By ISJL Education Fellow Dan Ring
The ISJL Education Curriculum addresses Israel in many ways at various grade levels. The fifth grade, for example, contains a lesson about the Western Wall (also called the Kotel) in Jerusalem. For an activity, teachers can have students write prayers to be placed in the Wall and ask their Education Fellows to arrange for the letters to reach their intended destination.
Although you can easily do this virtually through different websites, I was excited when the fifth grade class at Temple Israel Religious School in Columbus, Georgia, wrote physical letters, which I was able to have delivered through face-to-face social networks.
Here is how it went down:
1. During Lesson 7 of the 5th grade curriculum, students in Columbus composed their own prayers and put them all in an envelope.
2. During my fall visit, the class surprised me with the collected notes.
3. Two weeks later, I attended a bar mitzvah in Baltimore, my hometown. My friend Josh, a Yeshiva student in Jerusalem and the brother of the bar mitzvah boy, was visiting for the occasion. So I gave him the envelope.
5. A few days later, Josh returned to Jerusalem, where he took the written prayers to the Wall.
6. The prayers have been delivered (to the Wall).
Thanks again to Josh for helping out the fine students of Temple Israel, and to another Josh for taking such great photographs!
Last week, we added the final (for now) video clip to the Oklahoma section of the Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities. The interview excerpt comes from a great conversation I had with Paula and Malcolm Milsten last summer at Tulsa’s Temple Israel. Malcolm, a Tulsa native, and Paula, who moved there before marrying Malcolm in 1959, have both served as temple president. In the clip below, Paula and Malcolm recall a 1984 flood that seriously damaged Temple Israel, as well as the outpouring of support from the entire city in the aftermath of the disaster.
Malcolm, like many people who have contributed their stories to the ISJL Oral History Project, remarks on his congregation’s positive relationship with other local synagogues as well as the general community. These themes—inclusion and cooperation—are common in our interviews. Where someone from outside the South might expect to find stories of isolation, I find, more often than not, exactly the opposite.
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?