The Zionist Conspiracy
Monday, March 20, 2006
Upper West Side
A friend of mine e-mailed me Godol Hador's recent post about the Upper West Side. I agree with much of, though not all of, GH's analysis. In any event, here are my thoughts about the UWS.
I lived in the UWS for five years, from late 1997 until I got married in late 2002. The other places I have lived are Brooklyn and Queens, and I very strongly prefer the UWS to either of those places. Alas, housing costs are rather high in the UWS, and this blog doesn't pay the bills.
Before moving to the UWS, I attended law school at Columbia, so I had a pretty good idea of what the community was like.
I never really cared much for the UWS singles scene. While I didn't completely avoid the scene, I participated in it very little. This was made easier by the fact that I lived in the West End Avenue/Riverside Drive area, not the Columbus Avenue "dorms" in which hundreds of frum singles reside.
There were two things about the UWS that I liked a lot. The first - having little to do with the Jewish community - was simply all the basic benefits of living in the city: The short commute, the convenience of everything being within walking distance, the energy on the streets at night, the parks.
Before moving to Manhattan, Boro Park was the only place I lived. I remember looking out of my tenth floor apartment on Riverside Drive and watching curiously as people jogged in Riverside Park. Soon I joined them, until pain in my knees, laziness and the fear of dogs that I brought from Boro Park made running only an occasional activity.
The second aspect of the UWS that I especially liked was that the charedim in the UWS are, generally, much more intellectually open, tolerant (at least on the surface) and worldly than those who I have encountered elsewhere. There is little preachiness or self-righteousness, and nor is there much condescension. For better or worse, I never had any misgivings about going to a shiur and then for a drink. Indeed, sometimes, I actually had a few beers after work and went straight to the local Kollel to learn - in retrospect, perhaps not the best idea.
I find shabbos in the UWS to be a unique experience. Maybe it's just me, but walking on Broadway on Friday night or Saturday afternoon when the streets are jammed with people doing all sorts of things on the weekend, while it is shabbos for me, was always a spiritual high.
Paradoxically, since I was never really interested in the singles scene, with the exception of my first and last year on the UWS, I went back to Boro Park the majority of weeks for shabbos.
While I didn't really participate in the UWS singles scene, there is no question that being a single observant Jew is a much different experience in the UWS than elsewhere. When I moved to the UWS, I was 24 and already was feeling some angst about being single and living in Boro Park. Within weeks of moving to Manhattan, that angst largely disappeared. It is probably fair to say that unless dating someone who is pressuring them to get married, one can live in the UWS for years and experience little if any external pressure to get married.
While that is not ideal for a community that so heavily values marriage and children, I think that overall an older single (and "older" can sometimes mean people in their late or even mid-20's) is better off living in the UWS than in a community that makes them feel isolated because they are not married. Those living in the UWS can enjoy a full social life and be active in the community, and not be reminded (in a manner that usually is not positive) about their single status on a routine basis.