On Wednesday afternoon, I arrive in Manhattan in order to celebrate Rosh Hashana with my family only to discover that most people have been waiting for the 86th street cross-town bus for at least ten minutes and there are no empty taxis in sight. Services were to start in ten minutes when I get a panicked phone call from my mother asking where I am. It was at that point that I started to walk in order to find a cab. I then discovered that the Upper East Side, and for that matter the Upper West Side are almost as Jewish, if not more so than Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Although New York may not have the same spiritual significance as the holy sites in Jerusalem, the only comparable experience to my lack of transportation a few days ago would be the pre-Yom Kippur festivities that occurred in Tel Aviv last year. I went to the beach (how else should someone atone for sins committed over the past year?) and had to return to Jerusalem in time for the fast. I went to the central bus terminal in order to board a group taxi. To get onto a taxi, however, I needed to curse and push other people out of the way (a great way to commit more sins before some final atonement). I did ultimately get back to Jerusalem in time, just as I arrived home this week in time for a little praying for the holiday. It was impossible for me to not compare these two experiences, though, and I really started thinking, which is more Jewish? So now it’s time for the final showdown: New York City vs. Jerusalem.

Markets: Zabar’s vs. Shuk Machane Yehudah
Both are owned by Jews, and their primary customer base is concerned with food (aka intrinsically Jewish). Zabar’s customers are obsessed with finding the perfect brunch items; customers can taste a variety of loxes and the bread selection (including H & H bagels) is the nearest to perfection I’ve ever found, with the exception of the to-die-for challah found in the shuk. Zabar’s also has an extensive cheese counter and kosher food selection. Their addition of a sushi bar was nice, but it includes such non-koser items such as shrimp and lobster. I’ve been known to enjoy certain sushi specialties, but for the sake of my argument, this would work against Zabar’s Jewyness. Machane Yehuda has every food product you could possibly want, given the endless stalls found there. The halvah melts on your tongue, you can buy hand-made sandals reminiscent of ancient Jerusalem times, and the hummus is just amazing. This round, Jerusalem wins.

Synagogues: Amount of…
In both cities, almost every corner you turn on, there’s another shul. Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, and various others pervade NYC. In Jerusalem, it’s a little harder to find non-Ortho synagogues, but they do exist. Jerusalem may have more, but it would be hard to tell. As a result, this one’s a tie.

Language: Hebrew vs. English/Yiddish/Ladino/Hebrew/Spanish/etc.
Now I know, Hebrew is clearly Jewish, but the fact that every person in New York knows the words oy vey, shmuck, shmegegee, tuchis, mazel tov, and knish, means that Jewish culture has actually managed to pervade almost every aspect of life in this almost-ghetto island found in the diaspora. So I get it: Hebrew is Jewish and the national language of Israel, but everybody knows some Yiddish. Once again, I think it’s a tie.

So basically, I’m not sure. When it comes down to it, Jerusalem and New York are both really, really Jewish. It’s pretty hard to decide. Any thoughts?

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  • What I enjoy about NYC is the extreme cultural diversity and its distinct neighbourhoods (more distinct even in Brooklyn than in Manhattan IMHO). It’s been ten years now since I was in Jerusalem, but as far as I can remember, the biggest “cultural” clash was between the Old City and the more recently built parts of the city. Stats say that 20.5% (approx. 300,000 people) of Manhattanites and 64% of Jerusalem residents (approx. 471,000 people) adhere to Judaism. So in percentage as well as in total numbers, Jerusalem would win.

  • Slightly off topic: a newish coworker arrived recently from a far less diverse part of America than NYC. asking me what it was like to work here, he said “do we have diversity training?”

    I said, “walk around the block 3 times, there is your diversity training.”

    A no 1 reason to live in this area: diversity.