Co-op City.. 15,372 residential units in 35 high-rise buildings and 7 townhouse clusters. Co-op City has approximately 50,000+ residents. I grew up in building 34 apartment 3D as in David, which is what my mother would say. Growing up in Co-op I was exposed to a lot of people. Co-op really represented America in so many ways but most of us in my age group just didn’t understand or weren’t even aware of it. It is amazing how Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Black, White, Spanish, Irish, English, Irish etc lived together.
In high school my best friends were ethnically diverse, religiously diverse and socially diverse. My building is shaped like an X and if you can imagine as you approach the center of the X on the right and left side of you the building would be lined with chairs and people. I found this image on David Chesler’s site http://home.comcast.net/~coopcity/pictures/current_pix.html
So, the people would be sitting in chairs from one end on the right to the other end on the left. Just sitting outside and enjoying conversation or appreciating the day. They would talk about all of the things you would expect , politics, life, death. I learned about the Holocaust from survivors sitting in this very spot. I learned about love of America from the veterans that fought in WWII and other wars.
“Oh Howie.. What a handsome young man.. come here, let me see you…” I didn’t know it at the time but I would learn more about people in those moments than I would even have expected. It created a foundation for my belief in people and my love for America. It didn’t matter if people were of different ethic background, all of them as adults were engaged and I was blind to most of the hate.
Jon Stewart last week made a series of jokes about the “War on Christmas” where he makes fun of the fact that people are upset about the holiday being attacked and watered down by the politically correct. The real problem is that we are going from “We the people…” to “Me the people…” and that is the root cause of all of our symptoms.
Every year during Thanksgiving and Christmas we worry about helping people eat or providing clothing to the needy but the rest of the year we somehow blow these people off. We are worried about ourselves individually and about how we feel about things from our individual perspective. It is pervasive and wrapped into the very fabric of our behavior including professionally and politically.
It undermines our ability to make sane and rationale choices on what we spend our time on. Last week, I spent time arguing about why someone being gay has nothing to do with work. I guess because in Co-op when people identified themselves as gay most of us just said “ok” and moved on with whatever thing we were doing. It wasn’t a big deal. Being different wasn’t a big deal, it didn’t mean that we had to be extra sensitive.
Being Jewish wasn’t a novelty. I lost some good friends when the 5% movement became popular but most of the kids that went that route eventually came around to realizing that nothing is an absolute and that every white man wasn’t evil.
Co-op wasn’t perfect but looking at it now from where I stand culturally, it makes sense that everyone was treated equally and that people weren’t given an edge or treated like that needed extra help. I have proof too.. I could name plenty of people who I grew up with that contributed to our world and didn’t let who they are be a barrier to what they wanted to achieve.
We didn’t have to drown in someones religion or philosophy and we didn’t have to suffer because someone put their religious or social burden on our back to carry.
Maybe someone should do a study on Co-op City 1970-1990 and see what they did right and share it with the world. All I know is that the world I live in today is foreign to me. I don’t care about most of the things that people care about in terms of differences concerning gender, race, sexual preferences, personal choices or economic status.
It can’t always be about YOU and what YOU want and how YOU feel. Our future depends on people respecting each other and learning from our lessons and our history.
To all my friends and family in Co-op.. thank you for those experiences and the blessing of your differences and your love to find the ties that bind. Happy days to you no matter what holiday you are celebrating..