Every Saturday morning when I am in town, I walk the mile and a half from my home in West Lafayette, Indiana to the Sons of Abraham synagogue in Lafayette. Originally there were four of us; when my youngest son was able to walk and therefore join us, we made five. People would greet us warmly as we strolled weekly, and they would say that they could set their clocks by our passage.
With the death of my wife, we became four, and as my sons have each left town for college, we have decreased from three to two and then, except when my sons visited home, to one. Having recently remarried, I am glad that the number has increased to two once again.
I treasure that walk. I get to experience the change in the seasons as I cross the Wabash River. We have seen the turtles sunning in an overflow pond and the gulls, orioles, ducks, and geese. We have seen the blue herons and the nesting bald eagles. We have seen the river overflow its banks and flood the surrounding trails and the mud bars that appear when the river is low. We have seen the ice pancakes that float down the river and felt the fierce cold wind assault us. On our returning from nocturnal High Holiday services we have seen the wolf spiders gathering their daily harvest of insects caught in the webs between the bars of the William Henry Harrison bridge railing.
We have also, on occasion, heard anti-Semitic insults hurled at us. I know that I am engaging in what will appear to be stereotyping, but I will state that the obnoxious screamers have always been twenty-something Caucasian males in pickup trucks. The truth is the truth.
I long ago realized that personal attacks are a reflection on the bitter people who make them rather than on my community or myself.
Far more often— indeed, nearly always — we receive friendly waves from people driving on the Harrison bridge, both from people that I recognize and from those that I do not (including people in pickup trucks). On more than one occasion, especially in inclement weather, people have stopped their cars to offer us a ride, which we must decline, because we do not travel by vehicle on Shabbat. I even recall a public City Bus stopping for us and opening the doors with the driver issuing an invitation to enter.
There does exist a certain lack of sensitivity displayed here, which I do not attribute to anti-Semitism but rather to lack of awareness, when such a large proportion of weekend youth sports and academic competitions (and even high-school graduation!) fall on Saturday when my children could not participate — they would really have excelled at debate! I understand that everyone cannot be accommodated, but somehow in Teaneck, New Jersey when I was young, they figured out a way not to have nearly every event occur on Saturday.
I am told, but cannot know for certain, that I am the first observant Jew in the state of Indiana to be elected to government office. It has almost never been an issue, although many public and political events are scheduled on Saturdays when I cannot attend.
We have seen in recent months a wave of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States including in Indiana, although there have not been any reported in the Lafayette area. Purdue University, along with many other campuses, has been placarded with fascist, white supremacist posters. In general, however, I refer to Purdue University as a hotbed of student rest.
Finally, the greater Lafayette, Indiana community is a welcoming one. It has progressed substantially from 1949, when the owner of the land upon which my house is built could write a covenant stating that only members of the pure, white Caucasian race and their domestic servants could live in my house. We can always make further progress in cultural sensitivity, but I feel confident that the diversity of our community will continue to be embraced.
This story "What I Learn From My Weekly Walks to Synagogue" was written by David A. Sanders.