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!
This February, for the first time ever, the ISJL is hosting a reunion of all of the alumni of our Education Fellowship Program. Almost forty young professionals have now completed this immersive two-year Southern Jewish experience. As we get ready to convene this great group, the three former Fellows who still work full or part-time for the ISJL will be sharing reflections on their time as Fellows. First up: Alachua Haskins, a 2013-2015 Education Fellow who now runs programming and assists with development efforts at the ISJL.
ISJL Education Fellow 2013-2015
Now: ISJL’s Programming Director & Development Associate
I decided to share two of my favorite memories from each of my two years as a Fellow. So get ready for some journeys through Dothan, Alabama; Knoxville, Tennessee; Corpus Christi, Texas; and Lexington, Kentucky!
Dothan, Alabama 2013-2014: The Family Relocation Project
Before the fall of 2013, if you asked me to tell you what was distinctive about the Dothan, Alabama Jewish community… I wouldn’t have known what to say. However, when I went for my fall visit to the community, I learned about something call the Family Relocation Project. The project, sponsored by the Blumberg Family Jewish Community Services of Dothan, provides grants up to $50,000 to encourage Jewish families to move to Dothan, Alabama.
On my visit, I was able to spend time talking to the executive director, Rob Goldsmith, about the grant. I was amazed! Back in 2000, there were only approximately 100 Jews left in Dothan, and I remember thinking what a triumph it was that, instead of giving up on their community, they decided to do something about it through the form of this project. By 2014, the project was able to relocate eleven new Jewish families to Dothan from all over the US. This, coupled with the doubling of membership at the Temple Emanu-El, is keeping the small community strong and growing.
Knoxville, Tennessee, 2013-2014: Global Day of Jewish Learning
My fall visit to Knoxville, Tennessee required me to plan a large even for the Global Day of Jewish Learning, where participants around the world study a common topic. In this case, It was an event with both the Conservative and Reform Knoxville congregations learning about the theme of creation. In total, there were approximately 150 students of all ages spending a morning learning together, and it is still one of my fondest memories as an Education Fellow.
Not only is Knoxville home to a warm and involved Jewish community now, but it has always been a place where Jews were actively involved. The Knoxville Jewish community was so involved in Zionist organizations that David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, made a trip there in 1951. Pretty cool, huh?
Before my own trip to Knoxville, I did not know much about the history or current status of Jews in the area. While the size of the Jewish community is not large, it is growing and boasts a federation, JCC, and two active Jewish congregations. I learned as a Fellow that the Knoxville community is definitely one to visit if you’re ever in the area.
Corpus Christi, Texas, 2014-2015: Jewish Food Festival
I had never seen anything like the Jewish Food Festival I experienced in Corpus Christi, Texas! It was incredible. I remember that an hour before the doors opened, there was a line almost all the way to the street. For the four hours it was open, it continued this way. There was live music. There was valet parking. There was more food that you could possibly imagine. Right away I was put to work, and stayed busy the entire night. I was in charge of handing out black and white cookie samples to everyone standing in line, and then for taking orders. It was so much fun!
The Jewish Food Festival has been going on in Corpus for 30 years, and boasts New York deli style food made by members of the community. In addition to the food, it’s a way for the whole community to experience Jewish culture by way of bands playing traditional Jewish music, and for non-Jews to get exposure to the synagogue.
Many Southern Jewish communities have a Deli Day, Jewish Food Bazaar, or similar festival to give a delicious opportunity for their neighbors to experience culture and cuisine – and this one sets the bar high!
Lexington, Kentucky, 2014-2015: Horseback Riding in The Derby State
I have wonderful memories of programs that I ran and/or participated in as a fellow, but often my best memories are of the people I got to meet and the connections I made with my host families. In Lexington, Kentucky, I stayed with the education director and her husband. They always went above and beyond to give me a feel for the area and to make my weekend exciting. On one of my visits, this meant…a trail ride! I spent a few hours on horseback, and it was thrilling (not to mention the great conversations I got to have with my host on the ride).
The Jewish community of Lexington was originally a small one, but has grown and grown and is now larger than it’s ever been. This thriving community is evident to anyone who visits, and was certainly evident to me during my three trips there, whether I was leading programs for the congregation and when I was hanging out with the tremendous folks who make it such a great place to be.
Re-living my Fellow memories reminds me just how much I loved my time on the road, spending time with these unique Southern Jewish communities. Can’t wait to go even further down memory lane with my fellow former Fellows in a few weeks!