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!
We live in exciting times – but also trying times. Over the last year, in particular, I have observed and read about some very scary things take place around the world and in our own backyards. (Certainly the case here in Mississippi.) So much time has been spent of divisiveness, hate, anger, frustration, and cruelty. Many of our would-be leaders seem to be bring out the worst in us, both by example and by request. Countless tears have been shed and countless wounds have tried to heal and yet, this forward march toward division continues steadily like a metronome to a John Phillips Sousa march.
So what do we do about it?
Sometimes we take action. But often, a first step is to reflect, and re-center, so that we are in a better place from which to begin to change and move forward. I was lucky enough to recently find the reflection that I needed at this point in time.
A few weeks ago I was given a book by a friend; it had been sitting on my desk ever since. In only a small number of days, papers had already been strewn across it, it had been moved from one side to the other to make space, and the new book had been used as a paperweight before ever being opened. Yet today, for some random reason, I decided to pick it up and flip through it.
The book is called “Accidental Grace: Poetry, Prayers, and Psalms.” It’s by Rami M. Shapiro, a poet whose poems are indeed like prayers; some written anew, some as poetic explorations of existing psalms and prayers. I stumbled across the following poem, and thought this excerpt might strike a chord with you, as it did for me:
You seed compassion and we reap anger.
You extend charity and we shrug indifference.
No wonder there is trembling.
We are frightened not of You but of ourselves.
We are frightened not of the One
but of the man we call “them.”
Rami M. Shapiro, “PSALM 99”
There’s a lot that speaks to me in these lines (and I highly recommend reading the entire poem; this is just a brief review-length excerpt!). To me, the irony of so many who would consider themselves the “truest” of followers, believers, and the faithful are often the most willing to judge, discriminate, and shrug a bitter shoulder at those in need. I do believe that the world is gradually become a better place to exist. Resistance and change always brings confrontation, rising louder and louder before being extinguished– so in a backwards way, perhaps angry discord is a sign of ultimate progress.
When times are tough, do not get discouraged. Continue to stand up for what is right, focus on being the best version of you that you can be, and remember that if all of the “good” people leave or stay silent there won’t be anybody left who will drive progress and stand up for those who can’t stand for themselves. Turn to some poetry, or prayers, or a good friend.