That's a question I was asked quite a few times growing up in Cleveland, and was reminded of by Perel Skier when reading her excellent piece in the YU Observer a couple of nights ago:
I assumed that at some time or other it happened to everyone.Read the whole thing. Another excerpt that was a nice reminder:
I live in a decent but unremarkably sized city in the Midwest, where the winters are cold and the cow-to-person ratio runs high. Our Jewish community, in the heart of a crime-addled neighborhood, grows a little each year; we built a new day school building recently, and the high school I graduated from has at long last moved out of the dentist's basement. But it's still the kind of place where a yarmulke will earn you a double-take from anyone: from the gentiles, who likely have no idea what it is, and from the Jews, who are thrilled but shocked to find someone else like them among the homogenous expanses of middle-class America.
This is where I come from, and there are few of us there who haven't learned what it means to 'live in the real world,' as the argument goes.
Many of the heated debates which saturate The Observer and The Commentator have their legitimacy, but coming from the Midwest, coming from fistfuls of Jews scattered across the globe—and you will meet someone from every corner here—many of these arguments also feel surprisingly petty and near-sighted. Does YU offer the advanced sciences you could get at Harvard? Is the learning as intense as it was in Jerusalem with the rabbi of your choice? These questions are but footnotes and asterisks.While she's using this in the context of being a student at Yeshiva University, I think it's something that's true in general in large cities with large frum populations. We often get caught up in stupid inanities that really don't - or at least shouldn't - matter. I think that's part of what frustrates us "out-of-towners" so much about New York City: We see what people care about and focus on, and think "Are you KIDDING me?! Who cares!? Why is that important?" Meanwhile, the longer we're here, the more we get caught up in some of it ourselves, which is saddening. On the other hand, while we're used to explaining ourselves, Judaism, our practices, and the like all the time to strangers who ask, Jews from larger cities don't understand why they're constantly being asked questioned as to why the products in stores (clothes, food, whatever) aren't 'good enough' for them. More importantly, they don't see why they should have to waste their time dealing with such things that take away from whatever else they want to accomplish.
I can't say whether this is a good thing or bad thing - it's more like a statement of "this is how it is", so which lifestyle would you prefer. Would it be nice to not have to explain what I'm doing riding the Metro in Cleveland? Sure. But there's something to be said for constant reminders to be a "light unto the nations", too.