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!
As my eyes open and adjust to the sunlight pouring through the window, I realize that I have no idea where I am. It takes nearly a full minute for me to remember what state I’m in, and what my options are for the day.
Don’t worry: There’s no dangerous backstory to my disorientation. It’s just a side effect of LOTS of travel.
Soon I’ve gone from bleary-eyed to packed-and-ready. By the time I’ve said goodbye to the hostel staff, I’ve already decided that I’m going to be driving another three hundred miles that day, and will wind up dinner in yet another state. In the span of about ten minutes, I’ve gone from not knowing where I was, or where I was going, to having a full travel itinerary in my head.
There are some things you cannot know about yourself until you are left completely alone, on the road, with unscheduled time. This year, I learned that when presented with enough time, and the appropriate means, I would impulsively road trip across the country.
Over the course of my first seven-day vacation, I visited five cities in three states, and slept in a different bed every night. As was the case that morning in Charleston, South Carolina’s NotSo Hostel, I often made up my itinerary that morning or entrusted natives of the cities I stayed in to show me what was worth seeing. I had close friends or family in every city that I visited, however, I relied on strangers to guide me whenever possible. On one occasion, I sat down to dinner and shared nachos with a young couple I had met hours before.
Of course, it’s not surprising I chose to spend my vacation this way, as I have written about my travel-centric upbringing before. What did surprise me is how my time as an ISJL Education Fellow has changed my understanding of travel.
When I travel for work – which is usually at least twice a month, for three days at a stretch! – I am always forming relationships and connecting with people. From congregants at a service to teachers in the religious school, I want to make myself known as a resource, and as a person who can help them.
And now when travelling for pleasure, I find myself going out of my way to connect with anyone and everyone. That’s why I chose to stay at a hostel in Charleston, and hang out with people I had met that day. When I meet up with old friends on the road, I’m sharing more of myself with them and deepening relationships with them, too.
Since I’ve begun my ISJL travel regimen, I no longer look at the South as a large, spread-out region. With the amount of time I spend behind the wheel, my definition of a “long drive” has changed dramatically, and I can appreciate how small our little slice of our country is. We are closer and more tightly-knit than many people realize. People who you may see as a world away are only a few hours down the interstate, and people who were strangers the day before may wind up sitting across from you with nothing separating you but a shared plate of cheesy tortilla chips.
To those who want to truly appreciate how small our world really is, and how important it is to build and maintain relationships with people of different backgrounds—my best advice is to get behind the wheel and shift into drive.