What do you do when you have a mission to promote Southern Jewish history, but you have no physical place in which to do it?
Well, I think it’s a good idea to make friends… with benefits!
Specifically, friends with access to a beautiful art gallery, who want to team up and host a photograph exhibit about an important historical event that happens to have an interesting Jewish connection.
As I previously mentioned on this blog, Scottsboro Boys: Outside the Circle of Humanity is a powerful exhibit curated by the Morgan County Archives. The ISJL helped bring this exhibition to Jackson though a collaborative partnership with the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University.
These types of collaborative connections are the standard for Jewish programming in the this region. Small populations and limited resources inspire communities to look outside the box for new “friends with benefits,” creating partnerships to make programs possible. Whether it’s a new congregation using a church space for services, or an academic institution sponsoring a Jewish scholar, outreach is a strong and important tool for our communities.
And the results can be pretty fabulous. In my case, we were able to plan three unique events that attracted diverse audiences from across the city. I’m partial to the party that we managed to throw on the last day of Hanukkah in conjunction with a lecture on Jewish lawyers and activists involved with the Scottsboro case. I have yet to check the official university records but I’m pretty sure it was the first Hanukkah party ever thrown at Jackson State. Even though the latkes were a little mushy (had to prep them the night before!), we were able to pull of a successful cultural exchange that may not have happened if we were within a traditionally “Jewish” space.
Have you ever partnered with a non-Jewish entity to create a shared space where Jewish programs can be enjoyed by all? We’d love to hear about it!
In the mid-nineteenth century, thousands of Jewish immigrants from Alsace-Lorraine came to America and made new lives for themselves in the Deep South. Last week, some Alsatian Jews embarked on the same journey (made much more convenient by intercontinental air travel) to learn about Jewish history and heritage in the South.
Traveling up from New Orleans, last Friday this group of 33 Jewish Alsatian tourists found themselves spending a day with ISJL staff in Jackson, Mississippi. We have worked with tour groups in the past, but never in a different language! While many of them did speak English, the group leader translated every presentation into French. Take a look at this short clip I filmed of Dr. Rockoff presenting to the group…
From our office we went on our usual tour of Jackson sites, stopping at Tougaloo College, the COFO Civil Rights Education Center and the Medgar Evers House Museum. These sites mainly focus on the events of the Civil Rights movement, so I did my best to explain how that history has shaped this region. Questions like why so many buildings were empty downtown, why students pay so much for a college education, and inquiries regarding contemporary race relations, covered huge topics that while difficult to explain easily in English, are especially challenging to explain in French, to an audience without a native understanding of American history.
The cultural exchange went both ways, as I got to hear about the French Jewish experience as well. One woman asked me about how Southerners practice Judaism, and if they still identify as Jewish if they aren’t active in a congregation. She explained that while there are many secular Jews in France, many strongly identify as racially Jewish because of their direct connection to the Holocaust. The leader told me later that a few of the visitors were hidden children during the war. I also found it interesting in discussing our ISJL education program when a few of the guests then explained to me that their children never had any formal Jewish schooling; they simply learned Jewish practices and customs in the home.
It was a great learning experience and such a wonderful opportunity to spend the day with this group. We’re happy that they chose to spend their time in our neck of the woods and I hope this post will encourage some of you with fewer oceans to travel across to make plans to join us soon for your own Southern Jewish experience!
I’m thankful for the internet everyday. I’m thankful when it guides me to a new restaurant, tells me the score of the football game, and provides video of the Ohio University marching band playing their version of a new viral music video “The Fox” by Ylvis.
But despite the silly stuff, I was genuinely thankful for the internet this Rosh Hashanah. Trapped in my home due to some semi-serious plumbing problems and a particularly slow moving plumber, I turned to my trusty friend and companion to help me celebrate the holiday.
First, this post on Tablet inspired me to get my hands dirty and bake myself a challah. What better way to celebrate the new year than my stuffing my face all day with sweet sweet carbs? Joan Nathan led me through a tricky six part braid and helped me pull off the most beautiful Jewish cooking moment of my life.
Next, I met up with Congregation Beth Adam, a congregation out of Loveland, Ohio that leads innovative and inspirational services online each week at OurJewishCommunity.org. Dedicated to the celebration of Jewish holidays and life cycle events, Beth Adam approaches Judaism from a humanistic perspective. I was first introduced to Congregation Beth Adam by Rabbi Laura Baum when she presented at last year’s ISJL Education Conference. She gave us a tour of their synagogue, complete with stained glass windows representing the Big Bang and a ner tamid in the shape of a DNA double helix. I knew they would help distract me from the pipes clanging under my house and get me in the mood for the new year.
Rabbi Baum and Rabbi Robert Barr are talented clergy and are magically able to exude warmth and welcoming over the internet. Sweet congregants approached the camera to send good wishes to friends and family watching at home. Besides the fantastic sermons, which really challenge traditional Jewish high holiday liturgy, my favorite part was a chat-bar besides the video stream. Instead of feeling guilty kibitzing with friends in the pews, participants are encouraged to chat simultaneously about the service. I made new friends from all over the world, some with physical disabilities who couldn’t make it to services, some who lived too far way to be there (like me), and others who came specifically for the unique approach of Beth Adam (like me, too!).
I sat in front of the screen, eating my freshly baked challah, apples, and honey and had a sincere and authentic Rosh Hashanah experience. And after 4 hours of jetting and root cutting, the plumber gave me the clear to use the bathrooms in my own home again. A wonderful sign of good things to come in the new year!
What did you do for Rosh Hashanah this year? Would you consider joining an online community for services? Why or why not?