Live from the Lilith Blog 1 of 2
February 7, 2017 by Amelia Dornbush
I am fifth-generation Jewish Atlantan. My great-grandmother was a child when Leo Frank was lynched. My grandfather was sent to Christian school and converted to Christianity as a young child, actively working to make sure no one discovered his Jewish roots. To his then-chagrin, my father did, and began attending synagogue in the same place that past generations of Dornbushes had. The Temple, whose walls are full of old photographs of my family members who died well before I was born, was where I officially converted.
I love Atlanta. The city is in my muscle memory and in my subconscious. It’s been five years since I lived in Georgia, but I can still walk through the backroads around Emory without getting lost. I sometimes wake up craving cheese grits from Georgia Homegrown. My nightmare—a recurring dream of driving off a highway overpass—was spawned by Atlanta’s heavily congested interstates.
Atlanta builds and rebuilds, constantly reinventing itself, never quite acknowledging or healing the scars of its past. I know the city not just by its current places, but by the places it used to have. Ponce City Market I know also as City Hall East. For my Dad, it’s the Old Sears Building. He told me that the shopping center across from Ponce City Market/City Hall East/The Old Sears Building, which I know as The-Place-That-Used-to-Have-a-Borders-and-Still-Has-a-Whole-Foods was home to a minor league baseball team, called the Atlanta Crackers, when my grandfather was a child.
I love Atlanta, but I worry I no longer know Atlanta. As a city with an oft-talked about number of “transplants,” I am among its rarely mentioned diaspora. In the past few years, a project to turn old trolley tracks into a series of parks has transformed the city. The BeltLine was barely more than a pipe dream when I left for college, and now it has built miles of trails. But this is not a story of unadulterated triumph. The man who originally conceived of the project quit in protest over the city’s failure to prioritize equity and inclusivity to counteract the displacement caused by the gentrification that accompanied the glittering new paths of the BeltLine.
Atlanta is a city of hope and heartbreak. And, as if deliberately attempting to mirror the socio-political landscape, its sports teams regularly offer both. I am happy for the Red Sox and the Cubs in breaking their curses, but quite frankly I don’t feel like Bostonians or Chicagoans can lift a finger to the suffering of an Atlanta sports fan. While our curses don’t run as many years in each sport, they span across franchises. In nearly 170 combined seasons, we have had only one championship—in 1995. Playoff hope after playoff hope in season after season, sport after sport, has been dashed.
Because of this, I have learned to create a certain emotional barrier between myself and Atlanta sports teams. I’ve been burned too many times before to get invested too early. But after the Falcons won the NFC championship, I had no choice but to care. The Falcons were pumping out playoff video after playoff video highlighting the city of Atlanta. The team’s motto, #RiseUp, gained a newfound significance in our current moment of protest. In stark contrast to Atlanta’s baseball team’s catastrophic decision to abandon the city for the very white suburb of Cobb County, the Falcons are building their new stadium right next to the old one, in the beating heart of downtown Atlanta. Their promotional videos show beautiful footage of the city maligned by Trump as being “crime-infested.” One, narrated by Ludacris, was written from the perspective of the city itself, containing footage of the MLK center and historic marches during the Civil Rights movement. It made me tear up. This—not Pennsylvania, not Massachusetts, not New York, not Jerusalem, nor any of the other places I have lived since I left Georgia—was my true home.
And watching the Falcons playoff run made me feel connected to my city again. Not just through memories, but in the present moment. When February 3 was declared to be Falcons Friday by Georgia’s governor, I dutifully wore my Red and Black. I posted politically tinged after politically tinged #RiseUp statuses. I had a daily practice to connect me to a place.
Everyone knows what happened two nights ago, and I feel no need to relive it. The Falcons team did what those of us who are accustomed to loving Atlanta know Atlanta teams always do. They choked. For the entire part of the country who wasn’t from New England and/or a white supremacist, it felt like election night all over again.
I didn’t just get misty-eyed when we lost, or shed a few tears. I sobbed. My confused Patriots-supporting roommate brought me my cat as comfort while the shell-shocked Atlanta fans next to me on the couch grieved in their own ways.
I wasn’t upset only about the loss, or the fact the Patriots’ win would make white supremacist Richard Spencer happy. I wasn’t just projecting all of my fear and anger about the political climate onto a football game that very much felt like a match-up between good and evil.
I was feeling homesick, and I was mourning the celebration Atlanta would no longer get to have. I could imagine what the feel in the air would have been like after a win, the sheer happiness it would inspire throughout Atlanta at a time when happiness feels in short supply. The pure joy would have manifested in honking horns and in strangers hugging one another. And I would be able to partake in the celebration, even from my diasporic location of New York. I hadn’t realized how very much I had been hoping to get to have this moment, how much on some level I needed this moment, until its possibility was removed. And as my tears continued to pour—for hours after the game ended—I realized that I needed to find my Atlanta equivalent of kashrut. A practice to hold onto in order to create a sense of connection.
About a year ago, I started to feel disconnected from Judaism. In stark contrast with how things had been the year before, during my senior year of college, I no longer was able to follow the rhythm of the Jewish calendar. It was hard to go to synagogue, because I was often required to work on weekends and late into the night Friday. I tried my best to observe as many Jewish holidays as I could, but many slipped through my fingers. The previous cornerstones of my Jewish practice—text study, Shabbat dinners, figuring out if there was anything our college campus community should do for lag b’omer—were gone. What remained was my kosher-lite dining habits. Despite how tasty I know Southern BBQ pulled pork sandwiches are, I was glad I was choosing not to consume them. Because every time I didn’t eat pork, I was able to remind myself of who I was. It was my tie. Now that I live with Jewish roommates and work for this Jewish publication, I no longer feel like I need it. But if I ever feel like I need a stronger link to my tradition again, I know exactly how to access it.
The Falcons don’t play again until September. But Atlanta’s basketball team has a game tomorrow against Denver. While I have never in my life followed the Hawks unless Atlanta was doing well in the playoffs, I think now might be the time to start. I need a new practice to keep me tied to home. And if the Hawks break my heart—as deep down I know they will—at least my heart will be breaking alongside Atlanta’s.
Amelia Dornbush is Lilith’s Malka Foundation Fellow.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.