Every once in awhile, I receive a letter from a congregant or student which reminds me of why I decided to become a rabbi. I received one of these letters a few weeks ago just before the holidays. With the permission of the sender (and with her name edited out), I want to share this special communication with you. It is warm and genuine and gives me a deep sense of satisfaction. I hope you accept that I am in no way bragging, just kvelling, sharing and suggesting that there are so many ways all of us can partner in building a meaningful Jewish tomorrow!
Rabbi Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D.
Dear Rabbi Sussman,
It's been quite a while since we have seen each other but I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you after all these years. During my college years you were my professor of American Jewish History at SUNY Binghamton, and had made quite an impact on my personal exploration of my immigrant experience from Russian and how my story fit into Jewish history in the U.S.
After almost a decade after college, I had moved to Philly and contacted you out of the blue when I heard you moved to the area as well because I was looking for someone to officiate my wedding. Being new to Philadelphia I didn't belong to a temple and was getting married to a non-Jewish partner. You were very kind to us and open to getting to know us. We were so thankful that you drove up with your son to north Jersey to officiate our wedding on June 8, 2003.
We joined KI for a while and had the baby naming for our daughter (who is now 13) and several years later we had a son (who is now 10). Eventually when we moved out of the city to the western suburbs we started to look for a new religious home that would be closer. We wandered around for a few years trying to figure out the right fit, and eventually found a spiritual home at a local conservative synagogue on the Main Line, where we are engaged members and both kids have been developing strong Jewish identities through the Beit Midrash program.
So you may wonder why I am contacting you now, once again out of the blue. This year has been a very memorable and joyous milestone for our family-- Our daughter became a Bat Mitzvah in May. She is part of the first generation in my family in over 100 years to have a Bat Mitzvah. Encouraged by my husband and kids, I joined an Adult B'nei Mitzvah class at the synagogue and worked with a tutor to read from the Torah for the first time at our daughter's Bat Mitzvah.
So the story of how my immigrant experience has become interwoven into American Jewish history continues. In addition, my husband and I celebrated our 15 year wedding anniversary in June. As we reflected on these years together, we thought about the fact that you had supported our beginning when many Rabbis would not officiate an interfaith wedding. My husband has stayed true to his promise to have a Jewish home and has participated fully in our synagogue community, and often is the one to keep me on track during services.
So although seemingly out of the blue but really with some timely reflection and deep gratitude, I want to take this opportunity to say thank you for believing in us as a couple 15 years ago and being hopeful that we had the ability to build a Jewish family despite the interfaith marriage. I hope that you and your family are doing well, and wish you all a happy and healthy year.
Shanah Tova and G'mar Hatima Tova