In a sharply crafted article in the October 23, 2014 issue of The New York Review of Books, http://bit.ly/1vkxUB2 the brilliant writer Zadie Smith writes of a harsh individualism she sees in Manhattan, gentrification gone wild, celebrating singular success and “happiness” without regard for those who don’t have this luxury. She writes: “Manhattan is for the hard-bodied, the hard-minded, the multitasker, the alpha mamas and papas. A perfect place for self-empowerment—as long as you’re pretty empowered to begin with.”
Updated and incisive as her essay is, Smith’s observation isn’t a revelation. New York has always been perceived of as a tough and often heartless town—because it can be. In her Brain Pickings blog last year, Maria Popova quotes a 1934 letter from Anais Nin to her then-lover Henry Miller http://bit.ly/1yr69rH:
“New York is the very opposite of Paris. People’s last concern is with intimacy. No attention is given to friendship and its development. Nothing is done to soften the harshness of life itself. There is much talk about the ‘world,’ about millions, groups, but no warmth between human beings. They persecute subjectivity, which is a sense of inner life; an individual’s concern with growth and self-development is frowned upon.
Subjectivity seems to be in itself a defect. No praise or compliments are given, because praise is politeness and all politeness is hypocrisy. Americans are proud of telling you only the bad. The ‘never-talk-about-yourself’ taboo is linked with the most candid, unabashed self-seeking, and selfishness.”
And yet, now as always, New York offers another kind of energy, embodied by countless people whose ambitions are just as relentless as the “hard-minded” success seekers, but with a different definition of success. Maybe you don’t notice them as much because selfishness stands out more than kindness, in the way you remember the person who shoves you more than the 100 people who passed by, mindful of your space as well as theirs. We tend to revisit/analyze/dwell on the sting of rejection more often than the embrace of approval.
So in the spirit of embracing warmth between human beings and celebrating the empowerment of community, Jerry and I thank all of you who make The Village Temple such a welcoming corner of our sometimes harsh city. The warmth was palpable this past Friday at our Succoth service, with the sanctuary and Succah filled with people of all ages, from a wide range of socioeconomic circumstance, to join Rabbi Koster and Anita Hollander and our amazing children’s choir. For a couple of hours the clock stopped ticking as we celebrated the great gift of stepping outside the usual demands and concerns imposed by our hectic lives, to recognize that we are not alone.