So off to horse camp I went. The mare I was responsible for was a biter and a kicker, had a gait like a kangaroo and balked. But I was dutiful. I mucked out her stall and curry-combed her coat. And thanks to good reflexes, I made it through without serious injury.
The following year, I went off to music camp in Maine. That’s when I discovered the Jews. What an epiphany! They told great jokes. They called me doll. They understood life (as much as any of us did) from a wider perspective: This is life. So nu? They were t-a-l-e-n-t-e-d and placed art on an equal footing with smarts. They had heart. They had soul (I didn’t even know what that was). They were loose. They rolled with life. In my family and surroundings, we were stiff. When things got tough, we just got stiffer.
As that first week at music camp wore on, the primary thing going through my head was: Where have all these people been?
It’s a nice rainy day – my favorite weather to ride. Lucille and I get a late start on the Greenway. It’s Thursday, but traffic is behaving like Friday. It’s bumper to bumper. I don’t think much of it – the UN has been in session all week, and traffic has been snarled - until I get here:
I’m such a nudnik. It’s only when I stop to ask, that I learn that this is part of Rosh Hashanah (forehead slap); congregations of various temples traditionally gather here on this day to cast their sins into the River.
If only it were so easy, I say.
Well, we try, comes the answer.
Ah the Jews. Where would I be without the Jews?
My (single) mother, determined to give me the education she never had, and fearful of my somehow being corrupted by the hoi polloi (whoever that was) with no father to keep me in line, put me with My People in a nice white-bread, Republican school on the East Side with uniforms and stiff upper lips. The academics were impeccable. But WASP? Don’t get me started.
In spite of that, there actually were three Jewish girls in my class. But the only way any of us knew it, was that they disappeared unexpectedly at certain times of year. If they were cool, we weren’t aware of it (we wouldn’t have known it if it hit us over the head). How could they stand being around the rest of us, I now wonder?
I walk past a group singing what sounds like a traditional song, though I’ve never heard it before. There are some bongos, a pocket trumpet and uulation, as people sway to the music. There’s a sense of tribal unity with a great and long history behind it.
As I walk Lucille up to the 2nd Promenade, I wonder what it will be like at the tennis courts. There are some pretty hard-core players up there, I’ve heard. They play in rain, even snow.
Tennis. A Goyishe game if ever there was one. I ride up to see.
The tarmac gleams fresh and clean:
What if the Jews had never come to New York, I wonder? No bagels. No culture. No humor. No sales. Oy!
It seems unlikely that I could have continued to live in New York indefinitely without discovering its Jewish component. But I discovered it at music camp, and once I found it there I recognized it everywhere. Shortly thereafter, my mother married a Jewish man with four kids, and I’m happy to say the wheels came off our WASP wagon for good.
Though over the years I’ve become less and less able to buy into the notion of Monotheism, and long ago adopted a Buddhist philosophy (and lots of Jews have too – some of my favorite Buddhists are Jewish), socially I’m probably more Jewish than anything else.
With that, I’m still a contrarian. Most cyclists ride a road bike. I ride a Brompton. Most people prefer sunny rides. I love to ride in the rain. I am chronically allergic to freeways, bowling and barbecue pits. I love the theatre, Jo Allen’s and Fran Liebowitz. And that’s not changing.
Hey, I’m a New Yorker.
So sue me.