On the Shabbat of Labor Day, I took my dogs for a walk in Central Park.
It was a spectacular day, with just enough fall in the air to make it breathable, and just enough breeze to make it exhilarating. The colors were bright, and despite everything, the joy was palpable.
We walked in the north end of the park, the part that’s pretty much for locals. Tourists seem to stay in the southern half, which on the whole is more manicured although not more — or less! — beautiful.
At the far northern end, I walked past a wedding that featured a mariachi band; they were dressed up, everyone beamed, and the music was infectious. It looked as if even my dogs danced as they walked by; they’re really too old to prance, but they did then, just a bit.
Next, by the middle of the three formal gardens, the Italian one, with the big stretch of lawn leading up to a fountain, there was what seemed to be some kind of opening reception for an Indian wedding. There were some men wearing ceremonial costumes and many women wearing saris. Most of the women were white; their expressions were an endearing combination of uncomfortable and excited; ill at ease and thrilled. They looked lovely, all of them.
Next, there was a large group of Jews; it was Shabbat, so many were dressed up. Some were formal; I walked by a young man who was in a full dark suit with a wool tallit on top of it. He looked sweaty. There were a few chasidim, in brocaded breeches and waistcoats and streimels; there were many more young modern Orthodox Jews, and Hadar people as well, all looking festive and happy, in no apparent hurry for the day to end.
When I finally left the park, I looked up at a building across 100th Street. It was an old building, probably prewar, with a fire escape that doubled as a balcony, and behind it, an apartment with its big windows wide open, so that I could see inside. In front of those those windows, on the cast-iron balcony, there was a young couple, carefully and brightly dressed. He appeared to be proposing, she appeared to be accepting, and the photographer in front of them was taking pictures, but it didn’t look staged. There was too much spontaneity, too much movement, too much brightness. So much joy.
The enormous diversity of people and their traditions in this area is striking, and it, too, should be a source of joy. So many shapes! So many colors! So much music! I love that one of those groups is Jews, and that even among Jews, there are so very many different ways to be Jewish, in public, with comfort and style. And I love that we’re one of many groups, and that we all share a common space, and mix around the edges.
All that and the formal gardens and the North Woods and the Harlem Meer too!
It’s not news that this is the most tense time that most Americans can remember, and it’s just ratcheting up. Our loathing of the other group is acid, and eats away not only at any possible relationships but ourselves as well. But I am taking great comfort from what I saw last Shabbat. May every Shabbat, as we go through Elul, head toward the holidays, and also enter the run-up to the midterm elections (and let me pause here to remind every single reader to please vote! It matters!) bring the vividly colored, relaxed joy of what I saw of this one in Central Park.