New York, Nu York: Another Happy New Year

We Jews usher in our new year, our Rosh HaShana, with shofar blasts. For many of us, young and old, the shofar blowing segments of the Yom Tov services are the favorite parts. We like (love?) the loud, primal, simple noise. It shatters the quiet. It calls us all to attention. The secular New Year is also rung in with noise, although those silly tooting horns are a pale imitation of the shofar.
And then there is the Lunar New Year. It is accompanied by loud drumming, clanging cymbals and other noisemakers.
This was the first year that New York City public school students had a holiday for Lunar New Year. This is typically dubbed "Chinese New Year" because Chinese people make up the largest segment of Asians in New York, but it is also celebrated by those of Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Laotian, Cambodian, etc. heritage. And because it was a day off as well for the non-Asian crowd, many Caucasians and African-American and Latinos also decided to join in on the festivities.
I'd asked my daughters, ages 15 and 13, if they wanted to take a train ride over to Manhattan's Chinatown, to see Lunar New Year festivities. They both agreed to this eagerly, although the older one asked if we could eat lunch in nearby Little Italy. Hey, that's multi-cultural New York for you. I assented, and we went to Manhattan.
Unfortunately the weather was not great; a light snow fell on us as we joined hundreds of other people at the lower section of Sara Delano Roosevelt Park (she was the mother of President Franklin), in order to watch loud, colorful lion dances and such.
We listened to a bunch of speeches, delivered in English and in Chinese, welcoming everyone, wishing all a Happy New Year, and thanking the city for giving kids a day off from school. I noticed quickly that maybe a third of the crowd was not Asian; lots of other people were interested in the ceremonies.
But my two decided they'd had enough of speeches, and prevailed upon me to go for lunch. We at a green salad, fish and pasta at a local Italian restaurant that dates to 1904; my kids were impressed. As we finished paying the check we could hear the boom-boom-boom of local marching troops, so we dashed outside and watched a few different lion dance groups. These involve young adults and teens who dance around with snaking lion costumes; the garish, humorous giant lion heads popping up and down to the beat of large drums. We walked to Mott Street and Mulberry Street to see a few groups perform.
On the way to see lion dances, I stopped in front of 80 Forsyth Street. I pointed out to my daughters that this happened to have been a lost synagogue: in the late 1800s into the early 1900s this was a shul, and even had a mikveh. Then it was a storage facility and later was bought by a Jewish artist, Pat Paslof, who renovated it into her home and studio. There are two Jewish stars displayed on the fire escapes, making an otherwise unremarkable (even grimy) tenement something special.
Parts of what was long ago the fabled Lower East Side, and heavily Jewish, are now part of the growing Chinatown district. The Lower East Side does exist, but it is smaller and where once there were a few hundred shuls (most tiny) there are now about a dozen. Chinatown's drums and cymbals may have replaced the shofar, but New Years are still a big deal around here.