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!
This time last year, I had just moved to Dublin, Ireland. I was spending a lot of time reading and writing in the tiny room I’d rented in a former convent in Harold’s Cross, a beautiful neighborhood in the south of Dublin. Looking out the window, I could see St. Patrick’s Cathedral – the national cathedral of Ireland – and the Spire, an eyesore of a monument on O’Connell Street.
Prior to moving there, I visited Ireland for the first time with family in 2012. It was a rainy June morning, and as I set foot on campus and looked up at the imposing Georgian buildings, I imagined what life would be like as a student at Trinity College Dublin, the university founded by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592.
I returned to the Emerald Isle in 2014 to spend the summer working on an archaeological dig in Trim, County Meath. I was excavating a Dominican friary, built in 1263 by Lord of Trim Geoffrey de Geneville. I spent every day covered in mud, sweat, grass, and rain. I learned more about what it was to be Irish – a complicated identity, to say the least – and gained an appreciation for the relative youth of the United States.
I couldn’t wait to return; this time, as a graduate student in Public History and Cultural Heritage at Trinity College Dublin, fulfilling the dream I had when I first visited Ireland. Making my way back more than four years since I first set foot on the Trinity campus was surreal. But this time I wasn’t just a visitor. I had to get to the Academic Registry, then run across the road to the Bank of Ireland, then go down to Burgh Quay to register with the Garda National Immigration Bureau, and then make it to the Biomedical Sciences Institute for the Provost’s welcome speech to the new graduate students.
I rapidly learned how to dodge tourists clogging Trinity’s Front Gate and memorized important bus routes (the 9, the 16, the 54a…). It took a bit longer to train myself to cycle on the left side of the road. Life in Dublin, and at Trinity, was all about small moments of triumph and struggle. Not every day in a major European city involves grand vistas and iconic tourist experiences. Negotiating a better price on my bicycle was an enormous win. Joining Trinity’s rowing club and sitting in the stroke seat for the first time was a magical moment. Finding the best prepared hummus in Ireland (Hint: It’s at Dunnes) felt radical.
Those small challenges that made up my everyday life became defining moments. The first play I saw – Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme – inspired my Master’s thesis. I gained confidence during a 45-minute bike ride through the rain to the only Irish grocery store with a kosher section so that I could treat my Irish friends to Hillel sandwiches and matzah balls for Passover. Early mornings rowing on the Liffey and late nights writing papers blurred together as I watched seasons change and counted the days since I stepped off the plane.
I left Ireland nine days before joining the staff at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL). In that time, I said farewell to Ireland, visited family in Pennsylvania, got an American cell phone again, took a two-day solo road trip to Jackson, got a Mississippi license plate, and unpacked books, clothes, and running shoes in a new home. Whirlwind moves across continents feel like second nature to me now.
Life in Jackson will be different, I know. Working at an amazing organization, and getting to know the ins and outs of the ISJL, will be a new adventure. But what I am looking forward to most are the small moments of struggle and triumph, the discovery of new grocery stores and restaurants, the conversations with new colleagues, the plays and concerts I’m dying to see, the long runs around the reservoir, figuring out where to get my matzah ball ingredients here.
If I learned anything from living in Ireland, it’s that life exists in the small victories—and that certainly seems true of what I’ve learned so far about the Southern Jewish experience, as well.
In his welcome address during Postgraduate Orientation, Trinity’s provost quoted legendary Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh: “To be dead is to stop believing in the masterpieces we will begin tomorrow.” That line stayed with me for the year, as I saw plays, worked on creative projects, hiked along the Irish coast, wrote my Master’s thesis, and slowly but surely began to understand the city I called home.
The quote hangs in my new office at the ISJL; a little bit of my Irish home influencing my new Mississippi adventure.
Pronounced: KOH-sher, Origin: Hebrew, adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.