This past week, two of my co-workers and I attended an interesting lecture by Reverend Ben Matin at Millsaps College, a small liberal arts school here in Jackson. The talk, “People of the Book: Sacred Text and Multi-Faith Conversation,” was part of their Friday Forums lecture series. Rev. Matin described a unique program that brings people of faith together to discuss passages of scripture from one another’s tradition.
Interfaith dialogue is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. I was baptized Catholic, raised Protestant – Southern Baptist, to be exact – and as an adult, converted to Judaism. Helping people understand and appreciate difference has been a huge part of my career. When I was a high school teacher, I designed a comparative religion course that produced a lot of interesting discussions. As a graduate student at NYU, I wrote a book chapter that examined the Face to Faith Program, which uses video conferences to enable students of different faiths across the world to share their world views on issues of social justice. Examples abound of innovative organizations working to cultivate dialogue among people of all faiths and none in order to promote tolerance and understanding.
As an historian, my job is to educate people about Southern Jewry and their relationship with people of different faiths. While it is true that the South has historically been an environment steeped in Christian culture, there are so many examples of interfaith cooperation between Jews and Christians across the South. It was not uncommon for rabbis and ministers to do pulpit swaps. In Cleveland, Mississippi, Adath Israel’s Rabbi Danziger arranged a pulpit swap with the local Episcopal priest in 2013. Danziger gave a series of lectures to the Episcopal congregation and led the Sunday morning service. This sort of cooperation continues to exist among the lay community as well. When I recently talked to the Cleveland synagogue’s president, Ed Kossman, he noted that there are typically more Christians than Jews at services. For instance, there is a local retired Baptist minister who never misses a service. Synagogue attendance of non-Jews in other small towns with declining Jewish populations, such as Natchez, Mississippi, has helped to keep synagogues open.
That interfaith spirit was echoed by the Jews of Canton, Mississippi. Members of the Christian community there not only came but also participated in services. Because no synagogue member ever felt qualified to play the organ or sing prayers during services, Fanethel Wales, a Presbyterian, played the pump organ and a Baptist minister’s wife sung Hebrew incantations during services at B’nai Israel. A most intriguing evidence of interfaith cooperation can be seen in the formation of the Christian Committee for the United Jewish Appeal in 1947 under the leadership of J.F. Barbour, the father of former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour. The fund sought to raise money to help Holocaust survivors still living in Displaced Person Camps in Europe. They urged the citizens of Yazoo City to donate money to reach a goal of $6,500, and they were successful in this endeavor.
Interfaith efforts actually helped to curtail racial tension in some Southern towns. Following the Little Rock crisis in 1957, Rabbi Ira Sanders formed the Ministry of Reconciliation which included religious leaders from across the community. After Eisenhower called for a day of prayer during the Little Rock school crisis, the Ministry set up a prayer rally on Columbus Day for congregational members across the city to pray for tolerance. They did this despite bomb threats. Estimated numbers of 8-10,000 people attended services including 500 Jews. In Lexington, Mississippi, town leader and Jewish community member Phil Cohen, African American Pastor James Rodgers, and other town members formed a coalition in 1978 to work out racial strife in the town caused by an economic boycott. Cohen and Rodgers held a prayer session on the south side of town square. Both black and white residents came, and the boycotts ended for good.
As we continue to update our community histories for Mississippi and eventually other states, I encourage our readers to share their stories of interfaith cooperation. And please, send along any other interesting stories as well. The Encyclopedia is a treasured resource for many people of all faiths, and your contributions have helped to bring this history to life.
This post originally appeared on this site on September 14, 2012. We re-share it now with our wishes for a sweet year – L’shana tovah to all of y’all!
The “Apples & Honey (Bourbon)” Challah Bread Pudding recipe I devised a few years ago has become my Rosh Hashanah tradition: a Southern-and-Jewish recipe that celebrates the season, unites my tradition with my geography, and gives me an excuse to stock up on honey bourbon. (As an added bonus, I tend to get invited to more holiday parties, and my kitchen smells awesome.) Enjoy, and may your new year be healthy, happy, and even sweeter than this dessert!
Beth’s “Apples & Honey (Bourbon)” Challah Bread Pudding
The Bread Pudding – Ingredients
- Ten cups of challah* (approximately one big loaf), torn into chunks
- One (12 oz.) can of evaporated milk
- One cup milk
- One cup half-and-half
- Five eggs, beaten
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup honey
- ½ cup butter
- One tsp. vanilla extract
- One tsp. cinnamon
- Two tsp. baking powder
- Dash of salt
- Two cups of chopped apples
The Sauce – Ingredients
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup light corn syrup
- ¼ cup butter
- ¼ cup honey bourbon
Step One: Prep the pudding
First, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9″x13″ baking dish. Place the challah chunks in a large mixing bowl. In a different bowl, mix together milk, evaporated milk, half and half, eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, baking powder & salt. When thoroughly combined, pour mixture over challah chunks. Let it sit for about 10 minutes so the challah can absorb all the deliciousness. Then, add the apples, and spoon everything into the baking dish. Bake for approximately 35-45 minutes, until the bread pudding is a beautiful light golden color. Remove from oven and let cool 5 minutes before topping it with sauce.
Step Two: Simmer the sauce
While the bread pudding is cooling, make the sauce! Just combine sugar, corn syrup, and butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer; cook for about a minute, stirring it constantly. Remove from heat; stir in the honey bourbon.
Step Three: Serve it up
Immediately drizzle one tablespoon of sauce over each serving of bread pudding … l’shana tovah! (If you’re traveling with the dish, you can either bring the sauce and re-heat there, or go ahead and drizzle it over the whole bread pudding – it won’t be as gooey-and-fresh, but will coat the dish nicely and still be delicious when eaten.)
*Side note: sometimes I make apple challah to use as the challah loaf, in which case, I omit the two cups of apples from this recipe. Whatever is easiest for you – and leftover/almost-stale challah works great, since traditionally, bread pudding was used to moisten and make edible bread that was getting a little tough. Perfect, huh?
Throughout the high holiday season, we think a lot about judgment. It’s a heavy word, and also a word that brings to mind lots of possibilities. In the month of Elul, God is judging us to see what we have done in the past year and what will happen to us in the future. Knowing this we reflect and pass judgment on ourselves and, often, others.
I am going to borrow a phrase from Rachel Stern’s #BlogElul post and say: life is about perspective. She used this phrase to encourage people to see things as blessings. Here, I’d like to remind everyone that our judgments are also a matter of perspective.
When I tell people I work for a Jewish organization in Mississippi I occasionally get a response like, “there can’t be a lot of Jews there!”… and it’s true that there are not as many Jews here as there are in New York or Los Angeles. But I am sad when people say things like “It’s great that you are helping those Jews, they must really need it.”
I think this statement reflects a judgment, intentional or not, lacking in firsthand knowledge. It also reflects a judgment about what a Jewish community should look like, that it should look one certain way, when in fact there are lots of different ways to build a Jewish community. The Jewish communities that I visit have rich Jewish lives, they just might not look like the life we know in New York or Los Angeles.
“Those Jews” don’t need judgment. None of us do—but we can all use support.
I also have to be careful of my own judgments. I am a visitor in the communities I serve as an ISJL Education Fellow, and it is my job to empower educators. It is not my place to judge what a community’s priorities should be, how they should spend their resources, or which values they should hold most dear. And it is also not fair for me to judge them against any other community, Northern or Southern. Each congregation is its own special place.
Throughout this month of Elul, as I begin my fall visits and my second year as a Fellow unfolds, I will have to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the communities with which I work, so that I can help them plan for a successful year. As I do this I am being extra careful to evaluate, but not to judge. I want to help each community be the very best versions of themselves, whatever that might be; evaluating their needs will help guide me to what support will be most helpful.
So, too, as we celebrate Rosh Hashanah, should we strive not to judge, but rather to evaluate. To take a personal inventory of what worked for us and against us in the past year, and how we can—and what support we need.
Each congregation I work with deserves respect, evaluation, and support—not judgment; each of us deserves the same. We are all “those Jews” who “really need” that!