Bagels and Grits
A Jew on the Bayou
Publication Year: 2007
Jennifer Anne Moses left behind a comfortable life in the upper echelons of East Coast Jewish society to move with her husband and children to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Searching for connection to her surroundings, she decided to volunteer at an AIDS hospice. But as she encountered a culture populated by French Catholics and Evangelical Christians, African Americans and Cajuns, altruistic nurses and nuns, ex-cons, street-walkers, impoverished AIDS patients, and healers of all stripes, she found she had embarked on an unexpected journey of profound self-discovery.
In a keenly observed memoir that embraces both pathos and humor, Moses takes us into a world that is strange and sad but also suffused with the holy. As witness to dire poverty and extreme adversity, Moses discovers a deeper commitment to her own faith—Judaism that asks not for blind belief, but rather daily commitment. She recounts the challenges of taking on a life committed to God in a postmodern world that has little use for the divine. Telling her story of redemption with an honesty that goes right for the guts, she leaves the reader with new hope.
Outstanding Book, selected by the American Association of School Librarians, and Best Books for Regional Special Interests, selected by the Public Library Association
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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1 With God in Baton Rouge
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I’m driving my minivan down Florida Boulevard in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, past the Snack Shack, the Ford dealership, the U-Lock-It, and the Super Chicken, listening to Lorraine, who is sitting in the seat next to me, talking. It’s a hot, sticky October day—the overcast sky like a blanket, keeping the heat in...
2 The Dancing Widow
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We moved to Baton Rouge in the summer of 1995, because my husband, a Washington lawyer, no longer wanted to be a lawyer. He wanted to be a law professor. When, in March of that year, he called me from his office to tell me that he’d landed a teaching job at LSU, my first thought...
3 Dr. God
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Philomena was the most alone person I have ever known. She’d lie in her bed at St. Anthony’s—in the same corner room that had once belonged to Little Chuck—and cry. Every now and again, she’d take out the engagement ring that her former fiancé had given to her before...
4 Hebrew on the Bayou
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After Bev died, I felt like I had turned a corner at the synagogue: now I was a part of the community. For better and for worse, there was no going back. I couldn’t avoid the annoying old lady who cornered me after services to give me ideas for books she wanted me to write, such as the one...
5 Holy Ghost
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Valerie had been lying up in her bed at St. Anthony’s for a year or two before I finally took notice of her and started visiting. Not that I’d been unaware of her presence before, it was just that I usually spent the morning that I had allotted as my volunteer time either with Philomena or driving people around...
6 The Memory Books
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My mother continued to plan her death. She was writing letters to each of the grandchildren, so they’d have something to remember her by. She was compiling the family recipes, so that each of us would know how to make Grandma’s pot roast and Nana’s fruit-filled meringue...
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One Sufi proverb says: “Faith is verification by the heart; profession by the tongue; action by the limbs.” I don’t know about numbers One and Two, but I finally got number Three down pretty good. After I made my first painting, I couldn’t stop; my hand wanted to hold a paintbrush...
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We’d been in Baton Rouge for six years when, a month or so before Passover, Stuart and I went to Tucson, Arizona, for the weekend, leaving our three children, ages eleven, seven, and seven, with a babysitter. We went because the University of Arizona law school was interested...
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Now that I had had my own brush with death, I thought that perhaps I’d feel a stronger connection to the residents of St. Anthony’s. But the opposite was true. New people had moved in, none of whom was exactly a role model for anything other than self-destruction. There was Mitchell...
10 Coming of Age in Baton Rouge
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Years ago, when we were still living in Washington and my mother gave every appearance of being on the brink of the grave, I spent more than a year and almost ten thousand dollars in therapy trying to get a handle on what my therapist—a lovely man who wore his hair hippie-style...
11 Where They Landed
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Ever since we had moved to Baton Rouge, Stuart had been talking about where he wanted to go once his sabbatical year finally rolled around, and, hating change of any kind, I had been ignoring him. Suddenly, however, his theoretical sabbatical year—the year that he said...
12 God’s Arms Are Very Long
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There is a bed available for me in the Western Infirmary, Glasgow, a place filled with people who say “wee,” as in “Will you have a wee tea, then?” and “You mean this wee tiny lump here?” It’s so drab that I am already deciding how I will describe it to my friends in the States: as a hospital out of the Gulag perhaps?...
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I have to admit that spending six months in chemotherapy and radiation wasn’t on the top of my to-do list for our year abroad, but if I could rewrite my own personal history, go back and do it all over again, I wouldn’t edit out any of it: not the fear, not the hair loss, not the nausea, not the tears...
Postscript: After the Storm
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When Katrina, and then Rita, roared ashore, altering both the landscape and the American psyche, I found myself doing something I never would have been able to do had Stuart not dragged me and the kids down to Baton Rouge, where I found myself, both at St. Anthony’s and at Beth Shalom...
Publication Year: 2007