Notes for “Jewish Journey in Three Parts”

It is a special honor to be asked on Kol Nidre to share what has been my Jewish Journey in three very different parts.

Part 1: Birth to age 17: “Jewish without question”

In both senses: Jewish through & through; Jewish without introspection

  • born into Jewish family in large Jewish neighborhood
  • like Ivory soap, 99 44/100th of the people I saw were Jewish
  • being Jewish was no different than being a Pirates baseball fan:
  • born in Pittsburgh, therefore Pirates fan – never occur to me to root for another team or to be other than Jewish
  • my Jewishness was, in the way of something taken for granted: ever present and never present: as I went through bar mitzvah, confirmation, and synagogue on high holidays

Part 1 ended when I went away to college: entered the real world: in which being Jewish was no longer a common characteristic around me. And so began:

Part 2: the next forty years

My equivalent of 40 years wandering in the desert: as a secular Jew

  • proud to be Jewish, but not “active”
  • not observant, not at services except for weddings/funerals/when visiting with my aging father
  • this is how I likely would have spent all my remaining years if not for the influence of my wife Rae and our Rabbi Michael
  • 3 years ago Rae and I decided to marry;
  • Rae was not born Jewish, so ours was to be a mixed marriage
  • Simple ceremony, Rae liked idea of being married by a Rabbi

That decision started: Part 3 of my Jewish Journey

All that I’m about to describe would not have happened without Rae wanting to have a Jewish ceremony, for which I’m very thankful.

  • to find a Rabbi: talked to Union for Reform Judaism, talked with Rabbi Mirel with whom Rae and I had taken class: Rabbi Michael Latz
  • Rabbi Michael agreed & urged us to include some traditional things; we said okay, – – so he suggested we add some more
  • married under an improvised huppah;
  • in our living room; 3 years ago last week;
  • during this remarkable event, full of tradition, I was especially struck by one short line in ceremony: “the blessing we will now say has been said by Jews for 3000 years”

Transformational moment, fully entered the third part. Really touched by the sense of connection to thousands & millions of Jews who had come before and who will come after After that ceremony, “Jewish things” started to happen:

  • my daughter Carol: also touched by ceremony, traditions, & Rabbi’s words;
  • so that before our first wedding anniversary: we had the joy: go to the mikveh to celebrate Carol’s affirmation of being Jewish
  • & now she and her fiancé Jon have set their own date under the same huppah with Rabbi Michael
  • not long after our wedding: Rae & I got a call from the Rabbi: an idea to start a new W. Seattle synagogue; would we be interested – indeed we were!
  • in turn, lead to: following fall: attending first Yom Kippur service in 40 years
  • admit: to show support to Rabbi and fledging congregation
  • [a lot fewer folks than tonight – wow!]
  • while that may have been my motivation, what happened was quite unexpected:
  • during Yizkor, I was moved by the feeling evoked by the service:
  • to come up on the bema and say a few words of memories of my parents
  • more surprising to me: the part of service that describes: how some will die in the year ahead – and graphically gives examples of how –

AND when we pray to be inscribed into the Book of Life:

  • all of that: heard it as if on a loudspeaker at max volume, tuned to just my ears
  • I prayed for inclusion in the Book of Life for those I love and myself:
  • first time I remembered ever being aware of those words so clearly & saying the prayer with intensity
  • & then, just like in a soap opera, except it was very real: 2 months later I was on what appeared would be my death bed: in Intensive Care, my brain function ravaged by viral encephalitis
  • I’m here today: my life saved by Rae knowing when to go to ER & insisting on treatment; & by doctors who kept me alive: so my body had opportunity to conquer the virus, AND
  • even though I’m MIT trained, still can’t help but wonder what would have happened without that Yom Kippur praying
  • Since then: Rae and I have become part of the Fri night service attendees;
  • my 1st regular synagogue attendance:
  • the Hebrew chants never fail to touch me deeply;
  • if you want to see a grown man cry, just look my way when Jeff – accompanied by soulful harmonica – sings “ya hoo l’ rut zon”;
  • Each time the congregation sings “Ba-yom Ha-ho” I am transported to standing next to my Dad during some of his final days as he chanted those words;
  • Rae has studied Judaism, and has decided to live a Jewish life,
  • and there is nothing like watching her next to me softly saying the Shemah;
  • and when the service is over & we move downstairs: I see my departed Mom thru every woman who uses the same hand gestures as she did while saying the Shabbat candle-lighting prayer.

In this 3rd part of my Jewish Journey, here in this congregation of caring, compassionate, and committed people, I indeed feel connected to Jews that came before and will come after – & especially in clear focus is the now of: Rae, Carol, and this wonderful Kol HaNeshamah community.

Thank you.

Mark Lembersky
Kol Nidre
October 12, 2005