July 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The Jewish World at 35,000 Feet

The little airplane icon on the screen of the seat in front of me shows we’re somewhere over Kansas. As I strain my eyes to look a bit closer, it appears that we’re right near Topeka, over a town called Manhattan.  I look down outside my window and give the good folks of Manhattan my own little bracha from high above: “I hope you have clean air and no traffic, dear citizens of Manhattan, Kansas.” I’m not sure that counts as any kind of Birkhat Kohein, but I bet it’s the only one they’ll get from a Delta passenger today. So I’m feeling good.

My first inclination after making the bracha is to wonder how far they are from Wichita, which must be the epicenter of Jewish Kansas. Seems like a few hundred miles. Which begs the question: If the Jews of Wichita get their kosher meat from Chicago, do the Jews of Manhattan get theirs from Kansas City?  I am sure someone reading this can answer my questions, but 35,000 feet up here in the air there’s really no one to ask.

Some more questions. Do the observant men and women of the area have a mikvah? Do they go to Wichita for mikvah and stop off for kosher meat before they immerse? As a long time Jewish communal professional, whatever that means, these are the questions that enter my mind. One word then pops into my mind that solves all my issues: “Chabad!” But that’s no fun, so I continue to think about more things. How large is their Jewish Federation? Any Orthodox shuls? I wonder what THEY pay for Rosh Hashana seats? Didn’t I once go to YU with a kid from Wichita? Wasn’t the Kansas Yeshiva Day School in the YU Sarachek Basketball tournament a few years ago? Oh wait…was that Houston? Or maybe I’m right since they both are supported by the same major Jewish philanthropist.

The guy sitting next to me seems to have purchased in-flight Wi-Fi. Now here’s a dilemma. For $10 bucks for the next hour I could have full access to Google and answer every one of my questions. But doing so would violate my own rules of never, ever, falling into the trap of reading email while on a plane. The hours up here are precious for taking a nap, catching up on the Wall Street Journal and Jewish newspapers. But I could have all my answers immediately for a swipe of the credit card! I feel the Yetzer Hara starting to creep in something fierce. I pull out the Visa card, but then hold myself back. No way. I’m not doing it. Certain rules are inviolate, and this is one of them. I will not break my Cone of Silence up here (remember Get Smart?). I will be left to wonder about the Jews of Manhattan, Kansas, and will have to make a mental note to look them up one day.

Which all leads me to my point about this article, I think. I left my home in Fair Lawn, one of the “Eight Towns” of Bergen County as this paper’s publishers so brilliantly referred to the area in the first issue of the Jewish Link of Bergen County. The plane took off from JFK, in the backwaters of Peninsula Boulevard which separates Far Rockaway from the Five Towns. It’s headed to Los Angeles, with the great Pico/Robertson area and its myriad kosher restaurants and shuls awaiting me. Beverly Hills, too. (By the way, didja’ ever notice that the rashei teivot of Beverly Hills are B”H? – just sayin’).

And yet in between, there are hundreds of Wichitas and Kansas Citys and St. Louises and Minneapolises, and I wonder who has it better. The closer-knit, smaller communities that depend on each other, where everyone counts, literally, or the communities with abject Jewish luxury afforded to those living in places like Teaneck or Cedarhurst or Beverlywood. It’s a good and important conversation to have.

In the meantime, the little plane on the screen says we’re approaching Colorado Springs. Now I am sure THEY get their kosher meat from Denver….

By Robert Katz

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