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 past three months, I felt like a car going on its first cross-country road trip. I spent the past four years comfortably cruising through my familiar home city of Charleston, South Carolina, completing my undergraduate career at the College of Charleston. Only two weeks after graduation I found myself moving to Jackson, Mississippi, starting my first ‘real-world’ job as an Education Fellow in the ‘real-world’ offices of the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life.
Talk about racking up the miles! As soon as I settled into my apartment, I hit the metaphorical road and threw myself head first into the Jackson community. During my first month at work I never turned down an offer to be around other people. Whether it meant volunteering at a community organization or going to a Mississippi Braves game on a Thursday night, I wanted to connect to both my coworkers and my new city in as many ways as I possibly could.
And it’s been great—but just like a car, I couldn’t continue to keep going down a fast-paced freeway forever. Eventually my ‘check engine’ light would come on and I would have to pull over and make sure that I was taking care of myself, inside and out. In order to be my best self, a well-oiled machine, I would need to take time for me.
Making space, taking a step back from the business of daily life in order to learn and grow, is a very Jewish concept. According to Lurianic Kabbalah, or mystical teachings, this idea actually goes all the way back to the story of Creation itself. The Torah begins by stating that, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. But before that beginning, Isaac Luria writes, there was only God. To create the universe and everything in it, God had to ‘constrict,’ or create a space for everything else to exist. This concept is known as tzimtzum.
In the midst of summer visits, when ISJL Education Fellows visit over 70 partner communities in just six weeks, ‘making space’ seems next to impossible. Between prep work and road trips I’ve caught myself wondering if I’ll have any time for myself. Instead of worrying, I decided to make a list of ways to practice tzimtzum during these busy times. I intend to keep this list with me as a reminder that ‘me time’ is an essential part of developing my sense of self and growing into the person that I want to be.
Here are just a few ways I plan to practice tzimtzum this summer.
- Keeping a journal: Even taking five minutes out of my day to reflect on how I’m feeling can help me evaluate my own learning and development.
- Taking up a new hobby: Instead of thinking of hobbies as just a way to keep myself busy, starting a specific new hobby and sticking with it will help me see that picking up a new skill will remind me that I always have room to grow.
- Writing letters: With a busy schedule it can be easy to shift my focus away from my friends and family and more on what needs to be done. Writing letters to the people I care about will remind me that no matter what, I am surrounded by love and support.
Hopefully, by maintaining my personal well-being throughout the summer, my journey from here on out won’t be such a bumpy ride.