My Spiritual Journey: From Jewish Ancestry to Jewish Commitment
As far back as I can trace my forbears, we have been Jews. On my mother’s side, they were Sephardic, with names like Abulafia and Benvenisti (or Benveniste), going all the way back to the Iberian Peninsula. These names still exist in various parts of the world today, including Greece, Mexico, the United States, and Israel. On my father’s side, I am the great-granddaughter of Moshe Shertok, soldier, journalist, and diplomat, who with the name Moshe Sharett, served as the second prime minister of the fledgling State of Israel and as its first foreign minister.
I was born in Israel, educated in its schools, and served in the Israeli Defense Force. I was friends with fellow Israelis from many countries and backgrounds, always proud to be an Israeli and a Jew.
However, I always felt something was missing in my life.
That “something” turned out to be a connection to my Jewish heritage and to the faith that informed and inspired my ancestors. And, as I came to learn, it was missing from the lives of many family members and large numbers of my friends, too. Like me, these wonderful people focused their Jewish identity on their connection with Israel and the Jewish people, but not on Jewish faith. They identified as secular Jews.
I, too, was a secular Jew when I came to the United States and, seeking to broaden my horizons and fulfill my dream to become an opera star, enrolled at Brooklyn College as an opera performance major. How was I to know that my stay at Brooklyn College would engender a seismic change in my life? I did not realize it at the time; the change came slowly. But before long, it overcame me and touched every fiber of my being.
It began when I took a modest position teaching at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, founded by the religiously devout and distinguished defender of world Jewry, Stephen Samuel Wise. There I met religiously modern, yet dedicated Jews. I also met Cantor Dan Singer, who brought a rich and beautiful musical repertoire representing the breadth and depth of Jewish heritage to worship every week. My interest in Judaism – and its music – began to grow.
Eventually, Cantor Singer, who later became my brother-in-law, influenced me to consider a career as a cantor. I applied to the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) in New York. Interestingly, the Jewish Institute of Religion had been founded by none other than Rabbi Stephen Samuel Wise.
At HUC-JIR, with its superb cantorial and rabbinic faculty, I delved into the study of our sacred tradition: its Torah, Talmud, midrash, halachah (Jewish law), and not least of all, its history. Inspired by what had for so long been unknown to me as the real treasure of my heritage, I drank deeply from its wells of inspiration, realizing I had just begun to absorb the sweetness of my inheritance.
Through my studies, I came to feel myself fulfilled, not only as a Jew, but also as a member of the Jewish people. This proud citizen of Israel became a proud participant in the faith of Abraham and Moses, of Hillel and Akivah. I learned, too, that I could be among the men and women – rabbis and cantors, clergy of our faith – who strive to impart the noble values of our tradition to others – in a world sorely in need of them.
Today, as a person of faith, a member of the clergy, a child of my heritage, and a wife and mother, I plan to dedicate myself fully to a lifetime of study of the true meaning of our faith – which is rich in tradition, flexible in its application, courageous in its commitment to modernity, and always ready for its eternal values and ideals to meet new challenges of the day.