Southern and Jewish, Whererever We Live

Some ISJL Board & Staff at Ed Debevics in Chicago. Hometowns, L-R: Jackson, MS; Wynne, AR; Winona, MS; Leland, MS; Memphis, TN; Alexandria, LA.


Some ISJL Board & Staff dining at Ed Debevics in Chicago. Hometowns, L-R: Jackson, MS; Wynne, AR; Winona, MS; Leland, MS; Memphis, TN; Alexandria, LA.

Why did the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) meet in Chicago for its recent board meeting?

Well… why not?

Many of our board members divide their time and attention between both large and small towns in the South. Others share a story similar to my story.

I grew up in Wynne, Arkansas, also known as “The City with a Smile” and home of the Wynne Yellowjackets. I attended synagogue, religious school and youth group events at Temple Israel in Memphis, Tennessee, just a short 60 mile drive east over the Mississippi River. I loved spending my summers going to camp at Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, Mississippi, where I embraced my Jewish identity and found lifelong Jewish friends. Always, I had my immediate family around me who lovingly taught me how family and Judaism were intertwined and a part of my life and tradition.

For the past 25 years, I have lived in Chicago and its suburbs. I am involved in the Jewish community, ensured my children went to religious school and had their bar and bat mitzvahs, and remain an active member of a congregation. However, I have continued to have a strong connection with my Southern heritage, my Southern Jewish heritage. Visiting my parents when they still lived in Wynne, and now where they live in Hot Springs, Arkansas, is wonderful—but visiting was not enough.

I felt like I wanted and needed to do more to stay involved and be involved. A few years ago, I was approached about serving on the Board of the ISJL, and was asked if I would be interested in working with the group that delivers amazing rabbinic services, educational programming and cultural events to communities throughout the ISJL’s thirteen-state region. I found out more about the history department and preservation initiatives, as well as the cultural tours and travelling exhibitions of the museum department. I was intrigued with the community engagement department, which was newly formed at the time but has now developed into a program which partners with nonprofits, schools and congregations to pursue tikkun olam, repairing our world, in meaningful ways.