Jacob Abbott, the American children’s author wrote the following about the South in 1835: “[T]he hospitality of southerners is so profuse… A traveler, with the garb and the manners of a gentleman, finds a welcome at every door… He sees a plantation, surrounded with trees, a little distance from the road. Without hesitation he rides to the door. The gentleman of the house sees his approach and is ready upon the steps.”
Life is pleasantly slower in the south. As I continue to settle into my new home in Florida, many have asked, what is biggest difference between New York and Jacksonville? The short answer is that life is slower. Some may think that when life is slower, less gets accomplished. I would suggest that the opposite is true. Walking on the streets of New York, people were so busy to get to where they needed to go that they would run over anybody that got in their way.
In Jacksonville, people slow down to greet someone on the street. We hold the door open for others instead of trying to squeeze through the door before it closes shut. We offer a hug and a handshake instead of a cold shoulder. Jacksonville is warm. I am not just talking about the temperature here in August! I mean that Jacksonville is a warm community, a community that welcomes people with open doors and open arms. This is certainly true about the Jacksonville Jewish Center as well as other Jewish communal institutions in Jacksonville.
I don’t mean to generalize New Yorkers. In my ten years in Manhattan, I met plenty of warm individuals, but overall the New York community isn’t as welcoming. I’d say that New Yorkers — and the entire American Jewish community — can learn a great deal from the South. Slow down. Warmly embrace friends and neighbors, guests and strangers. Open your doors, your arms, and your hearts. A successful and thriving Jewish community is a warm and welcoming Jewish community. No matter where the community is located, it would be wise to take a lesson from the city of Jacksonville: add a little Southern Hospitality (grits and sweet tea are optional.)
-Rabbi Jesse Olitzky