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.
I’ve been thinking a lot about race lately. Many others have, too, in the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal – but I’ve also heard plenty of people saying it’s “not about race,” suggesting that the death of Trayvon Martin, and Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict, comes down to guns, laws, confusing jury instructions, prosecution not making their case, and so on.
But let’s be honest – it’s a lot about race.
I am a white woman, born in 1964 in Jackson, MS. I grew up in an all-white neighborhood, attended private schools for most of my education, and worshipped at the local synagogue where, at that time, all the members were white.
I didn’t question my insular upbringing or privilege; my parents owned a restaurant, and worked long, hard hours to provide for us. But lately, I have considered this: if I had been born into an African American family, same year, same city - what would my childhood have been like? And framed by those experiences, what would my adult life look like now?
How can I possibly know? Do I even live in the same United States as Charles M. Blow, a columnist and parent of black sons, who wrote in the New York Times recently: “As a parent… I am left with the question ‘Now, what do I tell my boys?’ We used to say not to run in public because that might be seen as suspicious, like they’d stolen something. But according to Zimmerman, Martin drew his suspicion at least in part because he was walking too slowly. So what do I tell my boys now? At what precise pace should a black man walk to avoid suspicion?”
Reading that, I think I don’t live in the same United States. I get to live in a society where I don’t have to tell my kids how to walk home safely, because of how they look to others. I don’t have to fear immediate judgments being made about me, or my children, based on the color of our skin. Because I am white. Yes, I am in the minority because I am Jewish, but unless I’m wearing a Star of David, no one sees my Jewishness when I walk down the street. So how can I relate?
I recalled a movie I had seen some twenty-odd years ago. I couldn’t recall the title at first, but then I found it, and the lines I was trying to remember (thank you, Google). The movie’s title is Soul Man. It came out in 1986, with C. Thomas Howell in the role of Mark, a white student who poses as an African American to receive a full scholarship to Harvard. James Earl Jones played the role of Mark’s professor and when the deception finally was revealed, Mark and Professor Banks engaged in the following dialogue:
Professor Banks: You’ve learned something I can’t teach them. You’ve learned what it feels like to be black.
Mark: No sir.
Professor Banks: Beg your pardon?
Mark: I don’t really know what it feels like sir. If I didn’t like it, I could always get out. It’s not the same sir.
Professor Banks: You’ve learned a great deal more than I thought.
That awareness is key: it’s not the same.
We need to acknowledge this, and we all need to learn more. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued the following statement after the Zimmerman verdict: “There are serious, unresolved issues of race in our country, and this trial underscored the need to explore these issues more fully. Hopefully, the debate concerning the justice of the verdict in the Zimmerman case will inspire a continued much-needed discussion about the lingering impact of racism in society.”
There is hope – now, and in decades past. In a glimmer of light this week, NPR featured this story of photographer Joseph Crachiola and a photograph he took 40 years ago in Detroit, of two white children and three black children, clearly friends, in a neighborhood known then (and now) as “racially divided.” The photo I’m sharing again here, in this blog. A photo of friendship. A reminder that we can find connections, and bridge the divide. We are not born divided.
But none of us can do it alone. We need to talk to each other.
Jackson 2000 is an organization here in Mississippi dedicated to bringing the community together in the Jackson metropolitan area by promoting racial harmony through dialogue and understanding, facilitates “Dialogue Circles”– groups of people who commit to a 6 week series of facilitated meetings to meaningfully engage on issues related to race and community. No one is naïve enough to think that 6 weeks of conversation will solve all the problems/issues/inequities that exist, but these conversations, and just as importantly, these connections, help us all move forward, together.
And maybe someday, we will all live in the same country, where all of our children are safe.