Sunday, September 7, 2014

This Really Should Be Two Posts, or From Texas to Virginia, and Back Again

At the ISJL, we like to boast that the 13-state region we define as "the South" extends all the way from Virginia to Texas. I'm fortunate that the communities I'm working with this year represent the full range, and my most recent set of visits had me traveling from one to the other in a giant mega-trip. On August 12 I woke up at 4:30am to make a 6 o'clock flight to DC; from there, we rented a car and traversed the state of Virginia, making stops as far west as Blacksburg (practically in West Virginia) and ending up back east in Williamsburg (practically in the bay). After a day in DC (more details later), I flew directly to San Antonio, stayed there for a couple days, then drove to Houston and flew back to Jackson from there a couple days later.

But let's back up (I think I've started most of my Jackson posts this way; that's what happens when the frequency of posts don't keep up with the frequency of events).

August kicked off with a visit to the community I work with in Shreveport, Louisiana, where I met with all of the teachers at the religious school and led a text study I'd prepared for the occasion. It was a quick visit--just one night--and from there we* headed over the Texas state line (at Bethany, LA/TX--the town straddles the states, apparently) and kept driving and driving and driving until we got to Galveston, TX, which is actually an island.
*On these summer visits, I was always traveling with at least one coworker. Instead of confusing you by introducing lots of names, I'll just stick to the general "we."

We had  a day of free time in Galveston, so we hit the town touring. Galveston is an old port city, dating from the early-ish 1800s (it was the capital of the Republic of Texas! Remember that that existed?), and I'd been hoping to make it to Galveston ever since I learned about it while interning at the ISJL in 2012 (more on this later.)
One of the places we visited was Bishop's Palace, an old Victorian house. Initially a private home, the Diocese purchased the building in the 1920s (it's across the street from a beautiful, all-white Catholic church, the columns of which frame the photo you're looking at). Bishop's Palace was one of the few buildings to survive the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, which to this day remains the deadliest hurricane to hit the United States.  

The hotel we were staying in was right on the beach, so to keep up my streak of going to beaches on workdays, I made sure to take a nice, long walk on the sand (and to take a couple dips when it got too hot, which happened frequently.) 

Back in Jackson. I took a detour home one day and passed a sign for a farmers' market I'd never even heard about before.  The farmers' market I knew about is only open twice a week, at inconvenient times; this one is opened 7 days a week until 6pm. Now I go there a couple times a week, and the vendors recognize me and have been supplying my taste-buds with new fruits I'd never heard of before: I've now tried muscadines (kind of like concord grapes, but the size of cherry tomatoes) and scuppernongs* (kind of like muscadines, but sweeter), and I've also tried boiled peanuts which are just as slimy as they sound.
*Spelling that word felt very much like the "creative spelling" I was encouraged to do in kindergarten. The sound I heard come out of the vendor's mouth was more like "scupanon," but Google told me that was definitely wrong.
 
Here's where the whirlwind MS->VA->TX->MS tour begins:
Lynchburg is one of two communities in Virginia that I work with. I'm pretty sure your first reaction to that sentence was "Lynchburg? What an awful name for a town!" There is, of course, a story. The town of Lynchburg, I learned, is name for its founder John Lynch (not to be confused with John R. Lynch , the first black person elected as Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, in 1873). The Lynchburg John Lynch established the town as a center of commerce; legend has it that his brother, Charles Lynch, is responsible for the word "lynch" as it is defined today.
As soon as we rolled over the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains I remembered why I'd heard of Lynchburg before: Lynchburg was the home of none other than Jerry Falwell, who I'd never heard of before I took a fantastic class with Julian Zelizer and Kevin Kruse junior year (people still at Princeton: take HIS 361!) and learned all I ever wanted to know (and more) about Falwell. Falwell was the founder of the Moral Majority movement, which effectively brought about the rise of the religious right's involvement in politics. There's a lot more I could say about him, but I'd rather not. The only other thing I'll add is that Lynchburg is also home to Liberty University, the college he founded that espouses the very conservative, very evangelical Christianity he preached. I was told by someone I met that "half the town is Liberty, and the other half is liberal." Interesting contrast in that statement alone.
I'll just close with this assessment: Lynchburg is one of the most beautiful towns I've ever been in. It's surrounded by mountains on all sides (we've already decided that my spring visit to the community will include a hiking trip!), and the main drag in town is dotted with a bunch of "play me" pianos like the ones I saw in Munich last year which, obviously, I played.

The way my flight plans worked out, I had a whole day to spend in DC. Turns out, so did my Grandma! We had a lovely family reunion with the Halper side of the family. (Thanks to the Meyer sisters for the shirt! #whitetext)

On the morning of my free day, I paid a visit to Henry Morgenthau III, a member of Princeton's class of 1939 and the second-oldest alumnus I interviewed for my thesis. Henry told me about a "new friend" of his and then inscribed his family memoirs to me as his "good young friend." As I've written elsewhere, May we all continue to make new friends well into our 10th decade! 

After a long day of exploring the Smithsonians and strolling along the Mall, we headed to Julie's for Shabbat and had a big Shabbat dinner at a friend's house. It was so great to be able to swing a visit with a friend off a work visit!
I headed straight from DC to San Antonio, one of two Texas communities I'm working with this year. I was staying about 3 minutes from Dwight D. Eisenhower Park, where I went hiking both mornings and saw these purple cacti.
Sometime on the previous Texas trip (the one mentioned at the top of this post), my phone began behaving strangely; the screen would flash and peter out, and often looked the way TVs used to when the reception was bad. Fortunately, I thought ahead and borrow a friend's old flip-phone, so I was prepared when mine died completely in San Antonio and was able to temporarily transfer my number to the flip-phone. I am now the proud (?) owner of a Windows Phone on a Cricket plan. We'll see how that goes.


I pride myself on my Jewish Geography abilities (for the unfamiliar, Jewish Geography is basically an attempt to figure out which people you know in common when you meet someone new. These days, Facebook does it for you). My trip to San Antonio brought a huge success, involving my thesis, the ISJL, and the Galveston Project that I'd learned about when I interned here, which brought Jewish immigrants through the port at Galveston (rather than Ellis Island) between 1907-1914. I won't go into all the details here, since I wrote an entire post about it on the ISJL's blog, "Southern and Jewish" and you can read it there, but I'll include a snippet:

"Long story short, if it weren’t for Macy’s great-grandfather, Henry Cohen might not have moved to Galveston, there might not have been a Galveston Project, Ruth Cohen and Ephraim Frisch might not have gotten married, there would have been no David Frisch, and thus no one to lead Shabbat services at Princeton in the late 1930s.
I should probably just get the ISJL logo emblazoned on my thesis now…"
After a short detour to Houston (where I'd actually been a week-and-a-half earlier on the drive back from Galveston), I flew back to Jackson just in time for... my friend Thomas to visit! It was great to have some downtime with a good friend after more than a week on the road.

I finally made it to Jackson's monthly group bike ride a couple weeks ago. There were about 15 riders total, and a wide range of ages represented, though I was definitely the youngest (upon hearing that I'd just finished my undergrad, one guy laughed--literally--and said, "No way! You must be a child prodigy, how old are you!?" And when I said "I'll be 23 next month," he laughed again.) 

I missed last month's Fondren After 5 (FA5 is my neighborhood's monthly "Late Thursdays"), so I was glad to be in town for this month's. The weather was cooler than in June, there seemed to be more musicians and artists out, and in general it was nice to walk around having been here for a couple months already. Next time I'm going to bring a book and park myself at one of the "stages" and just enjoy the music. 

This was the sky we got to enjoy while walking around at FA5. 

This too.

For those who have been following the Lost Box Saga intently and have been perched on the edge of their seats waiting for the next installment, I'm sorry to inform you that it's over (and not because I have my books). As some of you know, I managed (after much difficulty) to get in contact with the Customer Relations Manager at Atlanta's Dead Letter Center (actually, the Mail Recovery Center, MRC), where my books were supposedly sent. After much back-and-forth, I was told that my books were considered "used book[s] with no value and [they] would be recycled"--which was worse than my worst fear, that they'd merely be auctioned off. 


I should clarify that the reason my books have "no value"--and are thus assigned to the recycle pile not the auction pile--is because they were not signed by the author and are not "unique."  Which means that all three of the copies of The Coming Economic Armageddon by David Jeremiah, pictured at the top of this pile of books up for auction, must be signed by the author, right? Or something.
But let's go back to a second to the fact that the MRC recycles books! Rather than, I don't know, donating them to chronically underfunded public schools? [Since sending an email suggesting as much more than a week ago, I've received no word from the MRC rep with whom I was in contact; to be fair, she was fairly decent at responding to the two other emails I sent.] The Georgia public school system itself is 40th in the nation when it comes to per-student funding, and this year the system is underfunded by about $747 million. But that's fine, just "recycle" the books instead of donating them. 

I guess I'll just have to start rebuilding my book collection. Suggestions welcome! 

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