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First Encounter

February 10, 2015

I wrote this week’s story with some reluctance, but I felt I owed it to readers to follow up on last week’s tale.

Summer nights in Waco were the best. After days when the temperature soared well above 100, everyone on the block came outside to enjoy the evening air, when it had cooled down to 95 or so. In those days few houses on the block were air-conditioned, and our parents sat on the porch and hobnobbed while we kids played hopscotch on the driveway closest to the streetlight.

Except for one family, who never seemed to enjoy the company of their neighbors. They tended to hold themselves apart. They could charitably be described as religious fanatics, less generously as anti-semitic zealots.

I still remember my first encounter with that brand of bigotry, which was mystifying. The whole idea of religious identity had never occurred to me until the polio vaccine incident. My father did his very best to explain it to me, without much success.

Not that Dad was much of an explainer. He was a man of few words, and this one was beyond him, and way beyond my understanding.

My parents never made a big deal about our being Jewish. We just were, just as our neighbors were Baptists and Catholics and Methodists. Jews were a tiny minority in our town, and Mom and Dad certainly knew that my sister and I would inevitably have to deal with religious differences as we grew up.

To their credit, they let us experience the world without trying to protect us or to explain away the issues we would encounter. They let us figure out for ourselves how to negotiate a complex, multicultural world. Looking back, I think there was great wisdom in their approach, but it made for some interesting, and very confusing, times.

Times worth writing about.