I live in The. Best. Neighborhood. In. America.
Kids on our safe street run free, wandering from one backyard to another living room to yet another front yard and to someone else's kitchen, making up their own games, debating the rules, distinguishing between "fake" cries and real ones, and in short, learning how to get along in the world. Largely on their own.
Parents and babysitters are generally somewhere inside or on the periphery, sometimes joining in the game, always keeping one ear listening for signs of true trouble. But usually, giving the kids space to resolve things on their own.
In short, in a lot of ways on our street, it's 1977. (Have you heard about this new Star Wars movie?)
One of the many great things about our neighborhood is the parents and families that come along with all these kids. My fellow grownups are a diverse and talented lot, including Christians, Jews, Buddhists, atheists, musicians, writers, artists, lawyers, business people and entrepreneurs, stay-at-home parents and working parents, with roots in places like Jamaica, Mexico, Korea, Colombia, Florida, Texas, Arizona, New York, and our own town of Montclair.
We don't always agree on local education policy, or taxes, or which candidate for mayor we support, but we genuinely enjoy each other's company. And fortunately, between the Easter egg hunts, Halloween parties, New Year's Eve parties and block parties, we get to hang out together a lot.
Which brings me to the annual Hanukkuh party (which is tonight!) at my friend and across-the-street neighbor Deb's house. The kids spin the dreidel, hear a Hanukkuh story and enjoy the lighting of the menorah. (My son and a friend are planning to raise the stakes tonight by bringing dollars to bet with, instead of pennies. Oy vey.) The grownups hang out and drink and talk.
And everyone eats. Although Hanukkah is officially the festival of lights, it is unofficially the festival of greasy foods, since it's a remembrance of a time when the oil in the temple that was enough for only one day miraculously lasted for eight. (As Deb tells me, most Jewish holidays have a similar theme: they tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat.)
Deb makes tons of latkes, starting weeks in advance, and serves them with ample applesauce and sour cream. There are always jelly doughnuts (more greasy food). And there are lots of other treats and nibbles to be had.
This Gentile girl from Arizona had her first bite of a latke (pronounced "LAHT-kuh," fellow Gentiles) at the first of these parties a few years back. Deb's latkes are golden fried-potato goodness, with just the right amount of onion, perfectly seasoned. And despite the greasy-foods theme of the holiday, I do not find them unpleasantly greasy at all. I love them, the same way I love well-made French fries. Crispy, golden and perfect.
Best. Neighborhood. Ever.