By ISJL Education Fellow, Sam Kahan
During the annual ISJL Education Conference, Education Fellows traditionally present some sort of “schtick” during meals. This year the Fellows pondered the question: “if you were a Jewish superhero, who would you be?”
As the daughter of an excellent Jewish mother, I know that feeding those you love is both a Jewish value and, at times, a superhuman accomplishment. Having inherited my mother’s drive for preparing and sharing meals, I had to incorporate food into my wished-for superpower.
My passion for feeding others manifests itself in many ways. For one, I love to cook for friends when they stop by my house. It is in my blood, or so my mother tells me. But my desire to share sustenance with others is not limited to friends and family, rather, it extends to the community at large.
A few years ago, a friend and I were involved with an organization that set up a temporary food pantry on the corner of a busy Baltimore intersection during Thanksgiving. There we were: armed with hundreds of thanksgiving meals, donated clothing, blankets and other items essential for surviving a brutally cold winter on the Baltimore streets. As I served a tremendous number of homeless people who stopped by to receive aid, I found myself thinking. I thought of what a mitzvah it was that this group of people took time out of their Thanksgiving, a day reserved for family and friends, to make sure that the larger community was taken care of.
I reflect back on this moment and recognize the teachings of Judaism that not only encourage, but command us to care for those who are hungry. The aspiration to feed friends, family, and community echoes Jewish values and is a Jewish superpower we should all work to develop. Matzah Mama will make her next appearance at Rodef Sholom Temple in Hampton, Virginia, during a Passover program about creating family traditions, be sure to watch out for her!
If you were a Jewish superhero, who would you be?
You may have noticed we’ve had a few B’nai Mitzvah-related posts lately. We are at the start of celebrating our 13th year and in that spirit we’re launching an occasional series of B’nai Mitzvah reflections.
Explaining the idea behind a bar/bat mitzvah isn’t terribly difficult. When talking to someone about this Jewish life cycle moment, most people can relate to a coming of age ceremony, whether it’s a Quinceañera, debutante ball, or in this neck of the woods, the time you killed your first deer. They understand that, at a certain age, a young person comes to be seen as an adult in his or her community, and begins to take on adult responsibilities.
People don’t immediately understand, however, what David Duchovny has to do with it.
At thirteen I was devoted to Special Agents Mulder and Scully, dedicated to searching for the truth and committed to trusting no one. So much so that I knew these ideals had to be included in this important life event. And that’s how, while I was stuck studying Haftorah, my totally cool mother ended up planning my elaborate X-Files themed Bat Mitzvah party.
My favorite elements of the theme, to this day, are probably the life size cardboard cutouts of Special Agents Mulder and Scully that stood beside me as I sang a medley of show tunes to family and friends. They lived in my room for about three years after the party.
Explaining this circus of a bat mitzvah to non-Jewish friends, I often encounter a cultural divide. I have to backtrack and explain that, even though having a thoroughly themed party is pretty common where I grew up, it’s certainly not the rule. These celebrations come in all shapes and sizes, much like Jews themselves! While a lot about this Jewish rite of passage is mysterious to to the general public, I know my thirteen year old self is awfully glad that after this post, the truth is finally out there.
Because the Jewish population of the Deep South is small and spread out, it is common for Jews in the region to be the single source of Jewish information for Christian friends and acquaintances. When my son was in school and any Jewish holiday came around, I would make sure he had had enough information to reply to the inevitable questions of his friends: Why do Jews celebrate_____? What does it mean? Why don’t Jews believe in Jesus? Why did “you” kill Jesus? Aren’t you afraid of going to hell? Is Chanukah the Jewish Christmas?
And the truth is that the questions are wonderful! I believe it is our responsibility to be informed and have an understanding of the basics of our faith not only for ourselves but also for the friends and neighbors who—with the utmost respect—want to understand more about our religion. Down here, each of us has to act as an ambassador of Judaism, which means doing our best to answer questions, even “while standing on one foot.”
Just last month I was getting my nails done, when the woman in the chair next to me noticed my Star of David and started overflowing with questions. I could barely answer one before the next one came. It was for her a rare opportunity to ask, and for me it was an honor to answer.
I think the most common misconception about Jewish life in the South is that we are faced with a tremendous amount of Anti-Semitism. The reality is that we are faced with a lot of folks who know little about Judaism and most of the time, they simply want to be better and closer friends and neighbors! The only way to deepen friendships is through understanding and respect. I also believe it is our responsibility to have a basic understanding of what Christians believe. Outreach is a two-way street!
What is your most memorable “While standing on one foot” experience?