UWS vs. The Heights: A Battle of the Singles

[Warning: This post includes many generalizations, assumptions and stereotypes. I will be extremely blunt and I have no intention of being politically correct. If you think that you may be offended by this, please save yourself both the time and aggravation, and don't read the rest of this post. Thank you!]

“The Heights or the Upper West Side?” This is the question facing every modern orthodox single Jew upon graduation from college. Whether you’re graduating from a college in New York City or outside the Tri-State area, whether you’re “machmir” or “modern”, most singles are ultimately confronted with the decision of where to spend their last remaining years of single-hood. While the Upper West Side (UWS) singles’ community used to be the “go to” place over the past several decades, Washington Heights has recently emerged as a large singles community in it’s own right. Located between Wadsworth Avenue and Ft. Washington Avenue and between 181street to 190th street, The Heights is a smaller version of the UWS with it’s own unique twist. Given these two great options, it leads many people to wonder what are some of the differences between these two communities on the West Side of Manhattan and which one is right for me? As a current resident of Washington Heights, and as someone who frequents the UWS quite often (some people actually think I live there), I feel like I am in a unique position to offer insight on both communities and what to expect within each.

Location

Upper West Side – One of the main reasons that many Jewish singles consider moving to the UWS over the Heights is its phenomenal location. Located only a short train ride from midtown or downtown, it is a huge plus for the weekday commute to work. It is also only a short distance away from most kosher eateries in Manhattan. Whether your looking for meat or dairy, a fancy dinner place, or a take-out joint, the UWS is in close proximity to them all! If you’re into athletics or networking on Shabbos, Central Park is only a short distance away. A favorite gathering spot for Jews is “The Great Lawn” where you can find the more “modern” singles playing ball or laying out in shorts and a T-shirt, while the more”machmir” bunch can be seen sitting on the benches schmoozing, or walking along the paved path around the park. On the Judaism front, you have a plethora of different synagogues to choose from. From the Carlebach minyan, to the Chabad minyan, from Ohev Zedek to the Egalitarian minyan, and every small shtiebel or large Shul in between. With frequent shiurim and multiple minyanim, regardless if you’re “frum” or “crum”, given the UWS’s optimal location, it has the unique ability of catering to any level of Judaism. The only knock to what seems like a Jewish Singles’ paradise are the astronomical prices of apartments. The $1,500 per person/per month rent check (give or take a couple hundred dollars) brings you back to reality VERY quickly!

The Heights – “Well, we have Fort Tryon Park” is the most common defense used to anyone who criticizes the Washington Heights location. That being said, despite all of Ft. Tryon’s beauty and the fact that it is only a 20 minute train ride north of the UWS, The Heights feels like a different world…a third world to be exact! With the biggest Sky Scraper within view being Yeshiva University’s Belfer Hall, Spanish music blasting (at all hours of the day and night), and only a few signs that are actually written in English, many new comers wonder if they accidentally took a train to the Dominican Republic, rather than uptown Manhattan. While there aren’t many “date worthy” eateries in The Heights, it does have a few fast food restaurants to choose from including places to get Middle Eastern cuisine, pizza, eggs, or a hamburger. One of the best perks of living in the heights is it’s proximity to Yeshiva University. Many YU alumni take advantage of the the gym (Note: Gym is free for male alumni and there is a strict “no girls” policy that is enforced!), the infinite amount of shiurim, and the never ending minyanim that take place. It is also quite common for people (men and women) to take advantage of the YU library as a good place to do work. Moving a few blocks away towards the other side of the heights, where the heart of the single’s community exists, there is really only one shul to choose from, known as Mt. Sinai, unless you want to avoid the scene all together and go to the YU side or Beuers (but that pretty much defeats the purpose of moving into a singles community). In terms of aesthetics, The Heights doesn’t have much to offer unless you go to Fort Tryon Park, which is really one of the most beautiful places in Manhattan. Overlooking the Hudson River, the GW Bridge, and a beautiful view of the Bronx, Fort Tryon park is a great place to relax or go for a Shabbos walk (Note: The Eruv does not extend to Ft. Tryon Park). However, once you walk out of the park, you quickly realize that you are, in fact, in one of the most run down areas of Manhattan. If you are looking for reasonable rent, work on the other side of the George Washington Bridge, or enjoy a shtetle-like environment, then The Heights is for you!

Religious Level

Upper West Side – Known as the place where the “Teffilin date*” was born, the UWS is the MODERN orthodox singles capital of the world. Whether its eating dairy out**, pressing the elevator buttons on Shabbos, or hugging and kissing the opposite gender in shul, many singles choose to move to the UWS because they feel that they can observe Judaism on their own personal level without feeling like an outcast. While there may be plenty of “modern” things taking place on the UWS, it isn’t fair to say that everyone falls into this mold. There are people that do consider themselves more stringent in their religious observance, however, I find that the modern group is much more prominent.

Since one can get the best feel of a community on Shabbos, I will highlight the basic Shabbos events on the UWS. Every Shabbos feels like a Simchat Torah I remember from my high school years. Hundreds of guys and girls are standing outside in the hallway flirting instead of entering the the sanctuary to daven. After services and shmoozing, the Shabbos routine continues by going to your respective meals. The meals are often coed, with hugging and kissing the opposite gender upon arrival. The next day the scene in shul is the same as Friday night, although the shul of choice becomes The Jewish Center. After lunch, during the summer months, people spend the long Shabbos afternoons networking/shmoozing/bashert hunting/playing sports/tanning in Central Park on the Great Lawn. Since Mincha is not such a social scene, like Friday night or Shabbos day, a fraction of the people bother to make an appearance.

The Heights – It would be naive for anyone to claim that what happens on the UWS doesn’t also take place in The Heights, however, it takes place on a much smaller scale and is not done so overtly. It is rare to find people shmoozing in the hallway of Mt. Sinai during services. I have yet to go to a Shabbos meal where someone pushed the elevator button (granted, the buildings in The Heights are much smaller). I also rarely see kissing and hugging at meals upon the guests arrivals. Meals tend to be coed, like on the UWS, and people tend to hangout in the park on a nice Shabbos day, also like on the UWS. At Fort Tryon Park, some people play catch, some walk around by the the cloisters, and many people sit on benches staring across the Hudson River into New Jersey (probably envisioning themselves living in Teaneck sometime in the near future).

In The Heights, on the UWS, and everywhere elsewhere in the world, Jews ultimately lead their lives in a way that is most convenient for them. Some people ask shaylas to their Rebbeim, some people don’t, but at the end of the day most people pick and choose what they want to do in halacha. The major difference between the singles community in The Heights and the singles community on the UWS, is best summed up as a friend of mine put it: “It’s not that singles on the UWS and The Heights are so different from eachother, it’s just a difference in attitude towards religion. In general, many people in The Heights just seem to care more about halacha, where many people on the UWS are just indifferent.”

Diversity/Culture

Upper West Side – Jews, WASPS, investment bankers, lawyers, therapists (OT, PT, ST, and anything else that’s good for the shidduch resume.), and some under privileged individuals who live in low income housing, are the primary groups that make up the UWS community. With upscale bars, fancy restaurants, lots of banks and clothing stores, the UWS is very much like every other nice part of Manhattan. The difference is there is a large concentration of single Jews living there opposed to, maybe, the Upper East Side or Midtown (plenty of Jews live there too, but these places don’t have the same large concentration of singles). Many single girls like moving there because they consider it relatively safe compared to other areas of the city (i.e. The Heights). All in all, the UWS is known for it’s convenience and safety, rather that its diversity or culture.

The Heights – The Heights possesses a diverse group of residents that will make the HR department at any large investment bank jealous! Dominicans and Jews, being the primary residence in this exclusive community, ensure that there is never a dull moment. Whether you’re walking back from the subway and praying that you don’t get mugged, watching a drug bust in the middle of St. Nich, or waking up from gun shots in the middle of the night, there is always something taking place in The Heights to keep you on your toes! Even as I sit here at 1am typing this post, I am exposed to one of the locals favorite minhagim, which is blasting loud, thumping, Spanish music in the streets for everyone to enjoy. A real treat is also taking a stroll through the streets during the day and observing the hustel and bustel of the locals as they engage in commerce. Whether its selling fake Lacoste shirts by the 1 train on 181st street, selling “sneakers” at the sneaker store by YU, selling “ice cream” in the winter from the ice cream truck that drives around town, or wondering what the heck is going on behind the tinted windows of the 24 hour fish place on 185th street (Who the heck wakes up at 3am and has a sudden craving for fish?). If you venture out of your apartment in the middle of the night (usually about 2am) during the summer months, you will see families sitting on the side walk BBQing, with there young children playing by their side.The Jews, a slightly less exciting group than the Dominicans, generally hang out at Key Food Thursday night, Mt. Sinai for singles events/shiurim or just sit in their apartments wondering why they are not married yet. The unique blend of ethnicity in The Heights offers exposure to various different cultures and customs, and always makes for a great story to tell your more wimpy friends that live on the UWS!

Style

In the business world the phrase “you gatta dress to impress” is often heard amongst colleagues or superiors when offering advice to younger associates in order to help them attract new business. I think the same concept applies when trying to attract a mate. As someone who doesn’t always pay attention to what he wears, I take what I am about to say as mussur for myself specifically. I feel like it is of utmost importance to dress the part when searching for your bashert. Yes, it is true that we should be focused on one’s neshama, middot, and level of ruchneeus, but let’s call a spade a spade, none of us are on such a high madreigah that physical appearance doesn’t influence our decisions to at least some degree. That being said, both singles communities tend to take different approaches when it comes towards dress and appearance.

Upper West Side – Given the general lax attitude, on the UWS, towards some aspects of religion, it is no surprise that some people are dressed untzniusly.*** Leaving that aside, lets focus on the positive aspects of the way West Siders dress, because I think it can be a great piece of advice to many. When walking into the OZ Friday night or The Jewish Center on Shabbos day, you will run into hundreds of different young meidels and bachurim that range in age, religious level, and physical appearance. However, one thing that many of them have in common is the fact that most of them came to shul “dressed to impress.” I’m not saying everyone is wearing designer/expensive clothing (I wouldn’t know the difference if they were), rather I am focused on the effort that almost everyone on the UWS puts in to their appearance. It looks as if many Upper West Siders spent some time deciding what they are going to wear, determining if it fits, and making sure it matches. I think this effort demonstrates that an individual A) has their act together and B) is serious about finding their bashert. Taking pride in one’s physical appearance is one of the very critical steps in the Shidduch search.

The Heights – While many people in The Heights should be commended on their tznius garb, there is often much to be desired by the styles some bachurim and meidels choose to wear. Again, I am not talking about spending a lot of money on clothing, rather I am alluding to putting some time when deciding what to wear. Over the years I’ve had various guests for Shabbos, many of which comment to me saying that most of the girls look “frumpy” and the guys look “shlumpy.” While Mr. Webster probably doesn’t have an exact definition of either one of these two words, I think most people understand exactly what these terms mean if they spend a Shabbos in The Heights. Just because you attended all the right schools, the right camps, the right Yeshiva/Seminary, and have a flawless Shidduch Resume, does NOT absolve an individual from dressing and looking, looking like a mentch! It’s important to take pride in your appearance. Whether that means wearing clothes that fit, brushing your teeth, brushing your hair, or spending an extra 2 minutes shaving so you don’t look like a sociopathic lunatic with patches of hair on random parts of your face! It says in Mesechet Shabbos: “A Talmud-Chacham, upon whose clothes a stain can be found, deserves to be put to death.” While most of us might not be characterized as a Talmud Chacham, the fact of the matter is, Judaism takes ones appearance very seriously and one should keep that in mind, especially when searching for a shidduch.

Weirdos

As we all know, weirdness is all relative. One time a girl refused to date me because she said “uchh, he has too many friends. It’s so weird!” I personally think it’s weird that my friend, Jake, has a strict diet of eating ONLY peanut butter and pizza. Jake probably thinks it’s weird that some girl came up to him last Simchat Torah during hakafot, gave him her business card, and said “call me.” That girl probably DOESN’T think it’s weird that she is hitting on guys 10 years her junior! While there is no consistent definition of the words “weird” or “weirdo”, what is consistent is the fact that you will most definitely run into weirdos in whatever community you decide to join. There is no shortage of them in both the UWS or in the Heights. It will be silly for me to sit here and describe all the different weirdos I have encountered in both communities, because the truth of the matter is what I may think is super creepy, might be viewed as a perfectly normal social interaction by someone else. Weirdos come in all shapes and sizes, genders, background, and levels of religious observance. Some are older and have been around the community for years, while some are newbies who just moved into the community recently and are trying to find their chevra. Regardless of the type of weirdos you may run into, the fact of the matter is this: There is someone in this world for everyone. No matter how bizarre you find a particular individual, there is always someone equally bizarre that would love to be introduced to them! Instead of of whispering to your friends about your awkward encounter, introduce these people to each other and it will serve as a segulah in your search for your bashert (hey, it’s worth a shot…can’t be any less effective than the segulah wine)!

Conclusion:

Let’s be honest, regardless of what singles community you live in or choose to join, we are all here for the exact same reason…to find a shidduch! No one moves to The Heights or the UWS for it’s location, or the religious/cultural diversity of the community. Jewish singles have been moving to singles communities in NYC for decades with the focus on finding their bashert and then moving out to greener pastures (Riverdale, Teaneck, or Queens) once they achieve this goal. The thing that’s interesting about this attitude is how so many people are focused on getting out, before actually moving in. I think a major problem that many singles face, is living in the future, instead of making the most of the present.

Like many people in either singles community, I am frequently looking towards the future. I look forward to not having to shlep to Long Island during rush hour traffic for a blind date or taking the subway back from a Brooklyn date at midnight. I look forward to being married to someone who likes me for me and not having to put on a show like I am accustomed to doing on many dates. I look forward to finding my bashert, getting married, moving to a suburb and going on some exotic get away for Pesach.I look forward to many things in life, and that is a good thing. The problem with this way of thinking, is my focus is TOO much on the future, and not enough on living and appreciating the present.

Several weeks ago I was in the YU library trying to study. Like my usual routine, I had a good 15 minutes of studying then my mind began to wander. First, my mind wandered to making cholent for Shabbos and what new ingredients I should incorporate into my existing recipe (making cholent has become a recent hobby of mine), then it inevitably wandered off to thinking about the Shidduch scene. While I was spacing out thinking about potential shidduchim, my married friend came up to me to shmooz. During the course of our discussion I mentioned to him that I can’t study because my mind keeps wandering. The conversation went like this:

Friend: “Are you thinking about dating as usual?”
Me: “Heck yeah!”
Friend: “Why?”
Me: “It’s just where my mind wanders. You’ve been married for like 2 years so you won’t understand! Stop giving me attitude and go find my bashert!”
Friend: “Bro, let me tell you something. Don’t ever take for granted the fact that you are single. You will get married to a nice meidel and I am sure of that, but right now never stop appreciating what you have going for you!”
Me: “What do you mean?”
Friend: “Don’t get me wrong. I am happily married, but there are definitely times that go by where I wonder what it would be like to still be single? You hang out with friends and don’t have that many other commitments that come with being married. Don’t take this part of your life for granted! I promise that one day you will miss it!”

I found my friends point very profound. As a Jew living in New York City, being single can sometimes be a very lonely road, especially after seeing many of your friends get married and move away. It’s important to remember to never forget how lucky you are to be in your current situation. We live in Manhattan, surrounded by friends, and are free from much responsibility that comes later in life and once we are married. The move to either the UWS or The Heights is a great experience to learn, grow, become independent, refine what we are looking for in life, and have fun, all while actively looking for a shidduch. In 20 years from now, most people will look at their single years and be able to laugh at some of the experiences that they’ve had, while also viewing those experiences as an essential transition period before marriage. Regardless of what community you live in or ultimately decide to move into, the key is to live in the moment, appreciate what you have, and to maintain a positive outlook, because things are just going to get better…especially if you haven’t found your bashert yet!

Notes:
*Teffilin date = Is when a bachur brings his teffilin on a date, just in case he spends the night at the meidels apartment.
**In a traif restaurant.
***This is not me being judgmental or overly opinionated, this is merely an observation.

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Comments »

danib62 - February 28, 2010 at 9:36 pm CST

““The Heights or the Upper West Side?” This is the question facing every modern orthodox single Jew upon graduation from college.”

You know what the best choice is for a “modern orthodox single Jew upon graduation from college”? Not living in either the heights of the upper west side.

When I graduated from Brandeis me and my modern orthodox friends had to decide between Brookline and Cambridge, MA. I guess since it’s not the Heights or the UWS I’m in some sort of gallus. According to one recent mass email circling around Cambridge “serious Minyan goers – decided to leave Cambridge for Brookline” I guess since I live in Cambridge I’m in triple Gallus!

 
danib62 - February 28, 2010 at 9:41 pm CST

Oh and we totally kill on the weirdo front. You can’t hold a candle to us there. Weirdo Pride!

 
neverbeenonasd - March 1, 2010 at 12:24 pm CST

reply to danib62 –
i dont live in nyc either, HOWEVER, the fact of the matter is, that most single ortho jews in america are concentrated in those 2 areas. while there ARE single communities in both Cambridge and Brookline, they are TINY compared to those in NYC, and many parents would accuse their children of committing social suicide by remaining in Boston after graduation and not moving to “The City”. No doubt there are fewer people in your community and thus fewer opportunities for you to meet “the one”. (unless your one is some uber geeky mit or harvard socially awkward genius, then i think you’re set).

 


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