I have always said that I would not be the person I am today, had I not been born and raised in New York City. My experiences have been defined by weekend visits to the Met, watching the sunset over the Hudson, episodes of Seinfeld, and getting suffocated by tourists while transferring at Times Square. Witty humor, bagel shops, busy streets, 6AM commutes, and, of course, walking fast, have come to shape my identity. I have thousands of pictures on my phone of every New York City park I have been to—Central, Flushing Meadows, Van Cortlandt, you name it. I even have a playlist of every New York-themed song I can think of. I have found comfort in the crowds, peace in the chaos, and in this time of need and mourning, I have found beauty in its resilience.
However, this fall, I’ll leave the city that has raised me. As I make plans to go hundreds, or even thousands, of miles away from home, I’ve been feeling a creeping sense of anxiety. For so long, I have defined myself and my identity by my experiences in New York, and I have to ask myself the question: Who am I if I am not a New Yorker?
Among my favorite memories of New York City are my time at B’nai Jeshurun and the Shabbat retreats. Whether it was a Reach for Shabbat family retreat or a more recent teen retreat, having an opportunity to unplug, rest, and truly connect with my community was rare and special. My memories of retreats are full of talent shows, nature walks, campfires, Shabbat mornings, and building friendships. But when we would get to the end of Shabbat and do Havdalah, the ritual that transitions us out of Shabbat and into the new week, it always felt bitter-sweet. The simplicity, joy, and restfulness of the weekend were coming to an end and it was time to reenter the world, but the simple beauty of standing in the candlelight with my friends always made me feel warm. At the close of Havdalah, we were challenged to think about how we could bring aspects of Shabbat with us into the week. When I found myself getting overwhelmed or overworked, I could reflect on my restful Shabbat with my community, and it would calm me.
As I face the transition that lies ahead of me, I think about the transition of Havdalah, and just as I would bring Shabbat home with me after a retreat, I wonder if there are parts of New York that I can bring with me to college. I know I can’t take the 1 train with me, and though it will always have a special place in my heart, bringing my home with me means so much more than reflecting on fond memories of subway rides and dollar slices. What makes New York truly special, for me, is the community I’ve found at BJ. Entering at 88th Street and Broadway, it would be impossible to leave the building without answering friendly questions from rabbis, friends’ parents, and teachers, and I feel at home at the BJ building. But more importantly, being a BJ teen has made me passionate about tikkun olam—my friends and mentors consistently push me to be a better version of myself. To me, having a passion for repairing the world and being devoted to your community is what it means to be a New Yorker. Within the past year, the way this city has rallied to uplift and support one another, in a time of great need, has been profoundly inspiring. I know that just as I can reflect on Shabbat and bring parts of it into the week with me, when I feel homesick for New York, I can always lean on my community and make change in the world, and feel at home.