WHENEVER I CAME home from school, I would find my mother either finishing up her work around the house or sitting in a club chair reading or doing a crossword puzzle. After dinner it would be my father in that club chair reading one his many books on Jewish history. So, though neither of my parents ever finished high school, they were avid readers and pursuers of information. That lasted well into their later years. I like to tell the following story about my dad.
It was 1988 and I was visiting my father in Florida. He was anywhere from 88-90 years of age. We never knew for sure since no birth records accompanied him when he and his father arrived from the Ukraine in 1907. As I looked around the room he had converted into his study, I noticed a computer. “Dad,” I asked, “what are you doing with a computer? “It wasn’t as if he was running a business out of the house, but his answer was indicative of how he viewed life. “Well,” he said, “It’s the computer age, and I need to learn about it; one must never stop learning.” My father lived to be almost 98, and I always believed his attitude about life and learning contributed to his long life.
Parents model for their children. And while there may have been things that were far from perfect in my relationship with my parents, there were several aspects of they’re lives that certainly formed my attitudes and propelled me towards my future. One was a love of books and knowledge. My mother taught me to read well before I entered school and there were always books in my room – books I actually read. My father introduced me to the Bible when I was seven. Not quite able to understand the text, he bought me the thickest “comic book” I had ever seen – actually a graphic version of the Torah. Another attitude was a love of Israel. My parents had long been supporters of the Jewish National Fund and were overjoyed when Israel became a state; my mother worked for Israel all of her life. And finally, the third was a strong sense of social justice. My father always reminded me that as a “Jew who had known discrimination and persecution it was our goal to be better than that.”
And so, as I become a rabbi and stand before the beit din, I have my parents to thank. I know if they were alive they would be “over the moon” – not only because during their lifetime they never saw a female rabbi, but the idea that their daughter would become one was most likely beyond their imagination. Yet, every time I felt anxious about a subject I was about to register for, or a paper I had to write or deliver, I would hear my father whispering, “You can do anything you put your mind to.” And I would see my mother’s encouraging smile and hear her words, “You’ll be fine, honey.”
My parents never knew where my path would lead – and quite frankly – neither did I. But they unknowingly set me on a path of personal exploration and a pursuit of knowledge – a path that ultimately led me to AJRCA, and now to stand on the bima and accept the responsibilities of becoming a rabbi in a faith I love so dearly.
Rabbi Florence L. Dann, has been a contributing writer to Jlife since 2004