All I needed was a boat.
My niece had her bat mitzvah last weekend in New York City. Of course we were there. It’s family. You go to these things. They’re a lot of fun and you get to see people you haven’t seen in a while – what’s not to love?
The trick, of course, is getting there.
Some of that was distance, but most of it was scheduling. It’s summer and while there was a time when that meant lazy days and endless free time, for me that time was 1983. These days it’s just another season of work and projects, only the weather is more uncomfortable than usual. We had a very defined slot into which we could put this event.
Nobody could leave until after the graduation party, for one thing. For another, we had to be back by the following Sunday evening so Fran could get packed up for her flight back to Belgium. And for a third, I couldn’t leave until after my summer class started. So we worked it out that Kim, Tabitha, Lauren, Fran, and Lauren’s friend Aleksia would leave the day after the graduation party and head to Philadelphia to meet up with my mom and explore that part of the world for a few days, and then we’d all meet up in New York for the bat mitzvah.
Kim and the girls arrived at my mom’s that Sunday.
They had a grand time, from what I heard. They went to Reading Terminal Market and had cheesesteaks (among other things). They also walked around Center City, by Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell and any number of other things, past the Chinatown Gate, and generally enjoyed themselves.
It was a hot, hot day, which of course meant water ice.
There was a lovely Italian meal at the restaurant near my mom’s place, where for some reason everyone got a post-it with their own personal fruit drawn on it. Even the waiter.
And they visited Eastern State Penitentiary, an old prison now turned into a great museum and run by a friend! They didn’t get a chance to see him, but still – the museum was fascinating and you should go there.
There was also a lovely day down at the Jersey shore with Steve and Rolane, who were nice enough to volunteer their home down there even though they just got back from a trip of their own. And of course there was a side-trip to Junior’s Donuts, because no trip to the Jersey shore is complete without one.
From there they traveled up to New York on Thursday, where they met up with Keith, Lori, Josh and Sara, and spent the day doing New York things, notably riding on the subway, walking around Times Square, and also eating at Gray’s Papaya, which is apparently required for all New Yorkers and visitors.
I went out to meet them on Friday, on one of those odysseys that are so common these days. I woke up at an hour that I used to routinely go to bed at when I was in college and headed down to the airport by bus as the sun slowly rose in what I regard as entirely the wrong part of the sky for the sun to be in. I got on the plane without incident – something that actually surprised me in this paranoid age of Security Theater, as a single man on a one-way ticket with no baggage – and flew into LaGuardia, then took another bus to the subway and the subway into Manhattan. You should take public transportation in New York City – that’s how you see the actual city. Plus, it’s lovely antidote to the Homogenized and Standardized that so dominates this country these days. I think everyone should be required to live in New York for six months, just to remind them that there are millions of Real Americans Who Do Not Look, Think, Act, Or Speak Like Them. Our politics would be very different if more of my fellow Americans could beat that simple fact through their skulls, I think. The bus ride was maybe 20 minutes long, and I heard five different languages during that time. That’s America.
The subway let me off at 57th Street, and at that point I walked the half mile or so to the hotel, stopping about halfway to grab a soft pretzel from a street vendor because it was lunchtime and I was starving and they were right there after all. I put mustard on that pretzel, the way God and Nature intended, and it was good.
Wheels, wings, rails, feet.
All I needed was a boat.
I checked into the hotel – one of those lovely New York hotels that is gorgeous and features rooms the size of a midwestern closet, though with a wallpaper in the hallway that was eerily reminiscent of something Stanley Kubrick would have in the background – and then met up with a few family members in the coffee shop on the corner for conversation and snacks. It was a lovely time.
Meanwhile, as I was making my way to the hotel Kim and the girls were continuing to be tourists, on the theory that neither Fran nor Aleksia had ever been to New York before and they have these great tourist sites for a reason after all. You might as well go. They headed off to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. You need a boat to get there, and if I had gotten to New York earlier I could have completed my transportation set. But they had a grand time, by all indications.
I remember going to the Statue of Liberty when I was in 7th grade on a field trip. It was nice, even if mostly what I remember is a lot of cramped stairs. I’ve never been to Ellis Island, though I’d like to go sometime. Lauren kept sending me pictures of possible ancestors’ names on the wall, which I thoroughly appreciated.
We all got together for a lovely dinner in the restaurant underneath the hotel, after which I must have collapsed in a heap on the bed because it had been a long if entertaining day.
After a more interesting morning than expected, during which I learned precisely how easy it is to jimmy open the hotel security latch if you have the proper tool for it (vide supra, re: “Security Theater”) and had a bagel breakfast for all in the hotel lobby, we all headed up to the bat mitzvah. Like most things in New York, it was within walking distance – that’s one of the joys of a big city, everything’s close – and we ambled our way up there in our own separate times.
It is a strange realization that your kids are now mature enough to be let loose in New York City with instructions and times for a meeting place later on. Parenting FTW, I suppose, but no less strange for that.
You weren’t really allowed to take pictures during the ceremony, which I already knew. What I didn’t know was that this particular synagogue had a rather expansive definition of “ceremony,” one that included all of the milling-about time beforehand, so eventually a nicely-dressed woman came over to me and clued me in and I didn’t get to take all of the pictures I wanted to take, but I did get some.
The ceremony itself was lovely.
Most of it was sung, for one thing, and there was a kind of a klezmer feel to it which was nice. And the officiants did a nice job of walking the visitors through the various bits that those more familiar with the order of things would just have known. It was a long service – they went through the usual Sabbath service as well as the bat mitzvah (or the b’not mitzvah, which is the plural form, since Sara and her friend Mia decided to do this together) – but it flowed on by. Sara did a nice job with her speaking parts, and Keith and Lori even found roles for various family members. Kim and I were put on the “put the cover back on the Torah” detail, along with a couple of people from Mia’s family, and we managed to get it done even without a rehearsal. This is good, because apparently if you drop the Torah it means several weeks of fasting and we had a reception to go to afterward.
“Lunch is on,” I whispered to Keith as I walked past him back to my seat.
And so it was. We walked over to a restaurant called The Sugar Factory, which is apparently known for using goldfish bowls and dry ice to make giant steaming sodas, and settled in for a lovely reception.
We talked. We ate. We tried a few of the items at the bar – drinks roughly as extravagant as the sodas only you shouldn’t be driving home afterward (try the American Honey – it’s really, really good). There was a photo booth where you could take serious photos and not so serious ones. It was a grand time.
There was also a Serious Dessert for the guest of honor, as was only right and proper.
A few of us ended up back at Keith and Lori’s afterward for yet more food and conversation, because that’s just the best way to spend a day. By that point the hard part was over, the nerves had been stilled, and everyone could just relax.
These are initiation rites, welcoming the initiant into the community as an adult. We don’t have enough of those anymore, really, and it’s good to see the ones we have continuing. As a historian, I just love the idea of passing down customs, practices, and objects from one generation to another, especially when they’re more than just things – they’re part of a larger culture and a family history.
Of course this left us with some time afterward, so after much puzzling the Wisconsin crew decided that we’d go to a movie. Incredibles 2 was playing nearby, so we wandered around the city in our separate ways for a while until showtime, met Sara at the theater, and were Entertained for a while.
We were even more entertained afterward when the escalator down to the street level decided to eat Lauren’s shoelace and Kim had to press the emergency stop button so we could get it back. No harm done, and there was a general celebration that ended yet again at yet another Gray’s Papaya because New York that’s why.
We drove home the next day – a long and thankfully uneventful drive made longer by the slowest KFC on earth. But we made it, and everything was fine.
Congratulations, Sara! Mazel tov!