Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Yesterday, I had a great day. I went on an organised tour from CAJE to JTS (the Jewish Theological Seminary, training ground for Conservative Rabbis), and we had a presentation on their special collection. Then we did a walking tour of Jewish Harlem.

David Wachtel, from the Rare Printed Books section at JTS. Not only have I held a fragment from the Cairo Geniza in my hand, but I've seen Maimonides/The Rambam's signature. For real. I saw a fragment of one of only 180 copies of the Guttenberg Bible (the Noble [must check spelling] fragment of Esther. I learned a new word - incunables (books printed by movable-type before 1501) - and found out that JTS has like 90% of all Hebrew incunables in its library. David is someone who so clearly loves his work, and it was a real pleasure to hear him speak. I'm kinda thinking I might go back for a couple of hours before I hit the airport. And I think I'm down to the British Library special collection as soon as I get home.

We skipped past the exhibit (translation: exhibition) and it was a rare pleasure to be with a collection of 40 or so people (ok, women in comfortable shoes) who loved learning and books and Jewish history as much as I do. It was great to be with kindred spirits, although my shoes were a little uncomfortable.

Small personal aside: walking through the regular library, I see all the magazines and journals on display. And what's standing right in front of me? The current issue of the Jewish Quarterly (that's the passion issue) with my column inside. Looking around the library, I'm thinking "gee - because I am now, of course, American - I'm in illustrious company."

Oscar Israelowitz - who's a maven on NY, synagogues, and the subway system - gave us a fascinating tour that covered the 350 year anniversary of Jews arriving in New York (there's a re-enactment of 23 Jews arriving on September 12th, apparently) and we walked around the Mount Morris Park Historic District which is a conservation area quite a bit more worth than my local.

I felt very at home - it had something of a Kilburnesque feel to it - a mix of people (black, white, brown), a slightly gentrified feel, and an urban buzz, without the high-rise claustraphobia of midtown or even the Upper West Side. I sensed that some people on the tour didn't feel so comfortable.

Jews and real estate, though (translation: property). So we're walking around seeing old nineteenth century shuls that are now churches, and admiring the architecture, and people are saying things like "how much do these houses go for?" "two million?" "they were $60,000 dollars only five years ago."

There's a real Ango/US cultural difference around money/prices. UK-ers are pretty low-key (aka silent) about how much they earn and how much their house cost. US-ers are much more likely to say to a new acquaintance, "how much was your appartment?"

A woman sitting near me on the bus responded to my comment about the city, thus "me, I'm in New Joisey, but my daughter lives in Manhattan. 250 square feet, $1400 dollars a month, but what can do you?"

All in all, a great day, topped by dinner in the cheesecake factory with my buddies. We have bonded. We are leaving tomorrow.

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