From Fellow to Fellowship: Embracing My Southern Jewish Experience

A couple weeks ago, I was returning from vacation and was waiting for my bag at the Jackson airport baggage claim when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I whizzed around and to my surprise and excitement, I saw Ali Duhan, a second-year ISJL Education Fellow, who was picking me up from the airport. I was eager to see her after a long hiatus, because over the course of my first Fellowship year, she’s become a great friend and colleague. But I was also hit by a wave of déjà vu—back to almost a year ago, when I was interviewing for my Jewish job down South, and first met Ali in this very spot at the airport.

A year ago, I applied for the ISJL Education Fellowship on a whim, and was given the opportunity to fly down to Jackson in February of 2016. I clearly remember seeing Ali standing in the baggage claim area with a sign that said my name. I had never been to the south before and frankly, the first day of the interview, I didn’t really know what I was doing in Mississippi. But after spending time with Ali and the other Fellows, I knew I wanted to go on this Southern Jewish adventure.

I got the job. I moved to Mississippi.

Ali and Leah
Ali and Leah

Now I am fortunate to share an office with Ali. We bounce program ideas off each other, sing loudly to pop music, and Israeli folk dance around the office as we prepare to hit the road and visit Southern Jewish communities. A year has flown by. And now, as the first round of potential new Fellows are just days away from arriving, I find myself looking back on how much I have grown over the past year.

When I first came to Jackson, it didn’t fully occur to me that there were Jewish people in the south. Now, I am privileged to have formed relationships with incredible people across our region, and I have a much greater appreciation and understanding of Jewish communities of all sizes. I have attended Friday night services with almost 100 people, and services where we had to count the Torah to make a minyanboth of which were equally spiritually fulfilling.

I am able to walk into a room with people I have never met before and have engaging conversations. I’ve not only learned how to navigate the southern roads, I have navigated new friendships, work relationships, and the changing landscape of congregational life.

Soon, I will be the one picking up potential new Fellows at the Jackson airport, and I couldn’t be more excited to share my experiences with them—and share an office, dancing, road trips, and Southern Jewish adventures with the ones lucky enough to get this job.

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