Thursday, September 11, 2008

southern Jews

I think Jews here are accustomed to living undercover, surrounded by a total ignorance of Jewish life and in a very conservative and decidedly Christian culture. Maybe this is why they seem genuinely excited about all the changes they see going on at the moment, it's a kind of communal coming-out. And, indeed, for a mere 10,000 Jews statewide, this community has achieved a lot. In my city of 3000 Jews alone, at least two supermarket have sizeable kosher sections, there are several shuls, a day school, and we even have a brandnew JCC. True, the latter is at least 70% non-Jewish, but that just makes it more Jewish in my eyes. What JCC is still majority Jewish nowadays anyway?

Today, the Yidden turned up for a Jewish-themed lecture, some looking decidedly old-world in their suits with their New York accents, or without: "Ah thenk mah fahmily came here in 1890...", leaving with rather academic books in hand, with a genuine hunger for Jewish knowledge. Having spent just a month here, I cannot imagine what it means to be biblebelted in the long run, but judging by my students who don't know from bagel & lox (!!), it must have been tough. Still, even the kids are trying: today, we had a presentation on Yom Kippur in my intro class. The students had never heard of the Day of Atonement ("atonement from what, professor?"), but here they were, talking about kittels as if they'd been born wearing them, describing rituals, texts, and bringing in home-made Yom Kippur booklets as handouts...

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