The sharp increase in hate crimes in the United States doesn’t happen in a vacuum – and I think it’s important to maintain an awareness of the global context, because there are a lot of parallels between the current state of our nation and what is happening abroad. On the positive side– some of the responses from across the world can be informative and inspiring, too.
February is Black History Month, an important time to raise awareness – and February is also the month dedicated to raising awareness about something else close to me: it’s Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM).
I want my little Jewish baby to celebrate Black History Month. As a parent, I think of appropriately acknowledging this month as an almost-sacred obligation… especially these days. But just how should we celebrate?
The Talmud records Rabbi Chanina as stating, “I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, and the most from my students.” That teaching was on my mind when I recently officiated at a Bat Mitzvah in Auburn, Alabama. It was my fourth b’nai mitzvah in that community, but this one was a little different. The Bat Mitzvah “girl,” Courtney, was an adult… and not only that, she had also been the teacher for all the other b’nai mitzvah students.
For many of us at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, Mississippi is our home by choice rather than our home by birth. But no matter whether we’re a native Mississippian or a transplant from a distant locale, we are all Southern Jewish ambassadors. We spend a substantial amount of time answering questions about both the South in general and Southern Judaism in particular.
I may not keep traditionally kosher, but when I shop, I follow my own sort of kashrut. You won’t find a commandment saying, “Thou shalt thrift shop,” but in my estimation, being an intentional secondhand consumer is vital to purifying my consumption.
Recently I had the privilege of participating in the Southern Jewish Historical Society Conference in Natchez, MS, organized by the ISJL’s own Rachel Myers. My role was pretty simple: lead Shabbat services the opening night of the conference. Having led services many times in that sanctuary, I had what I soon realized was a false sense of complacency. Less than two weeks before the conference I realized what I had overlooked: I’m used to the building and the congregation, but not the crowd. We were expecting 150 people. That’s about 138 more than the typical Friday night. “Do they have books for 150 people?!” – That’s a question I’d never had to worry about until now. A few phone calls later and the answer became clear: not even close. I knew where I could find more than enough: Henry S. Jacobs Camp, a scant 45 minutes away. The problem was, they’d been in the ground since July. And it seemed like such a good idea at the time!
Late this past fall, I received a special invitation in my inbox. Surrounded by bright pink, blue and yellow polka dots, the blue scripted letters read “Let’s Celebrate Bethany’s Brilliant Bat Mitzvah.” I immediately replied that I would attend, along with a series of exclamation points. After all, it’s not every day you get to celebrate your former colleague’s “coming of age” ceremony!
Over the summer, I traveled to Greenville, Mississippi for one of my Education Fellow visits to Hebrew Union Congregation. Before we began Shabbat services, I visited with some of the congregants. One of the women I spoke to, Roseanne, had recently started coming to Greenville for Shabbat because her synagogue, just over the border in Dumas-McGehee, Arkansas, had closed its doors. Although it is always sad to hear about smaller congregations shutting down, I was so excited to learn that she had been a member at the Meir Chayim Temple.
A couple weeks ago, I was returning from vacation and was waiting for my bag at the Jackson airport baggage claim when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I whizzed around and to my surprise and excitement, I saw Ali Duhan, a second-year ISJL Education Fellow, who was picking me up from the airport. I was eager to see her after a long hiatus, because over the course of my first Fellowship year, she’s become a great friend and colleague. But I was also hit by a wave of déjà vu—back to almost a year ago, when I was interviewing for my Jewish job down South, and first met Ali in this very spot at the airport.