May 31, 2007
Creating a new community
When I moved from Miami to Los Angeles four months ago with a tenuous plan and a lofty dream, I packed my car with all the things I thought I would need to survive on my own: 600 thread-count Calvin Klein sheets (because a gal's gotta dream), a Proust novel (intellectual sustenance to counterbalance tabloid shallowness), Villeroy and Boch silverware (a reluctant gift from my mother, who relinquished her extra set for my alimentary benefit), a portable navigation system (from my dad, who knew that without it I'd wind up in Mexico on the way to my first job interview), my Artscroll Tehillim (for times of gratitude and times of duress) and three journals my grandmother gave me the night before I left (in which to deposit the contents of my experience). |
I was ready.
These are hardly the items to ensure safety and security for this 23-year-old woman leaving home for Hollywood. But upon arrival in the second-largest city in the country, I quickly had to discern between things needed to keep me happy and things needed to sustain viability here. I started shopping at South Coast Plaza -- fabulous retail, ethnic food court, isolated anonymity -- a comfortable destination. But soon enough pressing needs like, say, having an income, a residence and a California auto insurance policy (which my first car accident efficiently expedited) took precedent over bric-a-brac intended to furnish an abode I did not yet have.
What I needed was some help. What I needed was my family.
Every Shabbat for three months, I ached for their presence; the laughter tumbling through the hallways, the Friday afternoons spent cooking with my mother and sipping sauvignon blanc, kneading challah dough with my 15-year-old brother, who is quite deft at leveraging his religiosity for a day off from school. Most of all I missed the frustrating commotion of our time together: the competitive commiserating at the table, my father's completely ridiculous jokes, my sister's hurried recitation of the blessings so we could eat the raisin challah -- already -- and my grandmother's prolific and endless anecdotes about everything from King David to President Bush.
When the grind of settling in subsided, I leased a studio-with-a-view in pristine Santa Monica and acquired a job in the film industry to foot the rent; I also regained the luxury of longing. Three thousand miles divided me from comfort and companionship, and though I was determined to forge ahead and establish my independence, I needed a community.
I spent weekends strolling down Main Street, eyes transfixed and ears abuzz with the Sunday morning bustle of Santa Monicans walking their dogs and carting their strollers, holding their babies and eating their brunches, sporting their iPods and donning couture -- how do they put that much effort into early morning regalia? Now and then I'd make an acquaintance -- in the Starbucks line ("Oh you love soy? I know -- it tastes so rich!") or at The Omelette Parlor ("Slather your muffin with apple butter ... di-vine!"), but recreating the role of family takes more than casual conversation.
In order to integrate myself into the community here, I committed myself to two things: I would accept any invitation and seize every opportunity, either finding friendship or business connections, or at worst, acquiring fodder for amusing my editors and colleagues at the Journal. And if I turned on the television because I had nothing else to do, I resolved to leave the apartment.
I enrolled in a Jewish history class, which sounded very romantic, with its "4,000 years in four weeks cruise through the ancient world" motif. The age gap between me and the others in the class ran the gamut from 40-or-so years to 60.
Although it was not quite Saturday-evening fare, I was thoroughly embraced by peer and professor alike as the chronically late 20-something who hops over the desks for a discreet seat in the back and then countermands her carefully styled privacy by posing provocative questions. After all, connecting with your elders is a crucial threshold in community building and since my grandmother's footfalls are a tough act to follow, it was going to take a village.
Another tool emerged vis-a-vis the Miami neighborhood of yore, as I endured an almost daily barrage of phone calls and e-mails from community members proffering their connections to help me put down roots. I was apprised of who to meet and where to go, and in typical Jewish fashion, heard a good deal of, "This one's sister and that one's brother knows someone, who knows someone, who knows someone living -- somewhere -- in Los Angeles."
With nothing to lose but sleep, I complied with every insistence to connect.
Thus began a programmed routine of breakfast with film producers, sushi with television executives, coffee with Jewish musicians and, finally, a temple not to call home, but to recall home.
On Shabbat, I attended Friday Night Live, which brought me closer to the friend back home who recommended the event, while strengthening my bond to new friends, who came to the service because they knew how much it meant to me. With familiar melodies reverberating throughout the crowd, this was the moment I first felt the force of belonging -- and challah never tasted so sweet!
As the days pass, the deep longings for my home and family, my temple, my rabbi, my mentors and friends, do not wane or wither.
But a different yearning forms and festers; an unfamiliar place gives birth to a new destiny, and my mind whirls with possibility -- the dream of creating my own family begins to unfold.