Last week was my first adventure on the road as an Education Fellow. I went to Montgomery and Auburn, Alabama, and then continued on to Columbus, Georgia. My road trip buddy for this adventure was Lex Rofes, a second year Education Fellow. We met a lot of new people and had some great experiences. But the best part of our four-day excursion happened at the end—and involved the military.
Early Sunday morning, Lex and I joined some dedicated volunteers from Temple Israel in their weekly pilgrimage to provide the soldiers at Fort Benning with a morning service followed by a food-filled oneg. “Oneg” literally means delight, and usually involves tasty treats and socializing. These soldiers have come to enjoy this delight—and so there were around 600 soldiers who came to enjoy the services and oneg on the Sunday Lex and I were there.
We were invited to participate in services, lay-led by Neil Block, a congregant of Temple Israel who is extremely passionate about this operation. Neil was in the U.S. Navy, and he has made it his responsibility to ensure that the soldiers of Fort Benning have access to Judaism. To him, it does not matter that the majority of the soldiers in attendance are not Jewish. The Jewish soldiers appreciate this weekly gift, but so too do the other men and women in uniform.
Lex observed that this might well be the largest Sunday morning Jewish service in the country. The soldiers come for some quiet time to reflect and of course, for the oneg. Local businesses donate cookies, cakes, bagels, and cream cheese for the weekly oneg. Even with over 600 soldiers in attendance, there was enough for everyone to have a sweet and a bagel. The soldiers were all extremely polite and efficient. In no time at all, everyone was fed and we were out of food!
(I also learned that soldiers in basic training are on a high-protein-low carb diet, so this oneg was a special treat.)
The congregants we volunteered with echoed the sentiment that it did not matter if the soldiers in attendance were Jewish or not; what matters is a positive Jewish presence, and just giving back to the soldiers who serve our country. The 600 soldiers who showed up included people from all faiths. Some ask Neil and the volunteers about Judaism after the service, but most want to hear news from the outside world; they appreciate the sense of connection and community.
Many of the families at Temple Israel have ties to the military, and they are thereby dedicated to serving those who serve our country. It was an amazing experience for me and I cannot wait to go again the next time I am in Columbus. It’s a uniquely Southern and Jewish tribute to our troops, quietly carried out each week with food and fellowship, and I was proud to be a part of it.
You may not picture central Mississippi as central to Jewish life. But every summer, one of the most dynamic Jewish conferences anywhere takes place in Jackson, Mississippi.
Every June, Jewish educators from throughout the South, and great presenters from around the country, gather together for three days of learning, networking, celebration and inspiration at the ISJL’s teacher training institute, AKA “the education conference.” While Jackson may not be known by most as a Jewish metropolis, and most folks wouldn’t guess that this Southern town is the location for one of the leading Jewish education conferences in the country, the simple truth is that if you come to Jackson in June, you’ll know it’s true.
That conference begins this Sunday, and as always, I couldn’t be more excited. Volunteer teachers, along with full-time educators, rabbis, and Jewish professionals from Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Texas, and all over the region will sit beside one another, sharing challenges, sharing best practices, and of course, sharing meals. (Hey, you can’t have a Jewish event without food!)
I’m certain this year’s conference will lead to wonderful connections, great stories and plenty of what I like to call “goosebump moments.” For now, our team is working hard to take care of every single last-minute detail so when participants arrive Sunday, everything is in place. We’re watering the seeds and can’t wait for this blossom to once again bloom into beautiful life, nurtured in the warmth of a Mississippi summer.
Happy (Almost) Father’s Day!
Here is our second installment of “But What Do Your Parents Think?” This time, we’re sharing the thoughts from parents of 2013-2015 Education Fellows, who are at the halfway point in their fellowship. Once again, their responses ranged from funny to sweet, nervous to old-hat.
The overwhelming commonality is, of course, that our parents are extremely proud of us. They are all thrilled to have given us a foundational Jewish education and are even more excited to see us helping the next generation gain that knowledge too.
My Fellow: Missy Goldstein
My Thoughts: I want to share my thoughts on the incredible experience my daughter Missy has had as a first year Fellow. Missy was very excited about being chosen as a Fellow and has embraced her opportunity as I knew she would. She has made many new friends and created many wonderful experiences for the communities she has visited. I know she’s excited to continue on this journey and help to break-in the new Fellows that are arriving soon. I’m very proud of her and what she does. –Maury Goldstein, Jacksonville, FL
My Fellow: Allison Poirier
My Thoughts: We were excited about Allison’s move to Jackson for two reasons. First, we share a sense of adventure with Allison and were thrilled that she was exploring the opportunity in that spirit. We were also pleased about her opportunity to experience Jewish life in a way that we assumed would be different from that of her childhood Congregation of Temple Beth David in Massachusetts or at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. We are especially impressed by the stories Allison recounts about her host families in the cities she visits. In particular, their hospitality puts our minds at ease about her travels. We also are taken with the creativity of the fellows to develop programs that both engage and educate. The more memorable ones include Mensch Madness, Star Wars Shabbaton and “Hello Shabbos My Old Friend.” Having visited Allison in Jackson, we are very impressed with how quickly she has forged relationships at ISJL and her local congregation, Beth Israel. –John Poirier, Medfield, MA
My Fellow: Lex Rofes
My Thoughts: I love hearing the stories about my son’s encounters with folks who are not used to seeing someone with a kippah. And, it has been a good feeling to know that most of those encounters have been out of curiosity and people seeking to understand rather than to ridicule. Hearing of one woman commenting that she liked his “Yamaha” put a smile on my face. I do get some odd looks when I respond to those asking about where Lex is working and what he is doing. Many seem to think that the idea of Jews in the South is an oxymoron. This has allowed me an opportunity to help familiarize folks with the idea that the Northeast does not hold a monopoly on American Judaism. Lex has sent me some wonderful synagogue cookbooks from his various congregations. And, that has helped me to see how the more we differ, the more we are the same. No matter where you are, the most prevalent recipe in a Jewish cookbook is for KUGEL! — Ruth Lebed, Chicago, IL
Thanks, dads and moms!