Close to Home: Chapter 17| October 25, 2022
I silently thanked the Jews somewhere in Lakewood who were treating their garbage man kindly
One of the best ways to get a feel for a new area is by just driving through it, seeing what type of people live there, finding out where the stores are, checking out the parks.
One day, I was driving slowly through an area that was becoming frum, and I passed a run-down house. The lawn was littered with stuff, there was a pickup truck in the driveway, and a hulking guy, covered in tattoos, walked out of the house — and headed straight to me.
“You Jewish people!” he said, and my heart sank. This wasn’t feeling very safe.
“Yes?” I said, my foot hovering over the gas pedal.
“You Jews are some of the nicest people I know! I’m a garbage man, and I service a neighborhood nearby. It used to be filled with rich Italians, and they all ignored me, but lately all these Jewish people are moving in, and they’re such nice people.”
Relief flooded me, and I silently thanked the Jews somewhere in Lakewood who were treating their garbage man kindly.
“Great to hear,” I said warmly. “What neighborhood do you work in?”
He told me the area — and it was my neighborhood! I gave him my address, and not only did he remember my house, he even remembered that I always gave him a tip before the beginning of the year. We chatted a bit.
“There was one woman,” he told me, “who ran after me one morning and offered me a box full of food! It was all closed packages, loads of stuff! I’m telling ya, the Jews are great.”
I realized he had probably been given one of the Covid food packages that were distributed in Lakewood schools. One woman, who must have had too much food, thought of who could enjoy it — and made a big kiddush Hashem. I shared the incident on our neighborhood WhatsApp chat, and someone recognized her neighbor and told her how much her little gesture had meant.
Unfortunately, not everyone I meet has such fond feelings about Jews. A client recommended me to Joe Fellings. I called Joe and introduced myself as real estate agent Nicky Norman.
“This neighborhood, they’re all coming!” he said belligerently.
“Who are they?”
“It’s those Jews! They’re all coming in their caravans!”
“Yes, those beat-up minivans, they open the door, and ten kids come piling out.”
I couldn’t just let this go. “Joe, I think you should know that I’m also from that community.”
A moment of silence. Then he sputtered, “Well… well… we don’t like all these people coming.”
Joe was trying to sell his house himself and wanted me to bring him clients. I brought a number of people to see the house, but the house didn’t budge. He was asking a high price for a house that wasn’t all that special, and he consistently made nasty comments about Jews — the very people who were coming to see his house.
He finally realized he needed an agent but refused to list with a Jew. He found a non-Jewish agent, and he still didn’t get any bites. Finally, he listed it with a Jew, and it sold. But his feeling about Jews never changed.
Sometimes, though, anti-Semitism can shift when the non-Jew has a positive interaction with a Jew.
Many of the non-Jews who resent Jews moving into their area have a sign on their front lawn proclaiming “Toms River Strong” or “Jackson Strong.” Translation: We will stay strong and not sell to these encroaching Jews.
One day, Hatzolah got a call — a neighbor reported on a man in distress. A paramedic raced to the address. The house was sprawling and beautiful, and, on a prominent spot on the lawn, there was a “Toms River Strong” sign.
He burst into the house and found a man having a heart attack.
“Do you want me here?” he asked before approaching the man. “I see that you don’t like my type.”
“No, no,” said the man, “please help me.”
The Hatzolah member saved the man’s life. And a few days later, the sign was gone.
You don’t need to save someone’s life to change their perceptions.
When I first moved in, I was the only Jew on the block. I made fresh challos for all my neighbors and delivered them together with my kids. Wendy Glanz, who lived across the street, was very cold toward us. And that didn’t change. For months, every time I saw her, she’d pointedly ignore me.
Fast-forward six years. Our relationship is now warm and friendly, and when she was ready to sell, she asked me to be her agent. As we were finalizing the details, Wendy said, “Nicky, can I be honest?”
And I said, “Sure, that’s the only way to be.”
“When you first moved in, I was really unhappy about it.”
“I know,” I said.
“You knew? How?”
“You gave off that vibe” I told her. “You were not welcoming.”
“I’m so sorry I was like that. I had just heard all these stories about the Jews and how they take over the neighborhood and how they’re just not nice neighbors to have. I was so convinced of it. You were the very first Jewish neighbors I got, and I was really worried about what it would lead to.
“But now, I have to admit that you guys are just the most wonderful neighbors to have. I look at you every Saturday, and you’re walking together as a family, the kids are all dressed adorably, the wives look happy, and the men are spending time with their wives and children.
“You guys take care of your lawn, and you’re so friendly, and you always wave. What’s not to like? I’m just upset at myself that I came in with such a bad attitude. What I believed was really not accurate, and you showed me that clearly.”
to be continued…
I’ve been asked by guests if I’m running for mayor due to all the waves I give when I walk down the street. I wave at all my neighbors. Waving is a warm, safe, and unobtrusive way to show your friendship. Believe me when I say that a simple wave can be so much more meaningful than you’d ever imagine. So the answer is no, I’m not running for a political position, I’m just trying to be an amazing advocate for our tribe.
Nechama “Nicky” Norman is a licensed real estate agent servicing greater Lakewood, New Jersey. She focuses on residential property and loves to educate people about buying and selling by hosting seller events.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 815)
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