Have you ever felt out of place? I’m sure. We all have. Meeting the new in-laws. An interfaith church service. Asking the price of a necklace at Tiffany’s. The ER. CIA headquarters in Langley. Strange environments where people are different.
One summer day commuting to work on my bike, I stopped at Sander’s Bakery on Lee Avenue in the Brooklyn neighborhood of South Williamsburg. A bakery is a bakery, right? Well, no. Sander’s is in the heart of Brooklyn’s vast Chasidishe, ultra-orthodox Jewish community. The shop was filled with men in long sideburns wearing black coats, Tzizit vests and beaver hats. Women wore wigs, calf length skirts and sturdy shoes. All spoke Yiddish. The shelves were brimming with challah, strudel, rugelach, kippelech, sufganiyot, Napoleon cake and cookies.
In my jeans, black tee and bike helmet, I stood out. Customers avoided my eyes. I am goyim. A non-Jew. An outsider, suspicious, not unwelcome but not welcome either. Cyclists have been attacked in South Williamsburg. To some, I would be less than human. Some, I knew, might believe that I literally lack a soul.
But hey, why should that stop me? I was there for cinnamon rugelach. The gentleman behind the counter accepted my money and spoke kindly. I bothered no one and left quickly. The rugelach was delicious. No one was hostile. The stereotypes of Hasidim are stereotypes. (Gay bashers, child molesters, women oppressors, bad drivers? Please.) The Hasidic world is not my world, it’s just their world and so what? They are entitled to live according to their faith. And, hey, they have cinnamon rugelach.
In that trivial anecdote, note a couple of things. The different place: South Williamsburg. The different cultures: beaver hats versus my bike helmet. The resolution: They are different but we find something in common in yummy cinnamon rugelach.
Most of all, though, note the source of tension. Goyim. Outsider. Cyclists have been attacked in South Williamsburg. Those feelings came not from anyone inside Sander’s Bakery. They came from me. When worlds collide, visual differences create contrast, true, but what creates conflict is the apprehension inside of a POV character.
When worlds collide, it is mostly inside. [Read more…]