Yes, diversity. We all love it. But mostly when your “group” is in the majority and the “others” agree to do everything your way. But once the Latinos want to speak Spanish, the Jews grumble about nativity scenes on public property, or men demand to speak at BlogHer, you know there’s going to be trouble.
Growing up, my Queens apartment building was mostly filled with Jews who moved from Brooklyn and the Bronx to the “greener” pastures of Queens. Queens is connected to Long Island, so it was sort of moving to the suburbs, but still close enough to take the subway to work. Most of these families were working class. The Jewish children went to Hebrew school, although most of the parents weren’t religious. I used to return from Hebrew school at night, scolding my parents for not doing the right Jewish rituals, such as lighting the Friday night shabbos candles. My mother always had the same excuse –“I forgot.”
Today, the building has a wider assortment of residents. While there is still a large percentage of Jews, these are different than types than before – Russians, Israelis, and the Orthodox. I’m surprised by how many Russians are living here now. Just when I’m trying to get Sophia out of my mind, all I hear is Russian in the elevator every day.
There are also many black, Chinese, Indian, and Pakistani families.
Although the apartment building is a Mitchell-Lama middle class housing, sort of a fancy “project” — it is a co-op where tenant own their apartments, even though when the tenants leave, they don’t make any real profit from it. The co-op is run by elected Board of Directors. My father was on the Board of Directors for many years, and used to tell us stories of the infighting among the elected “officials.” It was my first introduction to politics. Every single issue about the apartment building resulted in an enormous fight between the tenants, matters such as where to put the garbage can to the amount of the Christmas bonuses given to the “porters.” When one board of director would get angry at another one, he would inevitably start a hate campaign, travelling to each floor of the co-op and slipping an “anonymous” letter under each door, accusing this person of some evil deed. And there was some crookedness going on. Many of the board members were tradesmen or salesmen. One of them happened to sell washing machines. Guess who became the supplier of the apartment buildings washing machines in the laundry room?
My father always complained about the Board of Directors, but every year he would run again for office. I was his campaign manager. I would type a letter up for him (even as a twelve year old I was quoting “Profiles of Courage”), Xerox hundreds, and then slide the propaganda under each door. Even though he said he hated the Board, he obviously loved it. Finally, after twenty years on the Board — when I was in college, — he was kicked out of office. They wanted some fresh blood. I remember him being very hurt.
Now, these were the days when the majority of the tenants were all Jewish. One group — a lot of infighting. Imagine what it is like now, when there are twenty different ethnic groups.
About a month ago, the Board of Directors had an idea to bring the building together: have a July 4th BBQ in the back of the building, near “the benches.” It sounded like a good idea. However, one of the Board Members reminded everyone that many of the Orthodox religious families were kosher, so the Board decided to only buy kosher meat. Soon, the board received a letter signed by several of the families that were “Glatt Kosher.” This is a more super-stringent kosher that is followed by those who are even MORE orthodox than the Orthodox. Even I had to look up exactly what made something “glatt kosher” —
For meat to be kosher, it must come from a kosher animal and be slaughtered in a kosher way. For meat to be glatt kosher, in addition to the two above conditions, the meat must also come from an animal with adhesion-free or smooth lungs.
The word glatt means smooth in Yiddish. In Jewish Law, the term glatt is used to refer to the lungs of animals. After the animal is slaughtered, the animal is opened and examined to determine whether the lungs are smooth. If defects on the lungs are found, the meat is considered treif (torn, mortally injured, non-kosher). If the lungs are found to be defect-free or smooth, the meat is considered to be glatt kosher.
While the term glatt technically means the lungs of the kosher and kosher-slaughtered animal were smooth, the term is often used colloquially to imply a higher standard of kashrut, similar to the term mehadrin.
Furthermore, even though only meat can be technically glatt kosher, the term is often loosely used today to refer to non-meat items. Many suppliers of glatt kosher items will refer to all their products at glatt kosher. So one may find fish with the same glatt kosher sticker as used on meat being sold one aisle over. In addition, many suppliers of glatt kosher meat will refer to their whole service as glatt kosher. So there are glatt kosher caterers, restaurants and stores.
Surprisingly, the Glatt Kosher tenants mostly pissed off the non-religious Jewish tenants, because to make sure it was glatt kosher the building would have to buy the food from a glatt kosher deli and the price would be twice as much — all for a few families.
The story doesn’t end there. As I mentioned, this apartment building is now more diverse than in the past. The Jewish tenants don’t run the show anymore. All of a sudden, the Indian and Muslim tenants were bringing up their OWN dietary issues. Shouldn’t the food also be halal? Will beef be served?
The Board of Directors arranged for a special meeting to discuss this issue. They convened in their war room.
To cap it off, after the recent death of a tenant, her son from Vermont took over the apartment. He seems like a nice guy — he has a long beard and is into yoga and meditation. He follows this local guru named Sri Chinoy, who believes in health through running races (!), and he went to the Board of Directors and insisted on a vegetarian BBQ.
The BBQ has been canceled.
Important update: Just heard from someone in the elevator that there is a last-moment attempt to revive the BBQ by changing the food plan to sandwiches that are made at a glatt kosher and halal SUBWAY.