We took the 7:30 a.m. Amtrak on Monday, and arrived at Penn Station just about on time before 11 a.m. It is a relatively short walk to the Center for Jewish History on West 16th Street, and I arrived well before the 12 noon start of the board meeting of the American Associates for Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. I had never been to the Center before; I was impressed. The Center is the home to four separate organizations, who have separate administrative space and exhibition space, but share resources, including the joint use of libraries and archives. The organizations are the American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Yivo Institute for Jewish Research, Leo Baeck Institute, and Yeshiva University Museum. You can check on activities at http://www.cjh.org.
After our board meeting and informal lunch, we had a tour of the facilities, looking at the excellent temporary exhibit on the Yiddish Theater (it closes October 31), a photographic exhibit on the last emigration from Yemen (1993), paintings by Stella Cohen (African/Jewish artist), and an exhibit of Jewish chaplains in the military during and immediately after World War II. We also saw some of the libraries containing research facilities as well as rare books, and learned about the architecture and the permanent art work in the building. I thought we saw it all, but looking at the web site, I see that there are other exhibits, as well, that just passed us by: 65 paintings by Shoshanna, an Austrian painter, an exhibit on Zionism and the formation of Israel, medieval Jewish treasures from the middle ages, culled from a private collection in Erfurt, Germany, an exhibit on Viking trading, and one on I.J. and I.B. Singer. Where could they have been? (My next trip to NYC is in November; virtually all of these will be gone).
After the tour, two member of the BGU faculty spoke to us. It was the fourth time that I recall hearing Professor (emeritus) Ilan Troen, who also is on the Brandeis Faculty, where he heads an Israel Studies program. He spoke very nicely about the concept of Israel studies as the academic study of an entire society, not only of the Arab-Israel conflict, and how Brandeis has pioneered this concept in conjunction with BGU and how much interest there is in it (and should be) amongst diverse groups including the Chinese (for whom Israel as a young ethnic oriented state can serve as a model) and Turks (who are looking to combine Islam and democracy and are interested to see how/if Israel combines Judaism and democracy). The other speaker, whom I had not heard of before, was Hamutal Bar-Yosef, a poet and scholar of Hebrew literature, who talks about the centrality of this literature to Israel society in general, and whose presentation was extraordinarily impressive. We were given signed copies of their latest books: “Night Morning”, a collection of poems (in translation) by Bar-Yosef, and Jews and Muslims in the Arab World by Troen and Jacob Lassner.
We then attended a reception (good passed food/hard-to-drink wine), where we got to speak with each other informally, and then heard a presentation by Moshe Arens, former Israeli politician.
From the Center for Jewish History, we went to Molyvos, a Greek restaurant on 7th Avenue, where we had eaten a few times before. I had a delicious halibut dinner, probably the best food at the table. When you eat at Molyvos, you know you are in New York (and think you are in New York of the 1950s, not the 2000s). The decor is heavy and somewhat formal, although the mood is very contemporary.
We were concerned about our hotel, the Days Hotel on West 94th Street, but need not have been. The lobby is very unprepossessive, the elevators should be replaced, and the hall carpeting shows its age and then some, but the room was large enough (not always the case in New York), very clean, had a comfortable bed and, most surprisingly for Manhattan, was quiet, with no intruding outside noise.
On Tuesday, we wandered. We walked up 7th Avenue to the Columbia campus, but then walked left the few blocks to Riverside Park and then down through the Park nature reserve almost to the level of FDR Drive; then back up, down Riverside drive past the big church to Grant’s Tomb, where we were very impressed by ranger David Stoughton, who was both knowledgeable and very friendly, and by the restoration work going on at the 400 feet of mosaic tiled benches outside. We then walked through the campus, stopping to see a dance performed by a group from Bhutan, brought over to help celebrate the opening of an exhibit on Bhutan at the Rubin Museum (on 15th Street). I had been to the Rubin Museum a year or so ago; it also is a remarkable place. We then walked down the many, many steps crossing Morningside Park, had lunch at a small organic food store just north of 110th Street, and dipped into the northwesternmost corner of Central Park before taking the subway to the Half-Price ticket stand in Times Square and buying tickets for the first night of previews of Chekhov’s “The Seagull”, with much of the well-reviewed London cast. We also looked at the Public Library’s 5th Avenue Library Store, and wandered a bit more mid-town, before having a Brazilian dinner at Ipanema. The food was good (if not great), but I had a yucca croquette with ground beef inside that was a real treat. We had a very nice talk with our Italian/Brazilian waiter about safe travel in Brazil. We’d (I’d) like to go.
The play was enjoyable but the inconsistency of the cast left something to be desired. (I’ll try to review this separately). After the play, we took a subway back uptown to the hotel.
After such an accomplishment filled Tuesday, Wednesday was much looser and enjoyable, if a bit rougher around the edges. We walked back up from 94th to 110th, stopping at a bakery for coffee and a croissant, and then crossed Central Park at the top, looking at the lakes (where fishing was the in-thing), and the beautiful topography, before reaching 5th Avenue, and then Madison Avenue, where we looked for lunch. Our memory of Madison Avenue was that it was gallery filled, and food starved. Up at 110th Street, there is nothing but lower income residential buildings, and then you walk past Mt. Sinai Hospital facilities, and you reach a block with a number of deli/lunch type restaurants, one of which we chose to eat in. The food was very ordinary at best; we could have done better. And, in fact, had we walked another five blocks or so south, we would have. At any rate, it was a rest, as was the next place we stopped, a very nice organic coffee shop called Le Pain Quotidian. Then, a shoe store, a clothing store, and a taxi back to the hotel to pick up our clothes, and then down to 33rd Street, where we waited for the 5:30 Bolt Bus to bring us home.
The bus left at 5:40, made one short and one longer (15 minute) stop, and still arrived at 11th and G at 9:45. Pretty impressive. The bus was very comfortable, much more so than the Vamoose I had taken a few months ago.
A good, if tiring trip. Nice to be home.