In October of 1981, my family moved from NY to a small home on Shannon Road in Cleveland Heights. The streets criss-crossed in a grid, bracketed by South Taylor and Andrews, and Severn to Blanche going the other way. I didn’t know, as a young girl, that “Cleveland Heights,” or more colloquially among us Orthodox, “the Heights,” encompassed much more than our little pocket of religious Jews. I didn’t know about Coventry and Forest Hills, about Noble and Monticello. “The Heights” was in contradistinction to Wickliffe and Beachwood – the other two Orthodox pockets of Northeast Ohio. And when we said “Beachwood,” we meant Beachwood and University Heights interchangeably – also known as “the other neighborhood.” So if you went to my school, you pretty much either lived in “the Heights,” “the other neighborhood,” or Wickliffe.
When I moved back to Cleveland as an adult with my husband and children in 2000, we moved right back to Cleveland Heights where my parents’ friends and our relatives lived. We stayed for ten years, then, in response to growing needs from our fledgling congregation, made the big migration to “the other neighborhood.”
Moving to The Other Neighborhood was a big deal. Most of our family lived in “the Heights” and moving, even just 2.5 miles away, made a big difference to our daily interactions with them. But we put our congregation first and went.
Since that day 9 years ago we have come back to the Heights often. But the most stark encounter is when we walk.
Shabbat and holidays are when families get together, and for the Shabbat-observant, that means walking. We knew when we moved that we weren’t going to sacrifice that. So every now and then we’d pack up the double stroller, then the single stroller, now just the youngest on a scooter, lace up our sneakers (I still have that NY residue), and walk.
But something odd happens when we walk back to the shtetl of our youth. The portal to my shtetl is like Platform 9 ¾ – you don’t know it’s there till you’re through. You’re in one universe, and then – whoosh! – you’re in another. Walking back to “the Heights” is like walking through a time capsule for me. It takes me back to a time when all my little kids fit neatly into the minivan du jour. I am reminded of a younger and less complicated self. I am transported to my cluelessness and freshness, to the bar mitzvah of our oldest son; to walking the little ones to school on the corner; to my husband coming home from synagogue in the mornings and singing to them so they’d quickly eat their breakfasts and go.
Who was that person? Where am I? Has everyone changed or have I? Has my shtetl changed or have we? How did we apparate here?
The coming and going are the dichotomy of my life. Moving to “the other neighborhood” always symbolized a choosing of greater diversity, an exit from the shtetl, whether one moved for that reason or not. Having one foot in the shtetl and one foot out is an award-worthy balancing act. I’ve long-ago learned that one can call two places home: my home in the USA and Israel. My old, small, enclosed shtetl, never flowing past South Taylor or Blanche, and my new shtetl with fluid borders.
I live in two worlds: my orthodox bubble, and my outreach community. My kids who are religious, and their schools and friends; and my kids who are not religious, and their schools and friends. My life before I lived in two worlds, and my life after I lived in two worlds.
I remember when we lived in Israel when our kids were little. We used to travel back and forth at least once a year with our little ones in tow. It was exhausting and grueling to travel with small children. I remember thinking to myself: I cannot live in two worlds anymore. Either we make aliyah and I settle here and become Israeli, and not visit my family as much. Or I need to move back to the States to be an American and remain an active part of my family. I’m not going to pretend it isn’t exhausting to move between my two worlds. The walk is only 50 minutes but the journey is over a yawning chasm.
But I will keep at it. I will keep commuting. And I will keep on, keep on, walking to Cleveland Heights.