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!
I have a confession to make.
I didn’t keep Passover last year.
Considering that I am a young Jewish professional (or YJP as I affectionately call it), this probably comes as a shock to some. For anyone that knows me, it is especially jarring since my entire life has been centered around Judaism.
For most of my life, I kept kosher, was active in local Jewish organizations, and went to Kabbalat Shabbat services weekly and loved it all. I experimented with a variety of communities, from Reform to Orthodox. I even studied abroad in Israel to further explore my Jewish identity. This connection to Judaism is why I majored in Judaic Studies in college, basically lived at Tufts Hillel and Chabad for four years, and ultimately, it was why I decided to move to the Deep South to influence other Jewish lives.
So if Judaism is so important to me, why did I not keep Passover last year, for the first time in my life?
Over the past year, my Jewish identity has shifted. I no longer keep kosher (partially because it’s more difficult to keep strictly kosher in Mississippi) or go to Friday night services weekly.
During Passover, I went home to Chicago to take care of my mom, who was having surgery. I had just finished a marathon of spring visits to the religious schools I serve as an ISJL Education Fellow, and after writing countless lesson plans, articles and seder services before the holiday, I was simply burnt out. I was fortunate to be able to go home for a week, and it was the longest time I had spent with my mom in years. I found my spiritual fulfillment during Passover not by abstaining from bread (which I rarely eat anyway), but by spending quality time with someone who I love and seldom get to see.
Then, the year brought another shift my way: in early September, after a long battle with kidney disease and a slew of other illnesses, my 79-year-old maternal grandfather passed away.
Before this loss, I was extremely lucky to never have experienced death in my 23 years of life. I had been to, maybe, one funeral in my whole life. So when my family and I met with the rabbi who would be officiating the funeral service, I was a little uneasy.
But it didn’t take long for the rabbi and me to realize our shared experiences. Rabbi Greg Weisman was an Education Fellow a decade earlier. What’s more, he also grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and he too went to undergraduate school in Boston, before heading down to Mississippi.
I was relieved by this connection. It gave my first funeral experience a level of comfort that I didn’t expect.
The next day, at the funeral service, I realized how much I value the Jewish funeral liturgy. I have always been interested in end of life practices, and I felt even more inspired to get involved with the local chevre kadisha at Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson after this experience.
Another aspect of the funeral that stuck with me was reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish. The day of the funeral, I decided that I would recite the Mourner’s Kaddish every night for the next 30 days. I would say it alone, or with others; I didn’t care that you technically need a minyan to recite the prayer. I was saying it for myself only. That first night, my mom and I recited it together.
I found this practice consoling. It was a set time each day for me to think about my grandfather and reflect on my Jewish identity. Using my Tufts Hillel siddur (prayer book) added a layer of nostalgia to the custom. Some nights, I would even belt out my favorite parts of Kabbalat Shabbat, which is a treasured ritual for me.
This method of grieving made me feel connected to Judaism in a new way that I had never experienced before. Even though the 30 days have elapsed, I can still say that every time I recite Kaddish, whether it’s at home in Jackson or on the road as a Fellow, it has a new meaning to me. It reminds me of why I love this religion so much and why the work I do every day is so crucial.
And who knows, maybe this year I’ll keep Passover again.
Pronounced: SAY-der, Origin: Hebrew, literally “order”; usually used to describe the ceremonial meal and telling of the Passover story on the first two nights of Passover. (In Israel, Jews have a seder only on the first night of Passover.)
Pronounced: MIN-yun, meen-YAHN, Origin: Hebrew, quorum of 10 adult Jews (traditionally Jewish men) necessary for reciting many prayers.
Pronounced: KAH-dish, Origin: Hebrew, usually referring to the Mourner’s Kaddish, the Jewish prayer recited in memory of the dead.
Pronounced: SIDD-ur or seeDORE, Origin: Hebrew, prayerbook.