Every Chanukah we are reminded of the phrase "nes gadol hayah sham" -- "a great miracle happened there," and we celebrate the various miracles of Chanukah. But as I'm writing this from my new apartment in New York City, I'm thankful for a different type of miracle, and the "there" in this case is a little more complicated.
I called Chicago home for a long time, but after two of the most stressful months of my career, I miraculously made the move to the Big Apple; to a neighborhood I've been wanting to live for more than a year and a half.
On a cold Friday night in February 2014, I went to a Modern Orthodox synagogue called Ohab Zedek on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a shul known as the go-to place for young professionals on Friday nights. As I waited for Kabbalat Shabbat services to begin, at least 300 20-somethings filled the shul, and after services, 95th Street became the scene of an impromptu singles' event.
Finally, I understood why my college friends -- and a number of articles -- kept referring to the Upper West Side was "a scene." I'd never seen anything close to this in Chicago, and all I knew was that I wanted to be a part of it.
It's safe to call New York the Jewish capital of America, and I've heard there are more observant, single 20- and 30-somethings there than there are in the rest of the country combined. Chances are if you talk to a young Modern Orthodox Jew living in the city from out of state, they'll tell you that these numbers are the number one reason they're living here.
It also goes without saying that keeping kosher and finding a synagogue that matches your belief system is infinitely easier here than anywhere else. Looking for some kosher meat late on a Saturday night? No chance if you live in Lakeview. Milt's (the only option) closes well before midnight. On the Upper West Side, a burger or shawarma is a stone's throw away -- even at 3 a.m.
But when I came back to Chicago after that eye-opening trip, I suddenly found my heart in two places. On one hand, I enjoyed the life I've made for myself in the Lakeview community. And the idea of paying double in rent for half the space was certainly a hard pill to swallow.
So for nearly a year and a half, I flirted with the idea of moving and visited nearly a half-dozen times, but never actually made the move and constantly made excuses for why I couldn't. I had a cool job working for a hot bourbon brand, a spacious apartment and, most recently, a summer romance I thought could last. Moving was a nice idea to fantasize over, I convinced myself, but a far cry from reality -- or so I thought.
In August, everything went downhill. That summer romance suddenly ended; what I thought was a dream job started becoming less and less of a fit and I could tell it was mutual. By October, I was let go. Feeling like I had been punched in the gut but like nothing was holding me back, I finally made the decision. Despite my lack of connections, the seemingly impossible logistics of moving in the winter and five months left on my Chicago lease, I decided it was time to go for it and move to New York.
I'm not sure if divine miracles happen anymore, but what followed certainly felt like one. Two weeks after I made my decision, I headed to New York with five interviews and a big dream to live. By the time I came back to Chicago, I had an offer that I ended up taking.
But that was only the first miracle I needed. Next, I had to find an apartment for Dec. 1, which is the worst possible time to find roommates, and that was on top of finding someone to sublet my Chicago room for five months. To add to the degree of difficulty, I needed to find someone who keeps kosher -- something you can't easily find through airbnb or craigslist.
But in the 11th hour, everything fell into place. I found an apartment just a half a block from the ideal train to get me to work, found a third roommate and someone to take over my sublease at close to full price all in the span of three weeks.
As we light the menorah in celebration of Chanukah, the message of believing in miracles even during times of immense adversity still ring true today. When I light the candles this year from my new apartment in New York, I'll be reminded of how one of my biggest disappointments led to the start of a new opportunity in a place where I've wanted to be for so long.
May this year's Chanukah lights inspire us to be extra ambitious and strive for the seemingly impossible. No matter how big the challenge, may this be the year we are fortunate to receive miracles beyond our wildest dreams.
From New York to Chicago and beyond, chag sameach.