Art for the soul

The Redemption of Brooklyn

New York, man. 

It’s electricity, creativity, absurdity can bring you up and open up your mind. 

It’s dirt, and it’s filth in all arenas can bring you down. 

I hate thinking negative thoughts about people and places. Besides the halachic ramifications if those thoughts are produced into audible words, it just feels so  heavy.and against the purpose of creation. I’m into being inspired, into seeing beauty .  I’m part of the human race, this is what we crave. And yet, this tendency to descend into the ugly, the incongruous, the disjointed and isolated is a constant bummer. So I’ve began to protest against these ugly thoughts holding me hostage within my mind, offering some words of redemption. “yes,” I’ll concede in my mind, “that person  is  rather uncomfortably sometimes, but have you noticed how she will always stick up for people no matter what? “ 

These words of redemption, of seeing trickles of beauty in another’s imperfect character allows the light to shine through my judgements, giving that person and place the proper vessel in my mind with which they remain connected with me . Otherwise, if all I can see is black, the wall between us is too thick for any compassion to squeeze through. We remain apart, in my brain and my heart. This internal protest and redemption is an effort, but it’s so much more beautiful and true. And so less heavy. 


The filth of NY and Brooklyn is another debate that circulates my mind. 


My husband recounted a recent experience at shul when someone burst in, apparently alerting everyone that a nonJew was outside making trouble . My husband  explained that he before the words could even digest and start to congeal in his mind ,another fellow shul goer was out; he had shot out of his chair with amazing alacrity as soon as the man had burst through the door, and was already outside the door, ready to give this man a piece of his mind. A Jewish crowd had quickly gathered and the trouble-brewing man was immediately cornered. 


You don’t mess with the Jewish people in their own neighborhood, when they’ve got their own army. 


I am fascinated to watch the video of Gourmet Butcher, as a group of fifty teens descend to surround the small supermarket. As one infiltrates and knocks things down, two things happen- one Jewish worker in the store is seen running to the back of the store, and the other is slowly reaching for his phone. 


At first, you think that the worker is running away, from   a mob of fifty angry teenagers shouting “Heil Hitler” . But no, this is New York, and this is Crown Heights, and he is quickly seen running back with a broomstick, wielding it as a weapon. The mob starts to retract, and moments later, the outdoor camera shows him bursting forth out of his store to chase the mob. 

The other worker is calling Shomrim, the internal Jewish police force, of volunteers who are ready to show up and fight and protect at any hour of the day. 


You don’t mess with the Jewish people in their own neighborhood, when they’ve got their own army. 


And recently in the local Jewish newspaper, the headline: “Drunk Man Attacks Kingston Shop Owner” . The article reveals the greatness in the midst of the darkness. As it states in my favorite paragraph of all from one eye witness, “ It wasn’t physical at all, and the man was even somewhat cooperating, until he suddenly punched Yisrael (Shemtov, the Shop Owner)  in the face,” he said. “ At that point, everybody standing by watching charged at the guy. “ 


At that point, everybody standing by watching charged at the guy.


Who cares if he was drunken, belligerent, shouting “*Expletive* Jews” , and knocking things over in the street. 


At that point, everybody standing by watching charged at the guy.

You charge into my store, I get my broomstick. 



Chew on that, New York City. 


This strength, this roughness, this willingness to fight and to band together is so, so Jewish. 


You don’t mess with the Jewish people in their own neighborhood, when they’ve got their own army. And that army is made up of our concern and connection with each other. 


Another New York Jewish miracle organization of unity: Hatzlaha. The Jewish volunteer medical force that will come to my home at any moment at any time of night, responding to a panicked parent’s phone call in a mere minutes. I experience panic, I call, a couple of minutes later I hear the reassuring sirens, full of people who care and won’t charge you a cent. If that’s not beautiful, I honestly don’t know what is. 


After we got burned and razed in the near decimation that was the Holocaust, we had some internal discussions. And we decided, as Jews, that we needed a home in which we could properly protect each other.  Where we could have our own army. It was one of the major incentives for creating the Jewish State. For existence to be possible, we needed self-protection. We needed to rely on our physical and emotional strength and most importantly, our concern for one another in order to thrive. We would reveal that Jews were not weaklings, that we are tough in all ways, physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually. The Israeli fighter was dubbed “the New Jew” but really, it was just the inner strength of the Jew coming to the surface. 


For when we’re smart, we mobilize. When we’re banded together, we fight as one. 


The main thing to recall, is to have no fear at all. We have One King above and most importantly of all, we have each other. 


And while New York, and Brooklyn, and Crown Heights might be lacking in many regards, in ways I cannot ignore,that’s one talking point, one fighting angle that also can’t be dismissed. 


Here, if you can say anything about a Jew in Brooklyn, you can say he’s willing to band together and to fight. If anything will dissipate your frustration for the dirt of this city, if anything will shine your mental light through the grime to behold the gems of this ‘hood, that can. 


For all of our shortcomings to being the type of Jews we want and Gd wants us to be, for that internal mobilization and strength and unity and guts and determination, I’m sure that Gd, wrapped in His tefillin that beholds his adoration and connection with the Jewish people, is very, very happy.