One of my old grade school to high school friends with whom I have lunch regularly suggested that I should write what it was like for a gentile growing up in a Jewish neighborhood. I never gave it much thought during those years but in reflection have to acknowledge the impact it had on my later life. I remember hanging around the synagogue on Friday nights on occasion listening to the singing of the Cantor and the chanting of the prayers in Hebrew. In grade school we also celebrated Jewish holidays and had dramatizations right alongside the pageantry of Christmas and Easter where we dressed up in bathrobes to play shepherds.
I also worked for a time for a Jewish deli and catering service as a delivery driver. I delivered a number of bar mitzvahs and would wait in the kitchen to take the leftovers back to the store, which gave me the opportunity to listen to the celebration and eat my fill of good kosher foods.
I also had a paper route delivering the Minneapolis Star and Tribune and in those days you had to “collect” for the paper on a weekly basis and hope you got there at the right time before the weekly pay was gone. The thing I puzzled over and never learned about until years later were the older women who came to the door to pay me and I would notice these numbers tatooed on their wrists. I never asked about them but I often think of the people I lived amongst and the number of my friends whose relatives were survivors of the concentration camps living in our close knit neighborhood.
I used to say to my high school friends that I was the only “goy” in our school elected an honorary Jew. I don’t know if the election was actually ever formally held, but that is still my story and I am sticking to it. I don’t know if my surroundings and my friends had anything to due with my taking 3 years of classical Hebrew in seminary from a professor who had studied at Hebrew Union and claimed to be a “Jewish Baptist” but there you have it.