By 2nd year Education Fellow Rachel Blume.
It’s the height of the fall season. Football is in full swing, Barack Obama was just re-elected as President of the United States, people are starting to make preparations for Thanksgiving, and, as an ISJL Education Fellow, my schedule is filled to the max with fall community visits!
This means early morning airport trips, late night drives, and not much time spent in the comfort of my own home. As a creature of habit, the hectic travel of fall can be stressful to me. In addition to that, it’s the longest stretch of the year between visits home to my family. (Being from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I have it easier than most of my co-fellows on this count). One of the wonderful things about this job, though, is that certain congregations provide that same sense of comfort and community that I get with friends and family, which more than compensates for the time on the road. In particular, Shreveport, Louisiana has become my home away from home.
Just a couple of weekends ago, I was packing my bags to make the short (at least by ISJL standards) 3 and ½ hour drive over to Shreveport. Even though I knew I had a full weekend of leading services and programs, each mile that I drove it felt less and less like a business trip and more like a trip to visit my “other family.” I don’t even need my GPS to find Helaine and Bill Braunig’s home because I now know it so well; sometimes I even get the chance to hang out with their adorable grandson Billy (see above). I don’t have to worry about getting a tour of anything, because I already know where everything is. When I go to Shreveport, the usual anxieties of a work trip melt away. I feel at home.
Rabbis and cantors from Central Synagogue in New York are about to hit the Southern road. Again.
It’s all part of the ISJL Rabbinic Department‘s Rabbis on the Road program. We believe that serving small and isolated Jewish communities is important. For years, we’ve encouraged larger communities and congregations to form partnerships with smaller congregations, in order to make rabbinic and educational services available to more people.
Recently, under the visionary leadership of senior Rabbi Peter Rubinstein, Central Synagogue answered the call.
Over the course of this year, Central Synagogue clergy have traveled South, visiting small Southern Jewish communities. Three of these trips have already transpired, with more to follow.
Feedback from communities has been tremendous. Here’s one example:
“Dear Rabbi Rubinstein – Considering your schedule over the last few days, I cannot say enough how much in debt I am to you for making your visit to Selma happen. The only negative of your coming was it just was not long enough!!! But that is okay, when something is really good, you take what you can get and be happy! Everybody, and I truly mean EVERYBODY, was so happy and impressed with you. They took to heart your words of faith and encouragement, enjoying the high profile stories you passed on. People hung around the Temple ‘til we had to blink the lights to get them to leave, a testimony of how energized you left them. As our attendees left, they couldn’t say enough of how much they enjoyed listening to you… It was a great day for me, Temple Mishkan Israel and historic Selma, Alabama.”
The Rabbis on the Road journeys continue this month. Rabbi Michael Friedman will be visiting with the congregations of Am Shalom (Bowling Green, KY), B’nai Sholom (Bristol, TN) and Emanuel (Stateville, NC). Student Cantor David Mintz will be with the congregations of Temple Sinai (Lake Charles, LA), Temple Shalom (Lafayette, LA) and B’nai Israel (Monroe, LA).
These are transformative experiences for both the visiting clergy and the hosting congregations. We share our unique experiences, but are also brought together by our Jewish identity. Through experiences like Rabbis on the Road, may we continue to sustain and strengthen Jewish life in the South, and throughout the United States.
In advance of Yom Kippur, the entire ISJL staff would like to wish all of our friends and readers a meaningful observance, and a happy and healthy new year. Personally, I would also like to offer the following reflection on my Rosh Hashanah in Greenwood, Mississippi with the family of ISJL board member Gail Goldberg.
“Did you ever think you’d be in Greenwood, Mississippi for Rosh Hashanah, listening to a man named Bubba Kornfeld play shofar?”
This question was posed to me on the way out of services last Monday. I have to admit, that this is not what most people expect. For those of us familiar with high holidays in the Mississippi (or Arkansas) Delta, though, nothing about Greenwood is a surprise, and nothing is better preparation for the holidays than driving down a flat road surrounded by blooming cotton.
This was my fourth Rosh Hashanah at Greenwood’s Ahavath Rayim, a tiny traditional congregation that manages to draw a minyan each year with the help of family and friends. Although she would never take credit for the role, Gail Goldberg is the leader of the congregation. The Goldberg family and their in-laws, Steve and Ellen Hirsch of Nashville, constitute the majority of the assembled worshipers. Steve davens the Hebrew portions of the service and reads Torah. Marilyn Gelman, a local congregant, leads the English portions. Gail’s husband Mike acts as gabai. Gail delivers a talk—modesty keeps her from calling it a sermon, but this year’s was as meaningful an “address” as you could ever hope to hear—while her grandchildren and a few other young boys play on the bima. Morris “Bubba” Kornfeld blows shofar. The service has everything I need: warm atmosphere, traditional style, casual attitude, great food afterward.
I did mention the food, right? After each service, the entire group is invited to Gail and Mike’s “holy garage,” the three-car-wide room that converts to a lovely dining area with the simple addition of a carpet and a table for Kiddush. There, we enjoy stuffed cabbage and brisket (or blintzes and bagels for the dairy meals) and friendly conversation. In four years, I have come to know Gail’s immediate family, her mother-in-law Ilse, and the Hirsch family. Steve and Ellen’s son Michael and his wife, Shanna, have also become regulars in Greenwood for Rosh Hashanah. This year, like years past, it was an absolute privilege to celebrate the holiday with all of them.
As Gail pointed out from the bima, those of us in Greenwood go because of dreams and faith, defying the basic fact of the congregation’s decline. Rosh Hashanah is the high point of the small congregation’s year, a celebration of family that sustains them during the smaller services and text studies held monthly throughout the year. Gail’s dream is simple: to continue with this annual event for as long as possible.
With recent repairs to the building and the support of everyone who has experienced the pleasure of the holiday in Greenwood, I have faith in her dream. May Ahavath Rayim’s congregants and guests have a blessed new year, and may they enjoy Rosh Hashanah in Greenwood for years to come!