Thursday, August 21, 2008

Guest blog: "Contradiction?"

Posted By on Thu, Aug 21, 2008 at 6:05 PM

(The following is by Gambit guest blogger and New Orleans resident Leigh C., who maintains her own blog, Liprap’s Lament: The Line. You can read more of her writing there.)

The start of Shabbat, back in the day:

This was Friday night in Anniston, Alabama, at the turn of the century: “First, Mama blessed the lights. And then, we always had our favorite Sabbath meal – oyster stew; steak, ham, or fried chicken; Mama’s homemade biscuits and cornbread, too; hoppin’ john [a mixture of black-eyed peas and rice]; and sweet potato pie for dessert.”*

Yes, for those who know me, there’s a good amount wrong with the above picture of a nice Shabbat meal –but there’s also a whole lot of what is right in that account.

There are those who think that if I harp on too many details - like the fact that eating oysters or any kind of shellfish is considered treif, or not kosher, and ham is an absolute kosher no-no - then I ought to perhaps head on back to New York City, where I lived for four years, or make aliyah (literally, a rising up in Hebrew, and a common term for immigrating to Israel) and move overseas to the Middle East. Go on, honey, head to the Holy Land. You’re used to the climate already. Why not?

For starters, I was born in Tennessee and raised in Texas....

I don’t have any family in Israel, unless one counts my husband’s second cousin. I’ve never even been there, although we are working and scheming to send me there for a short trip next summer, if all goes well. Overall, I am glad that Israel still exists and is 60 years strong, because, despite the many people in its Knesset who have tried to change the country’s Law of Return over the years, it still mandates that Israel accept any Jew on the planet as a full citizen, regardless of Judaic denomination.

Having said that, there is still a lot going on within Israel’s borders, and slightly without, that I don’t agree with. There’s a lot going on here in New Orleans that I’m not too enthused about, either, but, call me crazy (and I already did – heh) – I feel I can make more of a difference here.

Many, many reasons account for the fact that there is no celibate Jewish priesthood – and one of the reasons that speaks to me the most is that, in this time after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the survival of the Jewish people cannot continue with a class in its midst that is completely apart from its community. Yes, the world can be healed if you do your best to follow the 613 commandments in the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible), but it doesn’t mean a thing if you are not engaging that same world on some level.

The Jewish community here in New Orleans is imbued with that sensibility. It is a model of inter-denominational cooperation that, in other places on earth, especially (sadly) New York and Israel, is tough to come by. No, it isn’t an easy thing to sustain in a religion in which, if two of its members were stranded on a desert island, there would be three houses of worship built there – one for one guy to go to, one for the other, and the third one that neither of ‘em would be caught dead in. But questions and arguments have always been a large part of being Jewish…

…and it brings me all the more naches (joy) to be in a country that encourages such dialogue.

Especially in such a town as this. This city, if all goes well, can help encourage the best of Judaic practices to survive and thrive. Nothing better than a town that encourages generation after generation to stay on and raise more generations. Catholic guilt bears a great many similarities to Jewish guilt. This could be anybody’s mom’n’em in da parish, for true:

How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a lightbulb?

None. “It’s all right. I’ll just sit here in the dark, going blind.”

And what better way to gather the family than with that elixir for all that ails? Nothing like good, good food. One of the biggest crossroads at which the South and Judaism intersect. Tzimmes and Cajun fried turkey. Kishke and boudin. Chicken soup and pheasant, quail and andouille gumbo. Sofganiyot and beignets. I can’t go on, else I’ll be eating everything in sight, and you most likely will, too.

But, in a town such as this, we will be doing it together. And that is what matters most.

Amen to that.

*from The Provincials, by Eli Evans

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