This was originally written for publication in the TC South newspaper, but like everything I write, wasn’t quite sensitive enough for the audience. I present it here in all its harsh glory, wishing myself better luck next time.
When I first heard about Touro College South I worried. It seemed to me that if the college succeeded, it would be a disaster. Bringing kosher college to the wilds of “out of town” could only cripple the chances of its students. Because then they can’t come to New York anymore. And deep down—though they all protest otherwise—they all want to be in New York City. Because they have to be. Here’s the view from Brooklyn:
When an out-of-town girl leaves to seminary it is a huge event. Ostensibly, she is leaving for ten months of study in the Holy Land, but in reality, this is the last time she steps across her parents’ threshold as their child; after this, she is an adult, seeking her own way through life, far, far from home. For when she returns, she will aspire to higher education, and because she will want it in a religious environment (if she doesn’t yet, she will soon), she will tread the path many have tread before – heading to the big city to seek her fortune via wisdom acquired in either Touro or Stern.
And so, her pre-seminary goodbye is an emotional one. Her parents are tearful, because their little baby is all grown up (and because how will they ever get the rest of the family to take over her chores), while her younger siblings grimly look forward to the contest over who will claim her newly vacated room and what contents they think she won’t notice are missing when she returns—oh so briefly—in the summer.
After a year or two of spiritual study, our Wandering Jewess’s path leads where all roads lead for the young and ambitious – to New York City, capital of the world. There, she will cram herself into an attic or a basement or an apartment with too many other young ladies just like her, earn her rent and sustenance money by day working as an assistant teacher or secretary, and study by night to be a variety of therapist or social worker, and dream of the day when she will leave New York for more friendly environs.
If, like myself, you have the fortune of having been born and bred in Gotham, you have ample opportunity to host these young ladies for Shobbos, and hear about their lifestyle that so resembles that of a Mexican worker.
Why do they do it? One can’t help but ask. “For the environment,” they reply simply. They leave out so much. Because it can’t be just for a kosher undergraduate degree.
When they finish their bachelor degrees, they go on to get graduate degrees from Hunter, NYU, Columbia, Downstate… all non-Jewish NYC universities. Why don’t they go home to Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, and Philadelphia to finish their even-higher education? There must be another reason they’re here—a reason they won’t confess to, but is easily discovered by observing the out-of-town single in her non-native habitat.
There is one thing this young lady will do aside from work, study, eat, and sleep. There is only one other subject that occupies her thoughts and permeates her conversation. And it happens to be related to the largest advantage the New York Jewish community has over any other.
Dating. NYC is within driving distance of almost every major yeshiva and religious study program in the United States, and a whole lot of minor ones. When Single Men decide to settle down, they turn their eyes toward the nearest (and largest) concentration of religious single women in North America. And every eligible bachelorette wants to be there among the masses, jumping up and down shouting “Pick me!” when these young men scan the crowd, seeking their future bride.
That’s really why they come to New York. Touro is just an excuse. But with a Touro now in Miami, that pretext—at least for Miami residents—has been eliminated. No longer do they have a reason for living in high densities in New York apartments. No longer have they a reason for living on the same prairie as large herds of Single Men. How will they get married?