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!
Before I moved to Jackson, Mississippi, in 2003, I had only a passing familiarity with the South. Yes, I had family in Alabama and several other Southern states. I’d been “down South” (though not to Mississippi, until moving there). But it still felt like a whole new world.
Having grown up in the very-rural Midwest, I don’t think I had quite as many Southern-backwoods-stereotypes in my head as my friends who grew up in larger, cosmopolitan cities did. I was actually pretty surprised at the sorts of questions I started fielding as soon as I mentioned that I was moving to Mississippi: Do they let liberals down there? Are you scared to move down there, as a Jewish girl? Have you SEEN “Mississippi Burning“?
(I really did get all of those questions at least once. And since Blockbuster still existed back in ’03, I did go out and rent “Mississippi Burning”… and would later have the privilege of attending multiple memorials in Neshoba County, Mississippi, honoring the slain civil rights workers who inspired the film.)
It was a tough transition, at first — but surprisingly quickly, Mississippi came to feel like home. The South felt not foreign, but familiar. Even when I struggled with some elements of the place or its politics, I engaged in a way that was not removed but immersed. I claimed the South and put roots down there. As the editor of this blog, I’ve noticed that this strange phenomenon is not, in fact, so strange: Several staff at the ISJL have recently submitted posts about how weird and wonderful that this place is laying claim to them. So we’re doing some periodic posts about that experience, and what makes the South special to us.
They are fun and a bit nostalgic for me to read; about two years ago, my husband (a New Orleans native) got a job in Chicago and we left the South for the colder, but similarly-communally-minded Midwest. Thanks to work, to family, and to friends, I still spend a lot of time down South… but from afar, it’s been riveting to read about others’ just-now-falling-for-the-South stories. I hope you’ll enjoy these posts in the coming weeks. They’re making me sweetly homesick, especially when they talk about the people, and the places… and the food.
Yes, the food. Speaking of sweet homesickness, while Chicago is a fantastic town for food lovers, there are a few Southern delicacies I haven’t been able to find so easily here, New Orleans style beignets topping my list. Yes, they’re the best in NOLA, but Jackson knows how to do beignets right. So that’s my current something-special-and-Southern image. Now excuse me while I edit the next post, and try to turn off the crazy craving for fried dough I just gave myself…