Saturday, June 16, 2012

On the way to Oklahoma: across Louisiana, sleeping in Texas

If you've been reading since the beginning, you'll know that I'm interning at the Institute of Southern Jewish Life in the history department, under the guidance of Dr. Stuart Rockoff (quoted in this article on HuffPo on young Jews being lured back to the South). The ISJL, and specifically the history department, has been working on putting together an online encyclopedia of Jewish communities throughout the south--wherever they may be, and however small they almost certainly are. This summer's state is Oklahoma, and for the past two weeks I've been putting together a history of the Jews of Ponca City (~20 miles south of the Kansas border). 

Well, there's not better way to do history research than to go to the place the history happened, so this morning we embarked on what will be a five-day roadtrip to Oklahoma--we're visiting the Jewish communities in Ada, Ardmore, Edin, McAlester, Seminole, and Wilburton over the course of those five days. Lots of our time will be spent in libraries and archives, looking at microfilm and old city directories and scouting out the names and outlines of narratives that we've put together until now. But we'll also meet some people, which is actually I think what I'm most excited for, because they're people whose parents' and grandparents' lives I've been trying to piece together for the past two weeks. It sometimes seems like it's the same 7-10 families in all of these tiny towns in Oklahoma, and they just marry each other each generation. Actually, the same family was really big in both Ponca City and Muskogee, the town Diana (the other intern) has been working on--and the family we're staying with in Dallas on the way to Oklahoma is, in addition to being Stuart's cousin, one of the children of that family and a former OSRUI camper! (We ate dinner at their house, and for dessert we had Mississippi ice cream with fresh Oklahoma peaches on top. Delicious!)

In terms of Jewish geography, I guess, the South is no different than the rest of the world. 

And now for some pictures:  
The Mississippi River
The bridge over the Mississippi River. By the end of this trip, I'll have been in more than 30  states (airports don't count, but driving through does). 

Once we crossed the Mississippi, we were in Louisiana (I missed the "welcome to" sign, so I got this with the highway sign on it). All of a sudden there was "a lot more sin" than in Mississippi, in Stuart's words: casinos, "adult superstores", bars, etc.

Speaking of casinos...

But Louisiana isn't completely Godless

The Texas border is a little less than 60% of the way between Jackson and Dallas, where we're staying for the night.

And with Texas comes the long line of cars with painted windows, all on their way to some sort of Bible camp. I missed the four cars in a row that all had "Honk if You Love Jesus! <3" painted on the back. Looked like the camps were gender-segregated (see following picture)

"I'm so ExSKYted" is what it says on the back of this car, on it's way to Camp Sky (we think), which is a boys' camp  (at least that's what I assumed from the other writing on the window). 

Stopped at a huge Half Price Books depot--where I saw a woman walking with her dog (??). I wasn't so impressed with the bookstore, though. First of all, a cockroach walked by me as I sat reading a book and second of all, the books are mostly just lined up on shelves and not displayed, so unless you're looking for something specific, it's hard to browse.
Other notable things: at Shabbat dinner at one of the Education Fellow's house we had a surprise visit from a bat! More like ShabBAT dinner. But really, a bat just flew into the house and there were about 15 people there trying to figure out how to get it out. 

I went to services on Saturday morning at the one synagogue (Reform) in Jackson, and after services and before the Torah Study hour there's schmoozing time. A Jackson native came up to me and asked where I was visiting from, then what school I'm at--upon which he informed me that his son graduated from Princeton last year and is now working at one of the most well-loved Italian places in Jackson! Not only that, but he lives in the house next to Stuart. Small world...

And, finally, this weekend was the first time that I ever drove a car alone, without anyone else present. Everything went fine, thank you for asking, and it wasn't scary at all. 

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