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?
What do Yiddish-speaking chickens, screaming latkes, and a pig who really, really wants to be kosher have in common?
They’re all characters featured in Jewish Books Cooking, a children’s theater show that brings eight popular, contemporary children’s books to life with bright characters and catchy songs.
Jewish Books Cooking (JBC) is a project made possible by The Covenant Foundation. The show debuted earlier this year in New York City. Created and directed by Liz Swados, the New York production of Jewish Books Cooking was mounted at several venues around the city. This December, along with a new director, new music director, and new cast, the show is also going to have a whole new destination – the Deep South.
How does a show like JBC wind up traveling through the South? It happened how it always happens in show biz, baby: “ya know a guy.”
While preparing for the inaugural New York production, the staff at Covenant thought about how great it might be to bring a peppy show like this to smaller communities. They would need a director for the touring show, and an organizational partner with connections to smaller communities…
But they knew a guy – or, in this case, a gal – and they knew of just such an organization. So they made a few phone calls. They called me (because I’m a theater nerd who lives in Mississippi, and was lucky enough to intern with Covenant awhile back). They called the ISJL (since they’re an organization located in Mississippi, accustomed to partnering and delivering programming to smaller communities). They posed the question: what do you think about teaming up to bring JBC to Southern cities – smaller communities that aren’t always reached by this sort of performance?
Everyone was excited about the idea. I mean, who wouldn’t want to bring something totally different to Southern audiences … namely, a children’s show filled with moxie-rich Jewish stories, not to mention all the kooky, rapping, dancing, hilarious characters?
In short order we had actors, venues, and everything else the recipe called for to stir up a Southern helping of Jewish Books Cooking. Though a lot to wrangle, this has been a fun and rewarding process. The stories included in the show are all upbeat, sometimes poignant, sometimes zany, but never dull. The music gets stuck in your head for days — in a good way, as the entire cast can assure you. And even the craziest of the characters is charming and relate-able, especially as conveyed by our talented actors. (These guys are pros: they go from being rats to parrots to witches to fried foods, without batting an eye!)
Directing JBC has been a treat. But best of all, knowing that this show will travel around and delight audiences who might not see anything like it all year … well. It’s practically a theatrical Chanukah miracle.
Next week, this show hits the road, traveling to Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Memphis, and closes out right here in Jackson, Mississippi. The show is free, and the Southern touring production will be followed by a family program focused on exploring Jewish stories and sharing family bedtime rituals. The program was written and will be implemented by the ISJL Education Department staff – so it’ll be just as fun as the show itself.
Welllllllllll, maybe it’ll be more fun. I mean, the show is pretty hard to beat. Did I mention there’s a Yiddish-speaking chicken?
If JBC is coming to a city near you, find more info here and go check it out! In the meantime, tell us: what’s your favorite Jewish children’s story?