The sun beats down on my head, warming my scalp. My hair feels hot to the touch. I sit in between traffic, the perfect vantage point to see cars, trucks, buses, taxis roaring by in both directions. The subway rumbles beneath my feet and the exhaust and heat rise to my nostrils. A warm breeze comes my way. I stretch my arms and smile at the passersby. This is bliss. This is a bench on an island of Broadway. This is a small tiny speck of me in a huge vast sea of people, traffic, buildings. But I’m here.I’m not going away. See me. I don’t want to be invisible anymore. I want you to see me, to know my name.
It’s a Saturday afternoon in Manhattan. The vibrant rushing roaring city. There’s shopping to do, restaurants to frequent, parks to frolic in. Baseball games to play and concerts to attend. It’s Shabbos afternoon in Manhattan. Meals to attend. Shul to immerse in. People to greet heartily. Rest and peace to embrace. After the hustle and bustle of Broadway, West End Avenue is quiet. Serene almost. Familiar black hats bob past, long skirts and sleeves, colorful dresses and Shabbos clothes, black and white ensembles. Men and woman greet each other with the traditional ‘Gut Shabbos’. It doesn’t matter who you are. Doesn’t matter where you’re from. Here, a Jew is a Jew and we are all one family. Manhattan. An icon. A symbol of power and strength. A concrete jungle. New York, the city that never sleeps. The all-powerful expensive elite island. I’m an outsider here, though I grew up a mere few miles away in Brooklyn. Brooklyn. Ugh. Who would want to live there when you can get an overpriced high-rise condo on the Upper West Side? Money. Wealth. Power. That’s what I think of when I picture the invisible condos behind the anonymous imposing concrete facades I pass hurriedly by. But this Shabbos I learned a different story.
I learned that behind the money and wealth there is tremendous warmth here. There is heart. One beating heart and one so
“כּאיש אחד ,בּלב אחד “
We, the people of Makom are a colorful and unique bunch. If I may speak for the group as a whole, I would say we’re on a journey. I know I am. Each of us has a different story, a different background, different ways of dressing and talking. But underneath it all we have the same heart that beats. The same desire for a better life. I am on a path. A journey. Yet I’m not sure where it will take me. For a time, I hated the word “G-d”. Hated religion. Hated having it shoved in my face, forced on me, given to me when I didn’t want it. I felt boxed in with no options. Just accept it. Live it. Love it. Enjoy it because this is your life. This is the best life for you, they told me. But how do I know? How do I know there isn’t something better out there? One of our hosts Naomi Scharf put it beautifully. She said that G-d gave each of us a specific path, a journey unique to you. G-d knows your strengths and abilities and gave you the exact challenges you need to face in order to be the person that you are. And He loves you no matter what. Translate that into whatever words you need to hear. Because it’s true. Naomi said that no matter where you are just know that you are part of Klal Yisroel, and what a great thing to be a part of. You are a unique individual part of a huge greater whole. The people of Israel.
For me, being welcomed lavishly into a stranger’s home was a beautiful experience. A bowl of cherries and a steaming plate of kugel was waiting for me. A comfortable bed to lay my weary head. Our host was so kind and welcoming, gentle and sensitive not wanting to pry or ask too many questions about our circumstances. But at the end of the day a Jew is a Jew is a Jew no questions asked. We are all connected. And what I got from this Shabbos is that there are so many ways to serve G-d. G-d is not optional. He is here to stay, and he is not going anywhere. It’s hard to believe but He loves you and cares about each person in the way they need and gives them the exact specific journey and circumstances that they are able to handle. The journey that will maximize your strengths and give you opportunities for growth.
You can try to push Him away out of hurt, but He will stay out of love. You may abandon G-d, but He won’t abandon you. What I got from this Shabbos is that there are beautiful humans out there, human beings who will welcome you into their home and feed you delicious food and share generously of themselves with you. For no reason, for no personal benefits other than to share a Shabbos meal with a fellow Yid.
“מי כּעמך ישׂראל”
.Who is like the people Israel, truly. How great are Your people Israel
I regrettably left my bench on the island of Broadway enjoying the weather outside, to go back into the quiet air-conditioned oasis behind the anonymous stone facades on West End Avenue. To be immersed in the warmth and love of my new community, my new friends. To connect heart to heart and soul to soul with others. To end off a beautiful Shabbos together with people who started as strangers- and ended as family.
It is out there for the taking. The beautiful Judaism that you’re seeking. The life you are looking for. It’s out there on a silver platter, an offering for you. And you- you just need to stretch out your hands and take it. Make it yours. Create the best life you can with the love and support of all the amazing people who held out their hands to you in support and partnership.
How great is Your people, Israel. How amazing. Thank you to all our host families and to the amazing Makom Staff, especially Zeldy and Allison, for arranging the awesome heartfelt Shabbos on the beautiful Upper West Side community of Manhattan-the cold concrete island in a warm warm world.