My Southbound Story: Rachel G.

As we prepare to welcome more than a half-dozen new Jewish professionals to Mississippi for internships and fellowships at the ISJL, we’ve asked a few of them to share their thoughts on heading South. This time, meet our new Community Engagement Fellow, Rachel Glazer. She’ll be here for the next two years, working on programs to make the world a better place!

Leaving the relative comfort and safety of college for a position in a new city in a new state should, by any measure, be disorienting, but the move to Jackson, Mississippi has felt like a natural transition. It is the obvious next step in my exploration of my personal Southern Jewish identity.

One of the first things people say when they meet me is that I don’t sound Southern, which is true. I’m not twangy like a banjo, or slow like sorghum, or bold like a magnolia. Like a lot of Southern Jews, I come from a mixed family of carpetbaggers and sharecroppers, of Long Island and Appalachia. I like to tell people that my name holds all the answers they’d hoped to find in my accent: Rachel Savannah Glazer, Jewish all around with the South at the center of it all.

I was raised in Gainesville, Georgia, a city which in 1937 sported a Jewish population of 11 and has only slightly increased in recent years (nearby Dahlonega is where the local congregation resides). I am the most “authentically” Southern of the new fellows here at the ISJL, and so far the only clues to indicate that I transplanted states are the flat terrain, the presence of Cajun food, and the lack of Mayfield ice cream.

Although there are certainly elements of home that I am missing in Jackson, I somehow feel that the South is magnified here. At Shabbat services, I can hear a familiar drawl woven among the Hebrew prayers. As my Jewish curiosity grows, my Southern accent gains strength in equal measure. The values I love about each of my two cultures inform and accentuate each other: hospitality and compassion, justice and civic engagement, honor and respect, hard work and honest living.

shalomyallrsgI look forward to cultivating these two fundamental components of my identity in tandem rather than suppressing my tendency for back-country idioms, as I feel the need to around some northeastern Jews, or leaving Yiddishisms out of conversation, as I am tempted to around my rural peers. For the next two years, and each one thereafter, I fully intend to greet a roomful of colleagues with a toothy grin and an enthusiastic, “Shalom, y’all!”

Out of curiosity, I did a quick Google search to find out the official Jewish population of my hometown, and, lo and behold, the first link was to the ISJL’s Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities. Tickled that my organization is at the forefront of preserving Jewish culture and history in this digital era, I clicked the link and encountered my own 13-year-old face smiling up at me from the screen! My Appalachian roots of conjure women and Jewish superstitions of Evil Eyes lead me to believe that this is a sign: I am right where I am supposed to be.

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