On Tuesday night, I hosted a large Passover seder at my home in Jackson, Mississippi. Out of love for this Jewish dinner party, I may have opened my big mouth—then, inevitability, my door—to a few too many friends.
I realized this seder would be different as I prepared the charoset. Ever since I was old enough to wield a knife, I have been the one to slowly hand chop apples and walnuts for our family seder. It’s cathartic for me to count down the apples, add lemon juice so the apples won’t brown, and stir in the honey with my hands. After about two minutes of chopping, though, I realized my stack of apples was taller than usual; they went straight into the food processor – and this year, convenience trumped tradition, resulting in charoset with more liquid than usual.
Yikes! Why was I compromising my usual charoset consistency? Because I was too excited about sharing Passover, and ended up inviting 30 people for seder. And no, these weren’t just Jews who needed a place to go, I had 13 seder virgins! I chose to invite my non-Jewish friends and neighbors because most of them didn’t grow up in places with a significant Jewish population and had never been invited to help celebrate Passover. In fact, many of my guests don’t know many Jewish people besides, other than myself and other members of the ISJL staff.
We went through the seder with some moments of quiet reflection, and some of laughter and levity. I encouraged guests to read along with the Hebrew transliteration, and my heart swelled when everyone’s voices joined together for “Go Down Moses.” We had a surprisingly successful gefilte fish tasting, sang a song about the afikomen to the tune of “Oklahoma” and answered a lot of questions about matzah.
Was it the most traditional or religious seder? No, not by any means. But I made that clear to my guests and encouraged them to take home the haggadahs to study up for next year. But even with soggier charoset, I’m glad that I was able to provide some of my guests their first Jewish seder experience.
I enjoy having my home filled with friends and food, so it’s understandable why I got so excited about hosting a Passover seder. It’s a tradition that lends itself to bringing people into your house and sharing a meal that’s interactive, educational and delicious. I’m already planning for next year—with a tent outside!—and you are all invited.
2013 marks the ISJL’s thirteenth year of existence.
Our B’nai Mitzvah Year.*
We will go through many of the same things any b’nai mitzvah student goes through: we will study, we will learn, we will hope for meaningful gifts, we will try to be better than we were. We will stand proudly in front of our supporters and say “Today, we are an organization!”
Throughout this year, we will be marking this milestone. This month, as we celebrate the “secular” new year, our mind is on resolutions. As a thirteen-year-old organization, what should our focus be? What do we want to continue to do, and what do we want to change?
With that in mind, we start our reflective process of The ISJL at 13 with some institutional New Year resolutions:
1) Stay in shape. No spandex required – this resolution has less to do with lifting weights, and more to do with constantly lifting expectations. We want to be responsive, reflective, and ready to go, when we’re on the road, and when we’re in the office. We know we’ve had some good workouts in the past, but we have to stay active if we want to stay in shape to keep seeing results!
2) Share with others. We love having our blog, our Facebook page, our Twitter feed, our CIRCA magazine. We want to continue to share stories and strategies, not only to inform but also to inspire. We are proud to be a transformational, trans-denominational organization with a collaborative, regional approach to programming. We want to share how we do what we do, so other areas that could benefit from our approach can see what’s working here. We also love the communities and organizations we’re privileged to partner with, and want to be good partners by sharing their stories and successes, too!
3) Celebrate Southern Jewish life. We believe in the universality of the Jewish experience, and we also value the uniqueness of the Southern Jewish experience. Through histories and contemporary reflections, we want to renew our commitment to celebrate, preserve and promote the people and practices of Southern Jewish life.
4) Travel. Okay, so we already travel a lot. But with our new education partners in Missouri, and trying to share stories of the Southern Jewish experience with a wider audience … we’re expecting to rack up a lot of miles this year!
5) Eat better. Well … this is the resolution we’re most likely to break … there’s still a lot of sweets around this office, y’all. So one way we’ll honor this resolution is by sharing some of our favorite Southern-and-Jewish recipes throughout the year, which will also be included in our upcoming Taste of Torah book. Hey, those recipes will also count toward fulfilling resolution #3 – and look, resolution #2, too! This might be the best resolution of all!! (Food always wins.)
Those are our resolutions as we begin our thirteenth year. From all of us to all of y’all, Happy New Year, Shabbat Shalom – and we hope you’re resolved and looking forward to celebrating with us all year long!
* We couldn’t decide on Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and we have a lot of staff, so we went with B’Nai Mitzvah. It seemed like the mensch move!
December is upon us – already! That means, of course, ’tis the season. So does Christmas dominate in the South? Yes, but – there’s also p-l-e-n-t-y of Southern Chanukah fun to be found. Here are just a few of the holiday happenings ’round here:
Jewish Books Cooking. Starting this weekend, JBC tours the South – and one of the stories included is Lemony Snicket’s “The Latke That Wouldn’t Stop Screaming.” Fun, family show made possible by The Covenant Foundation and the ISJL.
Congregations and Organizations’ Parties & Performances! Across the South, local congregations, Jewish agencies, and organizations are hosting a wide array of performances, latke cook-offs, dreidel parties, music, meals, and much, much more. Southern Jewish Life Magazine has compiled a fantastic list of all such events, available right here.
(Big) Easy Chanukah Festival. The OCH Market in New Orleans is having a special Holiday Market event next weekend, which features a lot of Chanukah/Southern-and-Jewish fare. Shop, mingle, hear Klezmer music, and eat (the Fat Falafel Truck will be there!). And hey – everyone loves another excuse for a trip to New Orleans, right?
These are just a few out of many! What are some of your favorite Southern & Jewish holiday happenings for Chanukah?