As a native Houstonian, I’m particularly excited that JOI has recently begun a three year partnership with the Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL), an organization dedicated to preserving, documenting, and promoting the practice, culture, and legacy of Judaism in the South. Living in New York City today, it’s easy to forget that Jewish life in the city is unique, that Jewish here is almost “normal,” and that American Jewish life has many regional flavors. Here, we don’t turn our heads when we see a man with a kippah, let alone a Hassid. And while this “normalcy” might not exist at home, I do want to see Jewish life in the South flourish more visibly. Thanks to my (Houston-based!) Jewish education at the Emery/Weiner Schools, I did once have the opportunity to travel beyond Jewish Texas into the Deep South (with stops in Jackson, Natchez, and New Orleans), to marvel at the old synagogues, learn about Jewish Civil Rights work at the sites where they actually took place, meander through Jewish cemeteries, and learn about the bustling Jewish life and the vestiges it left behind. Jewish life in a lot of the South is not always easy to find.
I see a partnership like the one between JOI and ISJL as an exciting and important step in making Southern Jewish life more vibrant and self-sustaining. Our partnership will be primarily focused on working to support intermarried couples and their families in all the communities that ISJL reaches. JOI will train the ISJL Fellows not only on the sensitivities surrounding intermarriage, but also the opportunities that intermarried couples provide; we have so much to learn from them! Additionally, JOI will provide and support courses, webinars, and take-home materials for its Mothers Circle (for women of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children) and Grandparents Circle (for grandparents whose grandchildren are being raised in intermarried families) programs. I’m hoping that the training and services provided will help ISJL communities be all the more prepared to welcome and embrace our intermarried families, as well as help these families feel all the more supported by their peers.
This all leads me to our first joint-venture: High Holiday Highlights, a free interactive online session (a webinar!) developed to help prepare women of The Mothers Circle population (women of other religious backgrounds raising Jewish children) and anyone who may want to learn more about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to make the High Holidays meaningful for their families (and themselves). Led by JOI Executive Director Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky and Renee Karp, an engaging Mothers Circle facilitator based in the Dallas area, it’s the perfect stress-free way to learn the “how-tos,” rituals, and purpose behind the traditions, so families can feel more engaged in the holiday.
High Holiday Highlights will take place next week on Wednesday, September 5th at 2pm EST, and I encourage anyone reading this (especially those of you who may be in harder to reach places like towns in the South) to send this along to friends and family who may be interested and looking for ways to make the High Holidays a little more special this year. All you will need is a phone, a computer connected to the Internet, and a registration to participate (which you can do now if you click here or you can forward to a friend).
This webinar, as I mentioned, is just the beginning of our work with the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, and I look forward to a continued collaboration that celebrates Jewish engagement and inclusion, new mediums and methods for Jewish education, and a love of the South.
That’s what we’re all about, y’all!