Today the staff is occupied by a discussion of last night’s Erasmus Lecture—-delivered by Jean Bethke Elshtain on the subject 0f loyalty—-with friends of the magazine including Wilfred McClay, Michael Walzer, Paul Griffiths, Robert Jenson, and George Weigel.
Blogging, therefore, will continue to be light for the rest of the day. For now, here’s a letter a friend who’s currently apartment-hunting in New York sent about the remarkable experience of walking through one of the nation’s most intensely and particularly religious communities:
I did a lot of walking yesterday. It seems like a great privilege to be able to get to know a place like Brooklyn a little bit before trying to find an apartment there. In the early morning, I got up and took a train to Park Slope and then walked to the nice neighborhoods across the nasty canal from Park Slope, then north to downtown, then over to beautiful Fort Greene. If Brooklyn’s Prospect Park is the center of a clock, I did a sweep from nine to twelve at dawn.
So in the early evening, I thought I’d complete my walk, starting in Williamsburg and going back down to Fort Greene. What I learned is that the intensely Jewish section of South Williamsburg is way larger and more intense than I imagined, to the point where I felt uncomfortable being a non-biking gentile, and started walking as quickly as possible. Perhaps that it happened to be a holiday made things a little stranger, but probably not.
And I’m walking past a high-rise on Clymer street, feeling like the only living goy in New York, a guy about my age says in a thick accent, “Hey, boss, you in a hurry?” I say, “no, not really, I just walk quickly.” He says that he needs my help with an elevator, that he’s been waiting down here for forty minutes and someone can’t get down because it’s a holiday and they can’t operate the elevator buttons. A kid is with him, and they are both dressed like all the men except for me: hat, sidecurls, black coat. The kid says I just need to send the elevator to the seventh floor and then push the call button to bring it back. So I say, OK.
They lead me to the back of the high-rise complex. Can any of you walk into a big high-rise courtyard alone, Stuyvesant Houses excepted, and not feel your defenses go up a little or a lot? Could this be some kind of weird trick? Well, it wasn’t. I opened the elevator, pressed the button for the seventh floor, and when it went past the first floor I pressed the call button again so it would come back down. And when it arrived, there was a boy in a wheelchair waiting to be rolled off it. The guy and the kid thanked me, and I said no problem and went on my way, trying not to run into any of the children scrambling off to hide-and-seek.
For the rest of the walk, when I felt like I was getting the eye, I thought to myself, “Y’all don’t even know. I’m a helpful guy. That kid would still be waiting for the elevator if it weren’t for me.”
Apparently the issue was that the elevator didn’t have its mode for Shabbat turned on for a weekday holiday. Thus my extremely brief service as a Shabbos goy.