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!
Beep, Beep, Beeeep!
My alarm clock jolts me out of bed. Looking out the window, it’s a gloomy, grey morning in Jackson, Mississippi. Work starts in forty minutes, and I need a stimulating breakfast if I want to start the day on a productive note. On overcast winter days such as this one, I instinctively make a bowl of oatmeal. Warm grains, milk, fruit, spices, and granola: there is nothing better!
Some people might see oatmeal as boring, bland, an utterly uninspired breakfast. But that’s not how I see it.
Preparing a bowl of oatmeal can be a metaphor for bringing new energy into a mundane week of work or study. Each added ingredient offers an essential quality to an otherwise plain foundation. I have listed some of my favorite mix-ins; perhaps they, too, can help support mindfulness in your life.
At the conclusion of Shabbat, the Jewish community comes together in a Havdalah celebration to welcome the new week. A glass of wine or juice is consumed, a multi-wicked candle is lit and extinguished, and songs of prayer are sung. Perhaps the most unique element of Havdalah is the passing of a spice box. Each attendee takes a quick moment to draw in the aroma of Shabbat in order to retain its invigorating fragrance for the impending busy days. Like the smells incorporated into Havdalah, a pinch of cinnamon relishes the flavors of the past. When I add cinnamon to my breakfast, I recall the memory of being a “morning cook” with my father and siblings and making countless sweet pancakes. The spice also hearkens back to the moments after my high school cross country races when I often savored a cinnamon raisin bagel as a cool-down snack. The scent of cinnamon transports me back to days of comfort and sweetness. We perform at our best when we remember inspirational experiences and guiding role models; we might also recall mistakes of the past, reminding us to stay grounded in the present. Sprinkling cinnamon and spice, we reflect where we have been, where we are, and where we want to go.
Raisins, dates, apricots, cranberries, and cherries: each fruit livens hot cereal with hearty sweetness and texture. As we note on Tu B’Shevat, the festival of the trees, fruits may conceal pits, exhibit peel or shell exteriors, or may be completely edible. Whatever their composition, fruits hold seeds amid their complex structure. How can we embody the fruits we enjoy and grasp at our own inner “seeds”? An individual’s emotional core is fashioned by values, passions, anxieties, and ambitions. However, occasionally these innate attributes are obscured by distractions and over-committed schedules. The inclusion of dried or fresh fruit in a bowl of oats can be a regular reminder to radiate distinctiveness in a project, workspace, or relationship. Actuating our fundamental tenets makes ordinary tasks fulfilling and cultivates personal investment in the people and experiences we encounter. The bright flavors of fruit invigorate us to communicate our identities each and every day.
Growing up at URJ Camp Olin-Sang-Ruby-Union-Institute, I was introduced to a unique add-in to a pot of oatmeal: peanut butter. The rich, nutty spread melted on the oats’ surface and contributed a surge of energy before a long day of outdoor activities. While peanut butter’s addition to a hot breakfast may not seem momentous, opening ourselves to new ideas or practices is the necessary precursor to growth. Individuals and communities fall into patterns all too often: engaging solely with familiar social circles, consuming a singular news source, or putting off making moral adjustments in favor of preserving the status quo. Embracing a “special ingredient” means purposely considering an unfamiliar perspective. A disrupted lifestyle leads to unforeseen experiences and a greater social awareness. Starting a day with a unique taste encourages wonder and challenge.
What we eat for breakfast matters! A morning meal is good for our bodies and our souls. Whether we crave or detest oatmeal, its versatile mix-ins inspire us to find meaning in the items we consume. Just some food for thought!