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!
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a big Oprah Winfrey fan. From Oprah’s Book Club to the Oprah Winfrey Network to O Magazine — I am all about “living my best life.” I made a vision board. I sobbed without shame when I learned that her show would be cancelled.
A few years ago, while I was reading O Magazine, I read that Oprah keeps a gratitude journal. Every day she writes down a list of five things for which she’s grateful. The idea of taking time to look at my blessings and express my gratitude resonates with me — particularly in my job with the ISJL around Thanksgiving. It might not be exactly Southern and Jewish, but then again, Oprah’s Southern (from Mississippi, no less!) and I’m Jewish, so there’s that. There’s also the fact that Judaism values gratitude quite highly; there’s even a term for it, Hakarat HaTov, literally “noticing the good” — and a lot of my current gratitude has to do with where I am and what I’m doing down South.
Here are the five things I’m grateful for this season:
1. I am grateful for Southern Hospitality. As an ISJL Education Fellow, I travel to each of the seven communities I serve three times a year. Graciously, families in the community open their homes to me, a stranger. Over the past year and a half, I have been hosted by 27 families, who have welcomed me more warmly than I can express.
2. I am grateful for the chance to see the country. Since taking my job at the ISJL 18 months ago, I have visited seven new states and have spent time in over 40 cities in our 13-state region. Most excitingly, I’ve gotten to visit six new State Capitols, a personal favorite tourist attraction.
3. I am grateful for my team of co-workers. Every day I go into an office and spend time with my friends. We work hard, but mostly, we enjoy each other’s company. I work with a group of the funniest, smartest, kindest people I have ever encountered, from my own team in the Education Department to the Rabbinic Staff to our Administrators.
4. I am grateful for a supportive family. Growing up in the Midwest, most of my peers graduated from college and moved to work in big cities with large Jewish populations. When I announced to my family that I had applied for a job in Jackson, Mississippi, they reacted with curiosity rather than condemnation. When I moved here they were excited rather than exasperated. They have all visited me here and are proud of the communities that I have woven myself into.
5. I am grateful for the opportunities working as an ISJL Education Fellow has provided me. Leading services in a 115-year-old synagogue, connecting with incredible speakers and performers at our annual Education conference, and being able to write on this platform, a blog that reaches so many more people than I know; I never imagined the opportunities that lay ahead of me and look forward to the many more to come.
Turns out that Oprah’s right (as usual): Writing out what we are grateful for really does make us all the more appreciative of what we have. I encourage you to take your own Thanksgiving-week moment to focus on what you want to give thanks for this year. What five things are you most grateful for throughout the year? Feel free to share your lists in the comments below!