Far, far too many things going on today, and I need to take a moment to breathe. So, I’ll scribble a quick blog entry before diving back into the thick of work.
My rebbetzin found a way for us to get a couple of affordable days away from town this week, so from Monday midday through Wednesday midday we took our big summer vacation: 3 days and 2 nights in lovely New Jersey, at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Fairfield.
As someone said to me this morning, a trip with kids is a “family trip” rather than a vacation, but thank Gd we have kids. It was a good trip… despite the fact that we were in New Jersey.
My apologies to Leora and any other New Jersey bloggers, but I must admit that when I was growing up on LongIsland, I was never much of a fan of New Jersey. We mocked the state for anything and everything, deserved or not. Just saying “The Garden State” was enough to evoke gales of laughter. That they took the Giants and Jets, and then later the Statue of Liberty, did not add to their cachet: Once a swamp, always a swamp. (I know that’s a little glib for a rabbi, but this predated my semichah.)
One of my longtime gripes about the state was, and remains, its signage.
*Highways tend to lack adequate exit signs, but the long stretches of frontage roads are filled well beyond eyesore-level with oversized signs for every mall, store and gas station within miles.
*Signs for highways, when they do exist, are entirely misleading; it is not uncommon to see a sign which includes the Highway Number, with the word North above an arrow and the word South below the arrow, and no way to tell which word goes with the arrow.
*You also see signs telling you “Garden State Parkway 10 miles” or “Right turn for New Jersey Turnpike,” when what they really mean is that in ten miles (or after a right turn) you will find yourself on a road which will eventually take you to another turn which will take you to another road which will lead you to that highway.
I could go on and on with examples of the signage issue (try travelling from Route 80 West to Route 46 West, just east of Fairfield), but my favorite complaint is that New Jersey is like a Venus flytrap – there is no toll charge to enter, only to leave.
But enough about the negative: I was pleasantly surprised to find that the State of New Jersey has improved its demeanor. Drivers were calmer than I remember seeing in a long time. I was let into traffic several times. People on the streets smiled on occasion. In stores in Passaic and Teaneck, I heard Please and Thank You addressed to counter-people, who were also very cordial and patient to this slow-paced out-of-towner. In minyan in both Passaic and Teaneck, I sat where I wished and no one signaled me to move over. It was a positive experience.
The food was excellent. We enjoyed Yochie’s Bakery (spelled Yoichie’s on the front window, Yochie’s on the awning?), Jin’s Chinese, Noah’s Ark, Kosher Konnection, and more. [I’m always a little leery of posting the names of places I’ve eaten; I worry they’ll lose the hechsher next week, and then I’ll have promoted a treif place to later Googlers… so please check the up-to-date kashrus status of these businesses before frequenting them.]
Minyanim were plentiful, and well-paced (meaning: precisely my speed). I was not disturbed by any talking during davening, and I heard only one cell phone ring. Excellent divrei torah between minchah and maariv. I would name the shuls, but I can’t because of the next paragraph.
One complaint: In both minchah-maariv minyanim I attended, a few baalei bayit saw fit to conduct private conversations while someone taught the brief shiur between minchah and maariv.
I was very surprised; that just seems to me to be very rude. In one shul it wasn’t a rabbi delivering the shiur (as though that were justification), but he read aloud from the Rambam, and I am very certain that he was a rabbi. In the other shul the speaker was, indeed, the shul rabbi, and the talkers were not far from the front, either. I was quite dismayed by this.
Overall: Good trip. New Jersey, I’m glad to see some real improvement. Now, if we could only do something about those hotel rates...?