Beth had always been a woman with a dream. A dream that would take her sixty years to realize. A dream that would cost her a lot of time and money. A dream that was worth it.
“I’m very Jewishly identified. I love being Jewish.”
The Jewish faith has always been a huge part of Beth’s life. She loves the religion wholeheartedly – down to every last tradition and meal.
“The Jewish faith is very cultural. So when you grow up in a Jewish household, there are lots of things that have gone from generation to generation – from grandparents, great grandparents, and even before – that just kind of come through the families. And I’m sure that it’s not just in the Jewish community that this exists; it’s in all different kinds of cultures. But it’s very culturally identified.”
Since she was a little girl, Beth dreamed of becoming a rabbi so she could learn and to be able to share her love and knowledge of Judaism with others.
“I really liked text. I liked the Bible. I liked all of the things that were written by scholars over the years – two thousand years’ worth of writing. And I wanted to know more. And so from the time I was a teenager I wanted to be a rabbi. And I didn’t become a rabbi until two years ago. And it was because time wasn’t right, it was expensive, I had decent jobs and I was able to afford to live my life in a decent comfortable style. And so it wasn’t after I really retired that I said ‘You know, I’ve had this lifelong dream. I’m gonna do it.’ So, at sixty years old, I entered rabbinical school. And it took me five years and I was then ordained as a rabbi.”
After sixty years, Beth finally decided to leave corporate America and go through the five-year process of becoming a rabbi.
“I wanted to teach people, and I wanted to take some of the love for the faith that I felt and hopefully bring it to others so that they would engage the way I did.”
Beth hoped not only to teach others about Judaism, but to gain a deeper understanding herself.
“I’m a very spiritual person, as opposed to a law-based person. So in Judaism, the word ‘rabbi’ means teacher. And what you’re supposed to teach and what you learn to teach in rabbinical school is all this text that we have through our tradition. So it’s not just the Hebrew scriptures of the Bible – the Old Testament – but there’s lots of texts on top of that. Lots of commentaries on the Old Testament that have been written over two thousand years.”
Beth explained to me that there are two basic laws that come out of the Old Testament – to love god, and to love your neighbor as yourself. The rest of the writings are commentaries. And it was those commentaries that she took to heart. Beth did not have to become a rabbi to do the work she wanted to do. But for her, being a rabbi wasn’t about a title or special privileges, it was about learning. She did it because it was her dream – she felt like she was missing something, and she wanted a deeper understanding of her own religion.
“I wanted to share some of my heart with other people of my faith, and even people not of my faith. I actually attend an episcopal bible study every week … and I’ve been doing it for about six years. And I love it. We study both the Old Testament and the New Testament – we do both. And I am learning and they are learning, and so it’s a wonderful process.”
Beth attends an episcopal bible study every week, working with religious leaders of other faiths and learning from each other. Imagine where the world would be if everyone had this outlook.
“I wish there were more people who could see that we really are in this world together and that we are all people of faith – and it doesn’t matter who the major belief is, that we offer our prayers to or that we seek out advice from, or whatever it is that we do when we pray. Whether it’s Jesus or Mohammed or Buddha or God or whatever – a higher power. It doesn’t matter, as long as we’re all kind of working on the same principles of being good people and loving one another. I wish we could all be like that, so I’m very engaged in interfaith work in this community.”
Within her community, she works with episcopal priests and Methodist ministers.
“We talk about how can we take the wonderful senses and the values that we have in this group and move it out into the world. And we talk about ‘shining light’ all the time: how can we shine light? And the only answer that we can continually come up with is to be who we are, and to just shine our own individual lights in this world, and not argue with people, but let people know when we agree and disagree with them. And not become combative and not become hateful … one of the prophets in the old testament, Micah, says to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
Her small community had once been a methodist meeting place. When other religions began to arrive, some friction was caused. But now, the different faiths in the community are learning to work together.
“The learning to live together is still continuing. We’re still learning to live together.”
She doesn’t see a prosperous world where faiths can’t coexist.
“I think that faith groups have to learn to coexist. I worry about the continued strong existence of faiths if they stay by themselves.”
We also discussed the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. She was in Las Vegas at the time.
“Jewish people all across this country were touched in ways that I don’t think we even recognized.”
She and her wife went to the largest synagogue in Las Vegas to be with people of their faith.
“I would say that every single faith community in the Las Vegas area was represented there, because they also felt a need to support and to say ‘hatred is not okay, and this was an act of hate.’ And so antisemitism – which has existed in our life and our world forever – has been on the rise. And there are more hate-related instances that are happening all over the place and all the time.”
Though it may not be as clear to those who are not Jewish, antisemitic attacks have been on the rise.
“It used to be said that when you’re Jewish you constantly need to be looking over your shoulder, because you never know where the next attack is going to come from – the next form of hatred. And for a while, things got pretty calm … and there were a lot of rabbis who said ‘we’ve got to learn now not to look over our shoulders.’ Well, Pittsburgh brought back the need foreverybody to just continually look over their shoulder, because you don’t knowwhere the next act of hatred is going to come from. That’s what it’s like to be a Jew.”
Some people face discrimination every day for who they are, and some face none at all.
“There are all of those peoples who have had some kind of experience of others not liking them because of something about who they are… and I think that when one has had that experience, and I have had that experience, I can then relate to when someone else or some other community is attacked because of who they love, who they are, the color of their skin, whatever it is. So I wonder if there are people in this world who have not had anything close to those experiences who don’t think about them. And I wonder where their heart is when something like Pittsburgh happens.”
I asked about what I could do – what I could tell others to do. This is a problem that needs to and can be taken care of.
“Number one, I will tell you that you need to vote in the political environment and you need to look at the candidates to see what their values are and if they match yours. And then I think you need to talk about that with your friends. And I think you need to say ‘I’m voting for so and so, because…”. Not because everybody else is doing it, or because I’m a democrat or a republican or an independent or I’m not labeled, but because of the values that I see that are important to me and that this politician shows.”
Her first advice was to vote carefully and thoughtfully. Vote for people who will stand for you, your values, and your country.
She also explained the importance of speaking up. Though it’s been drilled into every one of our heads since elementary school, few of us actually do it. It’s important to realize that words can escalate into something larger. The consequences of stepping up are much smaller than the consequences of remaining silent.
“When everybody is kind of making jokes and having fun and they think it’s funny to make jokes against a group of people – and this is hard – but, to stand up and say ‘you know, I get that we’re joking about it but I’m uncomfortable with the joking about it.’ And unless people start standing up and doing that, then it’ll only build.”
This world doesn’t have room for hate. Challenge yourself to speak up.