Holiday Wishes

In advance of Yom Kippur, the entire ISJL staff would like to wish all of our friends and readers a meaningful observance, and a happy and healthy new year.  Personally, I would also like to offer the following reflection on my Rosh Hashanah in Greenwood, Mississippi with the family of ISJL board member Gail Goldberg.

Stained Glass Windows at Ahavath Rayim, from the ISJL Encyclopedia's article on Greenwood.

“Did you ever think you’d be in Greenwood, Mississippi for Rosh Hashanah, listening to a man named Bubba Kornfeld play shofar?”

This question was posed to me on the way out of services last Monday.  I have to admit, that this is not what most people expect.  For those of us familiar with high holidays in the Mississippi (or Arkansas) Delta, though, nothing about Greenwood is a surprise, and nothing is better preparation for the holidays than driving down a flat road surrounded by blooming cotton.

This was my fourth Rosh Hashanah at Greenwood’s Ahavath Rayim, a tiny traditional congregation that manages to draw a minyan each year with the help of family and friends.  Although she would never take credit for the role, Gail Goldberg is the leader of the congregation.  The Goldberg family and their in-laws, Steve and Ellen Hirsch of Nashville, constitute the majority of the assembled worshipers.  Steve davens the Hebrew portions of the service and reads Torah.  Marilyn Gelman, a local congregant, leads the English portions.  Gail’s husband Mike acts as gabai.  Gail delivers a talk—modesty keeps her from calling it a sermon, but this year’s was as meaningful an “address” as you could ever hope to hear—while her grandchildren and a few other young boys play on the bima.  Morris “Bubba” Kornfeld blows shofar.  The service has everything I need: warm atmosphere, traditional style, casual attitude, great food afterward.

I did mention the food, right?  After each service, the entire group is invited to Gail and Mike’s “holy garage,” the three-car-wide room that converts to a lovely dining area with the simple addition of a carpet and a table for Kiddush.  There, we enjoy stuffed cabbage and brisket (or blintzes and bagels for the dairy meals) and friendly conversation.  In four years, I have come to know Gail’s immediate family, her mother-in-law Ilse, and the Hirsch family.  Steve and Ellen’s son Michael and his wife, Shanna, have also become regulars in Greenwood for Rosh Hashanah.  This year, like years past, it was an absolute privilege to celebrate the holiday with all of them.

The bima and ark, from the ISJL Encyclopedia article on Ahavath Rayim.

As Gail pointed out from the bima, those of us in Greenwood go because of dreams and faith, defying the basic fact of the congregation’s decline.  Rosh Hashanah is the high point of the small congregation’s year, a celebration of family that sustains them during the smaller services and text studies held monthly throughout the year.  Gail’s dream is simple: to continue with this annual event for as long as possible.

With recent repairs to the building and the support of everyone who has experienced the pleasure of the holiday in Greenwood, I have faith in her dream.  May Ahavath Rayim’s congregants and guests have a blessed new year, and may they enjoy Rosh Hashanah in Greenwood for years to come!

Posted on September 25, 2012

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