The author at her Bat Mitzvah, in between childhood and adulthood

Southern Judaism & Liminal Spaces

Sometimes being between two words is just the place to be

I miss last year.

I said those words to my mom after my second week of sixth grade.

She looked at me and said, “Aves, you know it takes you a little while to adjust, just give yourself some time.”

Growing up, I hated change. Instead of wondering why I hated change, I covered it up with an easy fix: This was just who I was; I was someone who wasn’t good with transitions.

However, this past year, something changed. While brainstorming what theory to use for my senior religious studies thesis, my advisor directed me towards the theory of liminality. Liminality is the study of the space between— being neither here nor there. It’s typically looked at in anthropology in the context of how someone leaves one community and enters another. In other words, it’s the time when you’ve just left, but haven’t fully entered.

With this theory in mind, I studied Southern Judaism and how one enters a community, specifically through mealtime interactions. Through my reading and writing, I began to see Southern Judaism as a beautiful hybrid of Southern and Jewish warmth. I then started to think of the unique hybrids we are all as people. The characters in the memoirs I read did not hate this space, but found comfort in it. In turn, I found comfort in it too.

While reading and chatting with friends and family, liminality came to life. Mostly, I saw it in Judaism—throughout history, the Jewish people have entered and exited new communities, traveled, had to refresh and renew.  We also see it during the period between Passover and Shavuot, the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, entering into the emerging adulthood when we become B’nai Mitzvah, with all the responsibilities of being adults in our Jewish community while not yet really being grown-ups in most other settings.

It turns out that studying Southern Judaism, especially in the context of liminal spaces, was the best preparation possible for my own next transition. After graduating college, it was time to move to Jackson, Mississippi, to become a Community Engagement Fellow at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL).

I then made it my intention when moving to Mississippi to be present in and accept my new liminal space.

Okay Ava, you’re about to enter into another transition, but you’re prepared and have the support of your Jewish ancestry as well as the Jewish people of the present to support you.

I breathed… thought… and decided it’s okay to feel uncomfortable.

There are many of us at the ISJL making these transitions. We all come from different places both mentally and physically and are in the process of entering the same space. We each have our own beautiful and unique middle ground.

Right now, in my two-year fellowship, I’m figuring out what I want to do next in life… and guess what? I’m enjoying the ambiguity. Finding my favorite coffee shops and restaurants, stumbling upon beautiful streets to drive on, trying out different workout classes, and creating new yet familiar friendships, excites and propels me forward. I like the intermediary, because it turns out that’s who I am; that’s my personality. And it’s a really good fit down here.

It’s also why I chose to take on this job in Community Engagement: I love meeting, learning from, and experiencing life through new people while we’re all in different phases of life. Sharing the gift of liminality with so many others is truly an awesome Southern Jewish experience.


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