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!
One of my favorite games is a play on ush’pizin (mythical Sukkot guests). If you are not familiar with the original reference, the Kabbalists (medieval Jewish mystics) believed that 7 specific guests from our tradition came to visit the sukkah; they were/are each assigned to their own night. Abraham and Moses would come on their respective nights, and so on. More recently, groups have been—rightly—inviting women from our heritage into our huts.
As Southerners, we also look to extend our Southern Hospitality to all our friends, family, and neighbors. Sometimes we will provide food, and other times we will just have our kids blow off some steam at the end of the day. I always like to extend my riff on the traditional ush’pizin as sort of an icebreaker. (Although, to tell you the truth, in the Deep South we’d like some ice to be a sort of heat-breaker… #southernrabbijokes.) I like to ask a “if you could invite” question. Some of them are serious, and some of them are more on the fun side. Usually it gets people talking—not only answering their question but also why.
Some specific examples have included, followed by my own answers in parentheses:
- If you could invite one literary character, who would it be? (Biff)
- If you could invite one historical figure who changed the world, who would it be? (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
- If you could invite a cartoon character, who would it be? (Inspector Gadget)
- If you could invite one musician to play a concert, who would it be? (Led Zeppelin)
- If you could share the spread from one meal scene in a movie, what would it be? (The Imaginary Meal in Hook)
- If you could spend sukkot in any location in the world, where would it be? (Republic of Maldives)
Some of my answers vary depending on the year and my general mood. Some of them remain consistent, such as my answer to the traditional overarching question “if you had the ability to bring anyone ever to the sukkah, who would you bring?” Without hesitation, I always say, “my maternal grandmother, Faye.” My mother lost her mother as a young girl, so I never had the chance to meet her. I’ve always wanted the chance to get to know her, if even just for an hour.
As I was ordering the 4” x 4” wood from the hardware store this year, a moving thought occurred to me. My newest child—born this past summer—was named after my deceased maternal grandfather, Sanford, who was married to Faye. It is a new and meaningful connection to the grandmother I never met.
While neither Faye nor my grandfather Sanford will be able to join us, I look forward to creating many new memories with my son Sanford as we picnic under the Mississippi stars. My eyes well up with water at just the thought of transcending time and space during one of my favorite holidays to sing and eat with all sorts of ush’pizin.