New York is my other Jerusalem

Robyn woke me early. As the pre-dawn sky remained stubbornly black, I looked through the porthole and saw the Statue of Liberty slowly pass by, lit up in the dark.

This was not the first time someone in my family sailed into New York Harbor. However, I’m pretty sure my grandparents, who arrived more than a century ago at Ellis Island from Eastern Europe, did not cross the Atlantic on a cruise ship where stewards left chocolates on the pillow every night.

They didn’t have a cover band playing Billy Joel hits, nor did they get to choose between the fish, the duck or the risotto in the gaudy main dining room. Two generations later there I was, gliding along the same calm waters, snug in my stateroom as we wrapped up a cruise along the Saint Lawrence River from Montreal to the Big Apple.

The sight of Lady Liberty was familiar to me. I’ve visited New York more times than I can count, and I lived there for two years when I was a kid. Manhattan feels like a second home.

Two years does not sound like a long time, but it’s forever when you’re 11. By the time we moved back to California when I was 13, I had a thick New York accent, just like my muthah.

My life in New York made a permanent impression.

For one thing, those years accounted for the most time I spent with my grandmother, Tillie Newberg, born in Latvia in 1881. Every Friday night we’d visit her at the Jewish Home off West End Avenue. My brother and I would watch “The Wild Wild West” while my mom and grandma chatted away in Yiddish.

I couldn’t have known then how much I blew a priceless opportunity, with my shtetl-born grandma just sitting there, waiting to be asked about her life.

But I loved New York. We saw “The Fantasticks.” We romped in Central Park. Every Saturday morning, I’d take the bus to the West 50s to take trumpet lessons from a grizzled old bluesman, who so deeply wanted his little white student to “get” jazz. I did, but only much later. Meanwhile, I rarely practiced.

That didn’t stop me from joining the school orchestra’s trumpet section. I could barely follow a note, but one time we played for Mayor John Lindsay at a function. Another time, we played an afternoon concert at Town Hall, which I thought was a big deal in New York. (It wasn’t.)

I loved the sweltering summers and snowy winters, during which I’d run around coatless in subfreezing weather. I laughed when my badass friends threw snowballs at bus passengers sitting helplessly in the window seats. In an early sign of nerdiness, I loved to haunt the musty, now-vanished New Yorker Bookstore on Broadway and 89th, and to walk my dog in a still, snow-covered Riverside Park.

My mom, a music business exec, got us into Greenwich Village nightclubs like the Café au Go Go, where I saw Richie Havens, the Blues Project and — seriously, not kidding — Tiny Tim, who gave me an autograph made out to “Mr. Danny.”

Looking back 46 years, I remember New York as the place where I woke up.

It was there in my West Side neighborhood that I evolved out of the sad little child of divorce I had been, and into the egocentric, dream-besotted preteen I became, and in some ways am still. Jewish New York suffused me, too; not religiously, but culturally, enough to prep me for the Jewish path I followed as an adult.

Right up to the writing of this column.

On this trip, Robyn and I had only two quick days in the city. We took in the Matisse exhibit at the MoMA, rode the L Train to Brooklyn for dinner with friends, split a pizza, and from the comfort of our Upper East Side Airbnb, watched the Giants clinch the Series.

But my favorite moments came early morning, walking the streets and feeling that “Rhapsody in Blue” feeling you get only in New York.

I realized it’s not just my second home. So familiar, so iconic, so international, New York is a second home for everyone, even for those who have never been. For Jews, it’s standing as an auxiliary Jerusalem is beyond question. And for me, it’s the greatest place on earth.

Did I mention? The bagels are amazing.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.