Every warm Saturday I feel a bit embarrassed about my running. Not just because I'm painfully slow, although I am. But we live near a Jewish synagogue, I guess an Ultra Orthodox one, because when I go for a run on Saturday morning I will pass men with the long side curls and the fringed prayer shawls walking to it. There are women, too, but not as many, and they walk separately from the men. And I pass these men wearing a tank top and running shorts. I wonder if they see me as obscene. I don't know whether I should smile or not, so mostly I smile and look down at my shoes.
Even though we work out at the Jewish Community Center, which is near where we live, I don't know much about Orthodox Judiasm. Over the years, I've at least come to some understanding of the Jewish holidays, basically because I pull up at the gym, survey the empty parking lot, am happy that I can park so close, and only then discover that it's a holiday. I've spent quite a bit of time reading the posted bulletins on the locked door that explain whatever holiday it is and what it marks.
I grew up in Medford, Oregon, in the 1960s and 1970s, and I don't remember knowing of any Jewish families. There was one black family, the Inges. (Everyone knew the Inges.) There was a sprinkling of Asians, a few more Hispanics, but mostly it was white-white-white. The only diversity I knew about came from books. I still remember sitting on my best friend's couch and looking through old family photo albums and coming across a photo from the 1920s or 1930s that showed some of her relatives dressed up as Klansmen. (Full disclosure: I learned as an adult that my grandparents were also members of the clan in the early 1920s. "It was a social thing," my embarrassed dad explained - and I've since read that at one point 15 percent of Amercians were members of the Klan. We certainly didn't have any pictures of them dressed up in white sheets. They grew up hardscrabble poor, and didn't have children until their 40s, which must have made them freakish in the 1920s. By the time I was born, they were John Birchers who were convinced the communists were going to overrun America. When we visited them on vacations, they used to give my parents laundry baskets full of pamphlets that we would then take home and tip into the trash. I remember one that described some poor school teacher who supposedly had her tongue nailed to the school house floor by the communists, who then left her alone in a deserted area. I was eight when I read this. I used to wonder what I would do in that situation.)