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!
I may not keep traditionally kosher, but when I shop, I follow my own sort of kashrut. You won’t find a commandment saying, “Thou shalt thrift shop,” but in my estimation, being an intentional secondhand consumer is vital to purifying my consumption.
In Deuteronomy 20:19-20, we learn the commandment of bal tashchit, to not waste or destroy. Having been raised in the American consumer culture, this is not always easy for me. I’m working hard to transition from plastic bags and disposable containers to reusable tote bags and sturdier alternatives. These are the obvious quick switches to make, but if you’re ready to take the next step, I challenge you to not only avoid waste, but also to give new life to what might have otherwise ended up in the dump.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this lesson was prioritized for me at an early age from behind the counter of my mother’s own business, Next to New Resale Boutique, which just celebrated its 30th anniversary. (If you’re passing through Gainesville, Georgia stop in and tell them Rachel sent you!) This really is part of my Southern Jewish heritage.
Some folks harbor a misconception that buying something secondhand means buying someone else’s junk. In my opinion, this is a naive point of view. If you make the effort to train your eye, you will end up spending a little more time and a lot less money on your shopping– and if you do it right, no one will be able to tell the difference.
Most non-food or toiletry items can be easily found at your local thrift store: clothing, shoes, accessories, books, cooking utensils, furniture, games… the list goes on. It’s not always as convenient as stopping by Target on your way home, but you’ll find yourself swept up in the thrill of the chase. You’ll learn to diligently check for stains, check for durability, and concede when necessary (“Do I really mind if these sneakers need new laces? Probably not”). Oftentimes, I will come across items with the original tags still on them, donated by someone who changed their mind in the driveway, received an unwanted present, or simply hasn’t yet learned the benefits of shopping secondhand. Their loss is my gain!
Thrifting not only keeps me humble, but it returns my money to the local economy rather than filling the pockets of corporations who largely outsource and may or may not work to avoid human rights violations. (If you’re curious about certain companies’ track records, Corporate Social Responsibility reports outline their human rights, environmental, and safety efforts and challenges and are available to the public online.) Better still, when I shop at most consignment stores, I am supporting local charities and other nonprofits who employ my neighbors and help under-served populations in my community. When shopping at a place with a mission, I try to make sure it’s one I agree with: I make a point of reading the mission statement (often posted near the register) of each new thrift store I patronize. Money talks, and this way I can support causes that speak to me.
I don’t solely shop secondhand for financial reasons, or even for the fun of it. By being intentional and methodical about spending my money at local resale establishments, I am fulfilling my duty to reduce waste, reuse perfectly good products, and, when I’m done, I can recycle my own items to keep the wheel turning, l’dor v’dor (from generation to generation). For me, shopping secondhand is something holy – it’s a family tradition, it reduces waste, and it keeps me feeling great about my clothing choices.