Finding the Beauty in New Places (And Old Ones, Too)

Some things the Deep South has made me thankful for recently

I, Ava Minerva Gadon, live in Mississippi now.

It’s hard to believe: I went from a beach town outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; to a college campus in Washington, D.C.; to Jackson…Mississippi? I’m as surprised as you are, no matter how well I played it off to my friends.

“But, Mississippi?”

Yep. Mississippi.


Listen, I’m out to find a Jewish cowboy, and I will lock. that. down!

That joke was usually enough to satisfy my sorority sisters and hometown friends, but there was so much more to this decision. For as long as I can remember, I have been blessed with opportunities to travel. I still remember when my mom introduced me to the idea that I had to be able to carry whatever I decided to pack (an important lesson to learn early, by the way, because eventually we all end up wrestling two suitcases and a duffel bag onto a train by ourselves while onlookers express pity and annoyance. That’s happened to everyone,right? Right?!). I treasure the things I’ve learned about different places, culture, environments, and myself. I have scrapbooks’ worth of photos and memories with strangers, friends, and family. So I thought, why not take a job where I’ll get to see a huge part of the country I’ve never seen before? It seemed like an amazing opportunity to meet different kinds of Jewish people, develop more professional skills, and build some more knowledge about the world.

Plot twist. Moving from New Jersey to Mississippi was completely unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I have met many different kinds of Jewish people, I’m developing my professional skills, and oh boy, have I been building knowledge about the world. Five months in and seven new states under my belt, here’s the biggest thing I’ve learned so far: There is nothing so beautiful as something unexpected.

When I moved here, I didn’t know about the stray cotton that grew on the side of the road, or the sheer immensity of the sky. Little things that everyone who grew up in the South are used to are the things that now constantly shock me into gratitude. I am so lucky to experience watching a thunderstorm rolling over field after field, only to hit me and pass over in a matter of minutes when I am driving through the Mississippi Delta. I am so grateful to see Spanish moss draping from trees in Louisiana for the first time, or walk into a Buc-ee’s without any idea what to expect.

The best part? That skill doesn’t just apply to seeing or experiencing brand new things. When I head home now, this new vision and appreciation applies there, too. I’m able to see places I’ve known for two decades with new eyes, new perspective, and a whole lot of new gratitude.

As Jews, when something happens for the first time, we say a prayer called the Shehecheyanu. It thanks God for new experiences, and if I was present enough to observe it, I would be saying it every single day of this job. This adventure is so beautiful, and I’m thankful for it.

Happy Thanksgiving and safe travels to you and yours!

Discover More

The 5 Remaining Southern & Jewish Items on My Fellowship Bucket List

With three months left of my time as an Education Fellow at the ISJL, the final countdown of this Southern ...

The #1 Expert on Southern Jewish Road Trips

I don’t mean to brag, but I’m basically the number one expert on Southern Jewish road trips. See, I’ve logged ...

Former Fellow Flashback: Beth, 2003-2005

This February, for the first time ever, the ISJL is hosting a reunion of all of the alumni of our Education ...