One of the most awesome parts, and one of the worst parts, of being Orthodox, is living in a community. Especially a small community. Like Cleveland, which has recently been deemed a very “genuine” place to live.
Now, granted, you can technically be Orthodox and live wherever you want, but it means you may not be able to go to shul (synagogue) or easily obtain kosher food. You could certainly eat fruits, veggies, grains, etc., and you could certainly do your praying and your Shabbat solo, but you might feel much more isolated – we were meant to support one another in this Jewish journey.
So what do I love about living in a small community?
People care if you exist.
This means they notice if you are out of town, they ask you why you decided to switch your kids’ schools, and they are happy to see you when the weather gets warm. Your existence matters to the PTA, the minyan, and the local Jewish vendors such as the butcher, baker and candlestick maker. Okay, so in 2012 that’s the neighbor that cuts hair and waxes eyebrows, the neighbor that does my wig, the neighbor that sells accessories in her basement, and the neighbor that owns the local kosher grocery.
This makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Originally from Queens, many of my relatives live in virtual anonymity on the east coast. If they drop into one minyan or another, it’s not likely anyone will notice. If they attend this or that simcha, it’s not likely anyone will notice. If they buy their groceries at this corner store or the next… big deal; there’s way too much traffic for anyone to take note.
I like it that people care; that my presence and purchases matter; that the schools want more rather than fewer kids. I like it that my neighbors know when I’m on my own because my husband is out of town for a few and that we’ve been away for a holiday or forgot that it was a holiday weekend and took the garbage out too early or forgot to close the car windows and it was raining, all of which are true stories that have actually happened to me. I married a Cleveland boy from down the street. The whole city was delighted when we announced our engagement. It was so… shtetl-like. In a good way.
So what don’t I love about living in a small community?
People know everything about you.
This means they notice if you are out of town, and they ask you why you decided to switch your kids’ schools. Your existence is noted by the PTA, the minyan, and the local Jewish vendors such as the butcher, baker and candlestick maker. Okay, so in 2012 that’s the neighbor that cuts hair and waxes eyebrows, the neighbor that does my wig, the neighbor that sells accessories in her basement, and the neighbor that owns the local kosher grocery. And it can be awkward when you patronize one friend over another, one school over another, one minyan over another – when they are all neighbors and community members.
If you teach in a community school, or do business in the community, you see your students/bosses/clients everywhere you go. This can, indeed, be awkward.
There is an interesting mitzvah to patronize a fellow Jew’s business wherever possible. If we don’t look out for each other, who will look out for us? So I am patently aware of this when the local Jewish vendor is right next to me in the carpool line.
But I would never trade what I have in my community. When someone gives birth, celebrates a bar or bat mitzvah, or wedding, or is new to town, the community roars to life. They send over dinners, they invite my kids over to play, they send over teen volunteers, and they take over carpools. I have been brought to tears at the incredible warmth and support in my community. And I mean personally, and organizationally, via the various non-profits established to support families in financial need, medical need, special ed need, and the list is limited only by the imagination.
So this Queens girl is quite proud to call this small town home. Thanks, Cleveland, for being such a special place to live and to raise my family. And for being, oh, so genuine.