Our Real American Bubble

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Wednesdays, I get up early. Our synagogue has morning services that start at 7:15. Without ten adults, we can't say all the prayers.

This Wedensday, it means leaving before sunrise. In the dark I can just make out some kids' chalk drawings, simple shapes mostly, rainbows and stars.

After synagogue, I hit up the local bakery. My regular counter-guy tells me he's studying Arabic. He asks me if it's like Hebrew. I tell him yes, it's very similar - for starters they're both written right to left. "Yeah!" he says. "My teacher always yells, 'Start on the right!"

Thursday, I help a fellow rabbi with a Jewish conversion. The woman converting is from Taiwan. I ask which figure in Jewish text has special meaning for her. "Moses," she says. Like her, he walks a long path of self-discovery.

Later that afternoon, my new downstairs neighbor knocks on my door. She's from Seattle, her girlfriend originally from Mexico City. Can we feed their cats while they're gone for Christmas? Of course. My husband and I are glad to help.


Friday, we prepare for Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath. I drop by stop the corner market, owned by a friendly Asian woman. I hold up a Japanese yam for her inspection. "Very good," she approves. "Very crisp!"

Saturday morning, after Shabbat services, we come home to find two neighbor kids adding to the sidewalk collage. By coincidence, both have black dads and white moms. One is the color of cocoa, the other of honey. In honor of us, their Jewish neighbors, they've drawn a beautiful chalk dreidel - with the correct Hebrew letters, no less. The kids had some adult help, it turns out.

I keep reading that coastal Americans live a 'bubble" - too caught up in "identity politics." "Real Americans," apparently, all live in the Midwest. But when I walk around Oakland, I don't see "identity politics." I just see my neighbors, people of all ethnicities, religions, sexualities, genders. I care about them. I don't want them to be harassed. Or hassled. Or deported.

Why can't that be "real America?" A diverse America. A care-about-your-neighbors America where, like a prayer service, it works best when enough adults show up.

With a Perspective, I'm Rabbi Mike Rothbaum.

Rabbi Mike Rothbaum is regional co-chair for 'Bend The Arc - A Jewish Partnership for Justice.' He lives in Oakland.