By Keith Bloomfield
I attended a small liberal arts college in New England. During my senior year, the college President invited my girlfriend, Joan, and me on a student recruiting junket through several northeastern states. Boston still stands out in my mind.
It was early spring and "bean town" was in full-bloom. Dr. Bigelow had booked a conference room in a downtown hotel for a wine and cheese get together with the parents of perspective students. I was on the far side of the room speaking to a father who was worried about his son leaving home for the first time. While I listened attentively and nodded at all the right moments, I was looking past him at Joan. She was wearing a blue and white checked cotton dress. Her long dark hair, held in place with a plastic barrette, was pulled away from her face and flowed down behind her. She was engaged in an energetic conversation with someone's mom. From Joan's pout, I knew that things might not be going well. Feigning to refill my wine glass, I stood behind the pair, but not out of earshot.
"Now tell me more about the students," said the mom, in measured nasal tones.
"What would you like to know?" replied Joan.
The woman looked to her left and then to her right and asked: "Are there many Jewish students at your school?"
I watched Joan shift her feet nervously. "Yes Mrs. Cromwell, the school has a substantial Jewish population."
"That's very good to hear. Do you know why?" Joan shook her head. "Because Jewish people are smart and if they send their children to your school it must be a good place to go." Joan was working very hard to stifle her amusement. "Are you Jewish?" asked Mrs. Cromwell.
"Yes and very proud of it," smiled Joan.
The woman's jawed dropped and her complexion grew pale. "I see. Well, you'll have to excuse me, my husband is waiting for me."
Mrs. Cromwell hastily left the room and Joan watched her slip out into the hallway alone. When she turned around, I was standing in front of her. "You would never believe the conversation that I just had."
"I heard most of it."
"I don't know whether to laugh or to cry." Joan tried to sniff back the tears, but it was too late. I mopped her cheek with a napkin.
"Why are you crying?"
"I'm crying for Mrs. Cromwell. I can't believe that her world is so small and her experience so limited that it would really make any difference."
I held her close and she sobbed on my shoulder. Though I was graduated that spring, I know that there were no freshmen named Cromwell who entered in the fall.
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For more articles on Jewish Life, see our True Jewish Stories Archive Page
from the February 2008 Edition of the Jewish Magazine