New York City is an amazing place. Commuting from England, I stayed on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for many years. Aliza lived there for 18. We actually lived around the corner from each other for over a decade without ever knowing it!
Like many of you, we try to get back to New York as often as possible. There’s an energy there that is difficult to describe. It’s a pace, a rhythm, a spirit, a tension and excitement that is unlike any other city I know.
People who live in Manhattan tend to have strong feelings when it comes to the outer boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island (and let’s not even discuss New Jersey and Long Island—different planets to a real Manhattanite). When Aliza and I lived there, we were no different. Manhattan was the place, the only place to be.
My two stepdaughters, Ariel and Talia are now both living in Brooklyn as Manhattan has become entirely unaffordable for the average 20-something. So on our most recent trip to New York, we found ourselves making that rare journey to Brooklyn, the Distant Land across the River.
Well, as they say, the times they are a-changin’. Just as 80 is the new 60, evidently Brooklyn is the new Manhattan: Young, vibrant, exciting, with a pulse that I don’t remember ever experiencing there. And if I had any doubt of this, the rents that my kids and their friends pay for their Brooklyn apartments removes that doubt.
But Brooklyn used to be Brooklyn. Just Brooklyn. The place where my father-in-law grew up. Today, the simple Brooklyn of old seems almost fictitious, conjuring hazy, romantic images of Coney Island, stickball in the streets, Yiddish everywhere and immigrants struggling to become successful and achieve the American dream, if not for themselves, then for their children. One can almost smell the pickles and knishes when thinking about them.
The stories of Brooklyn Jews are fascinating. Every one of them is unique, of course, but there is a beautiful commonality, a thread tying parallel lives together. These days I’m spending a lot of time thinking about Brooklyn and the glorious personalities that have emerged from there.
I’m currently in pre-production and rehearsal-planning for my May concert, The Kids From Brooklyn, featuring the songs of Neil Sedaka, Neil Diamond, Carole King and Barry Manilow. The idea for this show came last year when working on The Great American Jewish Songbook concert. That’s when I discovered how many classic songwriters from the first half of the 20th century came from New York. Those Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Jazz musicians gave my wife the music of her childhood (due to her taste, not her age). I, on the other hand, listened to pop music, so the songs of these four music personalities from Brooklyn provided much of the soundtrack and underscore to my childhood, and I would venture to say, your childhood as well.
These are songs that everyone knows, reflecting the feel-good spirit from the late 1950s until today. The music is catchy, the lyrics are innocent and the feeling is uplifting and heart-warming. These four kids from Brooklyn, who all started writing as teenagers, changed the face of popular music forever. The evening is going to be simply sensational! The band is fantastic, the storyline compelling, the singers onstage with me (the “Manhat-tones”) will have you rockin’ in the aisle, and we have an added special appearance by Toronto’s leading a cappella group Cadence. There will also be cameos from our very own Voices of Tomorrow children’s choir, plus added surprises throughout the evening.
I hope that you’re marking your calendar for Wednesday night, May 21 to join me at the George Weston Recital Hall. Our concerts in the past have sold out well in advance, so this concert will offer Early Bird tickets, available through the Synagogue office before they go on sale to the general public. I hope you’ll take advantage of this and get your tickets early to this one-night-only event.
Bring your friends and family, and share an unforgettable and very happy evening with me and the Kids from Brooklyn!