What does being Jewish mean to you?
"I was raised in a Conservative Jewish home in Yorktown Heights, New York. For my mom and dad, shul was the center of their lives. My mom was raised in an Orthodox home and my father was born to parents who didn't practice; but he had an intense pride in our history and heritage. When my Bar Mitzvah was over, I walked out of the synagogue and didn't return for years. I married Carol, who at the time wasn't Jewish. When we started thinking about children, we considered raising them with two religions. We had trouble getting pregnant, so we decided to create our family through adoption. Through a private domestic adoption, we brought home a baby in 1991. Four days later, the birth mother changed her mind, and by law we had to give the baby back. We were devastated. On a Sunday night that September, we took a walk and made the difficult decision to put adoption on hold. The next night I came home and Carol came tearing out of house: our adoption attorney had called to say a baby had been born in Texas, but the adoptive parents had backed out. We were on a plane by morning and by Tuesday afternoon, I was holding my son in my arms. At that minute, an alarm went off in my head: ‘This child has to be raised Jewish. Stop the craziness of pretending religion isn’t important; it is.’ Joshua’s sister Rachel was born ten and a half months later; they are full siblings, and we adopted both. Their first Jewish ritual was a mikvah and conversion ceremony. Our journey to family went from the worst experience to a double miracle.”
How do you express your Jewish values in your personal and professional life?
"In spite of walking out of shul at 13, I realize I’d been impacted by the Jewish values modeled by my family. My dad was a man of few words but he was fair, forthright, honest, and one of the most non-judgmental people I have ever known. Those are characteristics I liked to think I have. My mom was a ‘social worker’ without any degrees, helping in the shul and community. In college, my sister became very active in the women's movement, volunteering in crisis centers. I was so impacted by her and her group of involved, intelligent, intuitive friends. And it wasn’t lost on me that around that time, gender roles in our home began to change. The ‘boys’ started pushing vacuum cleaners, and that was related to the messages Sandy brought home to my mom. My sister was one of the most important models in terms of my move into social work. In October, I’ll have finished a 30-year career as a school social worker. That tikkun olam was all modeled by my mom and sister.”
How did you choose your focus at the Federation?
"Both Joshua and Rachel went on Journey for Identity (JFI). It was a phenomenal experience for them, and for Carol and me to host an Israeli student in our home. Shortly after, I had the opportunity to be a part of the Education Bridge teacher delegation. We hosted an Israeli teacher here; then I went to Israel for the first time. It was an amazing experience in a million different ways. I ended up going as a chaperone for JFI 5. That was very difficult to put into words. From the amazing 32 teens on that trip to the survivor who went with us, Sam Rind – his first trip back to Poland since he left after the war. Following that, I chaired two more JFI trips.”
What is something people may not know about you?
"As an addiction specialist, I’m working to encourage rabbis and lay leaders to break the silence around substance abuse such as opioid addiction in the Jewish community. Our community historically, and to this day, is in a great deal of denial about it. For many people struggling and suffering, silence is interpreted as 'You will judge me if I come to you.' One of my goals in the near future is to challenge the Jewish community to take this issue on.”