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Building Jewish Community 3 Hours from the Nearest Torah

About The Author

Maya Glasser

Maya Glasser is a Rabbinic student at the HUC-JIR in New York. She is a rabbinic intern at ARZA and founder of the ARZA HUC-JIR Fellowship.

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As rabbinical students at HUC-JIR headed into the holiday recess, preparing to move from 5777 to 5778, we had our first meeting of the inaugural cohort of ARZA HUC-JIR Fellowship. At the end of our formal agenda, the conversation moved to the communities we would be serving during the High Holidays. From Hillels to large urban congregations to smaller communities, I was in awe of the different kinds of incredible work on which the fellows were about to embark.

 

I had the opportunity to bring in the New Year with the Jewish community in Oxford, Mississippi. The newly-formed Jewish Federation of Oxford and the Hillel at the University of Mississippi collaborated to host services and hire me as their student rabbi for the holiday. It was an historic occasion: the first High Holiday service to ever be held on the campus. We did two services together, Erev Rosh Hashanah and Rosh Hashanah morning, which had attendances of 60 and 40, respectively. The services were held in the Paris-Yates Chapel, a beautiful interfaith space that built when its founders could not find a space for their Jewish-Christian wedding. The community was incredibly welcoming and happy to be celebrating together; I felt fortunate to have the chance to meet its members and facilitate their prayer experience.

 

Leaving my Manhattan campus to travel down to Mississippi during this most sacred time of year reminded me that Judaism takes place in many contexts. In many ways I am lucky to live in a center of Jewish life, surrounded by Jewish institutions and Jewish people. The Jewish community in Oxford had to drive three hours to borrow a Torah for services and collect prayer-books from an established congregation. I was in awe of all of the work they did to make services happen.

 

I also noticed that even so far away from my home, the words we prayed were familiar, and the melodies connected us all. This experience reminded me that we- Jews and people- have much more in common than we do different. In a time of increasing polarization and intolerance, it was incredible to celebrate the Jewish New Year in the South. I was honored and humbled to help build bridges and connections when it feels like so much of our country and our world is broken. I was grateful for the chance to connect with people face to face and share traditions, rituals, and holy words with them. To me, this is the path to wholeness.

 

In the coming year, may we be inspired to continue to build bridges and forge strong connections with people who belong to the same groups that we do, and with people who are different from us. May we strive to find sweetness in the world, and create our own. May we remember all that binds us together, and see the holiness in one another.