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 promised, here is our second blog of the PI (Paige and Isaac) series! In our last blog, we shared the story of how our living room wall piece came to be through the magical process of upcycling. In this blog, we will be sharing an adventure we took into the depths of Mississippi. Without further ado, below is our journey from a couple of months ago, when we seized an opportunity to visit Mississippi’s very own “Little Grand Canyon” during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.
Mississippi’s “Little Grand Canyon,” better-known as Red Bluff, or what we affectionately called “The Largest Pothole in Mississippi” (and that’s saying something!), is a naturally-eroded geological feature created by the flowing of the Pearl River. The river carved a crater into the earth that continues to expand, so much so that Mississippi Highway 587 has been moved two times to avoid caving into it! In the bluff, you can see underneath Mississippi’s ground.
Along the sides of the crater you can see layers of clay (remember this for later), soil, sand, and colorful sediment. As you see in our photo, this creates a breathtaking scene, looking down 200 feet into natural beauty.
Prior to moving to Mississippi, neither one of us had ever heard of Red Bluff. Paige heard about it first, on her summer visit last year—when all such travel was still possible—to Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Brian Rifkin, the Education Director for Temple B’nai Israel, mentioned Red Bluff as a cool stop to see as she was leaving. Sadly, it would have been an hour and a half drive out of her way. Nevertheless, the seed was planted. This moment would not be the only time someone recommended that she visit the “Little Grand Canyon.” The following spring, one of Paige’s friends from CrossFit trekked through Red Bluff and showed her all of the cool photos from the trip. The already-planted seed began to bloom; the time for a visit was nigh!
As for Isaac, past ISJL Education Fellows Josh and Carrie mentioned Red Bluff to him multiple times during the first year of his fellowship. They were eager to visit, and, right before leaving, the two of them made the trip down. After visiting, the two of them told him it was a must-see while living in Mississippi.
The day we chose to venture out to Red Bluff held much significance. Working for a Jewish non-profit, we had work off for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. This holiday, steeped in time, occurs exactly seven weeks after Passover. On Shavuot, the Jewish people remember the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and the early Summer harvest of grain. Nowadays, we use Shavuot as a celebration of Torah, education, and the choice to participate in Jewish life. We study texts, eat dairy foods, and generally have a great time!
Each of us had our own interpretation of celebrating the holiday. For Paige, choosing to visit Red Bluff together on Shavuot brought the intention to connect with each other, Torah, and food. She focused on spending the day in the bluff studying, talking with Isaac about theologies on Torah, and eating lunch in the bluff. While in the bluff, we compared the Jewish people standing at the bottom of Mount Sinai looking towards Moses to us, sitting at the bottom of this crater looking up at folks on top.
For Isaac, celebrating Shavuot meant actively choosing to spend a day together studying Torah. However, this Shavuot also made him think about the significance of time, both in the context of the holiday and in the context of the job; it was the weekend between the first and second years of our ISJL Education Fellowship! Isaac used this moment to process what it meant to move into the second year of the fellowship. In different ways, going to Red Bluff to celebrate Shavuot allowed each of us to individually choose our own form of celebration while being together.
In addition to Shavuot, this trip also happened during a major life event: COVID-19. Though there are many challenges associated with the pandemic, it has also offered some silver linings. As Fellows, we normally spend most weekends during the year visiting the wonderful communities we serve. However, due to COVID-19, we have not been traveling for work. This allowed us to explore outside of our little neck of the woods and see the rest of Mississippi.
Since we had the time to explore, we saw an area that piqued our interest, one that was hit by a tornado. Isaac, who is a total weather enthusiast, could not have been more thrilled to see firsthand what a tornado can do. The tornado was categorized as an EF3 tornado (136-165 mph), meaning that the damage we saw included uprooted trees and a path cleared in the soil by the funnel. It was thrilling and terrifying at the same time!
As we were departing, Paige realized a great souvenir opportunity! She stumbled upon a pocket of soft clay in the crater, and figured that she could make something with it. We both decided to collect globs of clay to bring back with us in order to create something special. Thus, extending our trip, and allowing us to engage in a fun activity together. After much deliberation, we each chose to make candlestick holders (and a paperweight) that could be functional and useful on Shabbat. Now that we have created a souvenir from multiple projects, we are sure that every PI project will have something to show you!
On the whole, this unforgettable trip tightened our PI apartment bond. We learned important things about each other, the state in which we live, and the destruction that a tornado can cause! We hope that our roommate journeys continue to inspire you, and stay tuned for the next one.
–Paige & Isaac