NEW YORK – I travel the world. Yet, frequently I was summoned home especially after I heard these exhilarating words ringing in my ears:
New York, New York, a helluva town.
The Bronx is up, but the Battery’s down.
The people ride in a hole in the groun’.
New York, New York, it’s a helluva town!
Undoubtedly, Paris, Rome and London are worldly cities. But New York City (NYC) with its approximate eight million residents remains the ‘king of the hill.’ The sites and symbols, the panache, the vibrancy, the historic reality and myth that ‘if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,’ attract the curious and adventurous.
On top of that, New York, America’s largest city as well as its financial, cultural and entertainment capital, draws thousands of tourists each day to its urban center. So, what does a former resident (this writer) who moved away after six decades of living in this ‘Shtetl on the Hudson,’ do on a return visit?
He does what every sightseer does: Frequents old haunts and neighborhoods including some of the great tourist attractions: Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Lincoln Center, the Chrysler and Empire State buildings, the 9/11 Memorial, the UN headquarters, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Museum of the City of New York, the world-renowned art museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the cruises around Manhattan and the doubledeck bus tours.
The Jewishly-inclined tourist can visit Temple Emanuel, the Jewish Museum, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the Jewish Theological Seminary, The Center for Jewish History, Fifth Avenue Synagogue, Yeshiva University, Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, the former Jewish neighborhood: the Lower East Side; the Tenement Museum, the latter infusing nostalgia of those box-car homes on Delancey, Essex and Eldridge streets.
“This is the neighborhood where your great-grandparents lived,” New Yorkers tell their grandchildren as they visit the 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue, a National Historic Landmark.
Jews, who number about 1.5 million in the five city boroughs as well as Long Island and Westchester County, have been living here since those 23 Jews arrived in 1654 from Recife, Brazil, and were treated badly by Henry Stuyvesant, the Dutch governor.
Usually tourists are overwhelmed by that popular sport of shopping-till-you- drop. Bring sneakers, and ‘vagabond’ shoes, so you can act like a ‘couple of swells’ marching up Fifth or Madison avenues or along 57th St; where you’ve entered the mecca of glamorous department stores and upscale boutiques. Then hike down through the canyons of Wall Street, Battery Park, and pop into fashionable shops in Lower Manhattan. Saunter up or down the crowded sidewalks of Chinatown, Little Italy, Tribeca, SoHo and NoHo, (neighborhoods north and south of Houston st.), as well as a new section known as NoLita, deriving from, NOrth of Little ITAly. In case you get lost, NoLita lies east of SoHo, south of NoHo, west of the Lower East Side and north of Little Italy and Chinatown.
Looking for a respite, stop in at the Ground Support Café, 399 West Broadway at Spring St. in SoHo where young people and college students abound.
Grand Street in Little Italy is the location of one of New York’s most famous cafes, Ferrara, which serves up bakery and light fare. Established in 1892, it’s still going strong with lovers of coffee and ice cream.
When you’re meandering down Broadway near Houston, don’t just look at the fashion mannequins in the boutiques, gaze up at the facades of the buildings lining this jammed street, the area was once part of a vast manufacturing and printing center long gone. Forget the glass-covered skyscrapers and imagine all townhouses around Greenwich Village’s Washington Square Park, a few of which still may be around, as in the days when Edith Wharton and Henry James wrote about society in the late 19th century.
New York has its drawbacks – it’s mostly brick, asphalt, and steel, with very little green space, though there’s small welcoming green spots and, of course, Central Park where you can warm a park bench and take in the view of the kingly apartment buildings, along Fifth, Central Park West and South.
This summer, most American tourists will tell you that New York City is especially expensive. Still, you’d never know there’s a severe economic recession in the US if the packed, top restaurants or the steep ticket prices of Broadway theaters are any indication. But it could be worse: Ranked by a worldwide cost-of-living index in March 2012, by Mercer Press, New York City ranked 33 and Tel Aviv, 31, among the 50 top most expensive cities.
Tourists are a boon to the economy and visitors come here to observe new sites, one of which is the recent arrival of the Shuttle Enterprise onto its new home on the flight deck of the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. The shuttle is one of only four in existence and for New Yorkers, well, they’re truly excited that this piece of space history will be docked in their backyard.
The shuttle display is set to open July 19 when the public will be able to walk directly beneath the shuttle. (The inside, however, will remain off-limits).
Miss far-off Asia? Travel to Mott St., Chinatown, filled with boutiques and souvenir shops. As for eateries, highly-recommended and very reasonable are Joe Shanghai’s and Delight 28 restaurants, both on Pell St. To see the less commercial Chinatown, head across the river to Flushing, Queens.
Forty-second St. may be famous, but so is West 47th St., the diamond district. It’s jewelers are predominantly Jewish; in fact in weekday mornings, many hassidim arrive in buses to diamond exchanges in the long block between Fifth and Sixth avenues where the babel of Yiddish, Turkish, Russian, Hebrew, Persian, Spanish, and English floods your ears.
Warning signs caution visitors not to buy or sell from street vendors. A recommended jeweler is Gary Rayzman of Harry’s Jewelers, Booth 17, 71 West 47th St.
Rayzman hails from Odessa and this engaging person can tell you stories of how it was secretly making jewelry in the former Soviet Union. A well-known designer, he can fashion a keepsake of your choice or sketch suggestions.
Two of New York’s finest strictly-kosher meat restaurants, are Le Marais, 150 West 46th st. and Prime Grill, at 60 East 49th St.
A dozen blocks away is Columbus Circle, a good location hotel-wise and a short walk from the Lincoln Center of opera, symphony, ballet and drama.
After a long flight, the affluent stop at one of Travel and Leisure’s 500 World’s best Hotels, The Trump International Hotel and Tower, – at One Central Park West, a great location at the juncture of Columbus Circle, Central Park West, Central Park South and Broadway.
Located at One Central Park West, this facility possesses twelve junior suites , 99 executive one-bedroom suites and 30 two bedroom suites.
Professionalism and hospitality is the hallmark of this 52-story hotel with its new spa and treatments, salt pure pool, state-of-the-art business facilities.
Trump International Hotel and Tower is proud of its Forbes Five-Star , AAA Five Diamond and Michelin Three Star and New York Times Four-Star-restaurant, Jean Georges with its contemporary French cuisine.
Just across from The Trump International Hotel is the reaching- to-the sky Time Warner Center, home of the Whole Foods Market at Columbus Circle and located down the escalators on the Concourse Level.
Whole Foods, the home of a wonderland of upscale food shopping and dining, is Manhattan’s second largest grocery store and America’s first national ‘certified organic’ grocer, opened nearly a decade ago. I heard Israelis speaking Hebrew; one expressing wonder with such a huge selection to satisfy vegans.
Just up the street is Congregation Shearith Israel: the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, on Central Park West, the oldest congregation in the US. Not far from Columbus Circle is Carnegie Deli on Seventh Ave. at 56th st. which serves overstuffed deli sandwiches, and it’s just a block away from historic Carnegie Hall where world-class musical artists perform.
Movement is crucial in New York, amid the speed-walking, the pushing, the hustle for a seat on the subway or the bus; its all part of this hurried city where the tourist becomes a human chip in a fast moving tide. Soon, however, you’ll accommodate your pace to the common tempo and then, you’ll be in the ‘New York state of mind.’
Welcome to the Big Apple! Ben G. Frank, journalist, travel writer, is the author of the just-published, ‘The Scattered Tribe: Traveling the Diaspora from Cuba to India to Tahiti & Beyond,’ Globe Pequot Press; as well as ‘A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe, 3rd edition’; ‘A Travel Guide to Jewish Russia and Ukraine,’ and ‘A Travel Guide to the Jewish Caribbean and South America. Pelican Publishing Company.’
– twitter: @BenGFrank