Oh Mississippi, you’re a real something, you know that?
Crossing the border from Alabama was a fairy short ride, and our first stop would be Biloxi. Another white sand beach town on the gulf coast of Mexico, with a bunch of hotels, casinos and high rise condos besmirch the natural beauty in the ugliest way possible.
Our first stop would be our go-to 5 star hotel, the luxurious Walmart parking lot, where I became a Platinum member during this past few months.
The local Chabad website mentioned a Talmud lesson Wednesday night and I was excited for the opportunity to learn some Jewish laws after I practiced the Buddhist ones this last weekend. Unfortunately, after speaking with the Rabbi, I realized it wasn’t gonna happen.
This was off season and a lot of the members weren’t around (and when the total Jewish population in this State is only 1,600, you understand he means It’s a ghost town).
The rabbi did invite Danielle and I over for Shabbat dinner, and said they are having a service Saturday morning as they usually do every first Shabbat of the month.
“Even if it’ll be just us” I thought to myself “It would still count as doing something before I leave this State”,as I try to leave some kind of impact everywhere I go, whether it’s at an Open Mic Night event, at a meditation retreat or even just sharing my work with the local Rabbi.
2 days of continuous love making in the camper would pass till Friday arrives and we meet the Rabbi and his wife, a lovely young couple, he, a New Orleans born Chabadnic in his late 20s, and she, a bit younger woman who moved to this no man’s land from the joyful city life of Los Angeles.
As an outsider, seeing a couple living in the middle of this shit hole town, raising a daughter without a community life and an education environment, only online school programs. Leaving the kid with little to no friends, all in an effort to fulfill a vision of some Rebbe, to have an open house for Jews on every dot on the globe, seems just a bit too much of a sacrifice.
It’s easy to be cynical or judgmental towards people who follow blindly a religious leader, but as we were there, seeing this so called “sacrifice” this young couple is making, just so we, a traveling Jewish couple would have a place for Shabbat and would be able to absorb some Jewish spirit, is beyond admirable if you ask me….
The Rabbi was so lovely that he made sure to invite the only Israeli person living in Biloxi over for dinner. A lovely woman in her 70’s, who came to the US in her twenties following a love romance with a Jewish guy from Michigan, and is now a widow who lives next to her 2 kids who have business in town. Being realistic about the opportunity of her never going back to live in the country she left behind. Somewhat to stay close to her children, and somewhat because she just won’t be able afford living there with dignity.
We promised the Rabbi we’d come tomorrow morning and meet him at the synagogue for prayer.
And so we did.
Only problem was, neither Danielle or myself are morning people, and we both still trying to figure out whether it’s because it’s been only 2 months since this relationship has started, and we’re still in the lovey dovey part, or we really are, as we suspect, an over the top touchy and affectionate couple who just can’t keep their hands off of each other, even after being with one another 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for two months straight!
And so we have our love making ritual every morning that we never miss. That lasts anywhere from an hour minimum, to a full day without leaving the bed, a factor that made us arrive closer to the end of the service than the actual prayer part itself.
As we walked in, the 4 people who were at the synagogue with the Rabbi, stared at me.
At this point in time, I’m already used to it. Almost every Jewish community I’ve visited in this journey (aside from the one in Myrtle Beach SC) was an Ashkenazi one, and here I am, a Moroccan Jew with a long black hair and a full face beard, entering a small synagogue in a state where the Confederate symbol is part of it’s flag.
And to tell you the truth, I wasn’t expecting anything else.
Out of the gentlemen’s who were there, the 1st one was the professional looking Jew, a physician who kept a clean look, dress pants and a nice watch, and who just had to live up to the persona I was building in my head, and left early as he had to run due to some urgent matters (these types of people always have to run due to some urgent matters).
Then, there was the Nice Jewish Boy, a modern orthodox guy with a puberty looking mustache and big glasses, I’m assuming in his late 20’s. He serves at a nearby military base and at one point of the conversation with the Rabbi, he casually confirmed his attendance for this coming year holiday services, A FUCKING YEAR IN ADVANCE!
Jeez, I don’t know where I’ll be by the end of this day, and this dude just confirmed his 2018/2019 service attendance.
So far, these 2 characters were something I’m used to see in Jewish world, but these next two… Boy, that’s something I didn’t see coming. Not in a million years!
First, there was Mr. Diamond, an 86 year old man who you might very easily mistaken for the cute, harmless grandpa you see crossing the street and you go over to offer him some help with the bags.
But Mr. Diamond could easily kick Jonathan Goldsmith from the Dos Equis commercial, and claim “The Most Interesting Man in The World” title, if you ask me.
We’re talking about a man whose grandpa was one of the biggest alcohol smugglers in the country during the probation period, and a man who at the age of 18 managed casinos in Havana Cuba for his grandfather and his business partner, Meyer Lansky, one of the most notorious gangsters in the history of this country and a key member of the Jewish mob of New York.
Mr. Diamond captivated our attention with stories of managing early days horse betting in Indiana, to his role in moving millions of dollars from Cleveland Casinos to the Chicago mob. And his stories just kept coming!
With a soft voice and a mind as sharp as 20 year old, Mr. Diamond’s stories captured my imagination, the same way the local crime and gangster stories I grew up hearing about in my neighborhood in south side Tel-Aviv did.
And last, but not least, there was the embodiment of the Jewish Redneck!
Only later would I come to realize just how Jewish Redneck Howard, a Brooklyn transplant, really is. As we stayed at his remote ranch in rural Mississippi, along with his 6th wife, 2 daughters, 3 horses, 7 dogs and 12 chickens for the entire weekend. Where he’ll bring to my attention that as soon I walked in the door, he suspected me for being a terrorist, and was ready to draw his 9mm from the leather shoulder holster he had on, and light me up like a Christmas tree.
But I digress.
At this point, the Shabbat lunch at the synagogue was on and the Cholent was being served, as I was slowly explaining these distinguished guests my mission to travel all 50 States in order to inform and educate people about Israel through personal experience and example.
Then, out of the blue, I got the most southern analogy to my efforts from Howard, something I honestly couldn’t see coming!
“Yeah, you know. It reminds me of my neighbor, an old man who told me a year after I moved to my new ranch ‘you know Howard, all my life I was part of the KKK, beating up n***** and hating Jews, but I never actually met a Jew. And now that I know one, I gotta tell you, I actually like you'”.
It would take me an entire weekend with Howard at his ranch before this bizarre friendship with a KKK member would make total sense, but this only comes to show, how much our assumptions and prejudice opinions as human beings can be shattered by a single interaction or conversation.
This time, it came in the form of a KKK member and his new Jew friend, but it could very easily be our next door neighbor or car mechanic who knows nothing about Israel other than what the media is presenting, and with just a bit of interest and willingness to do something on our end, we’ll be able to make this world a tiny less hateful and bit more accepting place for all of us to live in.
*This week we’re in New Orleans for Mardi Gras and from here continuing to Texas! As always, if you have any connections in those places please let me know!
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