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!
Over the summer, I traveled to Greenville, Mississippi for one of my Education Fellow visits to Hebrew Union Congregation. Before we began Shabbat services, I visited with some of the congregants. One of the women I spoke to, Roseanne, had recently started coming to Greenville for Shabbat because her synagogue, just over the border in Dumas-McGehee, Arkansas, had closed its doors. Although it is always sad to hear about smaller congregations shutting down, I was so excited to learn that she had been a member at the Meir Chayim Temple.
This is a weird reaction I’ll admit, but you have to understand, I had never met anyone from there before – and I have spent my entire life hearing stories of Meir Chayim.
When my mom, before she was my mom, was a student rabbi, she served as the rabbi for Meir Chayim.
So I grew up hearing stories about a foreign place called Dumas-McGehee, Arkansas. Never in my life did I imagine that I would ever see Dumas-McGehee, let alone travel to Arkansas. I felt connected to my mom and her experience in the Arkansas Delta the first time I drove through on my drive to Northwest Arkansas for my fellow visit. And now, here I was, standing with a congregant of the very synagogue of which my mother had spoken so fondly.
What was even more exciting was that Roseanne remembered my mom – the student rabbi of long ago!
In a letter that my mom wrote to the congregants of Meir Chayim in honor of the congregation’s 65th anniversary, she said “I will always be grateful to Meir Chayim for helping me to feel like a Rabbi. I was twenty three years old and just back from my Year-In-Israel. I was considerably younger than most of the congregation. I was embarrassed to be called ‘Rabbi.’ Couldn’t you just call me Susie? But you were used to this, breaking in baby Rabbis, and called me Rabbi.”
As I led services in Greenville, Mississippi that Shabbat, the beauty of this inter-generational moment was not lost on me. Nearly 30 years after my mom’s first visit to Dumas and McGehee, at the same age of twenty-three, I found myself leading services in a different small town, for some of the same people. Each time we pray, we say the phrase L’Dor V’Dor, “from generation to generation.” On this particular night, I felt the power of those words intensely.
I am proud to follow in the footsteps of my mother, Rabbi Susie Heneson Moskowitz, not just as a Jewish professional, but also as a Jewish professional serving the Deep South. As she wrote in her letter “I learned a lot about what it means to be a Jew in a small town. To be a respected minority. I learned that when people need a rabbi, I should let them a call me Rabbi. I hope I had something meaningful to say from the bima.”
Me too, Mom.
Pronounced: shuh-BAHT or shah-BAHT, Origin: Hebrew, the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.