The parades of Mardi Gras are a communal event. It isn’t unusual for folks to begin gathering in their favorite spot a couple of hours before the parades begin. There are two highly identifiable sides that one stands on: the neutral ground side (otherwise known as the median) and the sidewalk side. Each swells with people as the natural socialization begins and it is a sweet time for everyone.
It doesn’t matter who you are, what color or religion you are, what you drive or what you do for a living, or where you went to school, or any of the normal social barriers that keep us apart. We are all there for the same joyous reason, to celebrate and enjoy.
It is near impossible to talk on a cell phone and hear because of the noise. The internet is painfully slow, with thousands of people in a small, dense area. And anyway, if you look down to text, you are going to miss something. So, miracle of miracles – most of us put it all away and live in that moment, which is a rare privilege these days!
I could say that the “sacred time” notion, away from phones and fully present, is enough of a Jewish moment at Mardi Gras. But there’s so much more. In fact, Mardi Gras makes me think each year of my favorite Torah portion, Nitzavim, and these words in particular:
“ You stand this day, all of you, before the Lord your God — your tribal heads, your elders and your officials, all the men of Israel, your children, your wives, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to water drawer — to enter into the covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is concluding with you this day, with its sanctions; to the end that He may establish you this day as His people and be your God, as He promised you and as He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I make this covenant, with its sanctions, not with you alone, but both with those who are standing here with us this day before the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here this day….”
I imagine each year, that this is the closest that I will get to feeling that kind of diversity, all standing together for a common gift! No, the gift itself isn’t as formally holy as the gift in Nitzavim. Of course not. But what could be more holy than brothers and sisters standing together as equals in peace, love and joy?
By the way, yes, we all know that the roots of Mardi Gras are Catholic, with this celebration emerging as the last hurrah after Lent before the Easter holiday. But culturally, as a New Orleanian, I know well that contemporary Mardi Gras celebrations are truly for everyone to enjoy. Did you know that the first King of Rex (King of Mardi Gras), Louis Soloman, was Jewish? And that there’s a full-blown Jewish Mardi Gras Krewe?
So maybe your Mardi Gras experience could be a bit more Jewish than you think. Mine certainly is, year after year.
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What makes our home Southern and Jewish? If you were blindfolded and brought into my home, it wouldn’t take you five minutes to understand that I am a proud Southern Jew.
I recently got married; my husband is not Jewish – nor does he claim any religion. Over the last several years, he has grown to respect and appreciate my Reform Judaism, and has enjoyed being a part of our Jewish traditions and community, a community which has welcomed him in with open arms. Together, we are creating a new Jewish home.
When we moved into our new home, we joyously went about displaying all of the things we love. With boxes unpacked one of the first things we did was to hang our mezuzzot. Like Jews around the world, “the door posts of our home” bear the first sign that ours is a Jewish home. Because my husband pays attention, he asked me a great question:
“Why aren’t we putting a mezzuzah on our gates?”
The answer: a mezuzah is placed where there is a ceiling and two doorposts; most of our modern day gates do not have ceilings, and so there is no requirement to place one “upon your gates.” A great question!
Beyond the mezuzzot, we have many Jewish symbols that would likely be found in any Jewish home across the world, including our Shabbat candle sticks and the Kiddush cup and kippot from our wedding. On the dining wall is a poster of an IDF soldier praying at the wall; beside that, we have a signed and numbered print entitled Shabbat Cotton, which embodies both Southern and Jewish beauty. I also have on display mementos from serving as President of Temple Sinai of New Orleans, and a beautiful menorah from the mayor of our sister city in Israel, Rosh Ha’ayin, given to me on the occasion of stepping down as chair of Partnership 2000.
Adding to the Southern-ness, there’s a den wall displaying my prized Mardi Gras posters (I’m a New Orleans native), and there is a Texas star from my husband’s home state, and of course, several fleur de lis! As they say, New Orleans Jews really are different than any other Jews in the world, because we live in Parishes and pray for Saints (the state of Louisiana is divided into Parishes instead of Counties because of its French and Catholic roots, and our beloved football team is the New Orleans Saints).
Enjoy a little photo-tour of our home, and a little taste of our own personal Southern Jewish life. After all, what really makes our home Southern and Jewish?
We live in it!
What’s Jewish about…
- The N’awlins phrase “Where Y’At?”
- Eating cheese grits soufflé in Alexandria, Louisiana?
- Cheering “Roll Tide” on Wednesday, “Go Tigers” on Sunday, and in between, enjoying an interfaith gathering at a Methodist Church in Pensacola Friday?
Well, those expressions and experiences were all part of the twelve-lecture, ten-day, four-state tour covering 1,200 miles that I embarked on with Dr. Ron Wolfson last month. In New Orleans, “Where y’at?” is a question that starts many conversations … and in the Torah, the first question is “Ayeikah?” – most often translated as “Where are you?” but in N’awlins, it’d be “Where y’at?”
Moments like that one, connecting Jewish learning, community, and Southern hospitality, were hallmarks throughout the trip.
There is nothing that can’t be accomplished when we keep in the forefront of our minds that all Jews are responsible for one another and share our resources, working together to make greatness happen for everyone involved. The January lecture tour of Ron Wolfson through the South, exemplified Klal Yisrael and the regional, communal programming approach of the ISJL .
The cooperative spirit was contagious, and along the way Dr. Wolfson addressed over 750 people, across four states in ten days including Jews and Christians, in tiny congregations like Gemiluth Chassodim in Alexandria, Louisiana (88 members) up to large Southern congregations like Temple Sinai in New Orleans, LA (700 members) and everything in between. The youngsters in 4th – 8th grade in Birmingham, Alabama were every bit as enthralled with his afternoon Be Like God workshop as their parents and grandparents were with the evening lecture, God’s To-Do List.
What makes Ron so brilliant is his ability to touch everyone and leave them with a renewed awareness of what it means to be made in the image of God, as well as what we can do to honor that in everyday life at home, in our synagogues and in our communities. He is joyful with everyone, greeting each individual with a handshake, which begins breaking barriers before he is even introduced.
Ron doesn’t deploy heavy handed preaching, or one definition of God. Christians, Jews, and even those without a particular faith learn from him. The overwhelming feeling at the end of each lecture – renewed and refreshed, so glad to have been there and thirsty for more!
Speaking of “more,” I am thrilled that Dr. Ron Wolfson is spending some more time with Southern communities this coming week; you can see the schedule for his Virginia tour here.
That’s where I’ve been recently … so, where y’at?