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!
“Turn off the news and love your neighbor.”
Those are the words I read on the sign in front of a church in Columbus, Georgia, on a recent road trip. The idea of turning off the news and loving your neighbor feels like a sentiment at its all-time high in relevancy. And it’s exactly what we did during my time in Columbus, where one of my assignments was to serve as a staff person for the CYOTI (Columbus Youth of Temple Israel)/Ner Tamid/Beth Shalom Lock-In.
The most meaningful moment came Sunday morning, bright and early, as we made our way to Fort Benning. Fort Benning is a United States Army base on the border between Georgia and Alabama. Awhile back, Temple Israel began a volunteer program on Sunday mornings: TI congregants come to serve bagels and cream cheese post-Sunday-worship to the soldiers in training at Fort Benning.
That morning, we split bagels, scooped cream cheese into bowls, mixed lemonade and set up four long rows of tables. Nothing and no one could prepare me for what I was about to see. Promptly at 0900 hours, 515 soldiers emerged from the Regimental Chapel. Growing up, I was never exposed to military life, so I was not really sure what to expect. These men and women were ordered to “make eight straight lines, one on each side of every table.”
“Yes, sir!” They all replied in unison. That was the first of many moments I found myself awestruck.
Moment number two I found myself awestruck was watching these teens lead Hamotzi for these soldiers. The majority of these soldiers were already a bit familiar with Temple Israel’s Sunday morning volunteer program. However, the 14 teenage volunteers were new to them. But there was an immediate sense of connection, and protection. The Jewish community members and I were all surrounded by 515 men and women training to protect and serve our country. It was a moment I could actually feel peace around me.
Regardless of whether or not they wanted to be there in the first place, participating in programs like this one teaches kids how to love their neighbor. All 14 teens who volunteered that day experienced something meaningful. Each one was engrossed in some kind of task or conversation. Whether they were actually serving the bagels or engaging in conversation with a soldier, they knew they were making a difference by being there.
Most importantly, they knew their work did not end once they left Fort Benning. Loving your neighbor is a universal task. Loving your neighbor is what we need to do in order to give ourselves a “reality check.”
So, while tuning in to the news is important — I also encourage you to take some action, turn off the news, and love your neighbor.