Welcome back to the arena for the second game in our series of Mensch Madness: The Creatures of Judaism. Both of our contenders are underdogs (not that either of them are literally dogs—one team isn’t even mammalian!) who never imagined that they’d make it this far.
On one side of the court, we have The Frogs. Yes, the frogs from the ten plagues—they hopped here all the way from ancient Egypt. They’ve accumulated assists in previous games by annoying Pharaoh into letting the Jews go. Unfortunately, their win was short-lived, as Pharaoh changed his mind and refused to let the Jews leave. Ultimately, their W was changed to an L.
On the other side, we have Baxter the Pig Who Wanted to Be Kosher. Although he wasn’t successful in becoming kosher, Baxter had a slam dunk in learning about Judaism. His pre-game ritual of downing pickles and challah has served him well in the past, and we’re excited to see how he’ll compete in today’s game.
The ball is tossed to start the game, and the frogs have a big advantage with their vertical leap. Frogs have first possession, and Baxter can’t focus with all the frogs on his nose and frogs on his toes. Frogs here, frogs there, frogs were jumping everywhere. The game has barely begun and there is already a penalty for too many players on the court. Baxter gets to take a foul shot and….it’s good!
As the game continues… Baxter is really hogging the ball today. His confidence has grown and Baxter flies across the court to score again! The frogs call a time out to regroup and come up with a new, ribbeting play. These frogs come to us from an area where basketball isn’t very popular and they’re still getting accustomed to the rules. These guys tried to come onto the court today with open-toad shoes! Come on, frogs! Do better.
As for Baxter, he’s conferring with his coaches on the game, thus far, and developing their own plan for winning.
Time out is over! The frogs and pig are back at it, fighting for the win as the game clocks winds down. It appears that Baxter has been practicing and hammed up his offense! He is wiping the floor with these frogs today, and they are hopping mad! In a turn for the worst, the frogs seem to have lost focus. Aaaand, there are flies on the sideline… and now the frogs are going after the flies.
All of the frogs have left the court, leaving our treif-rific friend Baxter with the win. In the least-kosher matchup in our series, we’re excited to see this little piggy go wee wee wee, all the way to the next game.
For my family, like many Jewish families, holidays play an important role in our life. Holidays are the times when we all get together. There are endless, crazy traditions. Holidays meant coming home, and being with my family.
I grew up in Florida, and went to college in Florida. When my parents moved from Florida to Texas, I suddenly had a to plan on a plane ride instead of a two-hour drive to be with my family for the holidays. Then I graduated from college and started a real job, forcing me to face the reality of not spending every holiday with my family. Being “home for the holidays” was no longer a given.
I certainly am not alone. Every recent college graduate balances making it home for celebrations with our families to what our “grown up life” and holiday celebrations will look like. Luckily, with my first out-of-college job, I literally am not alone.
When I moved to Jackson to start work for the ISJL, I knew that I was joining a new family. My Education Fellow cohort has family dinners together. We look out for each other. We bring each other pints of ice cream with a Shabbat candle for birthdays, squeal over the sweet story of a fellow Fellow’s engagement, and make sure that everyone has a family with whom to spend the holidays. We celebrate together. And yes, we have even and taken family portraits at JC Penney together.
This year in particular, I have been truly blessed in the holiday-celebration regard. One of our board members invited anyone who was in town to spend all or part of the High Holy days with her family in Greenwood, Mississippi. Even though I wasn’t able to spend Yom Kippur with my family, another family opened its arms to welcome me in. I fasted, watched football, and broke fast with M&Ms and Diet Coke—just as I would have done with my family of origin.
As Education Fellows, this happens to us all year round. We each have six or seven communities that we visit and, with the gift of home hospitality, we are lucky to be welcomed into many families throughout our two years. We light the candles at Shabbat dinners in these families’ homes, and hear about how everybody’s week has been. They allow us to truly be part of the family and the greater community; in addition to celebrating many Jewish holidays, I have also cheered at soccer games (even though I don’t entirely remember the rules), attended local craft and historical festivals, and participated in a charity fundraiser.
Other Fellows have enjoyed family movie nights, gone on afternoon hikes, and visited kids’ art shows; there’s no end to the possibilities!
Not only do our hosts welcome us into their families for the weekend, but we also share our lives with them. We tell stories about the shenanigans and adventures of group summer visits. Especially as second year Fellows, we want to contact our hosts or education directors when exciting things develop for graduate school or plans for Life After The Fellowship.
I still love getting to be with my family. I also love how much more “family” I have now. When I first started at the ISJL in June 2013, I added 8 Fellows to my family. Over the last 18 months, that family has grown exponentially with every summer, fall, and spring visit I make. Not every recent college graduate gets so warmly embraced by so many families, who make us feel at home even when we’re far from home. I look forward to continuing growing my Southern Jewish family this year, and staying in touch as the world takes us in all different directions.
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It’s a big sports week in the Jewish South! First, there’s a new Jewish college basketball coach at a big school down here, which folks are clearly pretty excited about. And second…
It’s time for Mensch Madness, Game Two!
We have a very close game today. Our number two seed, Miriam is up against our number three seed, Devorah.
This is going to be a tough match-up. Both of these powerhouses had a big impact, and both had songs written about them by Debbie Friedman, which elevates both in my eyes…
Let’s start with Miriam: She is very well known, seeing as she is an important character in the story of Passover (coming up soon!) and the Exodus. As Moses’ sister, Miriam was the one responsible for putting baby Moses in a basket and down the river, where the Pharaoh’s daughter found him. Already brave, Miriam approached Pharaoh’s daughter and told her that she knew a woman who could nurse the baby (hint: it’s their mother, Yocheved).
Once the Jews were finally across the Red Sea, Miriam led everyone in song, dancing with her timbrel. During the Jews’ time in the desert, a well of water followed Miriam because of her merit and righteousness. HOWEVER, we must not forget that Miriam suffers from the affliction of leprosy after she and her brother Aaron speak ill of Moses’ wife, a Cushite woman. Lashon hara, gossip, is certainly not an admirable characteristic, but it shouldn’t over shadow her positive attributes.
And then there’s Devorah: She is not as public a figure as her competitor, but she was a great leader for the Jewish people after Moses, Miriam, and Aaron died. Devorah was a judge in Israel; she was a strong woman, without whom Barak (a general) would not enter battle: “If thou wilt go with me, then I will go; but if thou wilt not go with me, I will not go.” Devorah is happy to join in the journey, but in being realistic about gender roles of the time reminds Barak that he will not receive any glory because a woman is accompanying him as an advisor in battle.
But Devorah does not flee from leadership, even despite the gender norms of the day. Devorah is therefore seen as a mother in Israel, during a time when leadership was much needed. Israel was finally at peace, with Devorah at the helm.
Miriam and Devorah were both amazing women, who are great role models among women from the Tanakh. In this very close game, every move counts… and Miriam fouled with her negative attitude towards Moses’ wife, while Devorah accepted her leadership position and held court with poise. Her bravery and strength are ever-present, despite the male-dominated community.
As the only female judge of the time, I consider her a trailblazer, a pioneer, a winner in this round of Mensch Madness! See y’all at the next game!