You’re Gonna Be A Minnesota Jew (And That’s O.K.)

Greetings, 18-year-old Judah! It is I, 30-year-old Judah, traveling from the future! Do be alarmed, for I come to you with tidings of your future!

It’s currently 2006, which means you’re probably busy playing N64, watching Heroes, and thinking George W. will be the worst we get. But I must prepare you for a life-altering event, something that changes the course of your history. It will happen on March 31, 2016. On that day, you–please brace yourself–you…

You move to Minnesota.

Yes, Minnesota. The Mighty Ducks. Jesse Ventura. America’s version of Siberia.

You look scared. I was too. Here I was, leaving the only places I’d known, the great states of New York and New Jersey (in order of importance). You’re happy living there. See, the comforts of being a Jew in the tri-state area know no bounds. The community is large, wide-reaching, and deeply committed. There are dozens of schooling options, with distinct pedagogical approaches to driving parents to bankruptcy. You have your pick of kosher restaurants, each with their own seemingly permanent “Grade Pending” sign. Jewish social life is electric, providing the opportunity every Shabbat to go to Central Park and see a diverse mix of people you don’t want to see, and people you really don’t want to see. And let’s not forget the religious life, which has enough demand to support scores of synagogues for all levels of observance: Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Orthodox Cool Ranch, Hipster Orthodox, Phish Fan Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Deconstructionist, etc.

And you like your hometown shul, warts and all. Sure, it’s about to sink millions of dollars into a real-estate project in 2006, and yes, its friendliness level ranges somewhere between “polite indifference” and “Marine Corps drill instructor.” But it’s where you’ve gone since you were a toddler, where you first learned adon olam, where you were bar mitzvah’d, where you first experienced the majesty of scotch and herring. It was the center of your yiddishkeit.

But I’m here to tell you that you’re going to leave all of that behind for the freaking state of Minnesota. And it’s going to be O.K. You’re going to make the move, settle in, and find that your relatives and friends respect you for it.

Alright, I’m obviously lying about that last one. People will ask you — with an unsettling seriousness — whether Minnesota even HAS a Trader Joe’s, and you’ll be forced to endure hundreds of conversations in which you are told, for what people genuinely believe is absolutely vital information, that it can get cold there. You’ll learn to politely express your appreciation for these nuanced meteorological insights (“I had no IDEA it snows there!”) while secretly wondering whether a nuclear apocalypse wouldn’t be so bad after all.

You’ll eventually learn to pay these naysayers no mind. But the transition won’t be easy. You’ll miss having your favorite coffee shop, bagel place, laundromat, tailor, and barber who is clearly working some sort of front. You’ll miss your friends dearly, finding that meeting new people after having kids is like picking up a CVS prescription in under 30 minutes: theoretically possible, but never observed. (Yes, “kids” in the plural. But let’s save that for our next chat.) Referring to “the City” instead of “the Cities” will confuse people. And don’t even get me started on what it’s like switching from the Yankees to the Twins.

Yet things will get better. You’ll be able to afford a home, and learn how to share it with what you estimate to be the 2 trillion bugs in your basement. Everyone you meet will be welcoming, and not the kind of creepy welcoming you get from clipboard people. And most importantly, you’ll learn that Jewish life not only exists outside of the coasts, but thrives. You’ll find people who treat their Judaism with a refreshing seriousness. You’ll learn that maintaining a community takes work, and that basic necessities like getting a minyan are never to be taken for granted. You’ll appreciate the importance of making everyone feel welcomed, regardless of background, observance, or whether they’re JFK (“just for kiddush”). You’ll discover that a Jewish press exists — in Minnesota! — because every community, no matter how small, should have a voice. The synagogue will be your source of social and spiritual fulfillment. You’ll look back at your time out East as an important stage of your religious development, but not one you necessarily miss. You’ll call Minnesota “home.”

So, teenage Judah, my point is this: Heroes will never improve on season 1, and you need to prepare yourself for that reality. My other point is that growing pains don’t stop in your teens, and that you’ll never find the certainty you crave when making important decisions. But recognize that comfort is not always a virtue, and that happiness can come from anywhere — even in the form of moving to the state of Minnesota (a phrase that still baffles me). Take the leaps of faith.

And now, I must be off. Farewell, younger self! And bet on Leicester City in 2016!