The speaker was a bit reluctant, unaccustomed to standing before an audience. Yet there she stood in Los Angeles, her hometown, at a dinner hosted by a Southern California Jewish campus outreach organization, the Jewish Awareness Movement. She was addressing supporters of the group and parents, like herself and her husband, whose children, as a result of JAM and their consciences, had come to Jewish religious observance.
Marsha Greenberg recounted how her grandparents had come to American shores from Romania, met in Chicago and sired nine children, the oldest of which was the speaker’s mother. And she told of her own childhood, how her father had died when she was only four and how, ten years later, her older brother and only sibling perished in a freak, fierce blizzard while on a Boy Scout trip in the San Bernardino Mountains.
“My mom never recovered from the loss,” she told the crowd. “I grew up overnight.”
When she was sixteen, she went on, she met a “nice Jewish boy” two years her senior, “from a good home.” They married and eventually had three children.
When their oldest, their daughter Shari, turned sixteen herself, “she had had enough of temple.” She and her siblings had attended Sunday school and she had been “bat-mitzvahed.” But she hadn’t been inspired to continue her Jewish education, and her parents didn’t pressure her.
Their second child, David, though, happened upon JAM, participating in some events, Shabbat dinners and eventually even a trip to New York. He became intrigued by Jewish thought, texts and traditions, and his enthusiasm proved contagious, spreading in time to his older sister.
“What was happening to my family?” the speaker confided she had wondered at the time.
Shari embarked on a three-week trip to Israel, and then called to ask if she could stay a little longer. Her parents said okay. A few weeks later they received another call from Shari, asking if she could stay for a few months more. Again she received an okay. Eight months later, Shari returned home, according to her mom, “a different person, more mature and focused.”
“She brought Shabbat into our home… In her own way, she set an example for David and Michael,” her youngest sibling.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Greenberg continued, “David was doing a lot of learning on his own. Having his older sister home, watching her in action, living what she had learned, made an impression. Now David wanted to go to a yeshiva!”
Both Shari and David left home – she for Israel, he for New York – on the very same day, an understandably emotional one for the Greenbergs. Soon enough, Shari called to say she was dating a yeshiva student. Not much later, the Greenbergs and their sons found themselves in Jerusalem at Shari’s wedding, which “made quite an impression of all of us, especially… Michael. Now he had a sister, brother and brother-in-law all frum [traditionally observant]!”
David returned to Israel to attend a yeshiva there, and Michael soon followed.
“There are very few mothers in Los Angeles,” Mrs. Greenberg told the rapt audience, “who can say that they have three children learning Torah in Israel. I take great pride in being one of those mothers.”
The speaker concluded by warmly thanking Rabbi Moshe and Bracha Zaret, the directors of JAM, and by imagining her mother, father and brother watching out for her family. “I know my children are going to live beautiful lives,” she said. “They are going to raise magnificent, intellectual, sensitive, thoughtful families. I could not be happier. This journey is only the beginning, and every step counts.”
My wife and I have gotten to know Mrs. Greenberg and her equally endearing husband quite well. We have met their children, who insist that their journeys to Jewish observance were directly due to their upbringing; their parents, they explain, always advised and encouraged them to think for themselves, to be idealists and do what they felt was right. And that is what they did.
All of the Greenbergs were at our daughter’s wedding mere weeks ago, dancing as happily and as filled with as much joy as were we. Which is entirely understandable, considering that David, we are happy and proud to say, is our newest son-in-law.