One of the foundational ideas behind the ISJL is that mid-size and large congregations should build connections to smaller Jewish communities, especially in small towns where the Jewish population is in decline. That’s why we were so glad to see this set of pictures from the Religious School of Congregation Beth-El in Fort Worth, Texas, on their recent daytrip to nearby Corsicana.
We received the photographs from Hollace Weiner, archivist at Beth-El, historian of Fort Worth and Texas Jewry, and close friend of the ISJL History Department. Describing the field trip in the Beth-El newsletter, she writes, “19 teenagers and six adults from the Religious School visited the colorful town, which is a century removed and 55 miles south of Dallas on Interstate-45.”
The group’s tour guide was Babette Samuels, one of four remaining Corsicana Jews. Babette, originally from Port Arthur, Texas, is also a friend of the ISJL, having shared a delightful oral history with us in July 2010.
The students and chaperones viewed the beautiful “Byzantine-style” synagogue of Corsicana’s Temple Beth-El, which, as Hollace writes, “was built in 1900, restored in the 1980s, and deeded to the city to use as a cultural and community center. An architectural gem, the white clapboard synagogue has two onion-domed towers and three Tiffany stained-glass windows. It is the last synagogue in the Southwest with such lofty Moorish-revival domes.”
In addition to her extensive knowledge of Corsicana’s Jewish history, Babette is also very involved with the upkeep of the Corsicana Hebrew Cemetery, which was the next stop on the group’s field trip. Following the visit, the religious school made a donation to the Corsicana Hebrew Cemetery Association.
Thanks to Hollace Weiner and the Beth-El religious school for sharing this story with us. It is great to see Jewish teens learning about small-town Jewish life!
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?
Devoid of a Southern accent, people often ask me where I’m from. They are surprised that I’m from Connecticut. The next question is usually to ask how I got here.
I tell them I got to Mississippi on a lucky opportunity. In 2006, I was a junior at Brandeis University, looking for a unique summer internship. I was interested in museums, so when I came upon the listing for an internship at a Jewish museum in Mississippi, I was sold. The only things I had ever learned about Mississippi (or the South in general, really) were that events from the Civil War and Civil Rights movement took place there, and that it was hot. But Jews in the South? That was a story I knew nothing about, so I applied – and, long story short, had one of the most transformative summers of my life. So much so that after graduation, much to my mother’s chagrin, I made the permanent move to Mississippi to work full time for the umbrella organization of that Jewish museum – the ISJL.
I now have the pleasure of welcoming new interns and Education Fellows to Jackson each summer. The mission of the ISJL is so compelling that we recruit students and recent graduates from all over the country. Over the summer, adventurous folks – most of whom are “not from around here” – travel all over the region, learning about cultural traditions, working with community partners, and often breaking down stereotypes they may have had about the South. There’s also usually occasions for ice cream, county fairs, and blues festivals.
This week, the Museum, History, and Community Engagement Departments are posting our new summer intern listings for 2013. If you or someone you know has an adventurous spirit and is interested in getting hands-on experience on a wide range of projects in an alternative part of the country, I highly encourage you to check out our site with more information about the internships.