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Chapter Sixteen


It's Time To Take Stock Of Ourselves


    Before we moved here, one of the biggest misconceptions I had about Crown Heights was that everyone is basically the same kind of person as everyone else. Actually, this isn't a total misconception. People here do tend to dress in the same way, speak with the same mannerisms (like when they say "close the light" instead of "turn off the light"), eat the same types of food, and in general no one wants to be the first to do something in a different way. The night before we came I panicked at the thought of losing my identity here. It had taken me so long and I had worked so hard to bring out my creative side since I became Orthodox, and I was terrified that Crown Heights would destroy that part of me. I was also worried that if everyone actually did turn out to be the same I would get bored with the sameness because I was the kind of person who really enjoyed being friends with all kinds of people.

     But none of this has been the case. In fact, the sameness that does exist here has had a positive effect on me, and has continued to serve as a constant encouragement to me and my family to grow in our Jewishness. The differences that exist here have revealed to me the individual strengths of each person, which I feel contribute to the overall strength of the entire community.

     Our first five years here we lived in a very special place. The reason is that we literally live in between people who are completely different from each other, but nevertheless in each of their own ways they are equally dedicated to the Rebbe and to everything the Rebbe worked so hard to accomplish. And we were indeed very blessed that Hashem placed us in this spot, because being there allowed us the opportunity to learn from both sides.

     When I was little I used to watch movies about people in Brooklyn who yelled out of their windows back and forth to each other. I think somewhere inside of me, I always hoped I would live next door to people like that. Well, I really got my wish when we moved into that apartment, because our 'window-neighbors' from there are exactly like this, and I loved listening to the sound of their voices. There are three generations of family members living in that house and they are the most vibrant and active people I've ever seen. They are also the nosiest people I've ever known, but for good reasons. They happen to be real heimishe folks who treat everyone like family and they really care about helping other people.

     One time, after walking home from the grocery store, I was standing in front of my house. My neighbor was standing on her porch waiting for her little boy to come home on the school bus. She yelled out to me "Why don't you wear a coat?" To my surprise (and apparently from the look on her face, to her surprise also), I yelled back, "Why don't you move away?" She looked at me for a moment, and then continued right on, saying "You have two coats, why aren't you wearing one?" She knows I have two coats. She knows everything about me. She thinks that is what neighbors are for.

     Actually, she happens to be a really good-hearted person. If I had a thousand hands, I still couldn't count the amount of times she and her family have helped us. It is her nature to be nosy, but only because she wants to know exactly what a person is G-D forbid without. That way, she can make sure they receive exactly what they need.

     One day when we were building our Succah, some of her children were standing around watching along with our children. One of them asked us if the lulov and esrog on the table belonged to our son. My husband answered that it was his and that we didn't have a separate set for our oldest son. When the first day of Succos came, one of my neighbor's kids came over and handed us a lulov and esrog for our son. They claimed that somehow they ended up with an 'extra' set.

     On the other side of our first apartment here lives a Rabbi and his wife who are quite fascinating people. The Rabbi in this family comes from a long line of Lubavitchers who were each very close to the Rebbe of their generation. I remember noticing from looking out my window that this Rabbi is always extremely careful to do mitzvahs in the best and purest of ways. Once when it was very cold out and the steps were covered with snow and ice, I couldn't believe my eyes as I watched this Rabbi, who is in his 80s, making his way down the steps with the aid of his devoted son-in-law. I was in awe that this Rabbi would brave the bitter cold to go to shul because he understood how important a mitzvah it was. His wife is quite impressive in her own right, and seems a lot like royalty to me, maybe because in a way she is. She is the daughter of the Kapitchinitzer Rebbe, who is a descendent of other Rebbes. She is the epitome of everything that is graceful and charming and elegant. It is important to note that even though she descends from such holy people, she is in no way a snob. On the contrary, she is a most delightful and friendly lady. Whenever she saw me, she would always smile and ask me how are family was doing. And she always made a point of saying what great neighbors we were. She is an especially fine and genteel woman and I feel honored to have lived next door to her.

     A couple of doors down is a family with some of the cutest and well-behaved children I have met. Some of their girls are about the same age as our girls and they play together so nicely. Their mother is a very sweet person who speaks softly and expects her children to behave in a way that is fitting for an Orthodox Jew to behave. Her children are most certainly a good influence on mine and we are very blessed to have had them as neighbors.

     Our downstairs neighbors we had there are very nice people, just like Dovid said. Whenever they were getting things for their own family, they always keep us in mind. They put up with our loud footsteps, they respect our privacy, and we couldn't have asked for better neighbors.

     All of the Jews in Crown Heights are wonderfully special people in their own right. One of the strongest qualities I have noticed in them, is their continual commitment to Torah and to life. I love that they wake up every morning thankful to G-D for giving them a new day. I love their energy and the fact that they continue to get excited about Shabbos and Yom Tov. I love that they keep going and going and reaching out to help other people and doing what G-D expects of them. And most of all, I love that they do all of this in such a joyful manner. This is why the Jews in Crown Heights are such an extraordinary inspiration to all Jews everywhere.

     Of course, people are still people, so naturally some people are easier to get along with than others. I have learned, however, that it's always important to look for the good. But I have to remind myself constantly that it isn't always so revealed in a way that is obvious. Thank G-D, we are beginning to get used to things here, although some people still look at us like we're from Mars when we say "please" and "thank you" and "excuse me." My husband heard an amusing story about a woman who was sitting in 770 and another woman bumped into her and said "Oh, excuse me." The woman who was bumped into said "You're not from Crown Heights, are you?" Although people in Crown Heights may not always be the best in the good manners category, their good deeds remain unsurpassed.

     However, there is one teeny, tiny flaw that really gets on my nerves. I have noticed lately that there seems to be a surge in kvetchiness. It might have something to do with the air in New York City (or lack of it). One woman I know had a great idea that all the women of Crown Heights should get together and storm 770 and insist that everyone stop fighting and complaining. I agree that something should be done about this problem, and I feel it is definitely time to take stock of ourselves, literally, in order to regain the unity we had at Mount Sinai. I believe that the best way to rectify this intolerable situation is by forming a group called S.T.O.C.K. (Striving To Obliterate Constant Kvetching). S.T.O.C.K. would be dedicated to doing away with all kvetchiness in Crown Heights and ultimately in the entire world. And most importantly, S.T.O.C.K. would be named in honor of the most unkvetchy people I know: Martha and Shimshon Stock (you'll notice I mentioned Martha's name first).