Where I’m From
Your Brooklyn is different from my Brooklyn. Both of our Brooklyns have 2.6 million people. They both contain many different cultures and ethnicities. It is ironic that its motto from the original Dutch settlers is Eendraght Maeckt Maght, or “Unity Gives Strength.” Brooklyn has so many groups that unity is nearly nonexistent. It’s more like peaceful parallelism than harmony.
You have Music Hall of Williamsburg and I have Satmar of Williamsburg. You have Paul Auster and I have Reb Ahron Shechter. You have Greenpoint, Park Slope, Gowanus, and Dumbo. I have Flatbush and Borough Park. You have cafes, coffee shops, jazz bars, dive bars, martini bars, strip clubs, and bowling clubs. I have the Seven-Eleven on Avenue M, and if I’m a “bum,” the Starbucks on 65th street. You have new and used book stores. I have Judaica stores selling seforim, mezuzahs, and yarmulkes.
Recreation is not a word in my vernacular. I have a roadmap for my life plotted out for me even before I was born: Go to Yeshiva. Stay in Yeshiva. Sleep in Yeshiva. Get married. Bills? Marry rich and your in-laws will provide. You have opportunities. Ivy League. Liberal Arts. Two-year, four-year colleges. Trade schools. Me? Bachelors in Talmudic Law. Touro College if I receive rabbinical permission. Brooklyn College if I’m rebellious.
You want to be a self made man? What are you, a Protestant? My Rabbi leaned back into his chair and rubbed his eyes.
Brooklyn is seen nowadays as a city teeming with creative talents. A place where artists go to live, to be around other artists, to help their art grow. My Brooklyn is a place of rules and regulations, a place where growth is stifled and conformity is key. Before leaving my house I have to give every article of clothing a second thought. “Can I wear this? Is this appropriate?”
Your Brooklyn respects both the comfortable yuppies of Park Slope and the poor hipsters of Greenpoint. My Brooklyn rates people by their net worth. Although many people in my Brooklyn are not rich, many give off the impression that they are, so that they can be looked upon with respect. Appearing rich is also important in order to find suitable mates for one’s offspring. By seeming rich, there are also cliques that people can join. I never liked this because Jewish thought generally rejects earthly desires and indulgences. One might see it as contradictory for people to act ultra-Orthodox and at the same time be part of a culture that promotes big houses, big cars, showiness and ostentatiousness. How can you be so involved with yourself and be involved with God at the same time? We serve monetary idols.
There were many Saturdays when I would walk along Ocean Parkway and see scantily-clad hipsters riding their fixed-gear bicycles and having an all-around good time, while I was forced to walk in my stiff, wool Shabbos suit, sweating under my fur fedora. I envied their freedoms, the why-don’t-we-go-for-a-bike-ride-in-whatever-we’re-wearing lifestyle.
Online, I sought out and discovered various types of events where I, too, might partake of your Brooklyn; art exhibits to stroll through, games to watch, artisanal beer to drink, and unique food to sample. These all sounded alien to me. Partially out of curiosity and partially out of rebelliousness, I decided to become one of them. Before joining them, I had to first fit in. I shaved my beard and visited a hairsylist. Shed my black shoes for vintage green and brown bowling shoes. While I never completely rejected the uniform white shirt and black pants, I sometimes exchanged them for pink, green, or brown shirts. While they were still formal, they were less conservative. My pants essentially remained the same. While in yeshiva I always wore creased, dry-clean-only dress pants, at home I wore khakis. In my mind, black is black and whether it goes in the washing machine or not is irrelevant. So my pants were dark. My shoes stood out the most. Then I started going out. Reddit meetups, book readings, storytelling events. Open bars, trash bars, whiskey lounges, you name it. Live Moth shows and Moma. From a loud rave to a quiet museum, I got around.
After a year of fun, I learned a surprising lesson. You and I are not too different. We both have hierarchies that outsiders would view as archaic. We both have cliques that we scorn but secretly want to be part of. We both have a society’s expectations of us that we may view as unnecessary. This is why I returned to my community with all it’s rules. While I definitely had fun in your Brooklyn, I can now enjoy our Brooklyn even more.Printable Version