Author Archives: Beth Kander

Beth Kander

About Beth Kander

Beth Kander is a writer, who also helps coordinate communication and development efforts for the ISJL.

From Every Hill and Molehill of Mississippi

mlk-prayingThe Civil Rights movement is once again front and center here in Mississippi. Last year was the 50th anniversary of Medgar Evers‘ murder; this summer will mark 50 years since Freedom Summer.

Today, as we reflect on the life and death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., some of his greatest lessons are also front and center, and very evident in settings near and far: the power of place, and the even greater power of community.

We are here in Mississippi, the controversial heart-center of Freedom Summer, the end point for the freedom rides. Mississippi, whose work-cut-out-for-us reality was spelled out in Dr. King’s most famous of speeches, “I Have a Dream”:

From the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire, let freedom ring. From the mighty mountains of New York, let freedom ring. From the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania, let freedom ring. But not only that: Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

A few weeks ago, from our desks here in Mississippi, several ISJL staff members joined a great video conference hosted by Jewish Women’s Archive, to go over their fantastic Freedom Summer curriculum resources. A few days ago, the staff here all gathered to discuss a film about inequality and discuss how we, as individuals and as an institution, can be a part of positive change. We partner with a diverse group of organizations, working to that end – Jewish and Christian and those of many other faiths, Southern and Northern and international.

Today, we also wanted to share an excerpt from our friends at Jewish& in which African American Jews share their thoughts on Dr. King’s legacy. Here’s a brief excerpt, and we strongly encourage you to read the entire piece:

Sandra-LawsonREVSandra Lawson, a military veteran and social activist, calls Atlanta home. She is currently a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

“I grew up in a pretty typical black family in the 1980’s. We had a picture of King on our wall and my parents had records of a few of his speeches. My parents were not activists. They grew up poor, as sharecroppers in the South, but they instilled in me a black pride that one could hear in the song from James Brown’s “Say it Loud! I’m Black and I’m Proud.” King helped my parents see a better future, not just for me and my brother but for themselves as well. As a rabbinical student, and a child of southern sharecroppers, I see King as one of the most prophetic voices ever and he reminds me of why I want to be a rabbi which is to help to make the world a better place for all.”

Continue reading here>>

Wherever we are and whatever our background, we can play a role in, as Sandra Lawson says, making the world “a better place for all.” All people, in all places. Let freedom ring from every mountain and molehill of Mississippi!

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Posted on January 20, 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

What Does A Southern Jewish Office Do for Christmas?

TreeMenorah

Myers Home (Holiday Cat!)

The ISJL is closed December 25. So, you must be wondering… what does the staff of a Southern Jewish office do for Christmas?

You might be surprised.

With staff members from a variety of backgrounds, Jewish, Christian, multiple faiths within a family, people who chose Judaism, native Southerners, transplanted Southerners, and so on… Well, when we posed the question “What are you doing December 25?” to our staff, we figured we would get an interesting assortment of answers.

And so we did.

Here are some of them – enjoy!

RachelS“I take a group of Jewish teens to volunteer at the Ronald McDonald house on Christmas Day.  We play with kids, clean up, or make a meal for the residents.”
- Rachel Stern, Director of Education

missy-goldstein “Chinese food and movies are always enjoyed in my family, but never more than on Christmas.  Months in advance we keep our eyes open for previews of what movies will be out during the holidays.”
- Missy Goldstein, Education Fellow 

RachelJM“Like many Jewish children, I had always wanted a Christmas tree. When my husband Chris admitted that he had always had an artificial tree, I insisted that we go to the farm to chop down a real one! Just like in the movies! We also made that menorah out of plumbing pipe together. After our big Hannukah party in town, Chris and I spend Christmas Eve in Batesville, MS with this family. I did have a shocking moment my first Christmas in North Mississippi. After opening all the presents and sharing a family meal, I managed to convince his family to practice the ‘Jewish tradition’ of going to the movies on Christmas. Much to my surprise, the theater was packed, and not full of Jewish people! I had honestly believed it was only a Jewish thing.” - Rachel Myers, Museum / Special Projects Coordinator

matt-dreffin“In my first job out of college, I worked for a glass studio in New Orleans. My boss liked that I was Jewish because I would keep the shop open until late on Christmas Eve. He then commanded me to go to the casino with him. So now, I go get an awesome meal (either sushi or Chinese food) and then hit up the closest casino. Vicksburg, anyone?” - Rabbi Matt Dreffin, Assistant Director of Education

BethK“My Jewish family isn’t Southern, and my Southern family isn’t Jewish – I’m the crossover artist. Growing up, my family and I volunteered at a soup kitchen, then observed the ‘Chinese & A Movie’ ritual. Now, my fiance Danny and I have developed our own tradition: We have a Chanukah celebration at home (or this year, with my family in Michigan – thanks, Thanksgivukkah!); do some volunteering; then, on Dec. 23 we drive to Mobile, Alabama, for my grandfather’s birthday, and continue on to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, for Christmas with Danny’s parents. It’s a multi-city, multi-stop celebration.” - Beth Kander, Communications & Development Coordinator

lex-rofes “Every year, my family’s tradition has been to Milwaukee’s P.F. Chang’s and to a movie with a few other Jewish family friends. Rituals of our observance include ordering the famous “Great Wall of Chocolate”  and arguing intensely over the quality of the movie after it’s over (last year, Silver Linings Playbook was especially controversial)!” - Lex Rofes, Education Fellow 

So… how do YOU spend December 25? Tell us in the comments below!

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Posted on December 25, 2013

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

“Only” Christmas Here? Bah Humbug, Billboard!

While recently driving through one of those long rural stretches that blur the lines between Midwest and South, I saw a large billboard that said in cheery letters: “Happy Holidays!”

But the billboard featured an angry red cross-out, replacing the inclusive message with the strident proclamation: “ONLY MERRY CHRISTMAS HERE!” Let’s be clear: It wasn’t graffiti; it was part of the design.

onlymc

The image included herein is a recreation. (Thanks, computer-magic.) I couldn’t take a picture of the actual billboard, because it was stationed beside the highway on which I was driving. Since I was driving, obviously, I couldn’t capture the image; normally, I might have stopped, but it was also nighttime, and raining with near-freezing temperatures, with snow and ice also threatened.

In other words, it was exactly the sort of December night where one might appreciate a nice, warm-and-fuzzy holiday wish, rather than a small town’s declaration that only one holiday was welcome there.

The sign bothered me.

The funny thing is, I am not bothered by religious Christmas signs in general. I actually understand the inclination to emphasize “the reason for the season.” Practicing, faith-driven Christians who want to spread the reminder of Christmas as a religious holiday make sense to me. After all, don’t Jewish people emphasize the messages and meanings behind Jewish holidays, too? Don’t rabbis and educators lament when Chanukah becomes “just about the presents”?

What bothers me is the aggressive exclusion of others. I wouldn’t have blinked at a sign that said “Keep Christ in Christmas.” That sign simply isn’t aimed at me. But a sign that slams other holidays does feel aimed at me. One that essentially shouts out down with happy holidays, Christmas is the only celebration allowed in these parts, seems hurtful and mean-spirited to me. (To say nothing of what the menorah in my trunk must have been feeling…)

holidays

What bothers me is the fear conveyed therein, and the notion of a “War on Christmas.” As one rabbi-friend commented when I posted a Facebook status about this billboard: “Isn’t the War on Christmas, like, SO last decade?” Apparently not.

What bothers me is the whole idea that it’s a seasonal zero sum game; the absurd notion that if all holidays are welcome, one in particular is threatened. Doesn’t that go against the love-thy-neighbor spirit associates with this season?

So I added something to my holiday wish list. I’m hoping for a deeper understanding that including everyone does not mean diminishing anyone. Saying “Happy Holidays” is a way of wishing someone whose practices you may not know a joyful time of year regardless of whichever holiday they will or won’t be celebrating. It is not said to replace Christmas, or Chanukah, or Kwanzaa – but to make room for them all.

So whatever holiday(s) you’re celebrating this season, may they be full of peace, and joy, and light, and with that I’ll say – to ALL - a good night.

Does this billboard bother you, too? Share your thoughts!

Posted on December 9, 2013

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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