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CAROLYN COMAI

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Interviewee: Carolyn Comai

 

Interviewer: Cary Levy

Interview Date: November 21, 2017

Location: Pleasant Ridge, Michigan

Tape No.: 11.21.17-CC (audio digital file)

(approximate total length 39 minutes)

 

Themes: Jewish Identity, Conversion

 

Summary: Carolyn Comai converted from Lutheranism to Judaism in her college years. She was influenced by lectures from Rabbi Sherwin Wine. The Hillel rabbi was not encouraging of her intention to convert, however she found the synagogue, Beth Emeth, in Ann Arbor, which had both a Jewish and a Christian congregation meeting in the same building. She grew to love the holidays, but always missed the choir music that she had grown up with. While she did not experience anti-Semitism in her community, she sometime felt that older Jews were inclined to let her know that she was not part of the “club”. The community of Shir Tikvah strengthened her Judaism as did her involvement in representing children’s Jewish holidays in public schools. Carolyn Comai converted from Lutheranism to Judaism in her college years. She was influenced by lectures from Rabbi Sherwin Wine. Her parents were supportive of her choosing her own religious path. While the Hillel rabbi was not encouraging of her intention to convert, she found the synagogue, Beth Emeth, in Ann Arbor, which had both a Jewish and a Christian congregation meeting in the same building. She grew to love the holidays, but always missed the choir music that she had grown up with. She particularly felt she was Jewish when she had to convince the hospital that her first-born son with be circumcised at home and not in the hospital. While she did not experience anti-Semitism in her community, she sometime felt that older Jews were inclined to let her know that she was not part of the “club”. The community of Shir Tikvah strengthened her Judaism because everyone worked together and to encourage their children’s Jewish holidays at schools where the emphasis was Christian holidays.

 

Example of proper citation/ attribution:

Levy,C. (Interviewer) & Comai, C. (Interviewee). (2017) Carolyn Comai: Jewish Journeys [Interview index]. Retrieved from Jewish Journeys Oral History Collection of Congregation Shir Tikvah: https://shirtikvah.org/cstoralhistoryarchive

 

 

INTERVIEW INDEX

0:00     Conversion from Evangelical Lutheranism: At about 13yrs, she believed in a higher being, but did not like stern and severe teachings. But parents were founders of small church & had requirement that went to church every Sunday; In high school, was director of youth choir. Loved the music and learned to harmonize. But in college, did not feel emotionally connected. In college, roomed with a woman who felt similar. So the two of them hitchhiked to various churches in Ann Arbor.

3.00     Went to lectures by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, felt touched by his talk of Jewish traditions, Humanistic Rabbi- did not talk about God. She continued going to Rabbi Wine’s series. Decided she wanted to explore more

4.39     Went to Hillel Rabbi at U of M who was not encouraging about her conversion.

Said she wanted to study: went to Ann Arbor Reform congregation Temple Beth Emeth where Rabbi had a yearlong course, ultimately converted through this rabbi. Beth Emeth was and still is a church and synagogue combined. Was married at that synagogue.   

7.00     There was a cross on a hinge that would flip over to a Jewish star. Had started dating Jewish man, Marvin. Father was worried for her—father raised Catholic and only one of 8 brothers and sisters who did not stay Catholic as an adult and did not marry in the Catholic church. Since her father had made his choice she feels her parents were welcoming and accepting of her own choice.

9:00     Struggles for conversion because of involvement with church, loved the holiday music in the church, by contrast Jewish holiday music is terrible, disappointing. There are Jewish composers who created Christmas carols, but not good Hanukah songs. Had a little tiny Christmas tree, but we all developed an allergy. Still had Easter egg hunts at my parents.

11.00   Would decorate her parents tree, so had some connection. At birth of first son, Daniel, her parents came to prepare the house for the brit. Brought pots of tulips to make the house festive—the Lutheran side of the family did that, not the Jewish side.

12.32   Jewish interactions before conversion: Knew two Jewish people in high school, went to a Bat Mitzvah party.

14:10   At holidays with older Conservative/Orthodox Jews             there would be a Jewish word like knedelah and they’d ask if she understood. Making a point that she was not part of the club. Felt like they were saying, You are not authentic.

15:35   When Daniel born, the hospital wanted to circumcise but she said they’d do that home---this was unusual because he may have been one of the first Jewish boys born in that hospital (Crittendon). Put note on his bassinet: do not circumcise. Felt like she had to fight for the identity of her son and felt very, very jewish. Not sure that her son will have brit when his child is born. Had chosen not to have a religious marriage ceremony and hopes the child will be circumcised.

18:03   Had studied for a year to convert, but feels it is a life long process. Joined Kol Ami—the most comfortable there, joined the choir, learned Jewish music and Jewish choral music.         Took birth of her son because she felt secure as a Jew.

20:18   Son’s in laws are vey open to Jewish customs, traditions and respectful of different kinds of culture.

22:35   Loves Sukkot—built a succah. Liked doing High Holidays dinners. Liked Purim with Shir Tikvah—baked hamatashan & Schlach manot baskets.  Loved pretty much all the holidays, particularly with Shir Tikvah—it was all hands on. It was community for adults and children. Passover was a little confusing and tough for me—only had Maxwell hagadah, trouble with four questions.

26:48   Shir Tikvah strengthened her Judaism, learned so much together & taught each other how to be Jewish in Christian neighborhoods and schools. Whole curriculum in schools was holiday based, particularly in elementary school--- only saw red & green starting at Thanksgiving.

28:04 Holiday committee in Rochester, Mi. schools. Had discussion about there not being a “Hanukah bush”, started a holiday policy for schools. Had committee with Shir Tikvah participants, teachers, parents—ended up with a policy.

31:20 Her children are very social justice minded and feels that came from upbringing.

Feels now that being Jewish is part of her fiber, core. Values friends, community.

35:40 Made choices like not being fluent in Hebrew. Was fortunate to travel to Israel with NIFTY directors to experience what teens would experience on trip to Israel.

37:00 Antisemitism---long ago, hearing expression, jewed someone down & she would correct them. Not really other experiences.

 

 [39.12]  [End of Recorded Material]

 

Mon, May 25 2020 2 Sivan 5780