Monthly Archives: March 2014

Mensch Madness, Game 1: Esther vs. Hannah!

In the South, we love our sports. March Madness is on the horizon and our minds are on the game! Of course, Southern-and-Jewish sporting (especially if you’re an Education Fellow) can look a little different.

Welcome to Mensch Madness!

In this afternoon’s game we have the number one seeded Queen Esther up against the number four seed, Hannah.

estherEsther’s story is probably fresh in your minds as we’ve just celebrated her holiday of Purim. As Megillat Esther, the Scroll of Esther, tells us, the beautiful young Esther won a beauty contest to become Queen of Persia after Ahashveros kicked his first queen out of the palace. Esther then went on to save the Jews from destruction at the hands of the evil Haman. Esther was brave enough to enter the court of the king even when faced with the possibility of death for speaking to the king without being summoned. She was then clever enough to invite him to a feast and flatter him before asking the difficult question she truly wanted.

She has a lot going for her, this Esther. She has a whole book named after her, a holiday to celebrate her bravery, and we all know who every little girl wants to dress as on Purim.

hannahThe one area in which Hannah might outplay Esther is prayer – and a strong prayer player is a good skill! Esther’s account of the Purim story does not mention God at all, not even once! She appeared to be pretty pious when she fasted and prayed before going to see the king, but even then we did not have any idea of what she said or if she was really praying to God. Hannah, on the other hand, has this prayer thing down. She is acknowledged as the first Jew to employ personal prayer. Devastated by her inability to conceive, Hannah went to pray at the Temple in Jerusalem. She prayed so fervently, moving her lips but not making a sound, that Eli the High Priest thought she was drunk. Being the strong woman that she was, Hannah stood up for herself and told Eli no, she was not drunk, she was praying to God from her heart.

We see that God obviously approved of Hannah’s actions because he granted her wish and she became the mother of Samuel, the famous prophet. We never saw that kind of Godly approval for Esther. And don’t think that Hannah is left out of the important scripture. She may not have a book of Tanakh named after her, but the haftarah portion narrating her story is read on one of the holiest days of the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah. We wouldn’t read the story of just anyone on this holy day!

Folks, it looks like Hannah may come from behind to win this one, after all. Sure, Esther has that fame thing going for her, but Hannah is responsible for Judaism’s acknowledgement of personal prayer. What an incredible game this has been! Prayer, subterfuge, and all at the hands of two brave and intelligent leading ladies.

Hannah, The PRAYER PLAYER, will go on to face whoever wins the showdown between Miriam and Devorah… keep tuning in, sports fans!

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Posted on March 19, 2014

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Mensch Madness – Build Your Bracket!

Every year, when mid-March rolls around, the minds of so many turn to the NCAA basketball tournament and “March Madness.” Offices around the country start internal competitions to see who can pick the best bracket, and for a few weekends, we all scream at our television sets in an attempt to somehow cause the teams we picked to come out on top.blank-bracket

This year, to honor that competitive spirit, the ISJL has put together a little bracket of our own. Not related to basketball, this bracket will match up some of our favorite Jewish heroes, from the Bible and beyond. Our selection committee (the Education Department of the ISJL) discussed many Jewish heroes resumes, examining Torah, Talmud, and Midrash, and we have found 8 who have made it into our tournament.

Throughout March and early April, we will periodically be matching up two of these heroes, and one of our bracketologists (Southern & Jewish bloggers) will be calling the play by play, and determining in each case will move on, and who will not….

The first match up will be later this week! STAY TUNED and welcome to MENSCH MADNESS!

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Posted on March 17, 2014

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This Jewish Girl Loves St. Pat’s in Jackson!

Jackson, Mississippi has one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the country. This Saturday, 70,000(!) people will line the streets downtown,  cheering for beads and dancing to the sounds of marching bands as dozens of floats ride down the streets.

st pattys 3

What is inspiring all the hoopla? Well, it isn’t a large Irish population. I mean, I’ve been to the Southie parade in Boston, I’ve seen a lot of Irish people with a lot of Irish pride. Jackson isn’t Boston. Don’t get me wrong, there is a wonderful Irish community in Mississippi that puts on a world-class Celtic Fest every fall, and Fenian’s, the local Irish pub, it a main spot for St. Patty’s celebrations after the parade, but the size of the parade is not representative of the size of the community.

The Jackson parade is not an specifically ethnic celebration, but 30 years ago a small caravan of revelers were inspired by the American tradition of marking this particular holiday with public festivity. They started a small parade, which has grown more into Jackson’s own version of Mardi Gras than a genuine St. Patrick’s celebration… BUT it’s scheduled to fall on St. Pat’s weekend, NOT Mardi Gras, and thus voila: I can totally use it for my segue into Irish immigrants in the mid 19th century… and some Jewish connections!

st pattys 2

My husband Chris, marching with the O’Tux Society, in Mal’s St. Patty’s Day parade

The O’Tux Society,

Being Irish in America wasn’t always so festive. Irish immigrants were once one of the most persecuted ethnic groups in the country when the Irish famine in the 1850s sent a massive wave of immigrants into Northern cities. In her chapter in Ethnic Heritage of Mississippi, Celeste Ray writes, “Whereas in northern cities large numbers of Irish immigrants faced discrimination and banded together into their own communities, Irish immigrants to Mississippi came in smaller numbers and assimilated into southern culture.”

Sound familiar? It’s important to note that like Jewish immigrants, through assimilation the Irish were able to build successful relationships and businesses in the area. By the time Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With The Wind in 1936, the Irish had become such an accepted part of the American South that it was not considered unusual for plantation owner Gerald O’Hara to be an Irish Catholic. Their traditions, like St. Patrick’s Day, became a part of American popular culture.

I’ve written a lot about cultural connections and Jewish outreach in the blog. Many of the communities in the South sponsor events that invite their neighborhoods to join in Jewish celebrations like a Hannukah party, Passover Seder, Sisterhood Bazzar or Deli Luncheon. Everyone who comes gets a positive, and usually delicious, Jewish cultural experience and makes connections to their own heritage. Even the best of Purim parties don’t get quite as rowdy at a St. Patty’s parade, but the sentiment is similar.

st pattys 1

So this Saturday, with my green bows, beads, and beers, I will be reminded of the Irish community who found a home in this country and show my appreciation for the culture they brought with them that inspires these types of community celebrations today.

I love getting to share my Jewish traditions with friends here – but this Nice Jewish Girl also loves getting to share in other cultural traditions, and be part of celebrating the glorious fusion of cultures coming together. And there’s just nothing quite like St. Patrick’s Day in Jackson, Mississippi.

Happy St. Patty’s Day, y’all!

Posted on March 13, 2014

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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