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!
Hi there! Remember me? Just last year, I was traveling all over the South serving wonderful communities as an ISJL Education Fellow. After leaving Jackson, tears streaming down my face, I spent some time with my parents before doing a slightly bigger trip than any of my ISJL road trips (and that’s saying something, since my Fellow travels included things like summer visits to five congregations in five days). This time I packed two huge duffels and boarded a plane for Tel Aviv. For the past six months I’ve been living and attending Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem.
I’m happy to share that many of my Southern connections have come with or followed me to Israel. During my first few days of getting settled, I took my roommate and a classmate of ours to the kotel, or Western Wall, to deliver some notes sent with me from students and congregants of Temple Beth El in Knoxville, Tennessee and Adat Chaverim in Plano, Texas. It’s such a privilege to deliver students’ messages that they wrote, and I hope that one day they will be able to visit the Wall themselves.
Throughout the summer, friends and I attended services at many different congregations to explore all the different options and varieties of prayer experiences here in Jerusalem—and there are a lot! In one particular congregation, a sticker on the inside of prayer books states that they were donated by an ISJL partner congregation, Congregation Beth Yeshuran in Houston, Texas. Although my friends didn’t quite understand, I was thrilled to find this little piece of home all the way across the Atlantic.
Last month I got an even greater surprise when my education contact-turned-friend, Tess Goldblatt of Rodeph Sholom Congregation in Hampton, Virginia, posted on Facebook that she’d be taking her first trip to Israel. To say I was excited would be an understatement! A real live piece of the ISJL would be here in Israel, so soon! I contacted her immediately and we found a time to meet up. Tess, and some other members from her community trip, joined my classmates and me for Havdalah in the park. Bringing my Southern and Jerusalem communities together was such a blessing and I’m grateful that we were able to connect, even for just an hour.
Not only have I made Southern connections here in Israel, but also so many of the skills and experiences that I enjoyed as and ISJL Education Fellow have helped me in my first year of graduate school. Having already written div’rei torah for Fellow visits, writing and delivering one to my peers was just getting back in the saddle.
As I told my mom way back when I applied to be a Fellow, my experiences in small Southern communities really did wind up giving me practical applications for what I’m now learning in my graduate education seminar. I also love having the opportunity to share the strength, beauty, and stories of the smaller congregations with which I worked.
If you’re coming to Israel for a community trip, with your family, or just you, please feel free to reach out and connection with the American South in Israel. A piece of home in another place that feels like home is always welcome– even here in the East, I’ve learned I’m never far from the South. Shalom, y’all!