The author’s sons at the former Toys “R” Us in Times Square. Sid Slivko
I’m a born and bred New Yorker, and the fact that I’ve spent the past 28 years living in Jerusalem hasn’t diminished my pride in being a New Yorker.
I carry my New York-isms with me wherever I go. They are my personal New York State of Mind.
Growing up in Bayside, Queens, shaped my taste buds, fashion sense and love of theater. It gave me a passion for potato knishes and chocolate cheesecake. For years I purchased my clothes at Manhattan sample sales, a perk enjoyed by even junior editors like me, when I worked at Cosmopolitan and Seventeen magazines. Even the harsh New York winters played a part in making me who I am: A February blizzard, which fell the day of my “Sweet Sixteen” party, shut down the public transportation system and made it impossible for my friends and I to get to Manhattan to see “Grease,” the most popular Broadway show at the time. (Back then, a ticket could be had for $20.)
More importantly, growing up in New York and attending public school provided me with lifelong lessons about embracing diversity, and having tolerance for others’ opinions.
In Jerusalem, where I’m raising my children, there’s not a whole lot of embracing of diversity or tolerance for others’ viewpoints, despite the city’s diverse populations. Jews, Muslims and Christians, ultra-Orthodox and modern religious, right-wing, left-wing and moderate Israelis often eye one another with suspicion. And, unlike New York, the goal in Jerusalem seems to be to get a leg up on the competition, especially when it comes to municipal budgets, rather than to walk a mile in another’s shoes.
I’ve been back to New York City at least once a year since I’ve moved here, to visit family, attend conferences and speaking engagements. But it’s been three years since my kids have been back to my “home.” Now that we’re planning a family visit to the U.S. for the summer, I’m looking forward to sharing my birth city, again, with my Israeli-born 14-year-olds.
They’ve been to New York several times before, but spent most of their time visiting with family — we have almost none in Israel — so they have some idea of what my New York life was like. Because my parents have lived in the same Bayside home for more than 50 years, my kids already have a sense of where and how I grew up.
They’ve also made the obligatory pilgrimages to Toys R Us, Target, Costco, the Museum of Natural History and Six Flags Great Adventure. They’ve travelled by subway, played baseball in Central Park, attended a Mets game, and bought Slurpees at 7-11. They know Spiderman is from Queens and Captain America is from Brooklyn, but they’ve never really experienced what it’s like to grow up in either place.
In addition to going to Ben’s Deli for a turkey sandwich, watching TV and seeing relatives, I want this visit to be a heritage tour, a kind of “Birthright New York” for my Israel-centric kids.
I want them to learn something about American and American Jewish history. I want them to take the ferry to Ellis Island and trace their family’s Europe-to-New York odyssey, just as my mother and I did a couple of years ago. I want them to visit the Statue of Liberty, go to the top of the Empire State Building, see Rockefeller Center and enjoy a meal in the Diamond District. I want them to experience the World Trade Center Memorial and I want to share with them how I felt on Sept. 11, 2001. Flying out of New York a year earlier I had seen the tops of the towers peaking through a thick layer of clouds. The next time I flew into New York (actually Newark), less than a week after the Twin Towers collapsed, the flight attendants on our American Airlines flight wept as we approached the wreckage.
Growing up in Jerusalem, my boys know the fear of terrorism, and while I don’t want them to be frightened in New York, I want them to know that good and bad things can happen everywhere.
But mostly I want them to see the Monets at MoMA, a Broadway show (well, if we win the Lottery), take a trip on the Circle Line, cross the Brooklyn Bridge and walk through the Village, where I lived for several years. I want them to see New York in all its diversity, from Ft. Tryon to the Battery, and experience the Fourth of July fireworks over the East River.
I also want them to see the pluses and minuses of being diaspora Jews — the compromises so many have to make, the struggles so many face to retain their Jewish and pro-Israeli identities, the differences that separate them from Israelis and the common values that unite them. I want them to understand that living in Israel is a privilege, and that it’s so easy to take their Jewishness and “Israeliness” for granted.
Every time I go back to the New York, I wax a little nostalgic. I have no illusions that it’s perfect, but I still miss it tremendously. You can get good knishes in Jerusalem, the bagels aren’t half-bad, and enough New Yorkers live in our neighborhood that this corner of Israel almost sounds like home. But it’s not New York, and it never will be.
I want my kids to know the long path I took from New York to Jerusalem. Maybe to help them understand my husband and me a little better, but maybe also to help them understand themselves.