Thursday, March 03, 2005

Mystery Train

If you live in New York City you know the feeling of self-pity that takes over you on a cold winter’s night when you wait and wait and wait for the subway train that’s supposed to take you home. And more likely than not, you know the feeling of disbelief that quickly mutates into blinding rage when the train that finally does come charging through the tunnel simply blasts its horn at you and does not stop. But, fellow New Yorker, have you experienced the total amazement and amusement that comes with the realization that the subway train that does not stop is packed to its most extreme limit with Orthodox Jews?

I have! On an ordinary Tuesday night, returning from a birthday party, I sat on the platform wondering whether a group of Orthodox Jews had managed to charter their own subway car, or if I was an unknowing extra in a weird movie. Then, another F train arrived, and this time it did stop. And what do you know -- this train almost matched the one before it! Apart from a black woman reading in a corner seat, a white homeboy and the Asian man that got on the train with me, it was once again a sea of modest black dresses, black hats and beards.

Everyone around me was holding on to a program from what I’ve finally figured out was this event at the Continental Airlines Arena, a huge gathering of Jewish people coming together to mark the completion of seven and a half years of Talmudic study and the beginning of some more studying. I asked the group of women and girls I was pressed up against where everyone was coming from. All I could discern from their answer was that it was some sort of celebration, but that was obvious from the energy in the car and the smiles on the 12 year olds who had gotten to stay out so late on a school night. I got off three stops later , a little reluctant to leave the party.