I have always wanted to live in New York. The "Big Apple," the "City that Never Sleeps," the place where you can get "Mugged by an Old Lady," has always seemed somewhat magical to me. Like my Eastern European ancestors before me, I have always thought of moving to the biggest city in the Golden Medina -- a place where the streets are paved with gold...and sewer rats. But alas, as a Canadian living in Toronto with a day job and no family in the entire state of New York, I was resigned to the fact that this dream would probably never become a reality.
But in a strange twist of fate, corporate America recently provided me with a fortuitous opportunity. The Canadian company for which I had been working, announced that it had been bought by a large American conglomerate. Along with my entire department, I was being laid off! My first thought was to call in Michael Moore to shove his microphone into the face of the new CEO and accuse him of being the devil incarnate, but I soon realized that this could actually be a positive development. Maybe now was the time to move to New York?
Admittedly, the prospect of moving to a new city with no friends or family was somewhat daunting. I wish I had a Cousin Larry, like Balki Bartacamous from Perfect Strangers to greet me when I arrived in New York, someone to do the "dance of joy" with, someone to have innocent misunderstandings with and then resolve them within thirty minutes -- but alas, we all have to play the cards that we are dealt.
The prospect of moving to a new city with no friends or family was somewhat daunting. I wish I had a Cousin Larry, like Balki Bartacamous from Perfect Strangers to greet me.
Before leaving Canada, I practiced my singing of the Star Spangled Banner, the pledge of allegiance, and I visited a speech therapist to help me eliminate the "outs and abouts," from my vocabulary. I was psyched and ready to take on the big city. If I could make it there, I could make it anywhere.
I wanted to arrive via Ellis Island and sign in like the immigrants of yesteryear but I think you have to arrive by boat for that -- and the only boats traveling between Canada and New York this time of year carry things like lumber, not passengers. So I settled for an Air Canada flight to LaGuardia instead. I've been to New York before, but somehow when I arrived this time it was different. This time I was a dreamer and...an illegal alien! Would I have to make a run for it? Pay some old Portuguese lady with a mole to marry me just so I could get a green card? Of course I could also just file for a visitor's visa...
My cabbie dropped me off at my apartment which I had sub-letted only a week earlier via the Internet. As I brought my bags to the curb I spotted Ryan Seacrest -- wow, my first celebrity sighting. I walked up to him and burst out into my best rendition of the star spangled banner -- just as I had practiced earlier. I needed a job -- maybe I was destined to be the next American Idol. With a look of shock and disgust, Seacrest laughed and continued about his business. My first job interview in New York, and my first rejection.
Within a few days of my arrival, I had converted the local Starbucks into my own home office. I had a table that overlooked the window so I could watch the people walking by. Or were they watching me? I started to wonder if this is what zoo animals felt like.
From this perch I began spending my days trying to find a job. The Starbucks barista, Carrie, was friendly enough and is making my stay enjoyable -- but I'm beginning to think that all this Starbucks coffee is burning a hole in my lower intestine. Note to self: potential class action. See, I am becoming American already!
After my first few weeks in the Big Apple I have noticed a few things:
- There are A LOT of people who talk to themselves in New York. In a city with so many people to talk to I haven't figured out why people insist on talking (out loud) to themselves;
- The world could be coming to an end – that, according to the guy at the corner of 86th and Broadway;
- New Yorkers like to eat while standing. Hot dogs, pizza, and falafel may not be consumed while seated. Maybe the reason why New Yorkers often times appear so irritable is actually due to the indigestion.
An integral part of my stay in New York thus far has been attending daily prayers at the local synagogue. What's amazing about moving to a new city is how welcoming the Jewish people are to a fellow Jew. Immediately when I arrived at shul, the Rabbi noticed a new face and came to welcome me. He invited me over for a Shabbat meal and genuinely offered his assistance with anything I needed. Not only the Rabbi, but the rest of the congregation was equally hospitable. There is something special about being Jewish and about the bond we have with one another.
What's amazing about moving to a new city is how welcoming the Jewish people are to a fellow Jew.
In retrospect, my concerns about not having a Cousin Larry to greet me at the airport in New York City were unfounded – because I appear to have something better -- a whole city of Cousin Larrys that are ready and willing to welcome me to my new home. True, not every Jewish person in New York has been as excited to see me as I have been to see them, but the rabbi, synagogue and Jewish community at large have gone out of their way to make me feel comfortable.
I have come to realize that this is really the essence of the Jewish people -- we are all one family. It doesn't matter if we are Canadian or American, gainfully employed or loiterers at Starbucks, we are all Jews, and so, are all connected to one another. Thinking about the Eastern European Jews who immigrated to America at the turn of the century, they probably learned a similar lesson. In some ways reliving their journey at the turn of the Millenium, I came to New York in pursuit of the American Dream, but learned a lesson about the Jewish Reality.