“This is a place of honest telling,” Rabbi Sisenwine told Rep. Joe Kennedy III during a December 2016 conversation in the TBE Sanctuary. I heard the words from the back row, where I had been sitting as a visitor for twelve Shabbats. It’s possible to draw a line, with a few twists, between that evening’s message and this year’s Yom Kippur Hour of Response, when I was one of the three speakers. TBE is indeed a place of many stories, a community where it is safe to share. I’m very grateful to be part of it.
Standing in front of fellow congregants was a surprising moment for me. I was pleased to recognize so many people. Nonetheless, it was the opposite of how I once expected to share my story: I’d chosen a pen name, and here I was showing my face and owning my words.
In June, Tablet Magazine published a personal essay about my late in life return to Judaism. The social media tag “Jew-nitarianism forever” refers to the fact that even after joining TBE, I continued my 20-year affiliation with a Unitarian Universalist congregation. What I presented from the bimah a few months later expanded on a difficult World War II family history, with less about the UU church. Both versions told how embracing Judaism gave me “new eyes” through which to view life.
Because the Tablet essay is a celebration of TBE, I want to share it with those in the community who missed its publication. Whatever the takeaways on the story’s details, I hope there is an overarching lesson: our Jewish tradition is full of beautiful reminders that we should cultivate gratitude for everyday blessings.