St. Louis Park
Published on Monday, October 24, 2016 By Max Sparber
As I mentioned in my last post, I have moved from Omaha back to my home town of Minneapolis. There are a lot of reasons for this. There are some family members with health problems, and my girlfriend and I wanted to be here, especially during the winter, if they had any needs. I have three nephews and a niece and feel as though I have missed a lot of their childhoods, and did not want to miss more. I also have brothers and a parent here, and another parent who is occasionally here and never in Omaha. So there was family.
And there is family of another sort. Both of my biological parents had roots in Minneapolis. My biological father, or, at least, the likeliest candidate for my biological father, still has family here. My biological mother has an ex-husband here and a widower in nearby Wisconsin, and it proved impossible to meet either when I was in Omaha, and will be easier here. I want to petition for my original birth certificate, for two reasons: Firstly, my biological mother was an Irish citizen, and I may one day wish to establish our relationship and seek Irish citizenship myself. Secondly, my name at birth was Baby Boy Monghan, and that's just the greatest name ever, and I want to have documentation of it.
I could talk about my frustration and disappointment with my Omaha experiences, but I will not. Suffice it to say that the town and I were not a good match. Not this time. I had good experiences there in the past, and enjoyed working at the historical society, but I missed a lot about Minneapolis that cannot be found in Omaha.
I was born in Minneapolis but largely raised in St. Louis Park and, later, Minnetonka, two suburbs of Minneapolis. I have returned to the former, in the sense that I now work here. I recently accepted a position as Community Editor of American Jewish World, a local biweekly about the Jewish community that dates back to 1912. I will be writing local culture stories, editing bar mitzvah listings and synagogue service hours and that sort of thing.
My first day here, I passed a group of Orthodox Jews walking along the sidewalk, carrying lulavs and esrogs for the sukkoth holiday. Today, at the end of Sukkoth, I passed a man in a shtreimel and bekishe. It has been a long time since I have seen that sort of Jew, although I used to see them a lot, as I went to a Jewish high school. I was glad to see it. Although I am secular in my religious practice (or lack thereof), I am also not mad about this great American experiment of assimilation. I do not think there is anything particularly magnificent about the American mainstream, which mostly seems to me to consist of men in baseball caps loudly screaming that anyone who isn't just like them should go back to wherever they came from. So, while the Orthodox life is not for me, I do respect their refusal to assimilate.
There weren't so many of them in St. Louis Park when I was a boy. There were some -- I would see them walking to and from shul on Shabbos, dressed in black, the men in fedoras, the women in wigs. There are more now, and there are more of their institutions: shuls, mikvehs, schools. The local Lubavitchers are in the same building I now work in, and I am told they have a small chapel here.
This is the neighborhood that filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen came from, and is where they set their most Jewish film, "A Serious Man," which presents the neighborhood as a Jewish enclave in a larger world of bewilderingly goyish Minnesotans. I don't know how many Jews actually live here, and I think the Orthodox largely congregate around the shuls and a Jewish day school, Torah Academy, formerly my secular day school, then called Fern Hill. I feel like about half my grade school class was Jewish, but that may be an exaggeration. Still, walking around my old neighborhood, and remembering my neighbors, it is mostly Jewish names I remember.
There are a lot of explicitly Jewish memories of this neighborhood, My parents owned a second house in St. Louis Park, which they rented to a man named Mr. Brown, who was my Hebrew instructor at a Jewish High School called Maimonides, at the Jewish Community Center, also in St. Louis Park. Mr. Brown was a nice man with a strong comic sensibility, and he was fascinated by gematria, the Jewish form of numerology that takes the numerical value of Hebrew letters and uses them to create mystical connections between ideas and texts.
Just down the street from my old house was a house rented by an Israeli family, and they sent their son to school with me. I can't remember his name, but I remember he was quite unlike the Israelis I had met before, who were brash and tough. He was small and sensitive and quietly brilliant. I have, in fact, lost touch with everyone I went to high school with, despite it being a very small school (13 total students my first year there), and I have forgotten many of their names. There are some records of the school at the local Jewish historical society, and I may take time later to look at them, see who I remember, and see if they are still around.
Maimonides High School was a relatively short-lived experiment locally -- I think it lasted all of four years. Since coming back, I find myself thinking of it quite often. As happens in high school, it was a place of a lot of firsts for me, including my first kiss. I was also class president, by the way, I think mostly because it was largely a collection of misfits, and I was the most floridly misfit among them. But it was the first time I discovered that there was a place in the world for an oddity like me, and that, in fact, the things that made me feel so odd could, in the right circumstances, also make me a leader.
Anyway, it is both strange and good to be back. I don't know what effect my relocating will have on my Yiddish project or this blog, but it is a very large change, and I am curious to see what happens from here.
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