Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Park in the Middle

How cruel could they get? Almost four miles into a planned five mile run with the team, I thought I would be able to hold on. Then, instead of continuing with a mile loop around the park, the guys made a right turn and headed up a long hilly street. Thinking not nice things about them, I too made the turn.

As we headed up the street, I found myself thinking. Not only about the wheezing sound that was coming from my chest as I tried to keep up, but also about what my “teammates” were thinking. We were heading up one of the more affluent streets in the neighborhood. As we ran by the large houses, I noticed that there were more than a few lawn services mowing the well kept lawns. The men pushing the mowers were, like most of the guys on the team, first or second generation Americans. What were they thinking?

The team meets each morning at 9am in the same park. It is a beautiful park, with a duck pond, a playground and an abandoned, but attractive boathouse. The path around park, 1.1 miles in length, is used by runners, cyclists, moms with strollers and couples holding hands. There is just enough graffiti in the park to keep it from looking perfect. On several sides, the park is surrounded by a middle to upper class neighborhood, where most of the residents are Caucasian. Many, like myself, are Orthodox Jews. While not all the houses are large, it is a nice and well maintained neighborhood. A little past the North side of the park, the neighborhood changes. Apartment buildings appear and the homes are a little rundown. Most of the residents are first or second generation Hispanics.

These two groups, the Orthodox Jews and Hispanics, seem, at least from a distance to have nothing in common. We shop on the same main street, which has stores which cater to each community, although few to both. The only thing we share is the park. Sometimes, as I run, or push my children on the swings, I notice that, even at the park, the two communities are separate. It reminds me of toddlers in school, who tend to parallel play rather than interact with one another. Here too, I wonder, what are they thinking?

Running up that street, I felt uncomfortable and not just because I could barely breathe. The guys don’t know that I am a rabbi, that I am Jewish, or even where I live. As I looked at them, and wondered what was going through their minds, I was relieved by how little they know about me.

This is part of a new series about my effort to train with a local high school cross-country team. Earlier posts can be found at


  1. Hmmm, it would be nice if you and your "teammates" could see each other as individuals, rather than "Jewish" or "Hispanic"

  2. Tesyaa,

    I am working on it and progress is being made.

  3. It does take time, but I would say our community is less willing to mix than theirs. After all, whether it's by choice or default, they are already in public school.... They have to mix to some degree. They don't insist on attending some hypothetical "Hispanic" school.

    I think your willingness to mix is admirable, but unusual for our community.

  4. Thanks. Keep reading and spread the word. I think you;ll like where this goes.