What’s Jewish about…
- The N’awlins phrase “Where Y’At?”
- Eating cheese grits soufflé in Alexandria, Louisiana?
- Cheering “Roll Tide” on Wednesday, “Go Tigers” on Sunday, and in between, enjoying an interfaith gathering at a Methodist Church in Pensacola Friday?
Well, those expressions and experiences were all part of the twelve-lecture, ten-day, four-state tour covering 1,200 miles that I embarked on with Dr. Ron Wolfson last month. In New Orleans, “Where y’at?” is a question that starts many conversations … and in the Torah, the first question is “Ayeikah?” – most often translated as “Where are you?” but in N’awlins, it’d be “Where y’at?”
Moments like that one, connecting Jewish learning, community, and Southern hospitality, were hallmarks throughout the trip.
There is nothing that can’t be accomplished when we keep in the forefront of our minds that all Jews are responsible for one another and share our resources, working together to make greatness happen for everyone involved. The January lecture tour of Ron Wolfson through the South, exemplified Klal Yisrael and the regional, communal programming approach of the ISJL .
The cooperative spirit was contagious, and along the way Dr. Wolfson addressed over 750 people, across four states in ten days including Jews and Christians, in tiny congregations like Gemiluth Chassodim in Alexandria, Louisiana (88 members) up to large Southern congregations like Temple Sinai in New Orleans, LA (700 members) and everything in between. The youngsters in 4th – 8th grade in Birmingham, Alabama were every bit as enthralled with his afternoon Be Like God workshop as their parents and grandparents were with the evening lecture, God’s To-Do List.
What makes Ron so brilliant is his ability to touch everyone and leave them with a renewed awareness of what it means to be made in the image of God, as well as what we can do to honor that in everyday life at home, in our synagogues and in our communities. He is joyful with everyone, greeting each individual with a handshake, which begins breaking barriers before he is even introduced.
Ron doesn’t deploy heavy handed preaching, or one definition of God. Christians, Jews, and even those without a particular faith learn from him. The overwhelming feeling at the end of each lecture – renewed and refreshed, so glad to have been there and thirsty for more!
Speaking of “more,” I am thrilled that Dr. Ron Wolfson is spending some more time with Southern communities this coming week; you can see the schedule for his Virginia tour here.
That’s where I’ve been recently … so, where y’at?
For more than a year, I’ve been working with Dr. Ron Wolfson to plan a ten-day lecture tour to visit communities across the South. Every detail imaginable had been checked and double checked to ensure that each of the twelve partner congregations on the tour would have their expectations not only met, but exceeded!
But no matter how much you plan, you can’t plan everything.
Two weeks before the start of the tour, Dr. Wolfson mentioned something that I should have thought of myself: his beloved father, Alan Wolfson, had passed away a couple of months earlier, and Ron wanted a minyan each day in order to say Kaddish. My answer was to assure him we could make that happen – but honestly, my heart began to pound because in the mostly smaller Southern communities we were heading towards, a daily minyan is not always the easiest of things to find or create on short notice.
There needn’t have been any worry, because one by one, each host congregation stepped up with true Southern Jewish hospitality to make it happen. Many of the people who showed up to enable Dr. Wolfson to say Kaddish are quite familiar with the process and frequently participate in such rituals; However, many, like myself, have never been called upon or volunteered to be counted for this beautiful mitzvah. Each of us received more than we gave in performing this mitzvah. Dr. Wolfson thanked everyone with genuine appreciation, but the response was almost universally “My pleasure!”
And it was. It was our pleasure to participate in this process in each of the 10 communities – creating a “minyan of minyans” across the South.
Have you ever stepped up to be counted for a Kaddish minyan? How did you feel about the experience?
Each week at our staff meeting, one of the ISJL employees gives a brief “d’var,” sharing some thoughts about either the weekly Torah portion, or words of wisdom about an upcoming holiday, our time on the road, and so on. This week, Ann Zivitz Kimball is on the road with Dr. Ron Wolfson, sharing lots of words of wisdom with communities across the South – but before heading out of town, she wrote this “for-the-blog-d’var” with her musings on destiny vs. free will … which might also provide some good car conversations while she’s on the road with the Wolfsons. Enjoy!
I believe with perfect faith that we are all created in the Divine image with a purpose, destiny, path and fate. On the other hand …
I believe with perfect faith that we are all created in the Divine image with complete and total free will. On the other hand (in her best Tevye voice) …
I believe with perfect faith that we are all created in the Divine image with a purpose, destiny, path and fate, and free will — AND I believe that when we use our free will and follow our hearts and minds, choosing unselfishness and compassion over ego and control, that we are much more likely to be present and aware in the moments that our lives intersect with Divine destiny.
Moses, by his own account, was a “stranger in a strange land”. Through hap and circumstance, miracle and tragedy, he was just passing by a bush, like many others before him; what makes the story different is that he took the time to notice the bush was both on fire and also not being consumed by the fire. From that moment on, he became the central figure in the Torah. Or was it from the moment he was born, or even before his birth, in some pre-destined plan, that he became a great figure? What if he had chosen to walk away as every instinct in his being cried out for him to do? Did he have that option?
Joseph, another stranger in a strange land, was placed in a foreign land by God’s divine plan, as he clearly believes … but was it a plan, or a series of random events? Either the events, or his destiny, led him to a pivotal moment of revelation to his brothers and saving not only the Israelites, but also the Egyptians – and becoming a hero!
Esther, a Jewish Queen of Persia, (undercover of course) found herself in just the right place, at just the right moment in time to save her people. Was it only because Mordecai insisted she apply for the job, or would she have been there anyway through destiny?
It is in those special moments, the great ones recorded in history and the every day ones we experience in our own lives, when we elevate ourselves and others, that we exhibit ourselves in the Divine image and God is experienced as a verb.
Fate, or free will? Can it be both?
Have you ever had a moment (great or small) when you felt that your very presence in that place, at that time, or with that person changed an outcome for the better or saved a life? Did it feel like pure chance … or destiny?