Nu?

I’m not a balabusta, but I play one on the Internet.

Definition of Terms:
Balabusta is Yiddish for female boss of the home.  It is a term of high praise.  In my case, it is a state of being to which I aspire and only occasionally attain.

To me, a balabusta is a feminist and supporter of work inside or outside the home and is happiest when child-rearing is a team effort. I know balabustas who are university deans, pro-bono lawyers, Rebbetizins, Kindergarten teachers, geologists, stay-at-home parents, and every other possible title which may or may not be legitimized with an IRS W-2 form. The term is an old one, and I use it with a mixture of cheek and respect.

Bible Belt is a moveable geographic area denoting Protestantism as the majority culture. I say moveable because the Belt, and especially the Buckle, is the avowed residence of folks scattered here and there and everywhere. I can say, however, with as much authority as any of these scattered hordes, that Nashville could very well be THE Buckle of the Bible Belt. Drive down Hillsboro Road and count the steeples. Or open the Yellow Pages and note the numbers of entries under “Churches” (including the surprise subheading: “Jewish synagogues”).

Being Jewish in the Buckle of the Bible Belt is always an adventure. I take it for granted, having lived in Tennessee so long, but occasionally I am moved to ask a relative to remind me that things really are different down here. Different how? For example, when people come to my house to fix or install things, I might be asked what church I go to. I might be regaled with a born-again experience. I might be wished a blessed day (that’s bless-ed with two syllables). And every now and then I might get told, in a low and its-for-your-own-good-kind of voice, that I’m going to H-E-double-toothpicks.  And then there might be weird variations like the time the cable guy sang Christmas carols at me  (it was February) and then phoned me up later to tell me about, well, the reason for the season.  Sigh.  These things never, ever happen to mishpacha in Philly or Boston or New York.
Workers who Witness are but one feature of life here in the Buckle.

The biggest difference, though, is that being Jewish here means you have to work for it. You can’t take anything for granted. There is not a critical mass of Jews around here.  We are a small bunch and we do our best at being a community.  Resources are few.  And aside from a well-funded missionary presence (you need to ask me which denomination?), we struggle.

Bio bits
Email: BibleBeltBalabusta (a t) gmail.com

If you need to know more about me, I admit I am agonizingly private. I’m a writer, a Jewish educator (Conservative); Master’s in Jewish Studies (Vanderbilt); former Program Director for Families with Young Children; keeper of an untidy, kosher kitchen;  mom of two; and the monthly Lifestyles columnist for BookPage, America’s Book Review. Nashville is home.

I love DIY, but I especially love the “why” behind it: I explore the customs and traditions behind holiday projects. If I’m learning, I’m happy.

My spirituality comes from the natural world and my family. I do not consider myself Religious, per se.  I am in this club for the tradition, ritual, history, and community. Was I born into this club?  No.  I write about that, too.  I’m posting a few essays over at Gone Jewish.  Do visit.

19 responses to “Nu?

  1. Hello!
    As you can tell from my name, I am not Jewish! But I too am raising children with a faith tradition and helping the families in my congregation to do the same. I am very encouraged by your adventures in passing faith, heritage, and community to your kids and your willingness to spread your knowledge and experience to the rest of us! Incorporating spirituality and mindfulness into a preschooler’s day is a constant challenge and you are doing it beautifully.
    Just a comment from a Christian pastor whose day you have MADE!
    Becky

  2. Hi, great blog! As the daughter of a Texan Jew, I know where you are coming from! I thought you might get a kick out of our project, Jewnion Label: http://www.jewnionlabel.com

    Shabbat Shalom!

  3. Just found your blog and I wanted to say it is great. I am a Jewish Mommy to adorable triplets that are being raised in Indiana, yes, Indiana. Its not Nashville, but it is not Chicago either :)

    http://thriftywithtriplets.blogspot.com/2011/09/carmel-apple-cake-pops.html

  4. Diane Erichsen

    I couldn’t resist leaving a comment! I live in Raleigh-Cary, NC area and to use the cliche, “I totally relate”! I love your blog and what you have written for you make me feel (and my 9 year old son who writes Santa as well, and wants a Star of David on top of every goyim Christmas tree) not alone in numbers. We, too, have 3 synagogues in the Triangle area, and are constantly asked what church we go to, when we reply, we usually are told that Jesus can save us! Thank you for your humour, plus all of the Legos pic which my son loves! We had our first Hannukah festival in Cary this year with a turn out of 2,000! On the news and everything Jewish related, yea! This area is less judgemental from where we lived last, Castle Rock, Colorado, close to James Dobson – the Christian Focus on the Family and Mormons, now that was truly testing our good will ;)
    I am from NY and LA so quite a different world down here in BB land!

    • I’m so glad to hear from you! If you have any great responses to the well-meant but wearing admonitions and attempts to “save,” please share. I think humor might the only thing that can save us, actually. But it’s always the first thing to leave me in a crisis.
      A Cary Hanukkah festival with 2,000 is amazing. Who’d have thought?
      Must be quite a breather after Dobson-ville….

  5. I get a lot of “witnessing” here from patients here also. I met one patient from Israel, greeted him in Hebrew, then found out he was an Israeli Messianic Christian. Anyway, when people start asking “what I am” or start going into the church issue, I look them in the eyes and simply state that I’m a G-d fearing woman. That seems to make them happy enough. Then I go onto whatever business we have to accomplish that day. Seems to head most of it off, even around the holidays. Horray!

  6. Diane Erichsen

    Thank you for responding to me! I like you comment that you posted :) Yes, big difference from “Dobsonville” as you say. Joining the Sisterhood and Haddassah has been a wonderful way to meet new people, to develop friends or hang with our own “peeps”. Glad to know you are not too far away!

  7. Hi! I am a Jew from Knoxville, Tennessee, and am SO excited to have found your blog. I’m blogging for a Jewish magazine called Moment Magazine, and I want to write a piece about the rare Southern Jew :) Would you mind if I cited you? I’d love to talk to you about it as well, because I can absolutely relate.

  8. PJ Library had your link on their website…so glad I clicked on it!! I feel your pain and I’ve had people tell me all the same things growing up here in Houston, Texas!! I’m usually the only Jewish person people know…well, now they know my husband and two small children as well, so the only 4 Jews they know! I’ve been looking for ways to incorporate more of the Jewish holidays into our daily lives so my 5 year old doesn’t concentrate so hard on all he thinks he is “missing”. Dealing with why Santa doesn’t come to our house was a bit difficult this past holiday season. Of course he LOVES Hanukkah and wishes it lasted all year. I’m working on getting him excited for Passover…my favorite holiday. I can’t wait to check out the rest of your blog!! Thanks for speaking up for us Southern Gals!!

  9. I’m so glad you clicked on that link. Passover is the BEST, isn’t it? So many fun components to share. My older kid’s friends (Jewish and non) look forward to our Passover every year for the food, toys, treasure hunt and costumes. By the way, they are high-school Juniors, which proves you are never too old to play with spring-loaded frogs. Last year we invited them over early so they could make the charoset and set the seder plate symbols. Jewish holidays really can go a long way to balance that Santa envy you mention. That being said, you and I both live vastly outnumbered by majority culture, and Santa can still make December pretty tricky, even if we’ve got the rest of the Jewish calendar to play with.
    Here comes Purim…more play on the way…

  10. Hi, my name is E.J. and I know live in Las Vegas- we moved last summer where my family had spent the last 7 years in far north east Texas. (funny I thought Pittsburg, Tx was the buckle of the Bible belt, Ha!)
    Anyways~ We never found a “church” home we fit into, we were drowning in Baptist Church Steeples. Being a homeschool mom, I wanted to make sure I was doing everything I could to help educate my children in the best full circle of life- so when it came to religion we started to dig deeper, and didn’t like what we had found. A total loss of respect for Hebrew history. On our own we started learning about Israel, Hebrew and the Biblical holidays and enjoying them Oh So Much!!! When we moved to Vegas, we found our home at LevHashem- a Messianic Jewish Synagogue, and we love it. There is the near perfect balance of raising our kids up for the Lord with the Rabbi’s Biblical and historical knowledge and the excitement found in every Biblical holiday we celebrate. ~that’s our story
    But I am writing to you, to tell you THANK YOU! It is the few Jews here and there that inspire me to continue to learn more and teach my children the best that I can. I enjoy your blog for many reason but I love finding more things to share with my kids.

    So from the bottom of my heart~

    Shalom!

    ~Ellen

  11. I have to tell you: I am leaving in the Chicago suburbs. There is a large Jewish community here. Yet, maintaining Jewish identity is still challenging, maybe even more so because people take the community somewhat for granted.

  12. Carol Barnett

    We are Jewish and live in Southern Illinois with 3 kids (age 1, 9 and 10) and after reading your post about the reindeer shirt from your sons preschool let me start by saying how lucky you are that your kids teachers arent SHOVING religion down their throats. We have had a problem with the older 2 kids’ schools EVERY year especially in Decemeber. I am really dreading this year. Last year there was the singing of Silent Night, Away in the manger, The Merry Christmas signs all over the school, the christmas trees, the decorations, EVERYTHING Christmas and their teachers solution was to give them a santa coloring sheet while they sat in the corner refusing to sing the songs. Oh I think my daughters teacher printed a dreidel for my her to color while all the other kids made Christmas trees. The year before we had all the same problem plus the Jesus is the reason sign my son had to walk past to get to his classroom. Then theres the counting them absent for Rosh Hanshana, Yom Kippur and other Jewish holidays. School wide prayer meets at a local church. My daughters teacher took the class to a local cemetary to bury a baby bird that died and of course there was a prayer said. At Easter time last year when my son refused to make an easter egg, I was called to school and the teacher didn’t understand what the big deal was about decorating an egg… It is just an egg she said. Last year I also had to switch my kids to a different bus when they were being teased, called names and just bullied by older students on the bus for being Jewish and when they complained or told the kids to leave them alone, the driver yelled at my kids! The school basically thinks if they let my kids bring in a dreidel, a menorah and some matzah that is good enough and I should allow them to continue what they are doing. My kids are the ONLY Jewish kids in the entire school district.

  13. Dear Joanna,
    I’m so glad to hear from another gutte neshome living in the South. I live in Mobile, Alabama, and living as a kosher Jew down here is challenging to say the least. There are almost no sources of kosher food here, and I can’t make the local supermarkets understand why I can’t eat just anything. There are two synagogues here, one conservative, the other reform. I go to the conservative occasionally, but the idea of driving on Shabbat (it’s not within walking distance) is just too disturbing for someone raised Orthodox. (So is the whole idea of davening without a mechitza, but that’s another story.) Another problem is that when I try to explain the differences between Christians and Jews to them, and why I have to do the things I do, they don’t understand it. Most folks can’t seem to wrap their minds around a religion based on deeds, not faith. I was even approached by a so-called “inter-faith” group calling themselves “a free and open discussion on mutually inclusive issues”, and asked to join. That’s when I discovered that the “Jews” were actually part of the “J-for-J” crowd. They were quick to point out that Jews could be Christians, too. They closed up shop quickly when I informed them that Jews are many things, but they are not, and can not be Christians. But all in all, mostly it’s just an overwhelming sense of apathy. But it does give me hope that someone else sees these same hardships and the same problems to overcome them. Thank you for your great iberzeigung, and zay gezunt!

  14. It’s not limited to the South. I was in school in Ames, IA and went to a Newman Club Catholic Church event when one “student” asked me: “We Catholics base our religion on the 10 Commandments; what do Jews base theirs on?” Really, he asked that question.

  15. Oy, I am lucky. I raised my kids in Philadelphia, PA where there is a sizable Jewish community (although not in our little neighborhood); I sent my kids to day school for elementary grades. Now, though, we inherited my late in-laws (may they rest in peace) home in FL – there is a synagogue and it is listed under churches too! All of our neighbors are non-Jews, but they knew my in-laws were Jewish and I am pretty sure they all know (on some level, at least) that we are too. Imagine my surprise at our community garage sale recently, when we were discussing how to price things, and one neighbor’s adult son used that term “Jxx it down”. Not knowing what to say, I turned and walked back to my own garage. The chance to educate them is gone because the family moved out, but I don’t have the guts to do the steely-eyed stare/glare, I am not big on confrontation. I’m glad I found your blog, though; I will be back for more!

  16. Love this blog. Grew up in a small FL town as one of 2 Jews in my school (the other was my sister). We started going to a synagogue the weekend after I started first grade, and came home singing “Jesus Loves Me”. Over the years, I have found the best comment for people who try to “save me” or tell me where I am going after my demise, is to say that if Judiasm was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me. Or, if they are particularly obnoxious, I ask them if they are saying that Jesus was wrong in his belief, and really went to h-ll. Either statement usually leaves them at a lack for words. For those who are isolated, especially those with children, there are several wonderful synagogues that live stream their services. Anyone with a computer can “attend” services in real time.
    Keep up the good work

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