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By the delis of Babylon

by michael September 22 2008
If I forget thee, O Upper West Side, may my bagel forget its cream cheese 

Jerusalem. Here, according to tradition, Abraham offered his only son Isaac up to God. Here David forced out the Jebusites and built his capital. Here the Temples were built and destroyed. Here the Israeli paratroopers fought to liberate the Western Wall. Here, for two thousand years, Jews from Vilnius to Kerala directed their prayers and dreams.

But is it the capital of the Jewish world? Well, according to a certain Haaretz columnist, apparently not.

So what is the capital city of the Jewish World? It's time to make a declaration. And, no - despite the campaign rhetoric in both Israel and the U.S. - the answer is not Jerusalem. That choice is way too obvious and needs to be disqualified.

Instead, let's ask where the majority of the world's Jews would really feel most comfortable? What's the one place they'd love to live, or regularly visit, not to mention inherit an apartment there? My vote goes to that piece of Manhattan paradise between 59th and 125th Streets, Central Park, and the Hudson River (even though defining its exact boundaries sometimes inspires more argument than discussions about what constitutes Israel's borders). 


Don't get me wrong, Jews like to be around other Jews, and be a five minute ride away from lox (must be nova) and bagel or pastrami-on-rye, but they also like to be part of a larger urban and multicultural mix; and to be in a place that they can soak up music, art, theatre, plays and celebrate/curse the local sports team. In short, we want to be inspired and feel like we're living at the center of the universe. 

Demographics back him up. Every single one of the world's roughly 13 million Jews is an American East Coaster of Ashkenazi descent whose feeble, guilt-stricken cipher of a body withers without regular infusions of nova lox. Those people at Mordoch or Shegar or Darna are just self-denying New Yorkers with tans; when their customers aren't looking, they're in the kitchen putting a schmear on their kubbeh, shedding quiet tears of shame.

But why, beyond the lox, does the Upper West Side trump the Jews' holy city as the center of the Jewish world? Well, cuz like the Bible is way heavy or something.

Here's my take: [Jerusalem] is way too sacred and precious, and getting up there in years, to have to enter such competitions. Plus, the vibe there is just too heavy. If one of the most popular sayings about Jerusalem is any indication, I'm in no mood to lose my hand if I forget about the city's centrality in my life. That's scary. 

Psalm 137 actually only speaks metaphorically about one's right hand losing its use rather than being lost, but when your gut is full to bursting with the sweet pastrami of Babylon, perhaps you can be forgiven for missing the finer point. Besides, the Bible is way too sacred and precious, and getting up there in years, to be the central book of the Jewish people. It's time we cast it aside in favor of Portnoy's Complaint, or perhaps (if we are to be modern and do away with books altogether) Annie Hall.

After all, what's manna from heaven when you've got bagels?

Image courtesy of unforth from Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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