Jewish bookstores in NYC
April 21, 2009 2:47 PM   Subscribe

How should I handle this? (Father-in-law wants me to take him to Jewish bookstores in NYC without my wife, I have to work, I have never met him, and I know nothing about Judaism.)

My father-in-law sent this to my wife:
Could my son in law meet me in the morning and show/take me how to get to the Jewish section that has the Jewish bookstores? Probably Brooklyn. I would like to purchase some books if possible.
She has the day off and I don't.

Is this a male bonding thing? Where are the Jewish bookstores in NYC? Or the more cohesive "Jewish" neighborhoods? He's very scholarly.

Any Jewish stuff near Astor Place so I could drop him off on my way to work or something? Or is my wife going to have to do it? She's not Jewish either.

Anonymous because I don't want him to find my posting history here.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total)
This is one of those situations where it won't really cost you too much time and effort to be nice, and it will probably be worth it in the long run. I'm sure you can use Google to find a Jewish bookstore near where you work. Why don't you offer to take your F.I.L. out for a coffee and stop by the bookstore on your way to work? You've never met? He probably just wants to get to know you a bit. It doesn't sound nearly as awkward as you're making it out to be- just spend a little time with him in the morning, drop him off at a bookstore, and make sure he knows how to get back home or to Brooklyn if he wants to do some exploring on his own.
posted by emd3737 at 2:52 PM on April 21, 2009

It sounds like he wants to spend time with you and perhaps share some of his culture with you.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 2:54 PM on April 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

It sounds to me like he's (a bit awkwardly) trying to spend some quality time with his son in law.

It doesn't sound like you two know each other very well. Maybe you should give it a try. (By all means let him know that you have to work that day, but perhaps set up some time on your day off instead.)
posted by ook at 2:55 PM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's Jewish bookstores in every borough. Where do you work?
posted by j1950 at 2:58 PM on April 21, 2009 there something about him that makes this awkward? The fact you've not met him, perhaps? He's really just asking you to take him to a Jewish bookstore in Brooklyn. He's not asking you to know about Judaism or even be Jewish, which is what you're implying he's asking. It seems to me there's a heightened level of anxiety over this, more than just the run of the mill "this is a pain in the arse on a weekday" annoyance. So if you could clarify what that anxiety is, you might get more pinpointed advice (I realize you're anonymous here, but maybe the mods can help).
posted by December at 3:01 PM on April 21, 2009

You've never met and he wants to get to know you. He's going to be in town tomorrow. Take him.
posted by tristeza at 3:02 PM on April 21, 2009

Every once in a while an older relative you don't know very well will ask you to do them a favor.

As long as you're clear about your competency to do the task, and they want your help anyway, you should help them.

I've had relatives ask me to do favors like pick them up from an airport in a city I've never been in without a map or proper directions. Or help them find the correct office to renew the registration on their motor vehicle even though I am not personally familiar with their city/state offices.

Word comes back through the grapevine that I'm an okay guy in the elders books. I know another relative my age who didn't do something they promised to do (drop a package at the post office) and that has never been forgotten.

From what I hear, this is less "male bonding" and more "is my son-in-law a jerk or not?"

I could be way off base. Even if you know nothing about it, and even though it sounds awkward, do it anyways. If not for the reason of getting to know him better, then for the reason that you've put something in the bank of father-in law goodwill.
posted by abdulf at 3:07 PM on April 21, 2009 [9 favorites]

Not really seeing the awkward part. Presumably, you've married his daughter, he'd like to meet you, so take him to lunch, chat, drop him off in a shopping area that meets his needs, let him kill a few hours and then all three of you go out to a nice dinner.

Or you could ask your wife for some other suggestions, since it's likely she knows him better than we do.
posted by sageleaf at 3:10 PM on April 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

Eichler's - Midwood (I've only driven past it.)

However, if he's interested, there's the Jewish Music Cafe in Park Slope. So he can see what Jewish hipsters look like. Hassidic Rap. Woooo!!!
posted by spec80 at 3:22 PM on April 21, 2009

You say you have to work, so if that can't be rescheduled or a day taken off, make sure he knows (I wonder if he forgot which one of you has the day off) that you have this other commitment and offer to meet him for a quick breakfast/coffee in the morning, or dinner if that works better for both of you. Offer to take him to Brooklyn on a day when you're not working. If he's scholarly, perhaps he already has some bookstores there in mind.
posted by PY at 3:24 PM on April 21, 2009

As others have said, it sounds like your father-in-law is looking for an opportunity to spend some time with you and get to know you. Don't just drop him off some place near Astor Place-- take him to Borough Park, which is about as Jewish a neighborhood as exists outside of Israel, and which appears to have quite a few Jewish / Judaica bookstores pretty close to each other.

Please note that this is not something your wife can necessarily do with him. Borough Park has a large Hasidic Community, whose religion precludes many interactions with women to whom they are not related-- which could lead to difficulties on a shopping excursion. Please note that I am not presenting this as any kind of judgment, but as a possible explanation as to why your father-in-law would prefer to go with you rather than with your wife.
posted by dersins at 3:24 PM on April 21, 2009

In my mind, "Jewish books" are kind of like "American books" - the topic could mean anything. Does he mean books regarding religious study? Obscure Yiddish novels? History? You should call him and simply say, "Hey, what kind of books are you looking for? Because I'm researching the best place to go to, and there are some bookshops that specialize in one thing or another."

He'll appreciate the care you're putting into this (and yes, I'm implying that you *must* do this.) It shouldn't be anymore awkward than it is for me, as a Muslim woman, to scout around Jewish cemeteries and synagogues and yes, bookstores. In fact, it should be considerably less awkward. Skipping a day of work to do this with a new family member is something I'd look forward to, myself.

Also, he asked *you* - not his daughter. Perhaps he simply wants to see if you respect this part of who he (or his family) is. I'm not a conservative person by any means, but to meet the father of your wife, you should be willing - even happy - to take the day off. Buy him lunch, too.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 3:37 PM on April 21, 2009

One more thing to consider that may (?) allay some of your fears: taking him to a Jewish bookstore is not the same thing as accompanying him to synagogue. It's a bookstore, not a house of worship.
posted by mosk at 3:41 PM on April 21, 2009

This is what personal days are made for. Unless your work would prohibit you from taking a personal day for this kind of thing (for example, if it must only be for family emergencies), you should take the day off and spend it with your father in law (if the whole day is too much for you to do alone, do a few hours, and then have your wife join you). It may be awkward, but the potential for it to be a really good thing is very large.

It will be a mitzvah.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:46 PM on April 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you work in/near midtown, and he's interested in Yiddish culture and/or 20th century workers movements, you could take him to the Workmen's Circle Book Center on 33rd Street. It's not a particularly Jewish part of town, but it's walking distance from the Diamond District on 47th street, and near Woorijip my very favorite Korean cafeteria on 32nd street if you want to grab a bite to eat.
posted by ladypants at 3:56 PM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

It sounds like he wants to spend time with you and perhaps share some of his culture with you.

Sounds like an interesting opportunity. I was able to spend a year or so with my father-in-law before he died (he created protective amulets for a living) ten years ago, and really wish I could have known him once my Japanese got good enough to have an intelligent conversation.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:56 PM on April 21, 2009

Would it kill you to take him, for crying out loud? If nothing else you'll get to know him a little better, and a favor now will surely be remembered can't have too much good will from in-laws, and your wife will be pleased with you too. So, it couldn't hurt!
posted by motown missile at 3:57 PM on April 21, 2009

If you're not up for a trip to ultra-Orthodox land (do you know what sort of Judaism he practices?), you might want to avoid Borough Park and stay in Manhattan. You can take him to West Side Judaica on the Upper West Side, and then there are lots of options in the neighborhood for lunch or whatever. The bookstore at the Jewish Museum (Upper East Side) is also quite nice, and would give you (&/or him) the option of wandering through the museum as well.
posted by judith at 3:58 PM on April 21, 2009

If I were you, I'd do the above and also suggest a visit to the Jewish Museum afterwards. The exhibits are usually well-done and there is shop to visit as well. Or a visit to Staten Island to see that museum. Take him out to lunch between stops.

Unless your wife has been estranged from her father (of which you make no note), or some bad family history precluded you from meeting him before (ditto), it sounds like he's interested in meeting you. Shocking, I know.

If you're old enough to get married, you're old enough to do a favor for the father of your wife.* You'll probably learn something and maybe even knock a bit of the chip off your shoulder.

Ask your wife for conversation topic suggestions. Or use your grown-up skills like asking people about themselves, how they see the world, what they want out of their life, what he does on a daily/weekly basis, what his memories of his parents (your wife's grandparents) are, what the rest of the family is like, his favourite memories of your wife while she was growing up.

I promise you'll survive a one-day cultural tour of New York with your father-in-law. Do yourself a favor and act like it's an HONOR to do this with him.

Look at this from his point of view. Coming to town to meet his son-in-law for the first time, who is apparently acting like it's a huge inconvenience and bother. Maybe he's never been to a big-city Jewish bookstore. Maybe he doesn't know what to do with you, so this is something that comes to mind. Unless he's proven himself to be a categorical asshole and manipulating boundary-crossing parent, I cannot imagine why this would be such a freak-out session. Perhaps there is more you're not telling us, in which case, I'd still suggest meeting the father of your wife for the day. If work absolutely positively precludes you from taking the day off, then treat him to a delicious dinner and an engaging conversation. You won't regret it.

*Precluding her not wanting anything to do with her family, bad family abuse/history, etc.
posted by barnone at 4:13 PM on April 21, 2009 [3 favorites]

You also might want to avoid Borough Park depending on what you mean by "scholarly." If you mean academic, I think West Side Judaica (UWS) is a better bet.
posted by milestogo at 4:14 PM on April 21, 2009

Some more interesting Jewish sites if he is more interested in culture than overt religion: The Tenement Museum has a great bookstore and lots of information on Jewish immigrant life on the Lower East Side. The LES is gentrified, but it still has a number of old time Jewish establishments like The Orchard Street Corset Shop, a few great pickle shops, Kossar's Bialys, Yonah Schimmel Knish Bakery, some old synagogues (operational or not), and the old Forward Building where the external busts of Marx and Engels were lovingly restored when the building was converted to luxury condos. If I remember correctly there are still a number of places selling kosher food and specialty hats and garb for Hasidic Jews near Grand Street. Some food stuff is listed here, and it's all easily accessible by the F train.
posted by ladypants at 4:27 PM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the Tenement Museum is great and if he's scholarly/historical I bet he'd find it interesting. Think of it like a field trip! Jeesh.
posted by barnone at 4:34 PM on April 21, 2009

The fact that he specifically is asking for a "jewish section" of town and "jewish bookstores" is making me think this is a case of "father-in-law is observant and doesn't want to offend anyone by asking a woman to accompany him" rather than "father-in-law is trying to bond."

Dersins posted a link that's a good place to start; if he's looking in Brooklyn in particular, here's another list I found with specific addresses. Or if he's just looking for a neighborhood, you could start in Williamsburg (closer to the southern part), Borough Park, Midwood, or Crown Heights and ask around, and someone can suggest someplace.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:34 PM on April 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Workmen's Circle bookstore, especially since it's right off the 6 train, which makes it convenient from Astor Place. Also, it's just a few blocks from the 2nd Ave Deli, where he might enjoy catching lunch.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 5:10 PM on April 21, 2009

Seconding the Second Avenue Deli, where I hear the gribenes are a delicious road to a heart attack. Bring a defibrilator.
posted by ladypants at 5:17 PM on April 21, 2009

There are so many gaps in this story! Like why you haven't met your father-in-law or whether he is Jewish. Is he not from New York? The fact that you work in Brooklyn might explain why he asked you about this (he might think that it's convenient for you), but again, I can only guess.

Anyway, there's no reason why this should be awkward--unless you just drop him off and leave him on his own after he's asked to spend time with you. That wouldn't be just awkward, but rude, too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:22 PM on April 21, 2009

Ask your wife for conversation topic suggestions. Or use your grown-up skills like asking people about themselves, how they see the world, what they want out of their life, what he does on a daily/weekly basis, what his memories of his parents (your wife's grandparents) are, what the rest of the family is like, his favourite memories of your wife while she was growing up.

The fact that he's asked you to take him to a bookstore makes this even easier. Ask him what kind of books he's looking for, and why. If he's a scholarly-type, I'm sure he'll love to talk about.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:24 PM on April 21, 2009

What others have said.

Also, there are many different sects of Jews in NYC. It may help you to know which ones he's interested in when deciding where to take him. There may also be some areas of interest in Riverdale, Bronx. Quick google resource.

As for work, I file this under "Doctor appointment" -- take him to a store in the am, then lunch, then you need to go to work.
posted by cestmoi15 at 7:10 PM on April 21, 2009

Seconding the Second Avenue Deli,

that's like, a chase bank now, I think. Apparently they're planning to reopen on 33rd street, but the 10th st location has been closed for a while.
posted by mdn at 7:38 PM on April 21, 2009

Mdn, the 33rd st location is open and thriving. They never had gribenes on 2nd av, though (watch for feathers!).
posted by brujita at 10:46 PM on April 21, 2009

oh duh! I just saw the astor place ref & thought you were talking downtown. sorry.
posted by mdn at 8:49 AM on April 22, 2009

I noticed that my brother got our parents to his place more than they can to mine. He told me, "it's easy, think of a project where you need their help and ask for help.

Your FIL has reversed it on you. He wants to spent time with you.
posted by notned at 11:39 AM on April 22, 2009

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