Ode to New York

It was the city where I was born; the city where I was raised.

It was the city where I took my first steps, rode my first bike, learned to skate and went on my first date.

It was the city where I never knew fear, where I rode the subway from the age of 10, where I never looked behind and only looked forward.  It was the city of H&H Bagels and Rattner’s blintzes and Bernstein’s on Essex: spare ribs and moo goo gai pan and a pastrami sandwich at 2 a.m. on a Saturday night — don’t forget the sauerkraut — served by Murray, and only Murray.

It was the city where I was introduced to opera and the many galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the magical nights of concerts in the park.

It was the city where Central Park became my second home.

It was the city where I learned to dream, where I became initiated into the world of American politics at the West Side Democratic Club, where campaigning and a hot dog at the end of the day meant everything to me; it was where my father was appointed a judge and where justice and morals and always thinking of the Other were just as ingrained in my upbringing as Dr. Seuss and Beverly Cleary.

It was the city where I grew up as a proud Jew and marched for the freedom of Soviet Jews (“1-2-3-4 Open Up the Iron Doors”) and where I wore blue and white on Israel’s Independence Day; but it was also the city where I had friends called Bridget and Athena and Todd and were color and ethnicity were not barriers, but opened doors and windows and allowed in so much fresh air.

It was the city where I got married and the city where I packed my bags. And when I left New York for Jerusalem almost 40 years ago, it remained my city. And on visits to my parents, I would still pound the sidewalks as only the natives know to do and would introduce my children to Zabar’s and the Rambles in Central Park and to the Lower East Side and the Statue of Liberty.  But I sensed that New York was changing and it was becoming gentrified and those open doors of my youth were starting to close.  But it was still my New York.  It was still my city.

And then Corona struck, and the streets were now deserted, and the shops were closing, and the park of the cyclists and joggers and sun-bathers became home to a make-shift hospital.  And it was the city where so many people lost their income and the tally of the dead kept rising. I was told, I was warned that I would not recognize my city when I would one day be able to visit.

And now my city is burning.  The peaceful protests called to mind the values of my youth.  But the demonstrations have been marred by ugly scenes of looting and destruction, of shouting and cursing.  And people started confusing the protesters from the looters; confusing right from wrong and in too many people’s eyes they had become one and the same.  And as we watched clips of people proudly marching and then watched images of stores boarded up and others being ransacked and shop owner’s life savings go up in smoke, tears streaked down my face.

And my city is still aflame, and I wonder who will save it from ruination.

Rest in peace my beloved hometown.  Like the mythological phoenix rising from its ashes, perhaps one day I’ll see your resurrection.  After all, in New York City anything is possible.

About the Author
Born and bred on the upper West Side of Manhattan, (the then hub of modern Jewish Orthodoxy), I made Israel my home 38 years ago. Graduate of CCNY (BA) and Harvard University (MA) in English and American Literature, I am a lapsed freelance writer and currently unemployed tour guide/educator waiting oh so very patiently for visitors to return.
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