Last year I jokingly titled a blog post “Christmas in Anatevka,” since my daughters and I had spent the big day watching “Fiddler on the Roof.”
This year, I felt like we really did spend Christmas morning in Anatevka. That’s because we were on the main drag (aptly called Main Street) of Queens’ very Jewish Kew Gardens Hills neighborhood.
For a few months now, Sophie, my 5-year-old, has been taking a class at the neighborhood’s Lana’s Gymnastics, which is located in a synagogue, run by Ukrainian Jewish émigrés and across the street from a veritable buffet of kosher establishments, including Max&Mina’s ice cream.
Although I’d been on the Jew-y (and mostly Orthodox) stretch of Main Street a number of times before, mostly to satisfy my craving for pita and lafah at Queens Pita, a few blocks north of Lana’s, I’d never been to the gymnastics studio itself. Instead, Sophie’s friend Shannon’s mom usually takes the girls in her car, as the class is on my busiest workday and, for the automotively deprived, requires a journey by subway and bus.
When we learned that Lana’s would be open for business as usual on Christmas, Joe (who, after spending last Christmas visiting family in New Hampshire, was eager to have a chance to join us this year for “Jewish Christmas”) and I decided to take Sophie there for a make-up class and 8-year-old Ellie there for a trial class.
You would never have known it was Christmas on Main Street, where virtually every store was open and bustling, or inside Lana’s — even though not all the students (case in point: Shannon and her little sister Kennedy) are Jewish.
After the class (during which I darted across the street to buy jelly doughnuts for that night’s Chanukah celebration), we rode the bus up Main Street to downtown Flushing, which was also bustling, and where we fulfilled the mitzvah of eating Chinese food with my sisters, nieces, brother-in-law and gentile fiancé.
Navigating the packed sidewalks back to the 7 train, it was hard to believe that, just 10 years ago, driving home from New England on Christmas day, Joe and I had been unable to find one open restaurant until famished and cranky, we finally reached the New York metro area, where we descended upon a Westchester diner.
The wide array of options in the city on Christmas was almost disappointing; part of me wanted more of a challenge, to feel like not celebrating Christmas was more of an accomplishment.
At home, we lit the Chanukah candles and started up “Fiddler,” since, at Ellie’s insistence, it’s become our family’s Dec. 25 “Tradition.”