One of a Kind Experiences

Written by Jessica Moreno

I came across a website a couple of weeks ago called Read it Forward. It offers an endless amount of literary articles, or if you’re a subscriber to the site they have book recommendations. As I was exploring I noticed an article titled, “A Jewish Literary Map of New York City” written by Abbe Wright. This caught my eye and I immediately clicked on the link. The piece provides a Jewish literary map of the city based on where the specific authors lived and what they thought of the city. The map itself is based off the text “You are Here: NYC: Mapping the Soul of the City” by Katharine Harmon. In her text, she assembles hundreds of maps that illustrate New York from the past, present, and the future.

Primarily, the article focuses on the map of Jewish writers from the Big Apple and I found this to be quite interesting. It surprised me and introduced me to texts that I didn’t know I was interested in. Harmon draws out on the map what parts of New York the authors are from, and a description of their text. As I studied it I recognized a few of the writers, such as Isaac Bashevis Singer and Henry Roth. Each of these authors grew up in a version of New York different from one another. And it makes me think that students at UCSC, like the authors in New York, have their own unique opinions when it comes to their lifestyle, study habits, etc.

It was eye opening to see how many Jewish literary writers are out there and how New York has influenced their pieces. The illustrated detail from the writers helps to paint a picture of New York’s atmosphere at the time for the readers.

Harmon forms a connection between the authors and the city. Each one of them has a different perspective of New York, whether it be positive or negative. It is really astonishing to see a multiplicity of ideas of what New York is like. It goes to show that everyone has their own perceptions, especially when traveling to a country foreign to some of the writers. The authors that I’m familiar with: Isaac Bashevis Singer, Henry Roth and Sholem Aleichem experienced New York in different eras. Each of them came from different backgrounds, whether they grew up in the city, or immigrated there for safety from the dangers, such as pogroms or the Holocaust, taking place in their birth countries. From my readings, I believe their ideas are all distinctive, they display how they felt moving to another a foreign city and whether or not they fit in. I have learned a lot not just about the city itself, but the history that took place in each author’s generation. Just like the authors, the people we are surrounded by at school, at home, etc. may try to understand where we are coming from, but won’t be able to fully grasp onto what we’ve experienced.

Like the authors, our thought process is unique. All of us grab onto something different that catches our attention. Take Isaac Bashevis Singer for example, his New York and his life was revolved around the street he lived on: Broadway. To him this was home, there were many other exiles from Nazi Europe who formed a life together on this street. He grew fond of it, and as time passed by it changed, but he always remembered it the same way from the time he had immigrated to the day he died. Whereas Henry Roth, who also immigrated to New York at a young age,  felt like an outsider from the moment he moved into his newfound home. He didn’t feel like he belonged, as if he was isolated from his community, New York didn’t suit him as it did Singer. He takes his experience and ties it into his novel, Call it Sleep, he exhibits from a fictional point of view of his lifestyle at such a young age and it helps the readers understand and see the struggles he went through. Both their experiences in New York from an immigrant’s perspective are distinguished, one author immediately felt at home, the other didn’t.

Harmon’s text, “You are Here: NYC: Mapping the Soul of the City,” ties the authors’ different lifestyles and their texts together. She brings all walks of life within the same culture closer. She is introduces to her readers and subscribers of Read it Forward  to unique points of view on the history of New York, especially by creating a Jewish literary map. By doing this she illusrates the rich history of Jewish culture showing that there is so much out there that we don’t know about, as well as the viewpoints of authors and how they presented their extraordinary stories through fictional characters in their works. The readers get a chance to experience and try to perceive what the writers went through, and to see their different takes of New York.

Like the authors, we as college students we develop our own thoughts that revolve around the decisions we make. The moment we walk onto campus, we are on foreign ground that is waiting for us to create something out of ourselves. Our experiences, and choices, being either positive or negative, make us into the people we are now. Though all of us chose to attend UC Santa Cruz, we all chose under different circumstances, and we pave our own paths throughout our time spent here. Harmon brought this idea to the surface of my mind. All our experiences and views are one of a kind and that is why it makes us who we are.


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