I received a number of emails about the latest Sleeper Ave story, “The Walk Home,” about a curious series of episodes in which parents of schoolmates apparently didn’t want me in their home, presumably because I was Jewish. I don’t want to give the impression that this was a universal sentiment in my beloved hometown of Waco, or that this sort of thing happened all the time. It didn’t; I was warmly welcomed in most homes, as were my sister and my parents. I think that I just happened that one school year to encounter a group of kids whose parents were religiously deeply conservative, and who happened to live close by.
This was Waco, where people were almost always unfailingly polite, even when they were doing impolite things, thus the misdirection. I honestly believed for a time that Jews must have had some sort of prohibition against the constant home renovation that seemed to be going on in the houses of Christian families, so deep was my pre-adolescent confusion about these incidents.
At any rate, here’s what some readers had to say on the subject. Evelyn had a very different experience growing up in California:
My parents moved us to what turned out to be an African American enclave in the East Bay suburb of Walnut Creek. They were all the local playmates I had until junior high, and they were all boys. You would have fit right in. Check out Betty Soskin in the National Park Service. She was mother to three of them. I am so very proud that we were her neighbors.
Curtis, who grew up at the same time in Waco, said,
Growing up in Dean Highland, one of my best friends was Jane Sachs (still is to this day). I do not recall religion making a difference, it was the person and she is still the same great person today. We grew up with those that were of many religions, but that made no difference to us.
My cousin Alan had this recollection:
Powerful! Odd, but I don’t recall experiencing that in the Parrot neighborhood. I visited several classmate’s homes when I was at Dean Highland. The only anti-Semitism I recall was a cross burning at the synagogue. I even attended a Boy Scout troop at an Episcopal church but was uncomfortable in those physical surroundings. That was why Dad started our scout troop at the synagogue.
It was my Uncle Jack who started an all-Jewish Boy Scout troop in Waco, Troop 144, which was where I learned to dislike camping and to tie knots I’ve never used again. I do think it was more than just Alan being uncomfortable that moved Uncle Jack to decide on an all-Jewish troop. There was a definite undercurrent of religiosity in the Boy Scouts, which was likely magnified in certain deeply religious quarters in Waco. Uncle Jack loved scouting and wanted the boys to experience it without being subjected to any potential conflicts over how and when we worship. It may have been as simple as not wanting too many activities on Friday night or Saturday morning during the Jewish sabbath, but I suspect there was more to it than that.
Thanks to everyone for your comments.