After the end of my two-year term as an ISJL Education Fellow, I moved back to Massachusetts to begin rabbinical school at Hebrew College. While I have been so happy to be back in my great home state, I missed the South a lot.
That is why I was so excited for the holidays—because this year, in a throwback to my Fellow career, I headed down to Longview, Texas! Even a 4 A.M. Sunday morning departure time couldn’t dim my excitement.
By mid-afternoon I landed in Longview, where it was my great privilege to lead High Holiday services at Temple Emanu-El. Temple Emanu-El is one of the ISJL’s amazing partner congregations. It has welcomed many of our rabbis for holiday and Shabbat services, and when its members called the ISJL’s Rabbi Jeremy Simons asking about a leader for the 2015 holidays, he set us up.
I was admittedly a little nervous, this being my first time running High Holiday services on my own. Leading services on the High Holidays is a big project, and is very scary for a first timer! There is a lot of new liturgy to learn, and even the prayers you know have different melodies on these days. Also, I read recently that Kol Nidrei is the number one most attended Jewish service of the year. This is the Super Bowl, Triwizard Tournament, and World Series of the Jewish calendar. Everyone is watching!
But in true Southern style, the folks at Temple Emanu-El gave me such a warm welcome that I forgot to be anxious at all.
Celebrating the holidays in Longview was incredible. Rosh Hashanah dinner and Yom Kippur Break-Fast were both delicious. I met so many wonderful people and learned a lot about the history of the community in Longview and Kilgore — Temple Emanu-El’s congregants are very active in the Texas Jewish Historical Society. Our Yom Kippur afternoon discussion explored the topic “Lo Ba Shamayyim He (Torah is not in the heavens) – Ownership of the Torah,” and we had a hearty debate about who is the ultimate authority. It was a full, meaningful holiday experience.
From the beginning of my time in the South, I was impressed by the sense of ownership and personal responsibility Southern Jews take over their communities. Just in case I had forgotten about this in my three months up north, Temple Emanu-El was ready to remind me how great the Southern Jewish experience truly is. Co-Presidents Debbie Shelan and Rusty Milstein both told me on several occasions how much they enjoy hosting student rabbis. Although they are geographically far removed from other Jewish communities, hosting and mentoring students allows this congregation to maintain a strong connection to the larger Jewish world.
Everyone at Temple Emanu-El is kind and patient, and their guidance will now become part of the work I do in all the communities I serve. I could not imagine a friendlier, nicer community in which to lead “the big services” for the first time. Thank you for this great “throwback” to my Fellow days, which also lays even firmer foundation for my rabbinic career ahead.