Monday, August 27, 2007

Ramblings About Life in the Big City...

It's always been a source of puzzlement to why Jews, doesn't matter what type (O, C, R, Nothing), insist on living in big, giant cities, like New York and Los Angeles. I mean, honestly, what's the attraction?

I'm a big city person. I've lived in both New York and Los Angeles. In fact, I mostly grew up in Los Angeles (minus about six years in Israel). The problem with these places, aside from the obvious jokes one can make about both LA and NY, is they are TOO DAMN BIG!! But, I hate the big city. New York was awful. People there acted horribly, were quite rude, and it was way too overcrowded. In LA, people were a bit nicer, but again, there were just too many!

When a community becomes so huge as to number in the upper hundreds of thousands people, or even in the millions, that community ceases to be a community. Oh, sure, there are smaller shuls which one may join, larger ones in which one may be active. And within the confines of those shuls, certainly, there is some sense of community.

But what about community in a larger sense? A community to which everyone who is Jewish belongs? That dies when a community becomes a population. And that's the difference between a community and a population. A community, like the one in which I currently live, is close-knit, friendly, and gives you a sense of belonging. Shuls do things in conjunction with other shuls. They support each other in many endeavors.

On the other hand, a population is just that, a population. A population does not give one the sense of a community. You are invisible most of the time, unless you are within the framework of your shul or social circle.

I've never understood why Jews tend to congregate in large metropolitan areas. Certainly, with New York, which was the immigrant drop-off point, it made sense that a Jewish community would form there. But why stay? Even more relevant, why MOVE there?! Again, I understand NY has much to offer in the way of conveniences, restaurants, etc. But as someone who lived there, as someone who knows people who live there, it's just awful!

LA has become similar, unfortunately. It's even become a joke the New Yorkers like to call LA New York West.

When you lose a sense of community, you lose a sense of self as well, I believe. You lose, even, a sense of worth, unless you are very influential in many circles, and usually that means lot of money. What about all the rest who aren't wealthy?

Here's the other problem: There are so many beautiful small cities or towns where a Jewish person can settle quite comfortably and spend thousands, even hundreds of thousands, less than it would cost to live a Big City. In my new town, for instance, which has a substantial Jewish community, and even a Jewish Federation that is friendly toward the Orthodox community (don't know about New York, but certainly not the case in LA - they hate Orthodox Jews there!), a house that would have cost between $900,000 to $1.2 million in LA costs between $125,000 and $300,000 here. And in LA, the house would be smaller as it would have no basement and a tiny backyard. And it would only be three bedrooms and 1.75 bathrooms. Here, it would be four or five bedrooms, two or three bathrooms, have a finished basement and nice sized backyard.

Take it even further. On our drive from LA to where we currently live, we went through some really gorgeous, gleaming towns that are just dying for an opportunity to have their community expand a bit. Even better, what about starting new communities, living in truly amazing places like the Rocky Mountains? On our way here, we passed through the Rockies. Let me tell you, I've never seen anything so beautiful in my life. From the bright night sky to the clean air, from the Colorado River to the wooded towns all along the way, all I could do was say "Ma Rabu Ma'asecha Hashem!" It was so clean, so crisp, and so incredibly beautiful. And yet, no Jews lived there. What's up with that?! If I weren't frum, or not Jewish, our drive would have ended right there. We'd have stopped, found some way to make a living, and settled there.

This is something I've always wondered. Why do Jews live in big, ugly cities instead of in beautiful places?

I've crossedposted this at Am Kshe Oref

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