By Amanda Myhand
I know I’m not the only Jew in the state of Alabama, but it feels that way quite often. I don’t fit in at all – an awkward, dark- and curly-haired Jewish girl (whose vocabulary is unmarred by the infamous, horrid Southern accent, I might add) in a sea of blonde Southern belles draws attention. I come from a long line of Jewish women who married either Christian or non-religious men and gave up any observance they had, which wasn’t much, in a successful effort to blend into the Bible Belt. As a result of their compromising, I, too, grew up under my domineering Christian father’s thumb (I also have him to thank for my glaringly Irish surname). I was dimly aware of, but not really exposed to any of my Jewish heritage or culture until I reached high school – a thought that chaps my lovely Jewish ass to this day.
A while back, sick of having Bibles shaken in my face and being turned down for dates because of something about an ox and a yoke, I sought refuge in a tiny Reform synagogue here in Florence. About ten regular members make up the congregation (though during the High Holidays, attendance swelled to a whopping 50-ish!), and we have a lovely cantoress that comes in from Nashville every other Friday. I really love my synagogue; it’s one of the few things I’ll miss about Alabama when I move…
… to New York City. Next month. I recently took a trip there for the first time (feel free to laugh).
I had heard about how different Jewish culture is there compared to here, and, of course, all the “Jew York City” jokes. They were right – I was on cloud nine as I drove through Crown Heights and saw my people. The only other time I ever felt that sense of ‘I’m not alone’ was when I drove past a huge synagogue in downtown Nashville. My mother, feeling renewed by her divorce from my father, has begun to rediscover her heritage for herself, a thought that fills me with joy. But I’m also nervous. I worry I won’t be religious or knowledgeable enough to keep up with the Jewish culture in NYC. But I remember that though it’s tempting, I don’t have to “fit in” to Jewish culture in NYC. I’ve kind of got a knack for standing out.