Joanne Palmer
Joanne Palmer

This is America

There is nothing like a long walk down the Hudson River on the Fourth of July, from Manhattan’s Upper West Side to the Museum of Jewish Heritage, to help you feel hope, and despite everything that should keep this from happening, occasional stabs of pure joy.

First, when you do that you get to see the river. We often are told that New York has turned its back on the waterfront, but there are pathways the city has built that run alongside it. That’s the route I took.

The river was greenish and choppy on the Fourth of July, the sky was bright blue and the clouds were either bright white or steel gray, the sun was golden, and the water sparkled silver. There were boats — tankers, freighters, tugboats, pleasure boats, kayaks, and one double-masted tall ship with its sails down, powering along. And there were people, a huge mass of people, dressed as if for every one of the four seasons, coming from every last tiny nook of this great big world.

Just beyond the river, New Jersey stood guard. At the north of my walk, the Palisades are clear, and further south Jersey City absolutely glistens; it used to be a gritty city, and certainly parts of it still are, but from across the river you see not the grime but the glow. It’s home to more and more people who plan to stay there, including many more Jews. It will be an important part of our next story.

New York and New Jersey were created by and for immigrants. As I walked by, I could see them. I could hear the many languages that they spoke, although I couldn’t possibly begin to identify them. I smelled wonderful food — of course it was treif, but that doesn’t stop the smell from being heavenly.

I saw many people dressed for the beach — in other words, barely — and others who were covered modestly. I saw three chasidim ride by on bicycles, the two men in black and white, tzitizt flying, the woman pedaling valiantly away, her knees pumping under her skirt. I saw many women in hijabs, and some others in saris. I saw many people decked out in red, white, and blue, including the elderly man wearing red pants, a red-white-and-blue shirt, a blue tie, and a white Stetson. I saw quite a few little African-American girls in red, white, and blue. One had a tutu skirt that fluttered, one had a glittery tiara, one had pigtails tied with red, white, and blue sparkly stars. They all looked happy, and they all were gorgeous.

I saw people who obviously were tourists and others who clearly were native New Yorkers.

As I walked downtown, the vistas kept changing, from the green of Riverside Park to the marsh grasses and overfed seabirds further down, until the path decanted by the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum and then the Circle Line. It was pure Americana there; there were lines to get on the boats, food to pacify them as they waited, bikers and joggers and dog walkers passing them by, ignoring them. South of that, by Chelsea Piers, west of Chelsea and Greenwich Village, the massive, beautiful old buildings that have gone in and out of style many times, buildings that would have been familiar to the first generations of our ancestors to arrive here.

One World Trade Center, the Freedom Tower, the tower that replaced the Twin Towers that were demolished on 9/11, soon looms into view, still looking new, still vaguely shocking. It’s in an oddly new, definitely upscale neighborhood, all businesses and pricey bars with stunning views. The city, to get all tendentious, constantly changes. Here it has incorporated tragedy and resolutely moved on.

It is just about where the old buildings give way to the new that I saw her. The Statue of Liberty. Unchanging, stately, out of reach, glowing. Still there.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage is at Manhattan’s southern tip. Its windows overlook New York Harbor and the Statute of Liberty. It tells the story of Jewish life before, during, and after the Holocaust; because it is in New York, because of its iconic view, the American Jewish experience is at its core. It was a logical place to end a gloriously long walk on the Fourth of July.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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