As Midwestern transplants to West Texas, my husband and I faced a number of culture shocks when we moved to Amarillo. I had only ever seen tumbleweeds in cartoons and was overwhelmed by the smell of cow poop wafting in from the stockyards. I’m told it’s the smell of money, but that’s clearly a matter of perspective.
Soon enough, though, our driver’s licenses reflected our new Texan identity, and we adapted to the Panhandle perspective. There’s no deep dish pizza to be found, but the Mexican food is out of this world. Proper merging is a skill not shared by all of our neighbors, but you can’t beat a commute that is rarely longer than 20 minutes. Best yet, the people are incredibly friendly and we’ve made wonderful friends.
When we welcomed our son, however, my healthy sense of perspective was challenged. I grew up in a community where the public schools closed for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. My social life peaked at 13 with a steady calendar of bar and bat mitzvah parties. Now our baby would be growing up Jewish in a hometown where even our car dealership sold decorative crosses.
I wondered how this environment would impact his Jewish identity and childhood in general. And while there’s plenty of time before my wonders become worries (after all, the kid is not even 2 yet!), I’ve come to a few conclusions on how Amarillo is actually pretty great for a little Jewish kid.
1. He will grow up well connected to future leaders.
We don’t have a permanent rabbi in Amarillo, so our congregation works with Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. Student rabbis fly to our synagogue once a month and become part of our congregational family during their placement. In his short life, my toddler has been held by two amazing rabbinical students who we love and are proud to call our friends. It’s pretty cool to think that he could have meaningful relationships with a number of rabbis across the country by the time he’s in high school. And while it’s too early to tell, I’m fairly confident he’ll dominate at Jewish geography.
2. It’s easy to role model involvement and leadership.
At our last congregation in the Chicago-area, my husband and I went to high holidays and sporadic Shabbat services, volunteered with a social action initiative, and that was about it. Within one year of living in Amarillo, I was asked to sit on the board of our congregation. When you’re needed, the opportunities come to you. I’ve sat on committees, coordinated large events, prepared food, and even served as a lay leader on a number of occasions. To be honest, leading services takes me far out of my comfort zone, but that’s a pretty cool thing for our son to see, too.
3. Everybody knows your name.
While small Jewish communities (or TV sitcom bars, for that matter) aren’t the only places to feel included, it sure is nice to have a sense of belonging in your synagogue. We now have a little boy who nursed in the playroom, crawled under the board table, and ran giggling through the kitchen. It’s reassuring to know our son will be comfortable in that building and will be greeted by name when he walks in a room.
It’s hard to say what our life would have looked like if we never moved to Amarillo, but I’m happy to say we’ve found a home here. And after all, there’s no place like home, even if it smells like cow poop.