Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Friendships - A History

We, rather I in particular, prided ourselves on our kids' friends back in NY - from all walks of life. Living in Brooklyn for 20 years, we liked the fact that our block was multi-racial, that through the homeschooling world we had friends who were Catholic, Protestant, Lutheran, Mormon, Muslim, Agnostic, Black, Caucasian, Asian...and so on. Sure, our synagogue, Kane Street, provided an important point of reference for us as a family - we went every weekend, were involved in all sorts of projects, volunteered our time, shared meals with friends - and enriched our lives within the local, Jewish community but I always prided myself that I had stepped away from the ghetto that was my upbringing.

To be fair, I grew up in a lily white town, that wasn't home to so many Jews. Malverne, New York, on the South Shore of Long Island was a pleasant enough place to grow up in - tree-lined streets that were perfect for kickball with the local kids of whom there was always a group from which to choose up a team. (I'm reminded of Bill Bryson's reminiscences of his childhood. How there were always hundreds of kids waiting to play at every street corner.) But conflict simmered under the surface with some kids being more acceptable than others and nobody wanted to play with Anthony on the next block who was fond of making racial epithets and using language to which we had not yet graduated. Synagogue life was fairly dull for me. Problem #1, I was the Rabbi's daughter, making me already suspect to other kids and #2, I didn't attend the local public school, I went privately to a Jewish Day School in another town. So, I made friends but the friendships were tentative and not lasting. My sister's both were fortunate enough to make close friends who enjoyed getting to know our family and our different style of life - both girls were from Catholic families - but neither my brother nor I had the same luck.

Moving to Brooklyn as a newlywed was truly entering a new life. Aged, wizened looking ladies in black walked the streets, tough looking Italian guys hung out on street corners smoking, older men spilled out of the social clubs that were still found in the neighborhood of Carroll Gardens where we lived. When we moved to Boerum Hill, the demographics shifted yet again. Pacific Street is close to two housing projects and our block boasted a Latino population that had lived in the neighborhood through the tough years of the 60's and 70's. Read Jonathan Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude for a sense of the neighborhood during that time.

We made friends on the block and grew to enjoy the mix that developed over our years on Pacific Street. Moving to Jerusalem in 2006, we weren't sure what to expect. We didn't move so that our kids would only have Jewish friends or so that I could stop obsessing about how they'd every meet nice Jewish girls - they met plenty of lovely non-Jewish ones - but I hoped that it would become a bit easier to do so. Our kids slowly made some friends, going through a series of short-term relationships (Gabe especially) until they really found friends for the long run. It is a bit more mixed that you'd think even if it's nothing like NYC. Yeah, almost all of them are Jewish but they come from a variety of backgrounds religiously - like Gabe's buddy the Hebrew Christian, or Natan's Druze friends in the army - and politically as well as financially. Not everyone is a lawyer or doctor here - strange to me after New York. Kids's parents work in the NPO world, in teaching, social services - often, I have no idea what they do. I find the political differences often more polarizing than the religious ones - a subject for another blog post.

Last Saturday night, I left the house for my usual post-Shabbat gym and swim. The house was in full swing, with Natan and a group of his friends, along with Gabe and the girlfriend, playing and singing Elton John (!) on the piano and guitar. It was such a nice scene - a sign of how far everyone has come in the past 3.5 years here and an indicator of future success and happiness. It doesn't take away missing what we left in Brooklyn but I'm glad for what they've found and worked on since we've gotten here. I guess as a Jewish mother, I wonder if their Jewish future is secure but remind myself that it's much too early to tell - where they'll go, with whom they'll be, what they'll want to observe. I guess living here in Jerusalem is only one step on their personal - and mine, too - journey.

1 comment:

Sara Halevi said...

Beth, this is a lovely piece. What you have created here is a sense that the dominant factor in a successful aliyah is a strong, rich and stable family culture. Yours is unique, open, warm and loving. I can't imagine a family needs much more than that.