Nora Messing: A testimony to personal resilience

Susan EspirituWest Knox County

I met another fascinating woman during my internet travels this week. Nora Messing is an intriguing Black Jewish woman who wears an impressive collection of hats and evidently doesn’t sleep or age.

Messing was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi, to a 14-year-old mom. Nora’s mother was the oldest of 12 siblings and her mother, Nora’s grandmother, passed away at age 38. Nora grew up with stories from her great, great grandmother, Luella Walker, who was the daughter of a former slave so, Nora is quite aware of how important the strength of family would carry you through hardships. In the picture showing multiple family members included in this article, Nora says her husband was fortunate enough to meet everyone pictured in the group picture before they passed.

Nora moved to Memphis in third grade, finishing her primary and secondary education there. A passion for education pulled her to the University of Tennessee where she graduated with a degree in special education, teaching in Knoxville City and Knox County schools as a special education teacher for 38 years. She now has taken a role with Knox County Retired Teachers’ Association as an assistant to the chair for membership.

Securing a special teaching degree wasn’t her only acquisition at UT. She met her husband, Patrick, to whom she has been married for 42 years. They have two adult children. Son Jason, 39, owns his own photography business, Juicebeats Photography, with his wife, Staci. Daughter Elyse Nicole Messing, 36, lives in Houston Texas. Nora and Patrick are the proud grandparents of three grandchildren as well.

You may have wondered as I did, about the Jewish part of Nora’s life. Frankly, it seemed different than the stereotypical biography for an African American family from Mississippi.

Nora says, “I converted to Judaism before I got married. I studied with Rabbi Mark Greenspan at Heska Amuna Synagogue, and I went to an orthodox synagogue for my conversion in Chattanooga.” After researching conversion to the Jewish faith, I found it to be a very complicated and protracted process.

Nora has been a devout Jew since her conversion, teaching in the Heska Amuna Synagogue for over 25 years in the kindergarten and second grade Jewish Sunday School.

She is a lifetime member of Hadassah, a Women’s Zionist organization, and was named Woman of the Year in 2011 for her Hadassah group.

A funny story came in 2016, when Nora discovered that Hadassah was the reason for the Bundt cake pan, so she started a very successful fundraiser that she has continued, selling Bundt cakes to raise funds.

When I stated she doesn’t sleep or age, it is because she not only continues with all the things above, but she also has some regularly scheduled routines. Nora has been in a book club for 39 years with the same 12 women. She organizes a monthly Jewish women’s luncheon that has anywhere from 12 to 16 in attendance. Grandma Nora babysits one of three grandchildren at least 2-3 times week. Oh, and she walks 3 to 5 miles a day except for Saturdays.

Nora ended our back and forth on her life with this wonderful quote, “My life is like kudzu. It has grown and is growing and growing in many directions. I am very blessed.”

I feel blessed to meet the people I get to meet through this avenue and Nora Messing is one of those extraordinary finds!

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