“White cottage cheese with bacon and an omelet, this strange combination is very familiar to me,” I said while sitting with my wife, Tamar, for breakfast in the Hyatt Hotel near Sixth Avenue in New York City.
Tamar laughed. She knew exactly what I meant, and immediately recounted the well-known story about how she and her father, Yitzchak, would enjoy themselves over a pastrami sandwich with white cheese.
A family with no sensation in their palate, I always thought to myself. This was how we began our trip in the Big Apple.
At age 35, I had flown to New York City for the first time, and didn’t know what to expect.
Tamar knew from previous experience, and she enthusiastically prepared our trip like a veteran tourist guide so we wouldn’t miss any special sites or events.
We traveled to New York City to celebrate her 30th birthday overseas. Three of us boarded the plane – Tamar, her father, and myself.
Yitzchak had visited the city many times with his daughter. Yet this time was quite different. He didn’t need a seat on the plane; neither by the window nor by the isle. He was simply with us.
“Do you remember the video where we’re playing word games with my father?” Tamar asked. “That was from here,” she said as we strolled through Bryant Park.
I had the privilege of knowing Yitzchak for only three months until he lost his battle with cancer.
Today it feels to me as if it was three years. Perhaps it’s because I now have a face to put with his spirit, and his personality. And then there are Tamar’s stories of her father.
Each time they visited the city, my wife’s family switched apartments with an Israeli family that lived in the city. They would stay two weeks and enjoy every moment together.
This trip was very special. Yitzchak was going on 60 that year, with his birthday coinciding with Tamar’s, which almost added a feeling of sanctity to the whole event.
All the traffic noise snapped me out of these daydreams, as we crossed the street with the crowd. I passed by everyone quickly, slicing through the steam that poured from the manholes, and tried to keep my eyes on Tamar so we didn’t lose each other in the sea of people surrounding us.
When we finally reached Times Square, I stopped and looked up. Until that moment, I had never encountered such intensity in my life. All the flashing lights flooded our faces and there was a profound sense that anything was possible, that we could be anyone or anything.
During our last six remaining days of the trip, we visited all the great sites New York City offers. We went to SoHo, Chelsea, Williamsburg, and even accidentally found ourselves in Chinatown, where an old man yelled at us in broken English that we couldn’t possibly understand.
Is it really possible to make all of one’s dreams come true here? I wondered, as we passed a very long line to the Jimmy Fallon show outside NBC studios.
My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a man standing behind me wearing a cowboy hat and holding a book with Donald Trump’s photo on the cover, as he yelled:
“There’s only one way! Either you’re Americans or you’re not!”
Only afterwards did I understand that the man was upset about the lack of support from New Yorkers regarding the man who owned the biggest golden tower in the city.
Another homeless man emerged from the nearby street corner, looking as if he was almost frozen to death. A car was honking at two people arguing over a few dollars next to a pile of garbage bags.
Is this what the big dream looks like? – I asked myself in genuine disappointment.
Silence overcame Tamar and me as we sat in the subway car on our way to the hotel after a day of endless walking. I wondered what my wife thought of all this. A train of yearning passed through a long dark tunnel, among so many people who were all chasing an impossible dream.
Sometimes the most important things are the smallest things, such as a smile, or the memory of a smile of a loved one who’s no longer with us. If only I had been able to experience this kind of trip, even if only for a moment, the same way that Tamar experienced it, in a way that’s deeper and more significant than even the most magnificent skyscraper.
Finally, a moment before we boarded our flight home I understood the significance of real dreams and how they enhance our lives.
Tamar glanced distantly at the city as the plane slowly prepared for take-off, and for a moment I imagined Yitzchak beneath the plane wing, preparing for a long morning run, waving and smiling.
There are those who want to be everything they can - and there are those who want nothing more than for those they love to simply be present.