To most of the outside world, New Rochelle conjures up memories of Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore. To me it was home.
For 25 years I lived in New Rochelle and was a member of the Young Israel. My kids grew up there and in many ways, so did I. I moved back to Manhattan over a year ago, but I return often. You all know the Eagles “Hotel Californis” lyric- “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.” Yeah, that’s what it’s like. One week it’s a Bar mitzvah…or a wedding… or a holiday. In the year or so since I moved people have asked me, “Do you miss New Rochelle?” and I always respond, “I miss my friends.” What I didn’t realize until last week when the coronavirus hit the community, is that I miss more than just my friends. I miss my community.
The fact that the YINR community is handling the coronavirus situation with such grace and dignity is not surprising to me. It has always been an amazing community. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of other better known Jewish communities, (insert: Teaneck, Five Towns) but maybe that’s what makes it special. One has to seek it out. I know I did. And, although it is a smaller community, it was and is filled with amazing people who will drop everything to help someone in need. When I was in my 30’s, with 2 little children at home, I became seriously ill. I can’t begin to tell you the beautiful things people – strangers at the time – did for me. From driving my carpool, to bringing toys they thought my kids would like, to bringing me chicken soup or a cute baseball cap to wear when I wanted to cover a scar. I will never forget it.
The Young Israel community does so much good for neighborhood and for the community at large. There are meals for new mothers, a committee that organizes invitations to new members for Shabbat. On Thanksgiving families go down to the firehouse and give out gifts to the firefighters. There’s a group that sets up a shiva houses when needed, there are Purim carnivals, learning, cook-offs. The list goes on and on. And, while I know this is true is other Jewish communities world-wide, this is mine, and right now I’m really proud of that.
At this point about 90% of my friends are being quarantined. A few have been hospitalized. I’m on a WhatsApp group with some of them. I read their messages as they go back and forth. They are having “virtual”coffee together, they are sharing updates from the DOH, they are complaining about gaining weight and some have even started Pesach cleaning!
It’s their new normal and it’s strange to not be with them. I am on the outside looking in, but what I see is a beautiful community full of good people. They will get through this and I am with them, if only in spirit.