stare, as if they didn’t fully understand and then just shrug their shoulders.
I never got it. I never understood. Even when I was finally leaving Israel, after I had finally succeeded in creating an escape plan, I couldn’t understand these people.
The way things worked out, I ended up in New York City. My work, the only reason I was able to make it out of Israel alive, did all its business here, and it was my job to help the operation go smoothly. And so here I was, in New York City. The place I never thought I’d live, and only moved to because I was so desperate to get out of another place. And not just anywhere in New York City. Crown Heights.
If you know anything about Crown Heights, you probably heard all the positives from your Chabad rabbi and all the negatives from just about everyone else. Why did we end up in Crown Heights, even after reading all the comments on COLLive that would make even the craziest New Yorker not want to associate with such a place? Well, the rent was cheap and we had friends here. So, with a lot of trepidation and a little bit of money we made our way into Crown Heights, New York City, the one place I never thought I’d live.
But the truth is like this: after you’ve lived in Israel, New York is nothing. And Crown Heights is a cake walk.
I’m still amazed how no one seems to cut in line here. I mean… no one! The only time I saw someone try was when an Israeli was standing in line at Starbucks.
It’s taken me some time, but I’ve finally started to relax when getting in line and not suspecting anyone walking nearby of trying to cut. I’ve been traumatized, apparently.
And as I’m interviewing people here to work for our company, I’m starting to slowly fall in love with them, with their energy, the way they talk about how they’ll do anything to stay in the city, how they moved here from all over the world just for a chance to experience it. And as our neighbors invite us for Shabbos and I see Mitzvah Tanks leaving 770 for a parade and I’m farbrenging at the Ohel watching yeshiva buchrim dancing and singing their hearts out, I’m falling in love with Crown Heights.
Because the truth is that New York City isn’t so easy if you compare it to the rest of the States. With the money most people make here they could rent or buy a house with a nice white picket fence and a big yard and neighbors that mind their own business. Instead, these people choose to live here, in this crowded metropolis, where they have to rent a small apartment and take the subway with dirty crazy people and get mugged on a regular basis.
And, like the people in Israel, these people just shrug and smile and say they’re in the best place in the world.
Why? Because the sacrifice is worth it. It’s worth it to be around other people as passionate as you, to be in a place buzzing with energy, life and vitality. People are willing to live in a closet if it means they can be in the place that gives them the chance to live the life they want. A life of art, acting, a life near the Rebbe, or whatever other reason they have.
It’s these smiles, and the realization that I’m giving them out myself now, that has helped me understand and appreciate Israel as well. To live in Israel means you refuse to take the easy way in life. It means that, to you, holiness, beauty and Judaism are so essential to your life that you’re willing to give up so much in your life just to live in the one place where you can get that all unfiltered. It means you’re willing to work a janitorial job when you’ve got a master’s in urban planning because it doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you’re there.
We’re not all as holy as that, and some of us have to settle for second best, but I’ll always consider it a gift that I was able to witness those amazing people and that I now get to experience something close to it in New York. Thank G-d.
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