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!
When I tell people that I’m from Los Angeles and that I now live in Jackson, Mississippi, I sometimes get funny reactions. And questions like “Do you have friends? Are there things to do? Are you bored?”
Yes, I have friends.
Yes, there are things to do.
And sometimes I’m a little bored— but that’s become a little bit intentional, as I’ve come to realize that boredom isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The quiet and slow-paced lifestyle of Mississippi has made my forward-thinking, ever-social self try harder to be more mindful, patient and relaxed. I have community, not as large as the one I had growing up or in school, and I’m okay with that. I spend more quality time with friends as things do move slower and I don’t have to rush from a coffee date to yoga class to dinner.
I’ve befriended myself. I’ve allowed myself to sit on my back porch reading or simply doing nothing after a day of collaborating with coworkers and working with community partners. Living in Jackson has unleashed my introverted side to compete with my seemingly extroverted nature. Even more so, Jackson, both the people and place, have helped me see that I’m neither an introvert or extrovert, but rather something in between: an ambivert.
Ambiverts have “the capacity for solitude, focus and quiet self-reflection of an introvert, and the outgoing, friendly and approachable nature of an extrovert.” This got me thinking about the way the Jewish community functions, and how we all interact within it.
Sometimes we are required to be with people. For example, it takes ten people to make a minyan, family, and friends to celebrate b’nei mitzvah, and others to cook you a meal and sit shiva. There are certain times when we physically stand up together and times when we symbolically stand as one. There are other times when we are alone either with ourselves or whatever spiritual power we believe in. We sometimes all cover our eyes to be both alone-and-together as we recite the sh’mah; one person chants the Torah; and during Yom Kippur, we take silent time for self-reflection and also share in communal apologies. Our level of interaction varies.
Does this mean that Judaism inspires us to be ambiverts?
As Jews we are encouraged, whether we like it or not, to focus and self-reflect at different times of the year and different times of our lives. Yet we are also encouraged to join together as a community both in times of good and bad.
That’s where the idea of an ambivert comforts me. It is not a complete middle ground; it’s a spectrum. Maybe someone loves being with people during the day and needs to recharge alone at night. Or maybe someone wants to be alone most of the day and feels energized by people at night. In Judaism, we may take a moment of silence, but we are still surrounded by people.
I am trying to stop labeling people as extroverts or introverts. Instead, I am trying to listen to others and hear how they are feeling on a given day. I notice patterns in myself and certain friends who tell me their experiences, but I also notice how there is not one box to fall into. It’s when we define ourselves too strictly and don’t venture out of the safe confines of a label that we limit personal growth. I’m taking the time to explore the spectrum and realizing that whether I want to be alone or around others can and does vary. It means I’m exploring, inspecting, and seeking ambiguity.
Ambiversion. Judaism. Connected by a little down time in Mississippi. That’s why a little boredom isn’t a bad thing – it, too, creates the opportunity to reflect and realize something new!