Alli­son Amend is the author of the nov­el Sta­tions West. She will be blog­ging all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ings Vis­it­ing Scribe.

Since I’ve been tour­ing with Sta­tions West, there are invari­ably one or two peo­ple who approach me after each read­ing, telling me that their ances­tors are from equal­ly as improb­a­ble places: North Dako­ta, New Mex­i­co, etc. What does this mean? That these are not such improb­a­ble places after all. Like oth­er reli­gions and eth­nic­i­ties, we Jews set­tled every­where, bring­ing our cul­ture, tra­di­tion (and usu­al­ly our ped­dling wag­ons or dry good stores) with us.

I’ve been a Jew in an unlike­ly place, too. I spent a year in high school liv­ing in Barcelona, Spain, which has not had a mean­ing­ful Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty since 1492 (though a small Sephardic com­mu­ni­ty thrives still). I spent a week­end in a tiny town by the name of Olot in the Pyre­nees. This was dur­ing the first Gulf War, and the U.S. Con­sulate rec­om­mend­ed we not divulge our sta­tus as Amer­i­cans, and warned us against telling strangers if we were Jew­ish. After a few days of avoid­ing the top­ic with my teenage host­ess (“My fam­i­ly doesn’t real­ly go to church that often,” I guess Amer­i­cans write down the fam­i­ly tree in the Bible,” No, I didn’t get con­firmed”.) I revealed that I was Jew­ish. My host­ess, who, after half-jok­ing­ly (I think) ask­ing if I had horns, thought it was the coolest thing about me, and pro­ceed­ed to show me off to all her friends as a Jew. Her friends were equal­ly as delight­ed by the rev­e­la­tion; they had always won­dered what Jew would be like. Her lit­tle sis­ter kept pet­ting my hair and call­ing me Pret­ty girl” in Cata­lan. It was an odd weekend.

More recent­ly, I was a Jew in Lyons, France, where I taught high school. Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, I taught at the only school in the city that had no Sat­ur­day class­es, and was there­fore the Jew­ish school by default. One of my stu­dents, upon find­ing out I was Jew­ish, invit­ed me over for Hanukkah din­ner, where his Sephardic fam­i­ly was so dif­fer­ent from my Ashke­nazi one that I might as well have been din­ing on the moon. I remem­ber think­ing their tunes were all wrong.

They told me a sto­ry, which I fic­tion­al­ized in my short sto­ry col­lec­tion Things that Pass for Love, about their expe­ri­ences dur­ing the Sec­ond World War (Lyons was in occu­pied France). The grand­fa­ther hid in the cab­i­net for the dura­tion of the war. In 1996, the lit­tle girl’s Jew­ish day school was bombed, avoid­ing killing chil­dren only by acci­dent. I real­ized, then, how lucky I was to be free of the fear of per­se­cu­tion that plagued them constantly.

I found out five years lat­er that one of my best friends in France was the grand­daugh­ter of a Holo­caust sur­vivor, who lost his first fam­i­ly in the camps. She had nev­er thought to men­tion it.

Alli­son Amend’s first nov­el, Sta­tions West, is now avail­able. Come back all week to read her posts for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ings Vis­it­ing Scribe.

Alli­son Amend, a grad­u­ate of the Iowa Writ­ers’ Work­shop, is the author of the Inde­pen­dent Pub­lish­er Book Award-win­ning short sto­ry col­lec­tion Things That Pass for Love and the nov­els Sta­tions West (a final­ist for the 2011 Sami Rohr Prize for Jew­ish Lit­er­a­ture and the Okla­homa Book Award) and A Near­ly Per­fect Copy. She lives in New York City.