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!
These are the facts:
Twelve Jews currently live in Greenwood, Mississippi, in the heart of the Delta.
Most of them are my family—from my 88-year-old mother-in-law to my 6-year-old grandson.
Yet we welcomed Rosh Hashanah this year with more than 40 people. Our holiday celebration included everything from erey yontif (Rosh Hashanah evening) services to Tashlich at Goldberg Lake, followed by a Delta Fish Fry.
Friends and family made their way here to the Delta from D.C., South Carolina, Chicago, Nashville, Memphis, Birmingham, and Indianola and Jackson, Mississippi. As I mentioned in my remarks during services, our Jewish heritage is not linear – we revisit the same themes each year. And they better keep coming back! Our hashtag for the holidays is “RoshHashanahOnlyHappensInGreenwood,” a message I have been “brainwashing” our firstborn grandson Walker with since birth. Now 10 years old, Walker was called to the bimah this year to share a d’var Torah (sermon). It was just one of many proud moments as our community observed Rosh Hashanah. Walker shared words with our congregation – with great poise – about Rosh Hashanah, football, and faith.
The connections we manage to maintain here are incredible, and the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life makes a lot of it possible. Recently, Elias Chajet was our ISJL Education Fellow. Elias is now in his first year of rabbinical school, in Israel—but he maintains the connection with us by FaceTime’ing every Sunday morning with Walker. Supplementing his Jewish education, with a focus on his anticipated Bar Mitzvah in 2020, is vital. His one on one studies have helped him gain the confidence he needed to deliver his d’var.
The story gets even cooler: Our service leader was Abby Klionsky, another former ISJL Education Fellow. She flew down from Chicago and co-led all of our holiday worship with our Hazzan, Steve Hirsch. A current Education Fellow, Shira Muroff, also joined in our celebration, as did ISJL Historian Josh Parshall and his son, Noah—who used to come up here back when Josh was the ISJL’s Oral Historian.
Yom Kippur in Greenwood also had a powerful connection to ISJL, as Alachua Nazarenko, the ISJL’s Programming Coordinator and Development Associate (she’s also yet another former Fellow!) led services. Her beautiful voice, along with the ISJL’s Community Engagement Rachel Glazer’s beautiful voice, brought so much to our worship.
It amazes me that our little congregation, with significantly declining numbers, and without full-time rabbinical support for over 60 years, continues to grow in activities and partnerships. That people want to still come here, and welcome the new year with us, is humbling and awesome.
It’s not a miracle that we’re still here, and still celebrating and welcoming guests. It’s a lot of effort, a lot of support, a lot of grit.
The value of the ISJL is far greater than the mission statement and the good work. The relationships that are built continue to grow, providing support for Jewish life in small, isolated communities, like Greenwood. Our services were meaningful, our shofar service with young children was full of smiles, and festive meals in our family’s “holy garage” were wonderful, as we shared yet another holiday celebration with family, friends, and lots of children – guarantors of our future.
I want to wish a sweet and healthy 5778 to all, and extend a special thanks to your ISJL family. Together we are making this world a better place by strengthening Jewish community, providing access to quality Jewish education, and facilitating opportunities for Jewish life, especially in small communities like my own.
Humble thanks, y’all.