How This Jewish Value Made The South Feel Like Home

Hachnasat Orchim, y'all!

Like many other college graduates, I made a big move right after commencement. Exactly one week after crossing the stage at the University of British Columbia, I walked into the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) in Jackson Mississippi for the first time. It was a pretty large change for me, to say the least.

Moving is daunting. Moving to a place where I knew no one could very well be terrifying. But, for me, it hasn’t been—thanks to the Jewish concept of Hachnasat Orchim.

Hachnasat Orchim (welcoming the stranger) has always been an important aspect of my understanding of Jewish values. It always meant, for me, that I must help people feel comfortable in a new and foreign space. This idea might always be in the back of mind— that no one should feel out of place just because they are new, just because they are unaware of the everyday conventions of the goings-on around them.

Even before I got here, I was receiving messages, emails, and phone calls to help make my transition as seamless as possible. This helpful information ranged anywhere from insight into where the best places in Jackson were to live, to the ways that I can get involved down here. Every message made me feel that much more comfortable and excited to move down the South.

In the short time I’ve been living in Jackson, Mississippi, I’ve been welcomed at work and out and about. It’s new to me for people in the grocery store to ask how I am doing as we pass in the aisles. Honestly, the first few times people asked me that, I first look to see if they are talking on headphones, or have a Bluetooth in their ear, and I have mistaken a kind greeting with a personal conversation. This idea of welcoming a stranger, whether you know that they are new or just know that they are unfamiliar to your life is more refreshing then I could have imagined. I guess Southern hospitality, at least as far as I can see, is alive and well in Jackson.

I’m not the only new face at the ISJL office. There are seven of us who have started our next journey in Jackson as either Education or Community Engagement Fellows.  Despite us all being new to Jackson and new to each other, I have happily noticed that we embody welcoming the stranger when we are strangers ourselves. When I finally got into my new apartment, after a few days of living here and there while it was being prepared, I got a super nice message from another new fellow: “Hope you’re all settled in! If you need anything just lmk! [let me know]!”

These small acts of welcoming me, making me comfortable in a place that I will soon not be a in stranger, a place that I will call home for the next two years, has made my transition from student to professional, from Canada to the US, from northerner to southerner, from the world of studying to the “real world,” that much easier. It’s been a great lesson in Hachnasat Orchim, Southern-style, and I’ll be glad to welcome other strangers here in the two years ahead.

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