Meet Jewish Gateways Participants Katie and Scott Williams

Katie and Scott Williams live in Martinez, where they served Contra Costa County for the better part of 3 decades -- Katie as a social worker for Children’s Services, Scott for the Probation Department -- while raising their daughter, Sarah, in their interfaith household. 

 

We’ve always held each other’s backgrounds, not just with interest and respect, but with a growing love of the beauty and depth of the teachings in both.

 

Katie’s parents were born in Germany. Her father emigrated to the US prior to Hitler’s rise to power, but his father was killed by the Nazis. Her mother was 12 when Hitler came to power. Her parents sent her to Switzerland at age 16, and she managed to leave Europe for the US at age 20. She lost both parents, as well as other family, to the Nazis. 

Katie and Scott enjoying a hike

Katie grew up strongly culturally identified as a Jew, but with minimal observance. Her mother had lost her belief in God due to her experience in Germany. Katie was always drawn to Judaism, and enjoyed attending services and Passover seders, but also saw a Judaism that focused on the High Holidays and fancy dresses, and didn’t seem very integrated into people’s lives.

Scott was baptized into the Episcopal Church as a baby. His father studied for the priesthood, but had a crisis of faith when Scott was young, which ended his family’s involvement in Christian worship. Nonetheless, Scott’s father remained interested in religious studies, acquainting Scott with Buddhist thought, the Animist and nature religions of the world, and various Talmudic (rabbis from about 1,500 years ago) teachers.  

 

As a young adult Scott was drafted into the Army and served in Korea. Through a fluke of circumstance, while there he was introduced to Ven. Dr. Seo, Kyung-Bo, a Korean Buddhist master, who took him as a student and later confirmed him as a Buddhist.  

 

Since retirement, Scott has become a long-distance hiker, completing a number of trails, including the Israel National Trail and the US triple crown (the Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, and Appalachian Trail). Katie enjoys travel, hiking, kayaking, and connecting with her Jewish heritage. Both have become an invaluable part of the Jewish Gateways community.

 

Early in their marriage, Katie and Scott hosted Passover seders and also attended holiday services at Grace Cathedral. When their daughter was born, they wanted her to be raised with knowledge of both their religious traditions. They became involved in a small Episcopal church that was progressive enough to have Scott speak about his background as a Christian who didn’t know whether God existed, didn’t believe in much of Christian dogma, and was involved in Buddhism and Judaism.

 

The Williams family searched for a Jewish spiritual home but, at most, felt a tolerance for their Christian side, never a true acceptance. Then they found Shir Neshama (Song of the Soul), a group of small chavurot (groups) mentored by retired Rabbi Sholom Groesberg, with families similar to their own. 

 

We formed our own chavurah (group) and Hebrew school. This was a life-changing experience for our family. We learned about and celebrated Judaism, and developed close relationships that continue to this day.

We organized donation-based High Holiday services and planned bar and bat mitzvahs for our children. Katie helped with many activities, even putting together our own prayerbook for one of the High Holidays and for Sarah’s bat mitzvah. When the rabbi asked Scott to “learn a few prayers,” he actually meant the whole Torah service! Under his tutelage, Scott became the cantorial soloist for Shir Neshama! Over the years, Scott also became a member of the rabbi’s klezmer band, the Shabbatones, and later formed a trio with two others, calling themselves the Jewops. They performed at many bar and bat mitzvahs and Jewish holiday services.

These were all joyous events, allowing us to experience the richness of Jewish religion and culture. For us, as a couple and as a family, this was just what we needed; true acceptance of both of us and our backgrounds, and equal participation.

 

However, as the children and Rabbi Groesberg grew older, Shir Neshama stopped functioning as a formal unit. Katie and Scott searched for a new Jewish community, trying several before they found Jewish Gateways:

 

We liked Rabbi Bridget’s openness and inclusivity, which added so much to the beautiful High Holiday services. After attending for a couple of years, we began classes and were taken by Rabbi Bridget’s knowledge and depth of understanding. She is a fantastic teacher. We also attended Shabbat dinners, something we missed from our chavurah days. The more we participated, the more we felt at home with Jewish Gateways.

 

Katie and Scott have helped Jewish Gateways grow in many ways, while Rabbi Bridget helped support the family through Katie’s mother’s death and memorial. She also worked with Sarah and her now husband, who is of Chinese ancestry, to help them develop a wedding ceremony that included both Jewish and Chinese culture. Recently, Katie and Scott started attending one of Jewish Gateways’ Mussar groups, which draw on spiritual and ethical teachings to help people live more meaningful lives.

 

We both absolutely love this approach to spiritual and ethical development. Now both of us feel we have a welcoming home to learn about and participate in Judaism, that welcomes the diversity of our family…  As it fills a need for us, so does it for many others who are interested in Judaism and are accepted at whatever level of involvement they choose.

 

We are grateful that Katie and Scott make the trek to the Berkeley area for many Jewish Gateways programs. For those who would rather stay on the other side of the hills, Katie and Scott are helping expand Jewish Gateways' presence by hosting Jewish Gateways gatherings at their home in Martinez. We are thrilled to have this amazing couple as part of the Jewish Gateways community!

 

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