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David Zachman

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Interviewee: David Zachman
Interviewer: Cary Levy
Interview Date: July 11, 201
Location: Madison Heights, MI
DOB: 1/1/66, Place of birth: Detroit, MI
Interview No.: 07.11.18-DZ (audio digital file)
(Approximate total length: 21 minutes)
Themes: Jewish Identity, Conversion, Upbringing

Summary:David Zachman’s mother was 8 years old and being raised Christian, when his grandmother converted to Judaism and married a Jewish man (David’s grandfather). Both David’s grandmother and mother converted. When his mother prepared to marry her high school sweetheart, she asked him to convert to Judaism. David was the first in the family to be born into a Jewish family. 

Example of proper citation/attribution:

Levy, C. (Interviewer) & Zachman, D. (Interviewee). (2018). David Zachman: Jewish Journeys[Interview Transcript]. Retrieved from Jewish Journeys Oral History Collection of Congregation Shir Tikvah: /cstoralhistoryarchive


Note:  Counter index corresponds to track times when loaded into iTunes.


Interviewer:     The name of the interviewer is Cary Levy. The name of the interviewee is David Zachman and today is July 11. We are at David's house, Elmhurst in Madison Heights. And David you read the interview process and signed the agreement for the interview to have your permission to take this interview?


Interviewee:                Yes. 


Interviewer:                 You do. Okay, let's start again. I've heard some of the details of your life and your mother's life and your trip towards, you and her, Judaism. I found a very interesting and hopefully. We can tell that story and make it interesting again. Let's start with a brief history of the circumstances which led to you and your family being Jewish. 


Interviewee:                When my mom and my grandmother, my grandmother was divorced from her first husband, and they were raised Catholic or Christian or one of the-- They were raised non Jewish. When she met my grandfather, when I think my mom was about eight or nine, he was a Jewish man and he asked them to convert to Judaism. My parents and my mom and grandmother converted when she was young. Then once my mother met my father in high school, they were high school sweethearts, and when they decided to get married, she asked him to convert to Judaism and he did as well. I was actually the first person in our family that was born into Judaism. 


Interviewer:                 Okay, so your mom and your grandma converted and obviously was very important to your grandma that you be Jewish that so much so and your mother so much so that they asked your father when they got married to convert. Do you have any memories of celebrating Jewish holidays or Jewish things at your grandma's house? 


Interviewee:                Yeah, we actually celebrate almost all of the High Holidays and Passover at my grandparents’ house and remember, to the Seders of the two to three hours Seders, We were raised conservative so that we did the two days of Rosh Hashanah.High Holidays at the synagogue then have a both nights of Rosh Hashanahat my grandmother's house breaking the fast. Break grandmother's house for Yom Kippur and then we also had all of those Passover dinners at my grandparents’ house. I remember us having the two sets of dishes for Passover and stuff like that. 


Interviewer:                 Did your mom too or you never had meals?


Interviewee:                We actually had them both.


Interviewer:                 Okay, and you were raised at which synagogue? 


Interviewee:                We were at B’nai Moshefor as long as I can remember. Did Sunday school, religious school, did my Bar Mitzvah classes at B’nai Mosh. I remember the 300 question that say that we had to research and write for Rabbi to even be able to do our Bar Mitzvah at B’nai Moshe.


Interviewer:                 Were your grandparents also at B’nai Moshe? 


Interviewee:                No. I think they actually went to synagogue at Adat Shalom


Interviewer:                 Me to. 


Interviewee:                You did?


Interviewer:                 I did to at Adat Shalom 


Interviewee:                Do you remember Irving Feifer? 


Interviewer:                 No. not at all. Your mother obviously embraced Judaism from the time and felt that she was Jewish the whole time and she became active in the synagogue? Tell me about her life in this synagogue.


Interviewee:                Yes, I think it was more. It was later in life when.. she was always did some stuff at the synagogue and they've been at B’nai Moshe and this was before Bnai Moshe moved out of Oak Park. They went to temple at Beth El in Oak Park and I guess they went from more Conservative to a  Reform synagogue and then when my parents moved out to East Lansing they found the only synagogue in East Lansing. 


Interviewer:                 Your mom still active up there?


Interviewee:                She was until the last, I probably say last year. She was very active in the sisterhood. Became sisterhood president and for her synagogue and then eventually went over to became a sisterhood president and regional sisterhood president and treasurer for Midwest region. 


Interviewer:                 You were brought up Jewish your whole life and never knew that your mom or grandmother had converted for most of your life. Tell us about. 


Interviewee:                Not sure when they told us but it was, am not sure if it was a surprise, never brought up that they had converted for a while. I always thought they were both grew up Jewish. They were little old Jewish ladies. It was, I guess, surprising. I know my father's family had grown up Catholic or Christian. I have two uncles. I have one uncle that’s Catholic and another uncle that has passed away, so I know that they were also non Jewish. 


Interviewer:                 That was your father’s family?


Interviewee:                Yes. 


Interviewer:                 Yeah. Okay. And then you were brought up in Oak Park? 


Interviewee:                Yes, I lived in Oak Park. Lived there to like graduated from college and then moved to the Jewish haven of Redford. 


Interviewer:                 From a completely Jewish to hardly any Jewish. Is there any friends that you remember from Oak Park days? Any people you hung out with that? 


Interviewee:                I do, but almost all moved away. I know few people that are on, I don't Facebook some. One lives in California, others live in Reno, another lives in Colorado. A lot of people moved away from the neighborhood. 


Interviewer:                 Yeah. And now you're currently are celebrating the Jewish holidays? 


Interviewee:                We celebrate our Jewish holidays with my now family, my wife's family, cousins and aunts and uncles. It's a little bit further away for us to go up to Lansing so we stay around town and celebrate with my wife's family. 


Interviewer:                 Did they do anything differently or better or worse than the …


Interviewee:                Passover is and the hiding of the Afikoman is a little bit different in that Bonnie’s side the family. They probably hide 30 to 40 pieces of matzah. Try to fool the kids to trying to find them and they have to store it in a log. Write it down so they know where all the pieces of the matzah are.


Interviewer:                 Do you have any stories of from your Bar Mitzvah? Any things that you remember specifically about your training or your Bar Mitzvah? 


Interviewee:                I do remember my Bar Mitzvah. I remember doing the Haftorah. I remember the first couple of lines and the first couple words—Ator Mitzion I remember hurry up up to the bimah and doing when they read the Torah. Back then we were not able to read from the Torah. Only the rabbi and the cantor were able to do that. I remember the parties and all that stuff. My mother, when she converted girls who are not allowed or we're not given the opportunity to do a Bat Mitzvah in the conservative synagogue. Actually Bonnie was probably the one of the first at Shaarey Zedek, her’s was first group that allowed. In my fast forward too many years. My mom was able to do her Bat Mitzvah in Lansing probably about five or six years ago. 


Interviewer:                 That was a very special day? 


Interviewee:                It was. We had a lot as I said, she was very active in the Sisterhood there so she had a lot of friends and she had a personal connection with the rabbi and the cantor. As far as Sisterhood, they were in part of the selection of the rabbi. I also remember when Bonnie and I got married, we went up to-- We actually had two blessings. We had Arnie give us a blessing before we got married. I’m not sure if it was Aaron or Arnie, but we also went up to her synagogue again and got the blessing from their rabbi as well. 


Interviewer:                 And are there any traditions that you think that you kept over from your grandma's days or any thoughts of stuff that is- 


Interviewee:                The only one tradition that I think that we held over that I almost killed my father-in-law was with-- My father and we would always do the latkes during Hanukkah and had to meat grinder grind the potatoes and onions and make latkes. Probably about four, five years ago we went down the Florida and we made latkes for Bonnie's family. Did the same thing, grinding the potatoes and onions and fry them up and gave them… my father actually ate two or three and he does not eat greasy or any type of food. Lo and behold that evening he came down with very bad stomachache and was rushed to the hospital. 

That evening his gallbladder burst. The doctor said this must have been going bad for months. And he said he surprised he had helped us for a while, and he said if it were to burst it would have probably not been very good for him. 


Interviewer:                 So latkes saved his life?


Interviewee:                Latkes saved his life and Bonnie says I almost killed her dad. And her dad says I saved his life. 


Interviewer:                 There's two sides to every story. Do you ever do anything while you're in the synagogue or Jewish that all of a sudden brings back memories of your grandma?


Interviewee:                Just every once in a while just going, having a Seder or Shabbat dinner. Little old Jewish ladies that brings back memories of my grandmother, even though she wasn't raised Jewish, she embrace some of the Jewish guilt, the Jewish holidays and stuff like that. 


Interviewer:                 Yeah. Yes from living in Oak Park and then figuring it out there from Oak Park.


Interviewer:                 Seems like it was a family tradition in your family that not to marry outside the faith? 


Interviewee:                Yes. 


Interviewer:                 What do you think? Had you found yourself a woman that was not Jewish? Do you think you would have pursued her conversion or? 


Interviewee:                I'm not sure. I think a lot of that has to do with raising your kids and stuff like that. I got married later in life and I do have some health issues. I’m not sure if I wanted to pass along that type of hereditary genes or whatever to a child. I do think that I know with going to the synagogue with my wife, having the common bonds of religion and while we're there singing the Shema or doing any of the prayers we know what each other's thinking. That’s a common bond between us.


Interviewer:                 That's very nice. You came to Shir Tikvah how long ago?


Interviewee:                Once we decided we were thinking about getting married. We decided to look for a synagogue and actually you're the one who suggested to my wife Bonnie to come and take a look at Shir Tikvah. I think that was probably about 13, 14 years ago. We've been at Shir Tikvah since then. 


Interviewer:                 You were married at Shir Tikvah?


Interviewee:                We were married at Shir Tikvah, both rabbis are now gone. Rabbi Aaron] did our pre-counseling sessions with us and we had a wedding with a lot of people coming from out of town. We had to do it on the Memorial Day weekend. Aaron came to us and said, “I would love to marry you but this is going to be my first vacation in two years.” So I’ll hand you over to Rabbi Arnie. We talked to him, probably one or two times, and the Monday of the wedding ceremony, it felt like he was knew us all of our lives. 


Interviewer:                 He was very good at that. You made lots of friends through the dinner groups? 


Interviewee:                We've actually been with two dinner groups. One was probably last about a year, year and a half, and then this current one we're in, we’ve been there for two or three years now. We've got a lot of people that we enjoy having dinner. It's more, we enjoy having dinner with them, but it's where we think is a good area that we know at least five families and when we go to synagogue that we always go up and say hi. We know we have things in common, we can talk. We know people at the services. 


Interviewer:                 Have you ever told your Jewish journey story before? 


Interviewee:                No. (laughs)


Interviewer:                 I found it very, very interesting. Thank you for sharing it with us. Is there anything you want to add at all or anything to-? 


Interviewee:                I think that's it. 


Interviewer:                 Thank you very much.


Interviewee:                Thank you. 


Interviewer:                 We enjoyed your story. 

Mon, April 12 2021 30 Nisan 5781