My block in Marine Park, Brooklyn consists of 52 nearly identical houses. 48 are semi-attached, shared driveways between the pairs. At each end, facing each other, are the others, stand-alones just slightly narrower than the rest on the block. The houses were all built in 1926 to be homes for New York’s growing middle class, but the Great Depression put off house ownership for many of the original inhabitants, who were forced to rent instead of realizing their dreams to buy. As time went on, the houses did become owner-occupied. After World War II, an influx of first-generation Irish settled in, some still here. Over the past decade, the largest group coming in has been Orthodox Jews, joining the wide range of religions present, from Catholics and other types of Christians to Conservative and reformed Jews to non-practicing people from all of the religions found here.
We’re teachers and cops, garbage collectors and owners of small businesses. We’re retired, some of us living across from our kids; we’re young families nervously looking to our finished basements to ease the pressure on the three small bedrooms upstairs. We’re at the far right end of the Tea Party and vocal supporters of Occupy Wall Street–and everywhere in between. We’re Irish and Italian, Israeli and Russian, African-American and Latino.
There’s constant low-level strife over street parking and dog walking (or, more specifically, on where dogs do their stuff), both sometimes erupting into on-street screaming. There are neighbors shoveling snow for those who can’t, or running errands or sending over pies. There are long-term antagonisms and unpremeditated acts of kindness. Some of us put food out for the stray cats; others curse those who do under their breath, even though they may be friends.
Children play street basketball and hockey. Fathers tossing footballs to their kids keep one eye on the end of the one-way street, watching for cars turning onto the block. School buses and garbage trucks make their leisurely way down the block of a weekday morning, teaching us patience and, like the playing kids, keeping our speeds low.
Tonight, taking my last walk of the day with our own two dogs, I looked at the Christmas decorations that adorn almost half of the houses on the block–some of them rivaling the more famous lights on the more palatial homes of a part of Dyker Heights. Ours, I like better, for these are not the products of professionals, but of the loving care of the individual home-owners. Many of the other houses show Menorahs (though the lights were out by the time of my walk), not quite so many, but I suspect that the block, now, is about half Jewish, half Christian, of all variety of observance, along with a small number of ‘blended’ families, like mine. The lights and declarations of adherence to a faith, no matter how little or much one observes the rest of the year, make for a pleasant walk, this holiday season when Christmas and Hanukkah overlap so neatly.