New Jew in Town: Reminiscing with the Mayor

Did you own a slave? is just one of the many half-joking comments I’ve received  from co-workers about my life in Shreveport, Louisiana. That’s where the vampire bar is! is another, from those who are lucky enough to have HBO and are addicted to True Blood. I’ve also been asked if I know Britney Spears (no), have been to New Orleans (of course), whether I am a daughter of the confederacy (definitely not), and how my home in Baton Rouge was affected by Hurricane Katrina (not at all; it was a beautiful day and my friends and I went to IHOP).
After it was established that the past ten years of my life were not spent riding alligators during hurricanes with Britney Spears, a co-worker suggested I meet the mayor of Golden Valley, Minnesota who is originally from New Orleans.  It was my first day of work and I agreed, thinking I could get his insight on what cold weather attire I needed to purchase, but beyond that wondering what I could possibly have in common with a mayor. His title sounded so important and intimidating that I couldn’t imagine we could relate on any level.
Later that afternoon the contact had been made, and Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris called me. I’ve learned that in an initial conversation with anyone around here, there are two basic paths the conversation can take:
1)      “HA! Enjoy winter, sucker.”
2) Winter’s not that bad.

Vintage (early 90s) HSJ Kabbalat Shabbat

Shep fell into the latter category.
In fact, he reassured me by telling me something like this:
“When it’s freezing outside, I picture myself at Henry S. Jacobs Camp in 100 degree heat, walking up the hill to kabbalat Shabbat, sweating through my white clothes, and think it could definitely be worse.
My mouth dropped. I was instantly transported to Utica, Mississippi, dripping with sweat, climbing a hill that was in reality a slight incline, but in Mississippi humidity may as well have been Masada. Acoustic guitar played Lo Yisa Goy“.  I knew exactly how uncomfortable/amazing/sweaty/magical/unforgettable the feeling was.

Counselors singing the Sabbath Prayer from Fiddler on the Roof, a Jacobs tradition

So much for thinking I wouldn’t have anything in common with this Minnesota mayor. We had been to the same Jewish camp, and anyone who has been to camp knows that’s a bond that transcends generations. Even though we missed each other at camp by about 10 years, we knew the same songs, the same people, and could trace the history of camp directors and Lake Gary (once believed to house snakes and a giant fish/monster sea creature named Bertha, it now has a water slide and serves as a mikveh).
A few weeks ago, the New York Times ran an article about summer camp focusing specifically on Herzl Camp. I find it fitting that they wrote about a Jewish camp, because as Tina Fey so profoundly put it in Bossypants, “I never went to summer camp, as I was neither underprivileged nor Jewish nor extremely Christian, nor obese.” Jewish camp is A Thing, a mysterious Thing that, to this day, both fascinates and confuses my non-Jewish friends.

Awkward? Giant t-shirts? Who, me?

As the article says, “camp is magical”, but even magical Jewish oases in the middle of Mississippi have low points. My first few years at camp were not my prime. I was incredibly shy.  I wore giant t-shirts with pictures of Winnie the Pooh way past that trend’s lifespan. Those factors added up to a little bit of camp loneliness.
I like to think I dress better now than I did when I was twelve, but fashion sense or no fashion sense, I’ve been feeling a lot like a lonely camper lately.  I think this is to be expected when you have no close friends in a huge city.
As a small fish in a big pond, being connected to someone with a common thread (even if it was accidental) is so important. I’m excited to use my expert newcomer input to help Minneapolis Jewish Federation meet this need as we focus more on engaging both newcomers and current residents of the Twin Cities that are hoping to become active within the community.  Through our soon to be launched community concierge program, our magical concierge will act as your personal “connector” to the Jewish community by responding to your inquiries, providing resources and creative social programming based on personal interests.
Our concierge is looking forward to scheduling coffee dates to welcome people to our community, and ensure that our tribal members are properly caffeinated and assisted throughout their transition process.  So whether you are looking for an invitation to a Shabbat dinner, activities available for young families, or you simply want to know where to purchase the best babka – our new concierge will be happy to help!
We’re still working out the details, but in the meantime, do any newcomers out there have any suggestions for what would have been useful to you?
Or any funny stories about Jewish summer camp?