Monday, May 13, 2013

The Day I Grew a Second Head

I moved to a small city in east Texas last year and, for the first time in my life, I found myself living in an area with a miniscule Jewish population. There must be some other Jews in the area because one local market does have a kosher/Israeli food section very similar to what I found in supermarkets in the Raleigh, NC area where I lived before. On the other hand, the nearest shul is more than 40 miles away.

As Pesach approached I expected that the market that had a kosher foods section would have foods which were kosher for Passover as well. Less than a week before Pesach there still wasn't anything there so I decided to ask and see if maybe they were just late in arriving. When I talked to the help and the manager and asked about "Passover foods" they looked at me like I had grown a second head. I was asked "What's that?" or even "What's Passover?" Special foods? Nope, not that they knew of.

There is a huge market about 20 miles away that is in the outermost suburbs of Houston. They have a somewhat larger kosher/Jewish foods section there including frozen foods. Surely they would have what I needed. No such luck. Once again, the looks I got as I explained what I meant would be appropriate if a two headed space alien had walked into the market. The next day a coworker suggested I try another large market in the town with the shul. That made sense. Sadly, the results were exactly the same as I had experienced at the two previous markets I tried.

There is a significant Jewish community down in Houston. Looking up where the Jewish community is online and where I'd likely find the selection of kosher foods I wanted revealed that it would be 80 miles each way to get to that part of the city. I decided to check the College Station/Bryan area which is closer to where I live. It turns out there is a Chabad there and they recommended two markets. Sure enough, I found a very nice selection of Passover foods only 50 miles from home.

I went back to the first market mainly for fresh produce a couple of days before Pesach started. Their little Jewish foods section was picked clean. The matzo that was clearly labeled "Not for Passover use" was gone, as was the gefilte fish and pretty much anything else that resembled food for the holiday. Clearly if the had brought in Passover food it would have sold well. It was also clear that what Jewish community we have is probably not religious and was willing to make do with anything that resembled what would be found on a seder table.

Anywhere else I've lived, from Raleigh to Green Bay to Florida to New York, asking those questions would have resulted in someone pointing me to the correct aisle or, at the very least, a "no, sorry" followed by a suggestion about which market would have what I was looking for.

Despite the very nice pay rate that came with the contract work here I've come to the conclusion that moving to east Texas was a mistake. Culturally I feel like a fish out of water here. Identifying myself as a somewhat traditional, somewhat observant Jew shouldn't have generated the kind of reactions I got when I went shopping that day. We tend to believe that Jewish people are accepted and welcome in the United States. My experiences served as a stark reminder that, once you go away from the cities with large Jewish populations, we are still seen as strange and somehow alien in America.

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