Chag Pesach Sameach from Bruce and Joy Breslauer
Submitted by Brian Schnitzer, MAJCo
FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Born Half Jewish, I Chose to Be Wholly So
My journey began when my Catholic mother joined the local synagogue.
April 18, 2019 7:25 p.m. ET
On Friday night Jews around the world will recite the Passover haggadah, a celebration of the Jews’ liberation from slavery in Egypt and an opportunity to reflect on identity. Children will sing the “four questions,” beginning with, “Why is tonight different from all other nights?” As my own children ask their questions, I remember the ones I grappled with decades ago.
“It never occurred to me that I was creating a conflict,” my mother told me recently. “One day, when you were 5, I saw you standing in front of a mirror. You said to me, ‘I know I am half Jewish and half German, I just don’t know which half is which.’ ”
Shortly thereafter, my German Catholic mom insisted that our family join the local Reform synagogue. She no longer believed in God, but she missed the community, music and holidays of her Catholic childhood. “Besides,” she told my American Jewish atheist father, “Joshua has a right to be exposed to Judaism. It is half of his heritage.”
After high school, my dad encouraged me to take a year off before attending college. He suggested volunteering on a kibbutz, an Israeli agricultural commune, which sounded adventurous enough. At my first job in the communal dining room, I met Jews who had fled Germany for Palestine in the 1930s. Many of their families had a formal, diluted Jewish identity but yearned for something more passionate and moved to help build a new home for their people.
It was the first time I had met people for whom Judaism was more than a heritage, for whom identity was worth making sacrifices. Many were disappointed to learn that I planned to return to Canada. I thought of the year in Israel as an experience; they assumed I had come home.
Religious faith didn’t bind the kibbutzniks to Israel. They typically were confident in their secularism—happily eating bread with matzo on Passover while denying the existence of God. But I didn’t know enough about the religion to rebel against it. After leaving the kibbutz I joined a yeshiva, or center for Talmudic studies.
My doubts about God’s existence didn’t surprise or disappoint my rabbi. “I don’t believe in the god you don’t believe in either,” he said and explained that my limited language for faith gave me a shallow image of God, which he also rejected. “You’re Jewish, Joshua. You can worry about God later. At your age, you should be learning Talmud.”
I studied and eventually learned that technically I was not Jewish. But no one asked, and I didn’t volunteer the information.
The year ended, and soon I was at Wesleyan. On the first night the university president spoke to new students and their families about the importance of challenging tradition. For dinner they served lobster, which isn’t kosher. I filled my plate with pasta salad—but my dad couldn’t turn down a good crustacean.
For so many Jews I met at Wesleyan, Israel was a problem and Judaism an afterthought. The dissonance between my inner world and theirs made me miss Israel even more, and after two years I returned and studied more Talmud. This time I told my rabbis that my mother was not Jewish. They encouraged me to convert formally, but I resisted—too Jewish to convert and too Jewish not to.
Eventually I converted. Through studying Talmud, I learned to appreciate the subtleties of faith, the depth of Jewish spiritual practice, and the possibility of an encounter with God in the act of study itself. Twenty-five years later, I teach Talmud for a living and have eight children who speak Judaism as their first language.
Last year I took my teenage daughter on a trip to visit family in the U.S. A woman at the airport noticed her modest dress and asked if she was Amish, embarrassing my daughter. I told her to be proud, that Americans respect people who keep their traditions. “It isn’t what Americans think that embarrasses me,” she replied. “I just don’t know why we have to be so different from everyone else. Why can’t we just be people?”
Jewish law is demanding. When I struggled with Judaism’s exclusivity and claims to chosenness, I immersed myself in the Talmud’s complexity and tried to shield my children from my own contradictions. But now my daughter was as confused as I had been at her age. It had never occurred to me that I was creating a conflict, too.
“I have lots of questions, dad.” She asked what to do.
“You’re Jewish,” I said. “Maybe we should start learning some Talmud together.”
Mr. Weisberg is a rabbi and educator at Nishmat in Jerusalem.
Appeared in the April 19, 2019, print edition.
Submitted by Jerry Weissman
The annual Aitz Chaim community Passover Seder will be held at 5:30pm Friday, April 26, in the basement room of the O’Haire Motor Inn, 17 7th Street South. The meal will include all the traditional fixings and a multi course dinner including matzo ball soup, salad, brisket, chicken, potato, vegetable, and dessert. The cost will be $30 per adult member, and $40 per adult non-member. Children under 13 are $20. If you have special dietary requests, please contact Laura to see if they can be accommodated. The Seder will be led by Rabbi Ruz Gulko.
Payment is expected in advance unless other arrangements have been made. Please be aware you will be responsible for the cost if you do not attend and have not canceled prior to April 21.
To make reservations or inquiries, e-mail Laura at email@example.com
Send your payment to:
Congregation Aitz Chaim
C/O Wendy Weissman, CPA
525 Central Avenue, Suite L8
Great Falls, MT 59401-3271
Looking forward to seeing you there.
Shalom to everyone.
I am writing to introduce an opportunity to contribute to the legacy of the Butte Montana Jewish community. Please note that I am writing to you as an individual rather than on behalf of the Congregation.
On May 10 and May 11, 2019 the Butte Silver Bow Public Archives, (www.buttearchives.org) (firstname.lastname@example.org) will host a workshop to begin to document the history and culture of the Jewish community in Butte.
The Archives has received a Common Heritage Grant from the National Endowment for Humanities, (NEH).
The Archives is interested in oral histories, manuscripts for digitalization, family trees and histories, artifacts to be loaned for exhibit and returned to owners, ephemera (stuff) relating to the Jewish community. They are interested to learn when how and why Jews came to Butte, where they came from, their means of travel to get here, how they made a living and raised their families. What part did our ancestors take in Butte’s history? Details about the Congregations and Temples are of interest.
The Archives is a professional organization that has the means to properly care for anything sent to them to help in the project.
If you know of anything that might help in this project, please let the archives know. The details to contact the Archives are below. Please check out their website. Thank you for your interest in this project.
BUTTE-SILVER BOW PUBLIC ARCHIVES
17 W. Quartz St.
Butte, Mt. 59701
Ellen Crain, Archives Director
Nikole Evankovich, Assistant Director
April 10, 2019
I just got a call from Susan Hinton. Bill and Susan, members of Aitz Chaim, moved to Gulf Shores, Mississippi. Bill contracted stomach cancer and was tolerating it fairly well for almost two years. It came back in October and since January he has just been hanging on. He passed in a hospice last night. He was 87, but anyone who remembers him he acted like he was 40.
Bill and Susan are converts to Judaism and were more Jewish than many people born in our religion. Sad to lose a friend.
There is no rabbi or Jewish presence, according to Susan, in Gulf Shores. She and Bill chose to be interred at the National Cemetery in Biloxi, Mississippi. The funeral will be within 24 hours.
Susan’s cell phone number is 601-692-4960
I will find their mailing or home address.
This is a reminder about the lay services led by Devorah Werner on the first Friday of the month, April 5, at 6:00 P.M. at the Bethel, with a milchig (dairy) potluck to follow.
Now that the weather is getting better, hope to see you there.
The address for the Bethel is 1009 18th Avenue Southwest. click here for map and directions.
Compiled by Aitz Chaim over many years, this list is maintained by the Ram’s Horn. Please send any corrections or additions to email@example.com
May the source of peace send peace to all who mourn, and may we be a comfort to all who are bereaved.