"If you live in New York, even if you're Catholic, you're Jewish."
Occasionally I'll use this space to write about various Jewish holidays. I can see how this could potentially lead to some confusion about my religion of choice.
I usually assume my name is a quick give-away (very few Jews are named "Kristy," as it essentially means "Christian") but that assumption doesn't always hold weight. That I take Hebrew classes probably only adds to the confusion. In fact, my friend JJ's parents, with whom I spent both Passover and Rosh Hashanah this year, only recently realized that I was not Jewish. Oops.
I'm not trying to be tricky, ambiguous, or fool anyone; I'm just a Christian who likes celebrating certain aspects of Judaism. And one of the things I love about living in New York is that it's pretty easy to participate in the cultural and ritual traditions of this religion.
As Lenny Bruce hinted at, Judaism is woven into the cultural fabric of this city. There is the history of Jewish immigration through Manhattan's Lower East Side, the enclaves of hasidism in Brooklyn, kosher delis and restaurants, multiple seminaries and synagogues, streets honorarily named for Jewish leaders and artists (i.e. Isaac Bashevis Singer Boulevard), a dialect peppered with Yiddish phrases, and bagels, bialys, knishes and blintzes available city-wide.
The ritual aspects of Judaism are also easy to observe in New York, especially the festival of sukkot (beginning this week) which moves celebration from inside the homes/synagogues outside to the streets, sidewalks, and parks of the city. As I wrote last year, Sukkot is a feast of thanksgiving, and observant Jews eat their meals outside in booths (sukkot).
These booths can be seen in apartment building courtyards, in parks (check out Madison Square and Bryant Park for Chabad's booths), outside synagogues, and even on the sidewalks in front of kosher restaurants (see pics of the Prime Grill in midtown, below).
This year, a contest was held in Union Square for artists and architects to present their uber-design-y visions of reinterpreted sukkot. When I visited last weekend (pics above), it was cool to note that the people milling around the contest entries did not appear to be just observant Jews, but city citizens from all backgrounds who were interested to see what the artists had dreamed up.
So...Happy Sukkot! This year I'm giving thanks that I live in a place where diversity is celebrated, where the other is our neighbor, and where we can observe and celebrate what makes us different and also what binds us all together.