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Rebecca Starr

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Interviewee: REBECCA STARR

Interviewer: Cary Levy
Interview Date: November 9, 2018
Location: Southfield, MI
Interview No.: 11.09.18-RS (audio digital file)
(Approximate total length 40 minutes)
Transcription: Yousaidit (DS), Fiverr

Themes: Jewish Identity, Doctrine, Jewish Gentile Relations, Observance, Upbringing

Summary: Rebecca’s childhood in Michigan’s Upper Pennisula meshed frontier living with a kosher style home. Having uprooted from their lives in Detroit, the family settled into a farmhouse in Pickford, MI, where they hunted and grew food while also holding weekly Shabbat dinners.

Following her mother’s example, Rebecca took on the responsibility to educate people about Judaism. During this interview Rebecca also reflects on how her childhood, college years, marriage, and current role as the Rebbetzin at Shaarey Zedek provided essential steps in her Jewish identity. 

Example of proper citation/attribution:
Levy, C. (Interviewer) & Starr, R. (Interviewee). (2018). Rebecca Starr: Jewish Journeys [Interview transcript]. Retrieved from Jewish Journeys Oral History Collection of Congregation Shir Tikvah:

Interviewer: The name of the interviewer is Cary Levy, the name of the interviewee is Rebecca Starr. Today is the 9th of November, we’re at Rebecca's house in Southfield and the purpose. We reviewed the purpose of the interview and you signed the agreement. Do I have your permission for this audio interview?

Interviewee: Yes.

Interviewer: Thank you very much, we’ll proceed. Okay how did your family end up being in the upper peninsula?

Interviewee: So, my parents are both Detroiters born and raised and loved Detroit and made their careers in Detroit and had their families in Detroit. And after they had both divorced, their first spouses, they were married to each other. My dad was working for the governor at the time of my mom was working for - working on inclusion for special ed. At that time they were trying to deinstitutionalize all the kids who had been in institutions, and integrate them into the school system and then the riots hit in the city of Detroit, and they were tired.

They were driving all over the city and they were driving all over the suburbs. They were - their house had been broken into a couple of times. Their older children had were having a very bad school experience in the city and instead of moving to like Oak Park or Southfield, like most people did at that time, they decided they wanted to make a major change. So, my dad got a job working in the Upper Peninsula for the Intermediate School District as a school social worker and he found that job in Rudyard Michigan and they started looking for a house, kind of in that neighborhood in the Eastern Upper Peninsula.

And he and they settled on this beautiful farmhouse that was about 80 acres, had no idea what they were doing or how to farm but had really nice neighbors and that's how they decided to make this change and they always said that in their minds, they told themselves that if it was so terrible they would just come back and it's no big deal and try it out. And they stayed you know until my mom passed away and my dad is still there.

Interviewer: And how many years was there together?

Interviewee: They were on the farm from 1973 until 1995, then they moved shortly to Sault Saint Marie after they retired from both of them from the school system and lived in St. Marie Michigan until my mother passed which was in 2007, okay.

Interviewer: And can you share with us some of your experiences were brought up on the farm in the U P and trying to keep a kosher style home.

Interviewee: Sure, so there's farm experience and then there's Jewish experience and sometimes they go together and sometimes they don't. So, in terms of the farm itself it was a sheep farm and like I said it was 80 acres.

So, we were responsible not only for the animals and we always had different types of animals at different times, there was milk cows and meat cows, we had a horse now again, there were chickens every once in a while, but sheep seemed to be in the main focus of the farm. We had about 60 head of sheep which really is a very small small number comparatively speaking.

And I remember of all the summers you know riding on the on the tractor with my dad and my brother and my mom and my sister and we would all have to help get these hay bales, you know get the hay harvest and then get the bales up on onto the onto the tractor and into the hay mal.

I remember showing sheep in the in the fair every every year. I had three or four sheep that I would show for Future Farmers of America. It was a big deal because you picked them out when they were born and then you raised them and you fatten them up and you made them look all pretty and then you took them to sell them and parade them around and get the highest price for for the best sheep.

Interviewee: Have you actually been to auctions in the U.P.?

Interviewer: I had too, you know I was always very good because I was too super tiny when I was young and I was like very cute, curly hair. So, I always got the best price even though my sheep were not the best everyone felt like sorry for me or something. And then we lived off of the farm, we grew our own food.

So, pretty much everything that we ate came either from the garden or from going fishing or from my parents doing some hunting or from the animals that we raised. They were - there was even points where there was some bargaining going on, so somebody had some butter we would take that or some eggs and we would trade for something else and I think that that lifestyle taught me a lot about knowing where your food comes from.

Which is really a Jewish value also, which I didn't realize at the time but now it has become much more clear that I was very blessed and lucky to know where my food came from.


I remember one story, my parents woke me up it was about 2:00 in the morning and it just so happened it was the time when the smelt were running. People don't know, they talk about smelt anymore but they're teeny-weeny little fish almost like anchovies and you would just put your bucket into the river and when they're running, they're really running so we would you had to go on the middle of the night. They wake me up I'm six seven years old we go get buckets and buckets of these smelt and stay up all night gutting them and putting them in the freezer

And then I know you know we would have smelt for a year. So, it was a things like that that my parents were really focused on making sure that we really did our best to live off of what we grew and we belonged to a food co-op so if there was other things we couldn't get, every month we would go and get it in bulk and everyone would share.

That was the early days of such things you know and my mom and dad were really focused on that. So, the Jewish aspects of that, that our cycle you know revolved around the Jewish calendar. So, whenever Passover came it was also lambing season which means there's always little baby lambs, you know needing extra care at our mud room when the Passover seder is happening and we're talking about the Pascal offering.

And we always had lots of people Jews and non-jews, mostly non-jews coming over to celebrate holidays with us. My parents were really focused on education, making sure that the community knew what it meant to be a Jew and what Jewish holidays were and then always came to my school for Hanukkah, to teach the other kids what the dreidels are, what the Hanukkah story was, what the latkes, are always big on education.

The Jewish community itself had about 50 at the most at the height of my childhood, fifty families and the congregation was in Sault Saint Marie Ontario Canada. So, we drove you know 45 minutes across the international border to get there but we went every week. I went to Hebrew school and so and those in that that area and you know Jews were coming from a hundred mile radius, not only from Canada from the US. So, that was our sort of separate Jewish community but I would say you know for the most part, I at the farm overlapped. The cycle of farm life overlapped a lot with kind of what was going on in our house Jewishly as well.

Interviewer: It's interesting that you mentioned the holidays in the in the schools because your husband grew up in Troy. And we in Troy, had a very similar educational goal to keep the community aware of the Jewish things. So, your father tried to kosher food?

Interviewee: So, yeah he took care of butchering the animals usually once a year sometimes twice there's a little bit of a dilemma here, because if you want to live off the land and you want you know to use what you're producing. Either you have to bring in a Shokhet, somebody who's certified to do it properly or you have to figure it out yourself.

So, he figured it out had a guy named Frank Nixon, who would come and help him and he said Frank I need to explain to you how this kosher stuff is supposed to go and Franks like okay, whatever you want. So, they would but they would - you know slit the throats of the animals, hang them and drain them and salt them, all the animals I remember there were cows and there were sheep.

So, he took the time to learn and to try it and do it right I would tell you in the strictest sense it wasn't kosher. Like if you're really concerned about the label on the food it wouldn't qualify but for us, I think we kind of thought of it as being like eco kashrut, meaning it's a style kashrut that was good enough for us at the time.

Interviewer: Everything but the license.

Interviewee: Yeah everything but the license. He did his best.

Interviewer: Okay, can you share some stories about the Jewish identity within a mostly non Jewish community? It sounds like you had a really wonderful relationship with your non-jewish friends.

Interviewee: And yeah so before we move to Pickford yeah I would bet nobody in that town never met a Jew. I'm sure of it, in fact and I use my mom used to joke she said I think before you were born they thought you were going to be born with horns when you came out but I did have the benefit of being born there and that meant that they saw me grow up and they saw who I was as a person and I was their friend and you know my family was part of the community.

So, that helps a lot but there was still a lot of education that needed to be done in terms of you know educating people about Hanukkah and other holidays. I got a lot of flack actually one time from the principal of high school and I said you know what I'm gonna be gone for a couple days because it's Rosh Hashanah and he said no you can't do that.


And I said well, I'm gonna do that and my mom called and I looked at him square in the face and I said you know if you want me to come on Christmas, I'm happy to. He didn't like that and it was a whole big thing but I think what it comes down to was ignorance. I think probably it's much better now because we were there and because you know they saw what it meant to lead and live a Jewish life.

I don't think I ever experienced any blatant anti-semitism. There were offhanded off-color jokes now and again that I think again came from ignorance not that it was okay but I would say now after me being a part of that community for so long and growing up there and being integrated there.

The community is wonderful and caring and they have a much better idea of what Judaism is, and what Jewish people are and what they look like the Sault St. Marie Ontario community had a bigger responsibility because it's a big community like 80,000 people live in SU St. Marie.

Interviewer: Okay and how many people were at Pickford?

Interviewee: About a thousand at its peak. When I was there probably not that many. It's more of a Township it's not I think it's even a village not necessarily.

Interviewer: Are they any more Jews in Pickford?

Interviewee: Everyone’s gone, unless there's you know ones that are have less Judaism and don't wanna identify themselves. But yeah once my family left that that was that but the synagogue had a bigger responsibility I think.

Interviewer: Okay and the synagogue had how large was the congregation?

Interviewee: Maybe 50 families. That was the height, now it's about 20.

Interviewer: Yeah and did you have good friends in this?

Interviewee: Yeah, yeah I mean there were three of us who were all the same age. So, Ben and Alex and I were the three Jews that were went through Hebrew school together had our bar/bat mitzvahs together and went on you know weekend retreats in Toronto together. We were sort of the crew there were a few kids older than us, a few kids younger than us but they each went to different schools than me.

So, the only time that we came together was when we had Hebrew school or a Jewish holiday reason to come to the congregation together.

Interviewer: Okay are you still in touch with either of them?

Interviewee: Yeah, yeah, both of them actually yeah. I'm more their parents you know as well but yeah.

Interviewer: You were 50 miles from the synagogue but you still made it every single - ?

Interviewee: Yeah, my mom was a teacher.

Interviewer: Which was you know quite a commitment.

Interviewee: Yes it was a big deal and also I mean we needed supplies and things that was a good opportunity to pick up whatever from Sault St Marie, from the Michigan side, we would do some shopping and now and we would come home and be all set for the week.

Interviewer: Did the synagogue I have its own rabbi?

Interviewee: No all congregation led when I was there, except the holidays they would bring somebody and they still do come to do to lead the prayer services for the High Holidays. Earlier in its life, it is coming up on its 75th year I think. Early in its life it did have a clergy presence because that that area see same way Ontario was a big steel town so there were a lot of Jewish merchants and Jewish community there and those shops and those people have since kind of disappeared but in its early days, it was it was quite large it has a nice building, really nice building.

Interviewer: So, you left that community to go to U of M? And you found a lot of Jewish, input was easy to get to. How was that transition?

Interviewee: That was hard, I actually had a high school professor who looked at me, he was my English professor and English teacher and he looked at me and he said. You know you're not gonna make it you'll be back you're not gonna survive at U of M, they'll eat you up, you don't know what you're doing, you - you can't keep up academically.

And I said you know what well I'm going anyway um and he was right about the academics, it was very hard for me. I wasn't really prepared um because they hadn't prepared me in a proper way. I mean all of my friends took these AP classes, I had never heard of an AP class. However because I went to Camp Ramah earlier in my life I was 12, I had connections at U of M, I had friends and I had a community and if it wasn't for that. I don't - I mean it would have been overwhelming and very scary but thankfully I had this group already in place and so they sort of helped me navigate the way.

Interviewer: And were you involved with Hillel?

Interviewee: I was not that involved with Hillel. I went now and again I was much more with that Ramah crew, you would think that we would be going to Hillel but we didn't. We did our own thing. We did Shabbat by ourselves and we all worked at camp still every summer and hung out with each other as much as we could but it wasn't it wasn't that involved in Hillel.

Interviewer: And you met your husband at Michigan, went through something Jewish or something –

Interviewee: Yes actually.


Interviewee: he - he's a little bit younger than me so I was already getting my master's degree then and he was an undergraduate and we both started teaching sixth grade at the temple there, Temple Beth Emmett.

And the principal at the time Terri Ginsburg she said you know you guys should get together and talk curriculum, we said okay and we've been talking curriculum ever since.

Interviewer: Okay then now you live in a very Jewish neighborhood.

Interviewee: Yes.

Interviewer: Walking distance from your synagogue and among months of the Shaarey Zedek

people around here and how does that fit into your –

Interviewee: And the young Israeli community is really big right here in this neighborhood. How does that fit into my life? So, I think Aaron and I earned my husband and I had this sort of aha moment, it really happened when we were at Shir Tikvah and my mom died in 2007.

And we said to each other, you know we had this amazing congregation, we still love but religiously were feeling the need to be a little bit more observant, and sort of after that happened that's just complete tragedy and then 30 literally - 30 days later after my first son was born and we had these major low and a major high, all in the same month and we looked at each other and we sort of said what are we doing?

It was kind of what my parents did in the 70s and we say we need to make a change that fits with our philosophy and our need to be a little bit more observant. And there happened to be a position at Shaarey Zedes as an educator and Aaron applied and he got the position. So, being able to walk for us and being close to the synagogue for us was key when he took that job.

We kind of needed that to happen in order to make the next step for the next level in our observance, which was the goal and it worked out beautifully. I mean I love the fact that I don't have to get into a car on Shabbat on Saturday and Friday nights to Saturday, and the community is wonderful in this neighborhood. It’s been good for our kids too.

Interviewer: Okay and so you've been shomer shabbas since you moved here? How do you think that's changed your life?

Interviewee: I can tell you I never understood Shabbat and the beauty and value of it, until I started observing in a shomer shabbat way, especially after when we had children. Getting to that point on a Friday afternoon where everybody knows that electronics go away, cellphones go away, TVs go away.

We're gonna greet guests, we're gonna have company, we're gonna have a yummy beautiful meal. I never understood how powerful that could be, until you know we started observing. One of my favorite stories is Ayel I think he was in maybe four or five years old and he was writing something or talking to his teachers at school and they said you know what's your what's your favorite thing about Shabbat?

And he said you know what when I come home after school on a Friday, I can walk into the house and it smells like Ema’s Shabbat. Like you know what that to me is the most beautiful thing, we don't - we have this opportunity for what I call true rest.

Nobody calls because they know that unless there's an emergency or god forbid because they know that we're not gonna answer the phone. Our kids play outside, we play football, we play basketball, we play a lot with the neighborhood kids, we play with each other, we read books, we rest we take naps and I think just the value and the beauty of a true rest, I never really understood until we started living it.

The first - when we first moved here I was very nervous scared about it. I was scared that we were gonna do it wrong or I wasn't gonna know how to do it or I was gonna feel like it was too much but in the end now Aaron and I always joke, it's the toughest yet, you know cuz we were so ready to turn things off and have that 25 hours of a break.

Interviewer: So, does the glow of Shabbat start on Thursday and then Tuesday or –

Interviewee: No, it stresses me out, it's just yeah because I don't cook on Shabbat because everything has to be ready and prepared before sundown and now it's early in the middle of winter. It's really early so everything's got to be kind of ready, so Thursday is like mania day so then by the time Friday hits we're ready, we're ready to go.

Interviewer: And the glow lasts for how long?

Interviewee: Till I would say you know till we're in the throes of the school. Monday or Tuesday, Monday morning.


Interviewer: Yeah I know since I've met you I've always been impressed with your zest for all things Jewish and everything that the culture the language and the dancing and everything else and how have you tried to pass this on to your children or do you have any suggestions on how you would tell it to some people, because your kids are obviously deeply involved and very loving Jewish things too.

Interviewee: Yeah, I think, I hope so. I guess looking back on my own life - you kinda have to reflect on how you got, where you were so then you know what you want to pass on. I think my parents were largely responsible for my love of Judaism and truthfully because I grew up in a place where I was the only one it means that you have to be hyper aware of who you are.

So, they gave me that gift in a way almost people say oh you know you didn't have any access to Judaism, how could you possibly have been Jewish? And I said actually I think I was more because I was the only one and I had to represent basically all of Judaism by myself.

Interviewer: My wife could agree with you on that!

Interviewee: Yeah, it's a big responsibility. And I think the kids in Troy you know Aaron also and Jason and those kids who grew up you know in Troy, would say the same thing there's a responsibility there and when you're different you feel it and you need to know who you are.

So, I think that's part of it okay the other part was Camp Ramah like I mentioned my parents were very very wise to send me there. I started when I was 12. They knew and they understood that I needed more of a Jewish education and to understand what it meant to be part of a larger Jewish community and boy did I learn it real quick, when I walked into camp because about 90% of those kids had gone to day school.

They're very for the most part pretty observant Shomer Shabbat kids and I knew very little Hebrew and they were fluent, you know all the announcements were in Hebrew, I was lost and it really weakened but will give me to what I wasn't - what I didn't know and what I wanted to continue to learn, so it gave me that push just to really want to learn more. I think my older sister Barbara also was a really good role model for me.

She's 15 years older and she kind of went on a similar path of learning more becoming a little bit more observant and trying to really understand Jewish text in Jewish life, and because she was ahead of me you know about 15 years, she really influenced me in a positive way in that realm.

I think the other thing that sort of fuels me is my mom and the loss of her know what Judaism was so much a part of who she was and she's written lots of stories and told us lots of stories about how she as a woman, a girl you know wanted access to Jewish learning and pushed for that at Adat Shalom here in Detroit, had a great connection with Rabbi Segal when she was a young girl. And I think just her voice has always been in the back of my head as well.

So, how does that translate to my kids I think the idea of being a role model to them is probably the biggest thing. The way that we live our lives the way that we make decisions they're seeing it every single day, they're seeing everything that we do, everything that I do every decision that I make, if I choose you know to do something Jewish then they're going to make a note of it in the back of their heads and I'm sort of counting on that that they'll have that voice, like I have my mother's voice.

We also are mean to be blunt we have expectations of them all right like we do and there are certain things that we expect them to do and behave in certain ways. We use words like be a mensh and we expect that you will be mensh, you know you don't have to be the best mathematician in your class but you do have to be a good person. And we use the Jewish language for that, they know that they need to come to shul, every Saturday and as of this moment in time, I've never had anybody either of them say I don't want to go.

They love it it's part of our life it's part of our family life and it's just integrated so I think routine is part of that keeping routine and not straying from the routine, and having expectations about what that routine is gonna look like we try really hard to you know give them the smell, the sight the taste of Judaism.

We learn with them every week we have this great tradition of we have a book that talks about the weekly parsha, but it gives them like a dilemma. So, they get to argue about the dilemma in the book and –

Interviewer: Saturday afternoon?

Interviewee: That’s Saturday afternoon. We have Shabbos, we have a little meal together in the afternoon and we argue about these stories. For them it's fun and they enjoy it and that's great but to me I'm thinking, like I hope this kind of is what's gonna translate when they're older that they'll remember that kind of stuff.

We talk a lot about what God expects of us, it's not it's some people are kind of shy away from that but we don't. We say look God gave us the Torah and there's expectations and Commandments in there so we have to follow that as best as best we can and we try and use that language, and then we just always try and provide more knowledge to them, more access to knowledge, more books, more education you know we made a decision to send them to a day school because we didn't have that opportunity.

At least our parents chose for us to have to take a different path and as is often the case you know you do things differently maybe then your parents would, but we'll see. I don't know you know we don't know the results yet, but those are sort of the things that go into our minds as we are trying to raise them. So far it seems to be going okay.


Interviewer: So, who is your source of inspiration towards Judaism and the culture?

Interviewee: Interesting you know I think my mother was definitely the main source, she just even though she was rejecting at the time sort of truth our traditional understanding of where Jews should live in Detroit and where Jews should pray in Detroit, she really rejected that. Rejected sort of organized religion in a way, she still - it was who she was, it was part of her.

And you know she even though we were in the middle of nowhere, it was Friday night we had Shabbos dinner every week. It didn't matter that we were –

Interviewer: Did you have dinner and then did you go to shul?

Interviewee: Friday night, we went to shul no there was usually not services on the weekend just Sunday's every Sunday school unless there was some special event or whatever but we had Friday night dinner every week, no question and everybody knew we needed to be home for that and so I think, I give her the credit, I think so.

She really taught, she was a teacher, she taught my dad, she taught the community, she taught I think –

Interviewer: Your mother's background was?

Interviewee: So, she grew up in Detroit and her father was an immigrant who came at eight years old, her mother was born in Chicago and they were Adat Shalom people which is very weird because funny story, her my mother's uncle was the president of Shaarey Tzedek, so the two brothers, one was Adat Shalom and other was at Shaarey Tzedek and I don't know why.

I don't know the story of why that is there must be a story there, but she was really committed to Jewish learning. You know she was confirmed and she wanted to learn and I have some records of her letters back and forth with Rabbi Siegel.

She would ask him questions and he would give her answers. That was a time women weren't really being educated and she pushed against that mold. So, but I think she did you know she did reject it she got angry by it for a little while and felt like she needed to leave it, at least interpret in an organized way but certainly didn't leave it in her personal or family life at all. But I give her I think I think her vision was probably the reason that I am where I'm at today.

Interviewer: I found her very spiritual yeah. And your dad they got married and he was not Jewish?

Interviewee: Correct, they were married probably Wine married them, at the time he was the only one. The only rabbi who would do any kind of an inter marriage. So, they got married in his office, in the Birmingham temple and he and my father was not interested in converting at that time.

He had grown up in a very sort of Christian household and he had a he had a bachelor's degree in Christian education and really just completely rejected organized religion, was really angry about his experience but over time came to really learn, because my mother was such a good teacher.

And we lived we had a Jewish home, like there was no question about that. So, over the course of the few years that they were raising me, he came to a this idea that he really liked the reform movement and he found Rabbi Lewis in Grand Rapids and they studied together for a while, and he eventually came to convert, through him.

Interviewer: So, you talk about being a role model for your kids? Do you think you're a role model for the Shaarey Tzedek community what's it like to be the wife of a high-profile rabbi, in a large congregation.

Interviewee: So, it's funny this is not something that we had really planned for Aaron, had never said in rabbinical school, you know I want to be the rabbi of a thousand member synagogue and I want to be the senior rabbi and I want - you know this is not part of his original thinking. But we've been married 18 years.

Interviewer: Really?

Interviewee: Yes, time flies, but we went through it together right? Went through Rabbinical school together and then I and then we went through his first position together. And so because we've been together through the whole thing I think that makes the big difference, be like were babies when we got married you know we were 24 years old.

And now we're older, but we've gone through it all, sort of together. Even though it wasn't the plan I think he's in the right place, he's I feel like he's really good at what he does he's a good leader he's a good speaker, he's a good organizer and he loves caring for the Jewish people.


So, the challenge is, that he's a very busy guy and that as it should be right then there's expectations that he will need to be in certain places, at certain times and that means that I have to be a little bit more flexible with my schedule. So, I would say my career probably wasn't it - really didn't go on the trajectory that I sort of thought maybe it would have. I had - I decided and we decided that I would be more available for our kids and our family just because he couldn't be.

And I don't feel bad about that but it definitely is a piece of the puzzle in terms of how, we go about being you know there for the congregation or just who we are. I've always said this is me, this is Rebecca and I am NOT gonna tell you or put any pretense up. This is just who I am and for the most part I think that served us well, people do come to him and they come to me if they're having you know issues or concerns or questions.

So, I'm really grateful to be in that role I like being called Rebbetzin. There are plenty of people who don't but I really look at it like an honor and try and serve the synagogue in a way that's helpful and supportive to him and to the whole congregation, even though you know sometimes it means that other things have to give but the bigger purpose I think we both decided early on early on was more important to us.

We are in a fishbowl sometimes but I think for the most part we don't really notice it and try not to let it get to us, and you know if people you have to be really self-confident and strong and who you are and I think we both we both are. So, I don't think either of us we've learned over the years to not let these things get to us for the most part.

Interviewer: Okay so basically, you're enjoying being the Rebbetzin?

Interviewee: Yeah, I do I love it. Shaarey Tzedek in particular, I mean Shir Tikvah was an exceptional community also just on a smaller scale but Shaarey Tzedek, in particular has a lot of wonderful, wonderful people.

Who are also who give a lot, like they're very respectful and honoring of the rabbi and they appreciate him so it's really nice to be a part of a community where you feel loved we have you know we're starting a plan for Caleb's Bar Mitzvah and I said to Aaron and Caleb, the other day so we are still lucky because we have this whole village of people and they watched Caleb grow up and and they're gonna want to be there and see this.

So, it's a benefit yeah, exactly both communities it's a benefit even in Cincinnati I was working at a synagogue and we had still have connections with those people so even though you're out in the public eye it means that you have that many more people that support you and love you and are a part of your life.

Interviewer: Remember the size of your braces. Do you have any incidents when you felt that your strong beliefs really helped you through something or helped you?

Interviewee: Really, I think the when it was really in my face was when my mother passed away, because there I was so devastated and lost I think the only place to look to was to the faith.

And I that's why Aaron and I started really thinking because we observe I observe Shiva for the full seven days and then we went into Shloshim and I said it makes this make so much sense, this is exactly how I need to be so you know our religion our faith is so wise and how they said so many things and that's why it's there for us to lean on. And in the same thing and I've had amazing happy things happen right like two babies born and the first thing you say is thank God, there's no other response for me.

So, my faith is I feel like never really been questioned. I always felt like - I don't question I haven't questioned it yet. I get a lot I get frustrated and I get angry and bad things happen to good people and babies get cancer and I don't understand some of that sometimes but for the most part my response is always been to lean into the faith and not lean away from it.

Interviewer: Okay have you ever had a reason to question your faith?

Interviewee: No, Nope. I mean I've had bad things happen and had health issues, but my faith was never –

Interviewer: So, you've been a teacher your whole life?

Interviewee: Yes.

Interviewer: Okay is there a class that you particularly enjoy teaching, that's your favorite class to teach?

Interviewee: My favorite class to teach, I really enjoy I teach Melton which is a two-year learning program through Hebrew University and adults commit to learning for two years thirty, thirty weeks out of the year and I teach a number of those courses but what I really enjoyed the most is teaching the Jewish holidays and the Jewish life cycle.

Because I feel like I can do it in a way that meets people where they're at and yet still give them the information about the background of the holiday.


Where it came from the textual sources, that we have related to it. So, I've really been enjoying that lately I've also been teaching some Jewish history and history is a daunting task sometimes like you don't want people's eyes to glaze over.

So, in the way that I've been doing it it's been really interesting to see is applying everything that we're studying historically to what is happening today so the Jewish community of Second Temple period, is extremely relevant to the Judaism that we see today and I'm trying to sort of make those connections for people so I've been enjoying figuring that out too.

Interviewer: And your favorite holiday?

Interviewee: Shabbat, no question about that. Week in and Week out. Actually, Aaron and I are going to be teaching a class on Jewish marriage and relationships. It's a new one for us we've not done that before and it's one that I think we will enjoy putting together together, so we're going to do that in the spring I'm looking forward to that no so otherwise I've covered the gamut of classes. I've taught a lot of lately on healthy living and Judaism's perspective on health and healthy food and healthy eating.

So that's sort of - I've sort of shifted and my focus a little bit so I've been doing a little bit more research on that area but yeah.

Interviewer: One point had talked about the Jewish being kosher, Jewishly and I was working with some Orthodox people, who had a lot of problems with like organic foods because there tends to be more bugs and yeah some more issues with them

Interviewee: Yeah, it's an issue. Yeah, so we order our meat from a place called Grow and Behold. Which is in New York he works out of New York but he contracts with all these farmers to get grass-fed animals and then he takes them and they're killed you know properly according to Jewish law.

And so, I've been feeling a little bit better about that if you're really serious about checking for bugs and all that stuff it's hard like you can't just go get lettuce. So, it's really hard eggs also are another one like if you buy organic eggs, sometimes there's a little spot and then brown eggs and sometimes it's blood and sometimes it's not, but you have to be really good at knowing the difference.

So, yes there may be a little more expense and a little more of a pain but I still think it's sometimes worth it.

Interviewer: You want to add anything, you miss any good stories?

Interviewee: The one thing, I didn't talk about that I probably should is just when I was growing up, my parents were big hunters. So, there's a sort of a problem there because obviously you can't kill an animal a deer, if you're going to hunt it you can't let you get it in a pen and slit its throat.

So, there was a lot of conversation in my house about that but my parents came to the conclusion that you know even if we didn't need the meat, somebody needed the meat and the deer population was you know generally out of control and they felt like they were doing their part to thin the population as needed.

So, they decided that they were gonna fall on the side of being willing to hunt. So, there's that one little controversial thing that sort of came up in my life the other one is that there is a large system of prisons near Pickford in Kinross it used to be the Kinchelo Air Force Base, but then they turned it over with this very large system of prisons. There's five or six of them up there all the way from minimum to maximum security, well if that's the case you know that there's Jews in prison.

So, as I was young I mean I remember being seven years old going to lead a Passover Seder for the prisoners in Kinross and volunteering to lead Shabbat services and my parents would always you know do their best to bring in some Jewish learning and I remember one year, they wanted to bring in a Torah and that was a whole big conversation about whether or not they would be allowed to.

So, that population was one that also my parents, sort of didn't neglect in order for a Jewish community to come together within the prison system they'd have to have a volunteer from the outside bring them together. So, in our case there's no rabbis up there so it was volunteers in the community so my dad even now once in a while go in and if there's a need.

He served as Beit Dean once also for a prisoner who wanted to convert them, so he got to experience that they brought in a mohel and they did they did the whole bit and –

Interviewer: And your dad got converted -?


Interviewee: He converted in 1992, 1993, maybe, somewhere in there. He’s a member of four synagogues and he's on the board of one of them and he's really he's really it's amazing.

He's always reading something, he's always learning something. He's always asking us questions and he will be, God willing, 80 next year. So, he's also inspiring in that way for sure.

Interviewer: Ok well thank you very much. I found this very interesting. I'm sure everyone else will too. Thank you for your time.

[00:40:26] END

Mon, April 12 2021 30 Nisan 5781