Orthodox Jews, Maple Syrup, Franconia?
I was standing in the parking lot of a New Hampshire maple syrup store, talking to a friend on my cell phone about my family’s complicated heritage — Jewish? half-Jewish? not Jewish? — when a large car pulled up and out stepped an orthodox Jewish couple. What were they doing here? This was Franconia, New Hampshire, the home of ski schools, tennis camps and gentlemen farmers. If I had felt strange talking about my family’s Jewish heritage in the tourist parking lot, how did they feel? They were so, well, out. The man’s tallit threaded out from under his waistcoat. The woman was frum (modestly dressed): long skirt, long sleeves, a wig. Suddenly, I was aware of my long bare arms, my long white legs. The mountains were smoky in the background. Other cars pulled up and conventional tourists, the kind you expect to see in northern New Hampshire, filed past. When I hung up the phone, I hurried into the store and found the Jewish couple in front of some gingerbread candles. “I was talking about my father when you pulled up in your car.” I said. The couple looked started. “I was saying how hard it was for my father to be a Jewish little boy in the 1930s.” I explained. The man nodded. “Ah,” he said. “I know all about that.” The woman still looked astonished. “I just wanted you to know that I was so happy to see you arrive,” I said. The woman was silent, but the man said, “This is how it should be,” he said, “It should be normal to see Jews, to be Jewish.” We looked at each other. “I am glad we happened to see you today,” he said and they trailed off into the jams and jellies aisle.