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My Jewish Story

By Kathi Mangel

I knew that I needed more guidance, but was really unsure about how to find it.

I am a child of a mixed marriage. My father was Jewish and my mother was not and neither observed any religion and both considered themselves atheists. When they were married they decided that they would raise their children with no religious practice, but always told my two sisters and me that we were free to practice any religion that we wanted.

Religion was an intriguing mystery to me as I grew older. I attended services of several different faiths with friends and their families, but it’s definitely intimidating to sit in a house of worship with no idea of what was taking place and no real understanding of the deeper meaning behind each particular faith. I had many questions and wrestled with the idea of G-d and my parents’ belief that none existed.

I met my husband Jay when we were both a couple of years out of college. Jay grew up in an observant Jewish house, and we spent a lot of time with his family for Shabbat dinners, High Holiday services and Passover Seders. Jay’s mother became my mentor for all Jewish rituals but I still had deeper questions. When Jay and I became engaged, I immediately enrolled in an Introduction to Judaism course and started my real Jewish journey. I read, I studied, I learned, I asked, and decided to convert to Judaism.

A couple of months before our wedding, Jay and I each lost a close member of our family. My family sat quietly in our grief, but with no mourning ritual to follow we felt very much alone. Jay’s family sat shiva with their entire synagogue community to support them and we felt surrounded with love and caring and memories of our loved one told with stories and even laughter.

As Board Chair of Hillel 818, I’ve met so many many students who, like I was, are curious about Judaism, but either don’t know where to go or are intimidated to ask their important questions. I’ve also seen students who need a community to put their arms around them and show them love and support. My story motivates me to help build this community for our students at Hillel 818, and in turn help to ensure the Jewish future and make Judaism accessible for all.

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