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!
If you ever want to visit the ISJL office, make sure not to come on a Friday. Chances are, you will find only a handful of us at headquarters—most of our staff will be on the road or at the airport, heading to the dozens of Jewish communities we serve throughout the southeast. After all, that’s our mission.
But it’s not our whole mission, and Jackson isn’t just a headquarters. Jackson is a home. We work here, we live here, and we recognize the value of Hillel’s teaching in Pirke Avot not to separate ourselves from the community. Direct involvement with the people and organizations that make up the identity of Jackson is inseparable from the larger mission of the ISJL. It’s why we have an entire department devoted to Community Engagement, working in the public schools on literacy and peer mediation initiatives in addition to assisting our partner congregations in developing meaningful service partnerships in their own communities. We know that there are lots of people doing good work no matter the location, and that sometimes it’s best to follow their lead instead of trying to start something on our own.
Last week, in honor of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., communities across the country — and indeed, around the globe – honored his memory and commitments to social justice and equal opportunity by participating in service projects. So, how did we participate in Jackson?
In recent years, there has been a growing movement to establish food gardens at schools, which inspire conversations about healthy eating and offer students the resources with which to do so. The week before MLK Day, a friend of ours who works with the public school system passed on a call for volunteers to help clear the way for a school garden at Blackburn Middle School. The project was sponsored by Jackson State University‘s JSUServes initiative, and best of all the actual work that day was managed by one of Blackburn’s sixth grade social studies classes. So last Monday morning, we put on our gloves, grabbed some shovels, and started digging. By the end of the day, the group of volunteers had built and filled 16 raised garden beds.
Like cities throughout our thirteen-state southern region, Jackson has seen more than its fair share of strife. And like people throughout the region, the citizens of Jackson have fought long and hard for civil rights. Though we spend much of our time on the road, it’s a privilege to work alongside our fellow Jacksonians from all walks of life, and to be a part of the work that keeps pushing Jackson forward. It connects us even more strongly to our home, and keeps us focused on the full scope of our mission — not only as an organization, but also as individuals. It makes us feel more Jewish, and makes us feel more “Jacksonian,” and was a wonderful way to engage in the community and honor the legacy of a man known for bringing people together.
Did you engage in community service in honor of Dr. King? Share your service stories in the comments below!