A Southern Shabbat… On A Train

How The City of New Orleans Carried Us Through The Sabbath

In my previous position at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) as an Education Fellow, I had the pleasure of celebrating Shabbat in a different southern community almost every week.  In my current position, I don’t travel nearly as much, and I can’t help but miss my Shabbat celebrations on the road, lighting candles, drinking wine, and singing songs in congregations spanning from Texas to Virginia. So, when the opportunity arose for me to celebrate Shabbat in multiple southern cities in one night, I couldn’t pass it up.

How did I do it? A ride on the rails.

My husband Erik and I recently celebrated our one year wedding anniversary, and decided to celebrate with a trip to Chicago. While Chicago is one of the few cities to which there are direct flights from Jackson, we opted to make the journey on the City of New Orleans Amtrak train, which travels overnight between New Orleans and Chicago with a stop in Jackson. We booked the tickets to leave on a Friday afternoon, and Erik had an idea: “What if we did Shabbat on a train?”

In the weeks leading up to our departure, we both became more and more excited about the idea. Erik was looking forward to the new experience, and I was thrilled to once more have a traveling southern Shabbat experience. On the day of our departure (after scouring Amtrak’s website for its fire policy and seeing nothing that lead me to conclude that we would be kicked off and/or arrested), we packed up our travel Shabbat candleholders, matches, tealights, and a bottle of wine, and boarded our train.

As the sun began to sink low against the southern backdrop, Erik and I headed into our sleeper car to welcome Shabbat. We lit the candles, drank some wine, and were even able to say hamotzi over a roll we’d saved from dinner. We interspersed Shabbat prayers and songs with Arlo Guthrie tunes, and our Shabbat candles glowed across the Mississippi Delta and into Tennessee. It was a joyous and meaningful time, but I can’t say I’m surprised, as it is the Shabbat celebrations that I’ve had on the road that have always stood out in my mind as the most significant. I am thankful to be able to add Shabbat on a train to my cadre of traveling southern Shabbat experiences.

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