My Ema was born in Pulawy, Poland in 1922. My Saba moved her and my Savta when my Ema was three or four, because Pulawy had been taken over by (I believe) Soviets and my Saba was concerned for his family. They moved to what was then known as Palestine, and eventually Israel became a state, as we know. I can’t remember what year it was that I was told there was an invasion and all the people were murdered. Only one of my mother’s family members survived.
My mom joined the British Army and met my father on a train to Cairo. They say it was love at first sight, but, my Ema wanted to live in the Land of Milk and Honey and thought all Americans were rich, and my father was raised to believe all Jews are rich. Boy, were they fooled!
After they were married, my father sent my Ema and my sister who was born in 1945 to the States to live with my father’s people. (Side note: My sister was the first baby to travel in a military plane overseas. She's actually in the Guinness World Book of Records.) My father's people were all Christians and they hated that my father married my Ema. The only ones that helped her was my Grandma and my father’s youngest brother.
I wasn't raised Jewish. In fact, I barely knew what being Jewish meant. When I was very young, I knew that there was something different about my Ema because she always talked funny on the phone. And when she would write to my Savta, I couldn't read what she was writing. We lived in Niagara Falls, NY and eventually I learned some things about being Jewish, including what anti-Semitism was. One day, when we were on our way to the lake for a BBQ, we stopped on the side of the road, and my father got out of the car and he was screaming and yelling and my mother was crying. I didn't understand what they were doing and then as we drove away, I saw a sign that said "no dogs or Jews allowed.” It wasn’t written in by someone; it was actually a part of the sign.
My siblings and I attended church and it was very weird for me because at that time the ministers and Sunday school teachers were still preaching about how the Jews killed Christ and were bad people. Eventually, I was the only one attending church, and I just would shrink down in the pews because I thought they were talking about my Ema (they were) and that was hurtful.
Years later, I asked my Ema why she sent me to Church and she said, "Because I wanted you to learn about God.” And I said, "I could have learned about God in a Synagogue or from you, but you sent me to a place, instead, that was teaching me about Jesus and how the Jewish people were murderers.” I think it was probably more about my father and his family than anything else. I didn't understand why he cared if we went to a Synagogue or not - he married a Jewish woman, why would you care that your children were Jewish?
Fast-forward to when my Ema passed away in 2012, I decided to move to where my daughter was living in Florida, but I didn't like it there at all. I was home-sick for Minnesota. I called my headhunter and told her I was moving back. I asked her to find me some interviews to do because I would be in Minnesota the following week. She called me right back and said there was an opening at the synagogue by where I had lived in Minnetonka, but I’d have to be there tomorrow as they were at the end of their interview process. I was on a plane the next day.
When I walked into the building, you're gonna think this is weird, when I walked into the building and I walked up the spine I was just like, I can't even describe to you the feeling that came over me but it was like being wrapped up in a warm blanket when you come in from the cold- you know that feeling your body gets. It was so wonderful and I said "no way!" I'm thinking of myself, no, "really?" As I’m walking, I look up and I'm talking to my Ema, "Did you send me here? Is this from you?”. And so then I met with Bernie and Barbara and it was a wonderful interview. They passed me on to meet with the Rabbis and Jim Sherman. I walked out of the room we were interviewing in and there was Giselle and they introduced me to her, and I told that her shoes are going to be big ones to fill (since she had been there 27-28 years). She said I would catch on. Her eyes reminded me of my Aunt June – another sign that I loved. I thought “OMG I'm gonna be working at a synagogue - that's gonna be a breeze compared to working in corporate” because corporate was... at times difficult. It was people trying to climb ladders and, you know, kicking you on their way up and so it was kind of miserable. I had been in the corporate world since 1974 so it was time for a change. Boy, was I in for a HUGE surprise – there's lots of work that must be done for our congregation!
When I started working at Adath, I was learning and seeing all the things that were going to teach me about this Jewish lifestyle. I read lots of books from the library; I went to services on Shabbat not long after I started, and the up and down and up and down and I was like, "oh man” because it's not just for half an hour. You're going to be up and down for a couple of hours. Suddenly... Cantor Buckner began to sing and the congregation joined him. I closed my eyes and I was listening to them sing, and tears rolled down my face, because I know… I swear... in the background I heard my Ema’s beautiful voice. And I remembered growing up with songs that the congregation was singing that sounded like what my Ema would sing. And the congregation sounded so beautiful.
It's been seven years, almost eight since I joined Adath. I have been so blessed to be here working with and for wonderful people. A staff and congregation like no other… that I love to work for and with as we travel through life cycle events. I have no doubt who I am now and the way of the Jewish people is completely in-line with what I have always felt to be true. I have come full circle.
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