Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A New Jew In Lou

Okay, so one of the biggest concerns I had before The Move was how it would feel to be such a total, and complete minority here. And, no, this is not about voting Democrat.

It was, as has been described elsewhere, the Jewish problem. The problem being, mainly, that I am Jewish and the vast, vast majority of people in the greater Louisville area are not.

I've been in this situation before mind you. I lived in Boulder, Colo. for five years, where you'd go out on an average night and half the guys you'd see looked kind of like Thor, only bigger, and in more polar fleece. As for the girls, they all had names like Butterfly, had ankle tattoos and most could complete a full Triathlon before breakfast. It was kind of like living amongst really, really stoned Marines.

So it was with some relief that I moved back to the New York area in 2000. I wanted to be amongst my peoples again. This despite the fact that I couldn't score a date with the female members of my peoples to save my life back in high school and college.

Still, it was nice to have good bagels, and live amongst people who understood that "Seinfeld" was not a sitcom, it was more like a documentary.

Needless to say when Randi recommended we move a couple of years ago I feared the loss of this extended mishbucha. (Means family in Yiddish.) Would people understand me? Would everyone try to get us to join the 700 Club? Would there be a community for us to even join?

So far the answers to the above have been no, no and yes.

First, some back story. When I got here I didn't even know how many Jews there even were in Louisville. I knew the mayor was Jewish, but I didn't know if he would be immediately available for a nice Friday night dinner.

Randi and I were determined to stake out our place in the Jewish life of Louisville, no matter what. The community might be smaller here, we reasoned, but that probably means it's tight knit, and proud. We, as a people, have certainly endured worse!

After the initial hubbub of the move settled down we decided to check out synagogues, to see which one we felt comfortable in. We've gone to services at Reform and Conservative temples and have yet to find one that truly resonates with us, though we've enjoyed the people we've met so far.

I first went to a local conservative synagogue and what was really cool about it was that they had daycare for Stella. Because services really aren't her thing just yet, you know? So I got to experience the service without having to watch a toddling toddler.

I was told Louisville had an older community as many of the younger Jews are leaving for places like, yup, Brooklyn. But the community was quite old, to be frank about it. As the service progressed more and more younger people started to show up, but the service was still somewhat sparsely attended, and mostly old.

Then we went to a reform synagogue, which was a lot of fun, but this one had no daycare, so we had to watch Stella. She was completely unable to sit still, so we had to find ways to distract her. Luckily we discovered that she loves yarmulkes.

So while Randi was in the service I took Stella and walked around the temple and found a large box of yarmulkes. She basically dove into it, and put first one, then the other, on her head. She settled, more or less, on a purple satiny one that she really liked, and insisted on wearing for the next several hours.

After the service there was a little gathering over coffee and cake, where we met the rabbi and spoke to him. He had come to Louisville from Israel. (And I thought I had a trip to get here!) He was very friendly and warm.

We talked about the Jewish community in Louisville, or rather what there is of one. He told me the community was about 10,000 people strong. This didn't seem like much to me, as the metropolitan area has 1.5 million people. But 10,000 people could still fill most of Madison Square Garden, I guess.

After services we went to a bluegrass show at the Iroquois Amphitheater. During the show there was a lot of talk about Jesus, not to mention various songs about Jesus, not to mention that most of the people at the show almost certainly worshiped Jesus.

Now imagine the scene, Stella still has her yarmulke on. She loves the music! And she is totally grooving and bouncing around at this show, with a little yarmulke on. We wondered if anyone would even know what it meant? Would they think it's some kind of beret? I figured, though, that if anyone could get away with it, it would be our adorable two year old daughter. I personally wouldn't try it.

After the show an older woman walked right up to us. "Now isn't she just adorable with her little yarmulke on?" she cooed. So, at least someone knew!

From there we journeyed on. We explored different Jewish preschools, and learned that they are, on average, on 25% Jewish. The one with the most Jewish kids is all of 30% Jewish. I imagine they used to have more, but the younger Jews who reproduce are elsewhere.

As we toured one preschool we learned that contrary to that Rabbi told us Louisville actually only has 8,000 Jews, not 10,000. So there are more people who are, I believe, albino in Louisville than Jewish.

Having said that it's not that big a deal to me. We still get good challah on Friday, and I made sure to put a mezuzah on our door. (In a funny note this is our second mezuzah. The first one was made of stone and fell off our door and shattered, back in Brooklyn. I think we made God mad?)

So there I am, a new Jew in Lou. As the holidays are coming up I feel just as optimistic and upbeat about this time of year as I ever did. I do realize that I'm a bit of a minority here, but that's not what really bothers me. Mainly I just miss my Jewish family and friends back home. If they all showed up it could easily kick up the amount of Jews in this town to, say, 8,010.


Amanda said...

When I went to NYC, I was surprised at the girth of the Jewish community there! Each of the 5 friends we were visiting in the city were Orthodox Jews. It's awesome that you have that...or rather, *had* that. It sounds like there's a decent community in Louisville though. It's hard being a religious minority, but I think it's also sort of neat because it makes you unique in your area :)

Tiffanie said...

Visiting from Randi's blog...hi!
I enjoyed this post immensely, having been raised in Kentucky, a former Jesus-worshipper, and now living in Berkeley where there is a strong Jewish presence (but where most of the citizens' main religion is yoga class). I relish the diversity here.
In San Francisco, my friend attends a meeting for what he calls Jew-Bu's - Jews who practice Buddhism. This makes me laugh. I like your title even more than that one.
Good luck and happy holy-day -

David Serchuk said...

Hi Guys,
Sorry about the delay in answering.

During the holidays I didn't feel like much of a minority, folks come out for the new year and atonement. The temple was quite full and it felt good to be among people at least kind of like me.

I lived in Boulder, which had a huge Jewish Buddhist population. Naropa is there, so that explains a lot.

And thank you for the compliment. When you make a journey back here please let Randi know so we can all say hi in person.