Settling In, Still Unsettled: Early Southern Shabbat Reflections

Ever since I was in elementary school, I have always had a strong connection to prayer. On Friday nights during services, I would often find myself overcome with emotions—sad ones, not just happy or peaceful ones like you might expect—and I would cry. I remember one specific time in fifth grade when my rabbi took me outside the sanctuary to make sure everything was okay. She asked me what was wrong, but I couldn’t place the origin of my tears, and I assured her everything was fine.

As I grew up and continued to go to Shabbat services every Friday night during college, I would often experience a similar feeling, and hot tears would pool in my eyes during what should have been a joyous time. I was never able to explain why I would get so emotional during services. I simply thought it had something to do with prayer and the community, and I never questioned my feelings— until last week.

I went to services at Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson. It was my first time going to services since moving down South, and I was looking forward to the familiar prayers and some respite from a whirlwind of a week learning the ropes at my new workplace, the Institute of Southern Jewish Life. But sometime around the Torah service, I was overcome by those familiar emotions—emotions I hadn’t allowed myself to experience since arriving in Mississippi. As I sat in the chapel, in between old and new Fellows, I felt suddenly sad.

I had been in Jackson for almost two weeks, and I was adjusting well to my new surroundings. I had been enjoying the preparations for the Education Conference, getting to know everyone in the office better, and familiarizing myself with the (bumpy) Jackson streets and the class schedule at the YMCA. But as I sat in services on Friday, I realized that it was the first time I had done just that—sit quietly, and really reflect on how transitional my life is right now.

I had been so caught up in adapting to my new life in Mississippi that I had completely forgotten to take a breath and think about everything and everyone I was missing. My thoughts turned to my college friends starting their new jobs in Boston, my family back home in Chicago, my girlfriend in California. I reminisced about all of the Friday nights I cherished at Tufts Hillel. This service was a little different from my past Shabbats, but the sad feelings which overcame me were the same.

For the first time since moving to Jackson, I allowed myself to not be completely happy.

And that’s okay. In fact, in allowing myself to feel these feelings, I quickly also I felt something else—a sense of relief. The realization that I didn’t have to always be happy in this new world, and that I could actually let myself miss other places and people, comforted me.

Since that night, I have tried to pay more attention to the different emotions I feel here. I am almost always happily taking everything in and moving quickly through my new life here, but after work and happy hour and class at the Y, I try to take a few minutes to simply sit. I’m grateful that Shabbat gives me the chance to reflect. Just as it marks the transition from the week into a time of rest, it gives us all a chance to transition from nonstop activity to just sitting and experiencing the full range of our emotions, and connect with the full depth of our experiences.

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