Picture yourself driving along route 17 in beautiful Bergen County, NJ. On your right side, past the shoulder, a fine example of well-maintained greenery. On the far side of the cement divider, beyond the four lanes of traffic, more grass. And beyond the grass, on both sides, shrubbery and foliage that simply looks fantastic.
Then, just like that, the grass begins to diminish; the trees begin to thin, until all that’s left is a four-lane highway with some gravel and dirt on the sides. Every now and again, you may come across a sickly-looking deer, or a patch of trees a-hundred yards long, but it’s not what it used to be back in Bergen County. And then, shortly after merging onto Rt. 94, after passing all the run-down quaint houses of the local “out-of-towners,” immediately after the bed and breakfast chains that riddle the area so, you see it. The reason you partook this lengthy one-hour journey in the first place.
The ski resort seems to be smiling down on you, perched above its 1,040’ summit. It appeared to me as if a giant diamond had risen out of the earth. At first sight, the amount of blinding whiteness was overwhelming. As I got closer, my eyes adjusted, and I realized that the “diamond” was no diamond at all, but a mountain. The most beautiful mountain I had ever seen and the very same Mountain Creek where I would complete my first board slide (when the snowboard travels down a rail perpendicularly).
When snowboarders venture from their natural habitat, the terrain park, the skier population tends to be irate by this. You see, skiers dislike snowboarders and have disliked them for a long time. Historians dispute what the actual reason is: perhaps snowboarders are cooler, more talented, or more stylish. Nowadays, however, the undisputed truth has become widely known and accepted. Snowboarders like to take their time when they’re on the mountain. After we dismount the ski lift, before we launch our bodies as vertical projectiles into the air off various jumps and other objects, we sit around and we, well, talk. We talk about what we’re going to do off the jumps, new music, or just about anything.
Lately, these conversations seem to have more of an impact on me than they did when I was younger. There are other snowboarders on the mountain, who, as much as they may look like me, aren’t like me at all. It may be true that they have an easy-going attitude I would love to be able to adopt, but my daily dealings have nothing in common with theirs, sans the occasional episode of Family Guy or The Office. You see, when it comes down to it, some of the non-Jewish, Jersey-native, non-kosher eating snowboarders are different from me in more ways than I can count.
I am therefore torn between two sides of my personality. I feel as if it’s the sole fact that I’m a Jew that makes me feel a bit disconnected from the other snowboarders. Do I really belong here, on this marvelous mountain, amidst all the other snowboarders and skiers of various backgrounds, or do I belong in school, studying so I can amount to a doctor or a lawyer?
In Andre Aciman’s Shadow Cities, the author explains how he is a foreigner from Alexandria; an exile who didn’t belong in New York City. Aciman walks by a park, Straus Park, one day, and realizes that a statue has gone missing. “I would come every noon, for the statue mostly, because she was, like me, willing to stand by in this halfway station called Straus Park.” But why should Aciman care? It’s because he’s a foreigner, an Alexandrian who doesn’t belong. Aciman is, like me, stuck in between his home and his current state.
Straus Park was an “oasis of the soul” for Andre Aciman. The Park has one physical address, but it exists on four streets. “There was something physically central about Straus Park. This, after all, was where Broadway and West End Avenue intersected, and the park seemed almost like a raised hub on West 106th Street, leading to Riverside Park on one side and to Central Park on the other. Straus Park was not on one street but at the intersection of four. Suddenly, before I knew why, I felt quite at home. I was in one place that had at least four addresses.”Just like the author of Shadow Cities, Straus Park has more than one home, and doesn’t really belong to any of its multiple addresses.
I’m not sure what it was that attracted me to the sport – the cocky snowboarder attitude that so many of them seem to have or perhaps the incredible feeling of being weightless for a fraction of a second when I reach the highest point of my jump – but I fell for snowboarding. I fell hard, and I couldn’t get up. I didn’t even realize I was becoming what the old people call “those skater punks with the tight pants and big shoes.” Looking back, I’m not so sure I would have gone along with the whole show, growing my hair long, buying tight jeans, and using vernacular such as “bro, homie, dawg,” and “sick” when I didn’t actually mean those words. Would my love for the sport have been able to overwhelm my annoyance with the culture?
The rentals center was dark and damp that first day, and the man behind the counter seemed as if he would rather be snowboarding than in his little dungeon of despair. After relaying my boot size, height, weight, and, if my memory serves me correctly, my blood type, favorite band, favorite author, and some other questions, which seemed completely irrelevant to me, I happily made my way back to the gondola with my boots on and snowboard in tow.
When I snowboard, I have a group of friends who have very different ideals than I do. Their lives often revolve around activities such as smoking, drinking, snowboarding, video games and sex, while aspiring to be professional snowboarders or pop stars. My life, or so I’m told, is based more around core Jewish ethics such as being kind, learning Torah, praying, and serving God. If I can become a satisfied lawyer, or a happy businessman with a loving family, then my life’s mission is well on its way to the finish line.
Mountain Creek, or snowboarding as a whole, is my “Oasis of the Soul”. When I’m snowboarding, I can completely lose myself, and feel like nothing else in the world exists except for me, my snowboard, and that huge jump approaching more and more rapidly by the second. Once I finish my run, however, and I’m sitting on the chairlift next to a bunch of strangers who are sharing a smoke or conversing about any number of various subjects which I’m not genuinely interested in, I feel out of place.
Is that who I really am? If I stop and think about it, is that who I became? As Aciman said, “Straus Park, it seemed, was created precisely for this, for contemplation, for restoration—in both its meanings—for retrospection, for finding oneself.” What I don’t understand, is why I can’t just snowboard, and be in touch with my Jewish heritage. Maybe it’s the magic of snowboarding that the two can coexist peacefully. Perhaps, I just need some more contemplation, but for now, I’m content.
Where do I belong? Where does anyone belong? I may not belong anywhere, an exile caught in between these two cultures. That may not be so bad though, seeing as how I can get a taste from each one, and stop and consider the possibilities when I need to. I love the sport, and, simultaneously, I don’t have to live that particular culture. I can wear what I want and speak how I choose. At the same time, I can sit behind a desk and dream about those gigantic 40-foot jumps.