What began years ago has now become a very common event in our Delta community of Greenwood, Mississippi: we host a group from “somewhere else” as they tour the Jewish South.
The groups are diverse, find their way to Greenwood and the South for many different reasons. In recent years, as a Board Member of the ISJL and through my association with Rachel Jarman Myers—this thriving experience has grown and become something I’m proud to be part of with increasing frequency.
This past spring we hosted a number of groups. Two of my favorites were a congregational group from Syracuse, New York, led by Rabbi Daniel Fellman of Temple Concord; the other was The University of Maryland’s Hillel organization. The Syracuse group was a warm, enthusiastic community that connected with our own. I received a lovely letter from the rabbi following their visit. Our shared love for our Jewish community was so evident, throughout the visit and in our communication thereafter.
The coordinator for the Hillel group, Amy Weiss, became a great email friend of mine as she planned this wonderful Alternative Spring Break Trip to the Mississippi Delta. Led by Corinne Bernstein, Anna Koozmin, and Noah Stein, a total of 14 young folks flew into Memphis and spent a full week in Mississippi. The trip represented a combination of service, experience, culture, Judaism, and fellowship. Our family farm in Carroll County served as their “base camp,” providing a wonderful refuge after each day’s service to the community.
The group invited our family and our shul members to Friday night dinner and services at our farm. The evening was just amazing… from the food, the fellowship, the services, and most importantly, sharing Shabbos with our new friends.
T. Mac Howard, founder of Delta Streets Academy, an initiative that identifies and mentors at-risk young African American men, was one of the Hillel group’s favorite work sites. An email introduction between T. Mac and Amy parlayed into a working relationship between the two groups.
The school benefited, the Hillel group experienced a component of life most had never seen, and connections were established that will all be for good. It was a win–win, and the perfect Tikkun Olam for the Hillel group.
Greenwood is a natural place to stop because of the amenities available: The 5-star boutique Alluvian Hotel and a variety of restaurant opportunities rival anywhere in the South, and the charm of our small community is unparalleled. Ahavath Rayim, our Greenwood synagogue, was founded in 1907; more than 100 years later, we continue to gather and we fully participate in Jewish life—Delta Style.
In addition to touring our shul, both groups were treated to a “walking tour” of Downtown Greenwood by Dr. Mary Carol Miller, a noted historian and author. Greenwood is surrounded by three rivers and for decades has been known as the Cotton Capital of the World. The Jewish presence in our community is wide-spread.
What’s the value of the experience? The values are as diverse as the groups we host.
To understand that a Jewish community does exist in the Jewish South, to experience some of the sites, like the BB King Museum in Indianola, the Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, and to visit the offices and meet the staff of the ISJL are all important components of the experience.
What’s so special to me is the relationship that we develop with these groups—although some we will never see again, we still form lasting bonds. The understanding and the conversations that we engage in as a result of these encounters are meaningful. To expose our “guests” to the Jewish life we live every day is important. We are unskilled and untrained ambassadors for our Judaism, as we reach out to the predominately non-Jewish world of the South. Hopefully, the “outreach” of these trips in small measure—makes this world a better place.
And if you’re interested in your own Southern Jewish Experience trip, contact Rachel Jarman Myers!
Get ready, sports fans! It’s time for Mensch Madness, Round 2, and the Men’s Semi-Finals with Moses (1) taking on Hillel (3)!
We’ve got a sold out crowd here in the arena today, as our number one seed takes on an underdog winner! Seemingly everyone is on Hillel’s bandwagon, with a large contingent of college students filing their way into the stands. Moses, however, seems to have the celebrity backing, as everyone from Maimonides to Mendelssohn has been spotted sporting light-up promotional toy “staffs.”
Let’s check out some quick background on our teams. Michael Shapiro’s preseason rankings had Moses listed as the #1 most influential Jew of all time, whereas Hillel the elder just barely cracked the top twenty-five.[i] Don’t be fooled by his nickname “The Elder” – Hillel is actually significantly younger than Moses. Some people have some concerns about Moses’ knees and how they’ll hold up over the length of the entire post-season, especially considering his most recent ACL surgery.
Our guest referee for this game is Dwayne Johnson, and he wastes no time in tossing the ball up to start the game. Immediately, Moses jumps out to a huge lead. When he raises the ball in his arms, he has a clear avenue to the basket since, for some reason, Team Hillel stands in two rows and just watches Moses blast by. In a surprising move, Moses has elected to play barefoot. We got reports that say he took off his shoes after a local fan said something like: “You’re playing in the Garden! For Bostonians, you’re standing on holy ground!” This situation has not slowed his pace at all, as Moses continues his blistering barrage.
But, what’s this? As we near the half, Moses has charged off into the stands. Hillel begins to score at will! Where did Moses go?! We’ve just got word, our sideline reporter informs us that Moses saw an underage sheep wander off toward the beer concessions and is now carrying the animal back to the proper seat on his shoulders.[ii]
That’s the halftime buzzer. In a shocking surprise, Team Hillel is up, 34-40.
Our teams have returned from the locker and Moses looks angrier than when the taskmaster whipped that slave. We’ve gotten word he got quite the halftime pump-up, since the “Chairman of the Board,” Big Mo stormed into the locker room to give an inspirational speech. We’ll see if he bestowed any “championship knowledge” onto his namesake. Hillel starts out with the ball and is moving in a sluggish manner. I think this team may have scarfed too many matzah sandwiches in the locker room. Moreover, Moses’ face is shining so bright for some reason! Team Hillel seems to now be employing the “hack-a-shaw” method, swinging blindly nowhere near the ball… hitting Moses’ arms. I’m almost sure those are fouls, but for some reason still no whistles. Tired of not getting any calls, Moses has gone over to confront our referee. Holy Smoke! Moses has hit The Rock! That’s a technical foul, you cannot put your hands on a referee. That will give Team Hillel an opportunity to hit some free throws and have one last chance at a miracle upset. He hits both of them!
Here we go folks, we’re about to find out if, down by one, Hillel can overcome his renown calm demeanor and upset Team Moses! They inbound the ball to Hillel and, wait, a court side fan has asked him to explain the entire Torah on one foot. He’s completed that with barely two seconds left on the clock! He begins to move the ball down the floor…
TWEEEEEEET! Referee Johnson has blown the whistle. We have a call! Yes, that’s a double dribble! Moses’ Ball! Moses’ Ball! The game will end on a technicality! This is the worst playoff blunder since Chris Webber, folks.
That’s all from us here at WJEW Sports Radio. Our headline of the night:
MOSES MARCHES CLOSER TO THE PROMISED LAND. WILL PLAY FOR CHAMPIONSHIP!
As Mensch Madness continues, our next match-up is between the one… the only… the Father of Monotheism… Abraham! And his opponent? The ever patient… ever kind… ever knowledgeable-sage… Hillel the Elder. Who will win?!
BZZZZ! With a bit of divine intervention, Abraham gets the jump ball. He heads down the court, dribbling the shining ball of monotheism. Watch out, everyone – this guy is on a divine mission! He almost sacrificed his only son, for heaven’s sake! He’s so divinely inspired he might sacrifice literally anything to get that ball in the basket.
But wait, here comes wise Hillel the Elder, and he’s ready to play, too. Whoa! He just pulled out the Golden Rule, and blocked Abraham’s shot like he would have someone else block his own – to him that’s all of basketball, everything else is simply commentary! 
Hillel’s got the ball now, getting into position for a three point jumper, but wait! What’s this?! He just gave the ball to Abraham! I guess that’s just part of his game-play – he’s so humble that he gives his opponents a chance to shoot first even before his own shot, just like how Beit Hillel would recite the halachic opinions of Shammai before they would recite their own. What a mensch!
After a little bit of arguing with G-d, just like he argued with G-d over Sodom and Gemorrah, Abraham makes a seemingly impossible shot. It appears he won the argument this time, as a heavenly hand just came down and dropped the ball into the basket! This guy has got friends in high places! (Please ignore the brawl that just happened between some of those rowdy Esau fans and Isaac fans. They both support Abraham… just in different ways).
Hillel’s got the ball now, and he’s rolling. He goes in for an individual slam-dunk, because of course he’s all about the idea, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” But he then kindly hands the ball to Abraham, because Hillel is also into the idea of “If I am only for myself, what am I?” But old Abraham takes a bit too long getting down the court, because Hillel steals it and goes in for the lay-up, shouting “If not now, WHEN??!!!”
The crowd is going wild. Abraham’s side is quite empty, as some have been hesitant to support the team out of fear of a certain Jewish ritual he started for 8-day old boys. But, there are some divine angels there that Abraham welcomed into his tent a while back. The desert just isn’t the best place to establish a huge fan base.
Hillel’s fans, meanwhile are bursting with energy, because Hillel is all about welcoming everyone into Judaism, even the most difficult folks. Even in difficult games, he’s very concerned for what game plan is best for the individual fans.
Winner: Hillel the Elder! With a combination of kindness, patience, and a love of peace, Hillel the Elder manages a wild three-point shot at the buzzer, for the win, all while standing on one foot! Despite Abraham’s direct connection to the Almighty, and his many, many descendants, and his being the first monotheist, he’s no match for Hillel. Hillel triumphs with the modern touch of kindness and compassion in Jewish life which we always need, especially in our world today.
What a game! See you as we head toward the SEMI-FINALS!
 Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 31a
 Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Eruvin 13b
 Pirkei Avot 1:14