I should really start a blog or something about being who/where/what I am. In any case, I wanted to share this specific story from last night.
I’m a member of Rotary and last night was our area dinner – all the clubs in the county got together (for the first time since March 2020) for awards, news, music, dinner, etc.
I’m the youngest member, of course, and while likely not the only Jew, definitely the most active Jewish member in our area. I was talking with our host (we were at an outdoor wedding venue) and he introduced me to a newcomer to the valley, a fellow in his 50s who just relocated here with a thick NYC accent. The host and the new guy had met the other day fly fishing and being new, the host invited him to the event (the host is also part of Rotary and we encourage guests like this).
One of the club leaders who knows I can be ‘picky’ about my meat came up to us to inform me that there’s a vegetarian option if I want it. I asked what the meat was and he said prime rib, so I said that I’d eat the meat. He knows that I’m Jewish and keep ‘kosher style’ but always makes the option available to me just in case.
The host overheard this and asked if I was vegetarian or Jewish. I said “Jewish,” and he laughed and re-introduced the newcomer (I’ll call him Joe). Joe moved here for the outdoor access (fly fishing, skiing, etc) but was concerned that there weren’t many other Jews, especially outdoorsy ones like me.
This was at around 7:00p. Joe and I immediately bonded and spent the rest of the evening sitting in the corner, drinking and talking about everything, until around 10:30p. There was an instant bond. We’re very different, for sure: 20 years apart; he’s a corporate lawyer with a background in development, oil and gas; I’m a nonprofit exec in land conservation; he likes to fly fish; I find it incredibly boring. But also, Joe’s from Manhattan with roots in White Plains and I’m a generation removed from Manhattan and Westchester, we’re both used to being the only Jew on the trail (let alone the room), and we both can handle our liquor.
There was another guy at the event who acted like he knew me (I asked other people and they swore that I had likely never met the guy before) and who must have overheard us talking about being Jewish and approached us in the dessert line (local homemade pies!) to talk about the ‘power of the Tribe of David’ and how wonderful it was being with ‘the chosen ones.’
Joe and I were instantly uncomfortable, although it’s not unusual for evangelicals to act like that out here. We just smiled and waved until the weird guy left. And then we laughed while others in the line looked really uncomfortable about it all.
Later in the evening Joe Facetimed his wife (she’s wrapping things up at their old home in the city before moving out here) and was so excited to introduce her to another rural Jew. She really didn’t seem as excited as he was (or I was to meet him) and was almost skeptical that he was telling the truth. I guess I’ll have to have them over for Shabbat dinner when she moves up here.
Another fun story from yesterday was when a board member of mine and his wife sent me pictures of an etrog tree at the Denver Botanical Garden! They said they thought of me and had other questions about the fruit; how it’s used, what it tastes like, etc.
There’s a fine middle line between creepy philosemitism and obnoxious antisemitism, and I really appreciate both my ability to create a community around that line, and to be in a place where people recognize that line.