“Are you Jewish?”

This is not one of the top questions you want to hear from a stranger on Russian public transportation.

I’m sitting on a sweltering trolley-car in Kazan, Russia, riding back to the center of town from the banks of the river. Amid this crowd of strangers, I’m alone in too-big bell-bottoms and I’m clutching a towel. Being a girl, bereft of those “funny little hats” my dad and boyfriend wear, I can only assume it’s the big nose or the sweaty corona of frizz or the matronly bosom that gave me away. Either way—I turn to the man beside me, squinting into his knowing leer, and after a long pause, I nod.

“I could tell,” he says. He leans in further.

“I’m Jewish too,” he says. I can smell herring on his breath, like this is some nightmare, alternate-reality Kiddush club. One of his teeth is missing. “But, you know what? I’m not circumcised.”

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