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!
I know, I know… it always sounds cliché when you say something is “life-changing.” But as the final few months of my fellowship have flown by (way) too fast, I can quite honestly say that working at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) as an Education Fellow and living in Jackson, Mississippi, has changed my life.
These past two years have been some of the most formative years in my 24 year old life (and no, I’m not just writing this to please my bosses or make sure I leave in good graces, I promise). As I’ve written in previous blog posts, I grew up in a secular family with no religious school education and no real understanding of my Jewish identity. By no means am I shaming this experience, for myself or anyone else—our Jewish journeys all look different. And truly, I would not be where I am today if it were not for how and where I was raised, because while I was not raised in the organized Jewish world, I was raised to believe in myself, follow my dreams, and do what makes me happy or fills up my cup.
Growing up in the south and having no strong Jewish foundation, I began to hunger for more Jewish connection. After serving as an Oral History Intern with the Jewish Women’s Archive the summer between my junior year and senior semester in college, I found out about the ISJL. The Education Fellowship peaked my interest, for I have always loved learning, and believed that this fellowship in particular would offer me an unusual opportunity and would allow me—at long last, as a Jewish adult—to learn from the students and communities I would visit, the programs I would write, the curriculum I would help overhaul. Serving out the fellowship provided just that, but it also gave me so much more, both professionally and personally.
Over my time in this role, I began finally feeling comfortable and safe in expressing myself. I became more deeply proud of my Jewish background, my heritage, my connection to Judaism and Jewish history. Working at the ISJL helped me embrace what for years I overlooked, or even resented: my Jewish identity. In fact, it led me to embrace it so much so that following my time in the fellowship, I am pursuing my masters in Jewish Nonprofit Management at the Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.
My parents will ask, with confusion and awe: “How the hell did you get here?” Other times they’ll smile and say: “If only your grandparents could see where you are now and what you’re doing, they would be so proud!”
I’m incredibly grateful to the folks at the ISJL who have nurtured and encouraged me to learn, grow, and feel like a part of the community I quietly yearned to be a part of for so long. I am infinitely grateful to this journey—these incredible past two years—for all of the many expected and unexpected ways I have changed, I have learned, I have grown, I have embraced and been embraced.
I am proud and I am happy. I am ready for the next chapter. I am learned, and I am excited to continue learning. I am in love and full of love. I am grown and I have aged, and yes, will continue to do so. I am committed and dedicated. I am patient and understanding. I am grateful and thankful—and I owe so much of it to my work with the ISJL.