Jackson, Mississippi has one of the largest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the country. This Saturday, 70,000(!) people will line the streets downtown, cheering for beads and dancing to the sounds of marching bands as dozens of floats ride down the streets.
What is inspiring all the hoopla? Well, it isn’t a large Irish population. I mean, I’ve been to the Southie parade in Boston, I’ve seen a lot of Irish people with a lot of Irish pride. Jackson isn’t Boston. Don’t get me wrong, there is a wonderful Irish community in Mississippi that puts on a world-class Celtic Fest every fall, and Fenian’s, the local Irish pub, it a main spot for St. Patty’s celebrations after the parade, but the size of the parade is not representative of the size of the community.
The Jackson parade is not an specifically ethnic celebration, but 30 years ago a small caravan of revelers were inspired by the American tradition of marking this particular holiday with public festivity. They started a small parade, which has grown more into Jackson’s own version of Mardi Gras than a genuine St. Patrick’s celebration… BUT it’s scheduled to fall on St. Pat’s weekend, NOT Mardi Gras, and thus voila: I can totally use it for my segue into Irish immigrants in the mid 19th century… and some Jewish connections!
The O’Tux Society,
Being Irish in America wasn’t always so festive. Irish immigrants were once one of the most persecuted ethnic groups in the country when the Irish famine in the 1850s sent a massive wave of immigrants into Northern cities. In her chapter in Ethnic Heritage of Mississippi, Celeste Ray writes, “Whereas in northern cities large numbers of Irish immigrants faced discrimination and banded together into their own communities, Irish immigrants to Mississippi came in smaller numbers and assimilated into southern culture.”
Sound familiar? It’s important to note that like Jewish immigrants, through assimilation the Irish were able to build successful relationships and businesses in the area. By the time Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With The Wind in 1936, the Irish had become such an accepted part of the American South that it was not considered unusual for plantation owner Gerald O’Hara to be an Irish Catholic. Their traditions, like St. Patrick’s Day, became a part of American popular culture.
I’ve written a lot about cultural connections and Jewish outreach in the blog. Many of the communities in the South sponsor events that invite their neighborhoods to join in Jewish celebrations like a Hannukah party, Passover Seder, Sisterhood Bazzar or Deli Luncheon. Everyone who comes gets a positive, and usually delicious, Jewish cultural experience and makes connections to their own heritage. Even the best of Purim parties don’t get quite as rowdy at a St. Patty’s parade, but the sentiment is similar.
So this Saturday, with my green bows, beads, and beers, I will be reminded of the Irish community who found a home in this country and show my appreciation for the culture they brought with them that inspires these types of community celebrations today.
I love getting to share my Jewish traditions with friends here – but this Nice Jewish Girl also loves getting to share in other cultural traditions, and be part of celebrating the glorious fusion of cultures coming together. And there’s just nothing quite like St. Patrick’s Day in Jackson, Mississippi.
Happy St. Patty’s Day, y’all!
We’ll probably be ringing in 2014 in as many different ways as we spent December 25, from watching the Catfish Drop at the Crystal Ball in downtown Jackson, Mississippi (yep, that’s really a thing), to visiting friends and family, to hosting parties and more.
From all of us at contributing to Southern & Jewish to all of y’all, HAPPY NEW YEAR! May 2014 be a year of health, happiness, and continued conversations for all of us.
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This blog post was written by ISJL Education Fellow Missy Goldstein.
It is almost without fail that calling my Bubbe leads to a question or two about my love life.
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
Or, more specifically: “Have you met any nice Jewish boys?”
My response is always something along the lines of: “Bubbe, I live in Jackson, Mississippi. There aren’t a whole lot of Jewish boys my age around here. The ones I do know I work with. Two have girlfriends, and one of those is also my roommate.”
I grew up hearing sweet and genuine love stories, such as that of my parents who met as USY advisors at International Convention, or my camp counselors who had their first kisses under the kissing tree at camp, or seeing the beautiful pictures from a wedding of a friend who met her husband freshman year of college at Hillel. All of these beautiful relationships have created the pressure for me to find a nice Jewish mate.
But after 13 years of Jewish summer camp, 12 years of religious school, and 4 years of Hillel involvement I have a lot of amazing friends, none of whom I want to date. Sorry, guys.
Recently, I read 40 Days of Dating—a blog about two people who had been friends for many years before starting an experiment to see if they could make it as a couple. Just like any other experiment, theirs has rules by which both parties have agreed to live: Seeing each other every day, visiting a couple’s counselor once a week, and, of course, documenting everything.
Imagine: changing the dynamics of a relationship with someone you’ve known for a long time.
Imagine: creating possibilities where there seem to be none.
In the South, some of our Jewish communities are very insular. We’ve been going to camp and Sunday school with the same people from such a young age that we can’t help but see them as siblings, or those crazy kids who pulled the stupid prank. But what if we tried this experiment with a friend? Even if it doesn’t work out, we’ve spent 40 more days with a great friend, learned about ourselves through self- and couple- reflection, and are potentially that much closer to finding our beshert (soulmate). OR you could find that you really do have romantic feelings for each other.
I don’t want to ruin the end of their story for you, so I will just tell you that the two people who dated for forty days struggled with themselves and each other; they addressed problems and learned from one another; they became more aware of their actions. Who couldn’t use a little bit more of that in their life? It was inspiring – although I doubt I’m going to try a 40 days of dating experiment any time soon, I now have an idea for a “36 (2 x chai) Days of Judaism” program that I’m stoked to create for the religious schools I work with.
And Bubbe, don’t worry about me too much…just like many other Jews who have moved somewhere new, I ignored the Christian Mingle e-mails in my inbox, and I joined JDate.