Goddess of the Night

by Jody Portnoff Braunig

Everywhere else in the world, today is just a Tuesday.

Here in New Orleans, it is the end of Fat Tuesday, the culmination of Mardi Gras parades, costumes and king cake. I have been living in New Orleans for almost 14 years, and since I am the parent of two young children born here, that almost makes me a local. As Director of Planning, Allocations, Community Relations, Partnership2Gether and Israel and Overseas for the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, I, like many of us, struggle to find the balance between work, family and play. And in New Orleans, there are plenty of opportunities for play time! I have dressed up in many costumes over the years (the New Orleans tradition on Fat Tuesday), screamed for beads, trinkets and stuffed animals and partied late into the night in the French Quarter. However, this Mardi Gras was different … this year, I became a Goddess of the Night.

This past February, I attended my first Planners Conference in Philadelphia. In addition to discussions on the Global Planning Table and other Federations’ successful transition to program-based funding, I learned that many of my colleagues were dealing with similar issues: one job title with many different job responsibilities; lay leaders who do not understand the meaning of personal boundaries; and the challenge of balancing a very full-time job with the rest of life. Although I have worked with the Jewish Federation for four years, this is my first year as a Planner, so it was encouraging to know that I wasn’t alone. Towards the end of the conference, I participated in a round table discussion of women talking about the challenges of balancing work and life. At one point in the discussion, one of my colleagues politely commented on my purple nail polish and asked if I was trying to make a statement that I was from New Orleans. No, I told her, my nails were purple because I was a “Goddess of the Night.” Everyone at the table stopped talking and looked at me puzzled. I told them that this year, I joined a new, historical all female Mardi Gras krewe called the Mystic Krewe of Nyx.

In New Orleans, a krewe is an organization that organizes a float parade or marches in a parade during the Mardi Gras season. Traditionally, the krewes are named after gods or goddesses in Greek or Roman mythology. Nyx was the Greek goddess of night. Her name describes how her dark light falls from the stars, and she dictates to men and also to the gods. As the stories go, she was one of the most powerful goddesses – not even Zeus wanted to upset Nyx. In early 2011, the Mystic Krewe of Nyx was formed to bring together women of diverse backgrounds who embrace sisterhood and friendship, while enhancing the spirit of Mardi Gras for the community.

Doesn’t sound very Jewish, right? That is the lovely part of this story.

Last year, the Jewish captain of the Krewe of Muses, another all women’s krewe, came to speak at the Federation’s annual Spring Newcomers Event. She explained to over 200 Newcomers and lay leaders in attendance about the success of Muses, which is known for throwing beautiful hand decorated shoes and has a membership of over 1,000 women, many of whom are successful Jewish women in our community. There is also an additional 1,000 women on waiting list, which was recently closed this year to new participants. Being a member of a krewe involves much more than riding on a float in the parade. Many of the krewes have philanthropic foundations and hold fundraisers throughout the year. There are also numerous social events, throw-decorating parties, royal coronations, and of course, the black tie masked balls.

For years, I have wanted to ride in a parade, but I simply did not have enough free time to do anything for myself as I struggled to balance my new job portfolio with a 3 ½ year old, a 14 month old, a husband and a Jewish community who were all demanding my attention on a daily basis. However, as soon I heard about this new women’s Mystic Krewe of Nyx, something inside me changed and I decided to seize this opportunity and finally do something important for myself.

I am now forever a “Goddess of the Night,” and I have treasured every moment I have shared with the other 534 members, including attending organizational meetings, decorating hand-made purses at decorating parties with the 42 other women on my float, and dancing the night away with 1,000 other guests at the black-tie masked ball. The “programmer” in me especially loved overseeing the Head Dress Committee where I felt my programming knowledge and skills shined the brightest among my fellow Krewe members.

Interestingly, my favorite part of joining the Mystic Krewe of Nyx is that I have not met one other Jew. Believe me, I have looked at every krewe event and meeting. Even on the day of our parade at our traditional pre-party, I socialized with every table, raising a glass of champagne to every woman there, looking to see if I may have missed seeing someone. Nope, I was the only one. Before we loaded our floats, our captain called for a pre-parade prayer and everyone bowed their heads. As she mentioned Jesus and other religious references, I glanced up to see if anyone else was looking my way. No one was. I just smiled to myself – so happy to be Jody, Goddess of the Night, and not Jody the Jew.

Back at the round table discussion, I explained to my table the meaning of Nyx, the black tie ball and my purple fingernails. The women were riveted, and I was thrilled to share my experiences with my new friends and colleagues. As I proudly showed pictures of my decorated purses on my phone, one of my colleagues noted that five minutes earlier, as I was revealing my work struggles and challenges, I appeared tired, burnt out and frustrated. Suddenly, my whole demeanor had changed. My face was lit up, full of excitement and energy, and it was contagious to everyone at the table. It was clear that Nyx was more than just a new group of women to socialize with – it was becoming part of my identity, a part of who I was and something that gave me happiness, excitement and a sense of meaning.

My Nyx experience culminated with a wonderful parade, and I had the time of my life. I blended in with the rest of my float in my pink costume, blue wig, blinking head dress and black and pink mask. For three hours, I threw beads, trinkets and stuffed animals to parade revelers and handed out beautiful hand-decorated purses, saving the most beautiful ones for my Jewish coworkers, lay leaders and friends.

Finding the balance between working hard at an organization I love, managing a wonderful family and finding time for myself is challenging. This year, by joining the Mystic Krewe of Nyx, I have allowed myself to venture out of my loving and supportive Jewish comfort zone. I made so many new wonderful friends, and we have shared some incredible experiences together. By allowing myself to take some time for me – just Jody – I have been able to bring out the personal goddess in myself. Over this next year, I know that I will face many challenges at the hands of the Jewish community, growing pains with my two boys and husband, and highs and lows of family and friends. But this time, I will pull out my glitter, start bedazzling a purse for 2013 and will channel my inner goddess. Learning to take personal time for myself, do something different and exciting, and discover a new passion has reenergized my soul and will allow me to bring a more positive, confident Jody into my office everyday.

Jody Portnoff Braunig is Director of Planning, Allocations and Community Relations for Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans.