I was born and raised in Crosby, Minnesota, far from any Jewish infrastructure. I am grateful that my parents preserved a bit of Yiddishkeit in our home, albeit in a way I grew to call »ethnic« – candles, wine and challah (all the way from St. Paul!), a few holiday traditions. When I was a child, I did have a glimpse of how my father’s family must have lived earlier. Zeyde davened every day. We brought him to the lake for tashlich and I remember him making kiddush and chanting »slach lanu«, one of the first melodies I knew. But my Jewish identity was mostly about our not fitting into any of the many religious groups on the multicultural Iron Range. Questions … Jews wonder why my family chose to live so far from other Jews, an enigma that continues to haunt me. Why did my father’s family remain in Crosby after most of the other Jews had left? Why didn’t Zeyde pass on his tradition? Among the things I found in a box when we cleaned out my parents’ home were multiple copies of prayer books, a Hebrew-Yiddish Tanach, three tiny tallitot katanot and five sets of tefillin, one in a bag embroidered with my father’s initials, one in a bag with Zeyde’s initials. What broke the thread? What compels me to take it up, weave it back into the Jewish tapestry and add colors of my own? What took me so long and why did I need to wander so far off the path? I feel like Parsifal!
Yes, Wagner, my parallel universe: I dreamed about it as a child and I was blessed to inhabit it as an opera singer. Why? Did the deeper significance of those archetypical characters strike a chord within me? Or did singing simply help assuage my spiritual longing?
When I moved to Germany in 1971, Jewish life there was still tenuous. With a Gentile husband and our theater lifestyle it was easy to remain distant. With later changes in my life, it became harder to keep my Jewish soul at bay. In 2001, I found the Egalitarian Minyan in Frankfurt. Worship Leader Daniel Kempin generously gave me the room I needed to take the first steps along my new pathway. We respect and encourage each other, we work and study together – in short we are colleagues bound by a deep friendship that enriches us both.
When Rabbi Elisa Klapheck joined us in 2004, she asked me to lead parts of the services and taught me to chant Torah. Keenly aware of my ignorance, I agonized over singing exactly the right words and notes. But I began to sense that I did not want to merely perform this music. I needed to go deeper. Rabbi Klapheck and Hazzan Jalda Rebling encouraged me to investigate Aleph: Alliance for Jewish Renewal . During that amazing first week of Davvenen’ Leadership Training Institute, my soul and persona were finally able to merge and my dichotomous self slowly began to come into focus. Here was the biggest group of Jews I had ever seen, and I was a legitimate part of it! I stopped laughing incredulously when people suggested I become a cantor. I began to quip that I was building a bridge from Walhalla to Ohalah (Association of Rabbis, Cantors and Rabbinic Pastors for Jewish Renewal, scarcely daring to believe it but striving mightily, and with indescribable joy, to achieve that faraway goal.
Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and Hazzan Jack Kessler ordained me as a Hazzan in January 2014. My Jewish soul is at peace. I am deeply grateful.