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!
Once a year, the sun stays in the sky longer than it does on any other day. While the summer solstice is a joyful day for many, it is also a day for mourning—“the Longest Day” doesn’t have a very positive connotation for any family experiencing Alzheimer’s disease
For those suffering from Alzheimer’s, their caregivers, and their family members every single day is the longest day. Thus “The Longest Day” became the Alzheimer’s Association summer fundraising event five years ago. The event is a way to shed light on the disease. Each summer, thousands of people host events to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s disease. My family is one of those thousands who take the summer solstice as a chance to make our voices heard. Throughout the year, I volunteer with the Alzheimer’s Association of Mississippi Chapter preparing for The Longest Day.
This last year posed a challenge for me, as it was the year that I transitioned from fighting alongside my grandfather to fighting in his memory. As the longest day drew near, I was at a loss for how to celebrate him.
One of the Alzheimer’s Association slogans is, “Do what you love in honor of those you love.” But how do I do what I love, when the person whom I love is gone? How do I fight, when what I am fighting for is a battle we already lost? What light do I shine, when it seems all I see is dark?
These questions tormented me for months as I questioned how to participate in this year’s event. Little did I know, one of the tasks that brought me comfort would end up being the answer to my question of how to fundraise, and how to keep fighting: crocheting.
Back in April I shared my love for crocheting on the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life’s Facebook page. Then in May, I expressed my passion by making a baby blanket for my expecting friends. Finally, my mom told me the story of her crocheting and how she learned the art. I didn’t know until then that I was actually both learning and sharing the story of my ancestors through my craft.
Over the last year, crocheting has become a refuge for me. It helps me calm my thoughts, gives me purpose and drive, and allows me to share a part of myself and my history with those I gift my creations to. As the summer shifted from Tammuz into Av, I too shifted from anger and grief to mourning. For so long I was angry with myself for not being able to honor my grandfather properly. I not only grieved the loss of him, but what it meant to lose to Alzheimer’s. This disease kept winning, and each time it took more and more of my grandfather away.
As I explored this idea further I came across a story of Moses as he led his people through the desert. The story goes that on the summer solstice, Moses was cautious about leading his people through the desert. The mantle of leadership was bestowed upon 70 elders who would assist Moses by the reception of his spirit and was confirmed by their prophetic response. That mantle represented God’s approval, authorization, and validation of those men and of Moses. Or as the Midrash Rabbah so beautifully puts it:
“To what is this similar? To a candle that was burning, and one lit from it many other candles, yet the light of its flame did not diminish. So too, Moses gave of his spirit and lost nothing of his own.”
Moses shared his spirit and his light with the elders to do right by his people. He knew he would need others to assist in his journey to the promised land, and that he could not do it alone. So too am I now realizing that navigating a world without my grandfather cannot be something I do alone, and that I can rely on my own elders for support. Each time I take my hook to the yarn I find the strength of four generations flowing through my fingers into just one simple stitch in the fabric of life. Through my fundraiser this summer of crocheting pieces for donations I drew on his strength and that of my elders to shine my light and continue to fight until there are no more Longest Days.