Over the past few weeks, Jeff and I have visited many small congregations across the USA. Though many are happy with their intimate communities, they worry about continuity. After our visit to Dothan, Alabama, Stephanie Butler, Executive Director BFJCS – The relocation grant project shared the following article:
Congregations in small- and medium-sized cities in the South exist at the margins of the URJ. We range in size from micro to small, many of the members of the congregations still live in the city where they were born, much of our philanthropy stays in our own communities, we’re not often on the Jewish artist tour circuit, and the URJ’s regional placement of human and structural resources don’t often reach past the metro in which they are physically located. But we are here – many, many “remote” congregations living a vibrant Judaism and fully embracing many of the values that the Reform Movement is pursuing.
Yesterday, my friend brought the artist Panhandle Slim to my attention, and I bought a print of his with a quote from rapper Andre 3000 of OutKast: “The South got something to say”. Andre was way ahead of his time. He said this back in the mid-‘90s, and the rest of the country is just now starting to listen.
Jeff and Mindy discovered a good bit of this on their recent travels. They visited Jacobs Camp in Utica, Mississippi – a Jewish camp largely built through the sheer willpower of Southern Jewish communities. They learned about the power of United Way to support communities by visiting with regional United Way directors. One of the best of the best is located right here in Dothan, Alabama. Walter Hill of Wiregrass United Way is an absolute angel on earth, who can perform near-miracles to be sure the needs of folks in Dothan and surrounding communities are met. LBA Hospitality, started and led by Dothan Jewish community member Larry Blumberg raises $40,000+ each year for United Way. Hospitality has always been audacious in small Southern Jewish communities. Jews of color, Jews by choice, people exploring Judaism, interfaith families, and LGBT Jews are valued members of our community, including serving in leadership roles. Despite any differences, we know for sure that we are all in this together – and our congregational community acts on that knowledge in the way we treat each other. And I think Jeff and Mindy got just a glimpse of how much can be learned about Jewish values and identity through exploring the incredible history of the South.
Every few years, Jewish travelers on a mission pass through Dothan. In 2013, Doug Passon and Dan Nichols filmed part of Road to Eden here. In 2014, Brad Lichtenstein and Morgan Johnson featured Dothan in their documentary There Are Jews Here. And now, we are part of Jeff and Mindy’s story, too. We are glad they remembered that there are Jews off the beaten path and that they think we might have something to say – about life, about Judaism, and about community. We are glad to now call Jeff and Mindy friends and members of our community, and we hope they succeed in creating lasting connections among far-flung communities. And we hope they have occasion to visit again.