web analytics
January 26, 2015 / 6 Shevat, 5775
 
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


The World’s Greatest Outdoor Museum

Most areas of the city have a mix of peoples living in them who have daily contact with one another and who share the space. It just makes sense to have good relations with neighbors.

If one wants to see ethnic contact, social progress, and true turf sharing in New York City, the experience of a Hebrew charter school in Brooklyn is a perfect case in point.

If one wants to see ethnic contact, social progress, and true turf sharing in New York City, the experience of a Hebrew charter school in Brooklyn is a perfect case in point.

When I was nine years old my father devised a game to keep me entertained. It was called “Last Stop.” We lived on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Whenever he was free on the weekend, we walked to the local 103rd Street stop on the IND (Independent Subway System) line. From that subway we would transfer to another train and take that to the last stop on the line.

Upon exiting we would explore the neighborhood on foot for a couple of hours, sometimes taking a city bus to further extend our trip. When we ran out of last stops on the various lines, we’d move the destination point to the third-to-last or some other stop. We played this game off and on for about five years until I began high school. That’s how I learned to love and appreciate New York City.

Over the past forty years I have been teaching a graduate course on New York City at either City College of New York or the CUNY Graduate Center. Besides reading extensively on the subject and writing papers, as part of my course my students go out walking with me for full days to explore the different boroughs. It’s a fascinating experience for them to see what I often refer to as the greatest outdoor museum in the world. The students are invariably surprised and delighted to learn that all the boroughs are unique and interesting in their own right.

Even when different groups live in the same neighborhood, appearances can sometimes be deceiving. You can walk through an Asian area and think of it as belonging to one Asian group, but closer examination reveals that it’s not.

One study of the Japanese enclave in Manhattan’s East Village found that quite a few Koreans work in Japanese-run restaurants. Moreover, the area is becoming more Pan-Asian, with Koreans, Taiwanese, Thais, and Chinese moving in. Members of these groups tend to shop in stores owned by the others.

Most areas of the city have a mix of peoples living in them who have daily contact with one another and who share the space. This isn’t a question of outreach. Rather, it just makes sense to have good relations with neighbors.

Typical is the response by a middle-age, strictly Orthodox Jewish woman in Flatbush, Brooklyn, who reports that she is very friendly with her next-door Italian American neighbor. She is wearing a long, navy blue skirt down to her feet (referred to within the community as a “floor-sweeper”), with a loose-fitting white blouse, and, covering her hair, a dark kerchief.

“Her [the woman’s neighbor] and her friends are just amazing. When I had to go regularly to the hospital for outpatient treatments, her son took me there every day over two weeks. My husband’s working three jobs, so it was a godsend.”

“But these are not people you would have over for dinner, are they?” I ask.

“Only because my husband objects, because he feels we can’t return the invitation and come to them, because we’re kosher. But I wonder about that. I mean, why can’t we come with a kosher pizza and eat it on paper plates? Or couldn’t we take them to a kosher restaurant?”

“Are the Italians different than other non-Jews?” I ask.

“I think they’re a lot like Jews. You know, the family structure and how food is important to them.” The sense you get here is that of a person who wants to be more open and friendly, but whose husband is resistant because he fears it will threaten their identity as Jews. Regardless, I heard dozens of stories from people who talked of the friendships they had developed with neighbors whose backgrounds were completely dissimilar.

* * * * *

In an exploratory study of relations between Chinese and Jews on the Lower East Side that included interviews at a senior citizens’ center, one of my graduate students, Fang Xu, came up with some interesting findings. Like the Jews and Italians, the two groups share similar cultural values – namely, respect for the family, veneration for the elderly, interest in education, and concentration in business.

Most of the Jews living on the Lower East Side in the last fifty years have been Orthodox. The Chinese have also been there for a long time, first arriving in the 1870s, even before mass Jewish immigration made it a prime neighborhood starting in the 1880s. Elderly Jewish respondents interviewed by Xu expressed positive views of the Chinese, noting their respect for the elderly, family values, and quiet nature. Both Jews and Chinese do play mahjong a lot, but they play it with completely different rules. And, of course, there is a language barrier.

About the Author: William B. Helmreich is professor of sociology at the City University Graduate Center (CUNY) and City College of New York. His many books include “The World of the Yeshiva: An Intimate Portrait of Orthodox Jewry,” “Against All Odds: Holocaust Survivors and the Successful Lives They Made in America,” and “What Was I Thinking? The Dumb Things We Do and How to Avoid Them.”


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “The World’s Greatest Outdoor Museum”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Ilana Medar, 18, of Paris, made Aliyah last year.
Jewish Agency Planning for Massive Aliyah of 120,000 French Jews
Latest Indepth Stories
Golan map

Obama’s Syrian policy failures created the current situation in the Golan Heights.

Social Media pic

Our journey begins by attempting to see things differently, only then can we be open to change.

Middle-East-map

Despite Western ‘Conventional Wisdom&PC,’ the Arab/Israeli conflict was never about the Palestinians

Salamon-012315

Confrontation & accountability, proven techniques, might also help dealing with religious terrorists

In fact, wherever you see soldiers in Paris today, you pretty much know you’re near Jewish site

Inspired by the Perek Shira pasuk for “small non-kosher animals” we named the bunny “Rebbetzin Tova”

The abuse following publication proved a cautionary tale: no one followed in Peters’s footsteps

Plainly, there is no guiding hand dictating choices across the board.

How many sites that tell you to check your politics at the door have 10,000 likes?

In this particular case, the issue was whether the Arkansas prison system could prohibit, for security reasons, a devout Muslim’s maintaining a beard of a certain length as a matter of religious practice.

While we recognize the Republican Jewish Coalition is hardly a non-partisan outfit, a snippet from a statement the group released is worthy of note:

“These are good matzah balls,” my aunt Robertine would say, but her sister Irma would counter “No, not compared to Mama’s. They were always so light yet they never fell apart.”

Despite the 2005 Koby Mandell Act no Palestinian implicated in harming an American has been charged

The NY Times suggestion that HaMavesar cropping women from a photo is Israeli censorship is absurd.

More Articles from William B. Helmreich
If one wants to see ethnic contact, social progress, and true turf sharing in New York City, the experience of a Hebrew charter school in Brooklyn is a perfect case in point.

Most areas of the city have a mix of peoples living in them who have daily contact with one another and who share the space. It just makes sense to have good relations with neighbors.

William B. Helmreich

In 1964 the eminent sociologist Marshall Sklare declared Orthodoxy to be irrelevant. His view was that Conservative Judaism was the wave of the future in America.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/the-worlds-greatest-outdoor-museum/2013/11/14/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: