Monday, November 03, 2008

A Tale of Two Williamsburgs

Due to an arthritic knee, I haven't run the New York (or any) Marathon since 2003. In order to feel part of the festivities, I watch the Marathon and cheer from the sidelines. I like to watch from Williamsburg. It is ten miles into the race. Runners, especially those attempting the race on minimal training, are getting tired and in need of a lift. But the Hasidim are (in)famously impassive. Few are on the street. Those that are mostly ignore us, or else eye us like we're visitors from space. No applause, no "looking good," nothing, not even when I run past wearing an Israeli-flag top and shouting something in Hebrew. Once I managed to garner an "Amen" after shouting out a loud shehakol on a cup of water. So I ride to Bedford and Flushing Avenues, park myself on the sidewalk, and give the runners the encouragement that they need and aren't getting from the Williamsburg Hasidim. I shout out names that runners wear on their tops, and give a Hebrew cheer to runners that are identifiably Jewish or Israeli. This year I had purchased a shofar to use on Rosh Hashana, and I blew teki'ot for the runners. A policeman nearby remarked to another that it's the "most annoying sound in the world" and he'd never known where it came from until now. Perhaps I'm just a bad ba'al toke'a, but I've heard worse. One wonders how long he'd been living in New York not to know what a shofar is. I told him that before sirens were invented that was how people sounded the alarm. The cop is entitled to his opinion, but he could have kept it to himself while wearing the uniform.

When most of the runners had passed, I jogged a mile or two on the sidewalk, past the Williamsburg Bridge. I was now in the "other" Williamsburg, what used to be the Hispanic part but is now increasingly populated by "hipsters," young artists and such. There was a noticeable lessening of tension. People lined the sidewalks cheering, they stood on rooftops, terraces and fire escapes cheering. They hung out of windows cheering. Bands set themselves up on the sidewalk playing drums and music. They were happy to see us. We [I'm moving easily from the third person to the first because I still identify strongly as a runner] were happy to see them and hear them. What a difference between Hipster Williamsburg and Hasidic Williamsburg. It's the difference between feeling alive and feeling dead. Where would you rather be and who would you rather be with?

From the 2006 race in Williamsburg

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for cheering! My buddy and I ran it together (my first time!). And don't be so hard on the chassidim. Every one I called out to acknowledged me and called back with a smile. Except the one who I asked, "Did I miss zman krias shema?" He was too stunned to respond. ;-)

Mon Nov 03, 08:00:00 PM EST  
Blogger Zev Stern said...

Did I see you at the expo last Thursday? I was the short fellow with the McCain button on my shirt and the blue McCain baseball cap.

Tue Nov 04, 01:10:00 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not that I remember, no.

Tue Nov 04, 12:07:00 PM EST  

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