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!
Two years ago, my brother spent Hanukkah as the only Jew in his town. He was living in Burkeville, Virginia, at the time – a small town about an hour southwest of Richmond. I vividly remember his Facebook post of his chanukiyah in the window, noting that pirsumei nisa (the mitzvah of publicizing the miracle of Hanukkah) took on a whole new meaning that year. I am certainly not the only Jew in Jackson – in fact, I am lucky to have a vibrant Jewish community through the ISJL. Still, my Hanukkah was filled with pirsumei nisa that gave the holiday an entirely new meaning.
When I was growing up, no Jewish holiday (except, of course, Passover) was complete without a box of cookies from one special Jewish bakery. My grandmother’s apartment, the same one my father and uncles grew up in, was just a block from our beloved Gideon’s. Any visit from Grandma came complete with at least half a pound of cookies – chocolate leaves, rum balls, lace cookies, rainbow cookies, and more. We knew to expect white boxes, their red-and-white ribbons, and the delicious treats they held inside. My grandma was a somewhat gruff German-Jewish immigrant, but this was one way she could show her deep love for us.
Though my grandma has since passed away, and Gideon’s closed, I was able to share some of these beloved cookies with my friends this year.
For Hanukkah, I received Smitten Kitchen Everyday, the newest cookbook from food blogger Deb Perelman. Sure enough, within the cookbook lay a recipe for the traditional butter cookies I used to get from Gideon’s. Of course, this meant I had to make them for the Young Jews of Jackson (YJOJ) Hanukkah party. Though this was not pirsumei nisa in its traditional sense – these cookies have nothing to do with Hanukkah – it was a way to share my Jewish traditions, and that felt like the right thing to do.
This YJOJ party was filled with pirsumei nisa, as we invited our non-Jewish friends in Mississippi to join us for latkes and sufganiyot (fried donuts). In addition to the butter cookies, I brought olive oil-rosemary shortbread to fit the Hanukkah theme. We sang the blessings and lit the candles with our Jackson community.
Pirsumei nisa can be so much more than putting our chanukiyot in the window for our neighbors to see. We can share pieces of our holiday on social media, explain the story and traditions of Hanukkah, and invite friends to join us as we celebrate. Whether you are the only Jew in your town, or one among many, we can publicize the miracle of Hanukkah in the way that feels right to us.
We can also publicize the other small miracles, holidays, and traditions that make us feel Jewish. We can do it not only at Hanukkah, but all year long. It will only strengthen our identities, and our relationships in the process.