Get Out of Town
Shortly after I became observant, I came across the expression “Out of Town Jews.” At first this mystified me, but eventually I realized that it was used by New Yorkers to describe those living outside the Greater New York Metropolitan Area.
When I finally deciphered the meaning of “OOT” – yes, there’s an abbreviation! – I laughed raucously. Within three blocks of my home in Los Angeles, there are eight shuls. There are a variety of Jewish schools, mikvaos, kosher grocery stores, and shops selling everything from sefarim to modest clothing – in short, all the necessities of contemporary Jewish life.
A quick jaunt to Wikipedia informs me that the Greater L.A. Metropolitan Area has over 12 million inhabitants, 18 million if you count Orange County. About 660,000 of them are Jewish. One of them is our mayor. There are so many Jews in L.A. that even non-Jewish Angelenos occasionally sprinkle their conversations with words like meshuggah, mitzvah, kosher, and the whole megillah that they’ve picked up from the MOTs who live among them. If a local non-Jew told me my skirt was too short or suggested I add a “tznius button” to my shirt, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Users of the expression “Out of Town” seem to assume that there is only one town on the face of Planet Earth: New York City. Israelis get a special dispensation, because they live in the the Holiest Place on Earth – but only barely.
If you believe the things about OOT communities said and written by “In Town” New Yorkers, our OOT yeshivos are suitable only for “troubled” youth who have floundered in their superior institutions; our children make suitable marriage partners only once they agree to go to New York for dating purposes and promise to never, ever settle down in their OOT community-of-birth; and (worst of all) we wear white shells under our short-sleeved shirts because we are deprived of optimal shopping for modest women.
The notion that Los Angeles, Cleveland, or Chicago qualifies as some kind of Jewish backwater is absurd. Trust me: I have lived truly Out of Town. I have had people gape up at my window because they’d never watched someone light a chanukiya before. I have had to make hamotzi on Friday night on a Sahara Bread brand pita or a slice of Oroweat rye simply because there were no other pareve breads available in local stores. I have had to make a special trip to the Big City in order to shop for Passover supplies. (Ironically, the Big City in question was Baltimore, which New Yorkers claim is just as OOT as L.A. Baruch Hashem they nonetheless had Streit’s matzos, 778 jam, and Breakstone’s butter.)
I also beg my readers to consider: in what way is New York better? (As that seems to be the underlying assumption in the OOT designation.) Let’s compare New York to L.A.: Access to shuls, mikvaos, and day schools is roughly equivalent, although admittedly L.A. has fewer learning opportunities for post-high school yeshiva bochrim.
Housing? Equally outrageous.
Restaurants? We got Mexikosher first.
Weather? Obviously, L.A. Why else do New Yorkers flock here for Mid-Winter Vacation?
So, New Yorkers, spare me your condescension. The next time you use the expression “Out of Town” in my presence, I will rebel. Or give you the evil eye. Or forbid you from visiting us next January.
And you wouldn’t want me to do that, would you?