Meet Jewish Gateways Participant Connie Jacowitz
Connie Jacowitz grew up in Easton, Pennsylvania, where her family was involved with the local Conservative synagogue. She loved studying Hebrew at the synagogue's school and enjoyed the learning and the discussions with the rabbi. She found the services rote and meaningless, though, and when she left for college she stopped participating in Jewish activities.
As an adult Connie moved to the Bay Area, where she was politically active and worked at UC Berkeley for 20 years. She got married, had two daughters, and studied for her second career as a genetic counselor.
Connie next connected with Judaism when, at age 10, her older daughter decided that she wanted to have a bat mitzvah. They started going to High Holidays in the East Bay and Connie was excited to discover services that were about more than just tradition. Rather than being rushed and boring, like the services she grew up with, they offered time for reflection and felt spiritual and meaningful.
Connie's mother, Selma Jacowitz, next to Connie, who is holding her granddaughter on her lap
Eventually Connie decided she wanted more Jewish community in her life. She had seen how her husband Glen, who grew up Presbyterian and became a Buddhist as an adult, got so much out of Buddhist tradition. She knew that Judaism, too, must offer spiritual and ethical teachings one could draw on in everyday life.
Once Connie retired she had the time to explore Judaism more deeply, and she looked around for new Jewish experiences. She discovered Jewish Gateways High Holidays, enjoyed them, and then decided to try the Open-Minded Torah class.
I knew that the Torah is a big deal, the foundation of Judaism. The part of the service where it's read -- the music, taking it out of the Ark -- is great, but I didn't find the reading itself meaningful. I really didn't know what was in the Torah and I was curious.
When I came to the Torah class I liked it immediately. It's very open, with a chance for everyone to speak. All you have to do is read and share your reactions. The commentaries we look at are fascinating. They help me see things I would never have picked up on my own, and I was amazed to find out that there are so many modern ones. Discovering what's actually in the Torah and looking at it this way has opened up a whole new world. I know Torah study might sound scary or like it's only for people who already know a lot, but that is definitely not true of this group.
Sometimes these teachings can make a difference. Recently I was with an old friend who's a teacher. She told me about one of her students who kept breaking rules. My friend knew her student's difficult family circumstances and wanted to give her a break but wasn't sure that was right. I had learned in Torah class about how compassion and justice are important values in Judaism, and that we need to come down more on the side of compassion. I told my friend about this and it helped her see that it was alright for her to be compassionate with her student.
Meeting with the Torah class on an ongoing basis, in a small enough group so we can get to know each other, helps me feel connected to Jewish community, plus I love the learning. I want to continue to be involved like this, take more classes, and try to go to some Shabbat dinners.
I'm lucky to have the life I do now. My daughters and grandchildren live close by, and I spend a lot of time doing art that I love -- water color, quilting, and printmaking. I'm glad that I realized how important Judaism is to me and have made it more a part of my life.