Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
“I don’t speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent.” – Rabbi A.Y. Kook
I recently moved from the Mississippi Delta to just a little further South– Jackson, Mississippi, to step into my new to my role as Director of Community Engagement at the ISJL. Leaving public education for this new nonprofit role has given me a chance to really think about what it means to “make a difference.”
I’m not a native Southerner: I grew up in Los Angeles, California. I started working in the field of education in 2002 as an assistant teacher in the public school system. Over the course of the last 13 years I have worked diligently to improve the educational experience for students, both as a classroom teacher and as an assistant principal at a public middle school (where I have been for the last three years). My journey has taken me to schools in high income communities, to schools where English is not the primary language, and to schools in the “infamous” Mississippi Delta.
In each of these places, I was reminded how important it is not just to bring my own perspective to the table– but to listen. To really listen, and be a partner in making a difference.
As many of you know, here at the ISJL, we are currently in full preparation for our upcoming Education Conference. I figured that the convergence of my new position, the conference, and my wanting to get to know you (the digital community) was a phenomenal opportunity to ask you about what you look for from those members of your community who try to bring people and organizations together. Those of us who run community engagement initiatives, chair social justice committees, head up the contingent committed to “make a difference.”
What do you hope making a difference might look like? What do you want our role to be?
Jews throughout history have a strong legacy of working together to make their collective voice, experience, and traditions echo throughout time and strife. All we have to do is look and listen to the shadows of the past in Egypt, Mainz, Spain, Ukraine, Russia, and Germany. The power of a united community can improve the lives of those directly impacted and act as inspiration for countless others. The epoch of Jews to America, particularly to the South is one such example.
Although Jews were spread over a vast territory (unlike their counterparts on the East Coast and later the West Coast) they still managed to develop strong congregations, become vital components to the success of their growing civic communities, integrate themselves into the fabric of voices calling for social justice, and develop a collective identity that is still talked about today. It is with this in mind that I am humbled and honored to play a part in that continued story. I see my role as helping engage congregations and communities to work on challenges that are particularly relevant to their context.
One of my favorite quotes and inspirations for this new position in my life is from Rabbi A.Y. Kook, “I don’t speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent.” I would love nothing more than to know what keeps you from being silent and being able to play a part in the journey of your expression. If you would please take a moment and in as few or as many words as you like please comment about: What does community engagement look like to you, a favorite example from history, or if you had the opportunity to work on a project what drives you to break the silence?
Feel free to comment below, email me, or give me a call. I look forward to the conversations.