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Yom Kippur 2015

Don Detweiler

Yom tov, everyone.       

Hi I'm Don Detweiler.

For those who don't know me –
 I’m a long time, dedicated temple member, Chair of the SAC, husband of Fran Detweiler and father of two 20-something adult children, Noah and Riva.  I’ve seen both my kids become bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah here on this bimah.  I’ve worshipped, learned, - and enjoyed the deep connection to community here as a temple member for 23 years, and as a Jew for 17. 

I get asked now and then, “Detweiler – is that a Jewish name?” My response is always, “Well, it is now!”  

Apart from my spiritual ancestors, my biological ancestors were German speaking Swiss farmers who settled in Pennsylvania -- dating back to Jacob Detweiler who arrived in Philadelphia in the early 1700’s. Confusing the name of their language deutch with “Dutch” the local inhabitants called the new arrivals “Pennsylvania Dutch” and this name has stuck – along with many vestiges of their culture, art, language and odd foods -- even until today.

I grew up in rural Bucks County Pennsylvania. The first home I can remember was a small bungalow on a dirt road that my father and three of his brothers had built shortly after WWII. I attended one room school houses for the first six grades. Our family raised chickens and corn that we sold at local markets. Both of my grandfathers were farmers and beekeepers – a passion which I would pursue later in life as a hobby.

Both my mother and father, and their families were deeply religious – thoroughly devoted to the fundamental, evangelical Baptist faith, in which I was instructed from a very early age – attending three worship services every Sunday and youth group meetings during the week.  Not surprisingly, -- I was a believer myself in the great and comforting living presence of a human essence of divinity – Jesus Christ. I was baptized at age 10 and continued to believe in the saving grace of Jesus to protect me and insure an eternal life of unspeakable glory. My mother’s greatest hope for me, often expressed, was that I would grow up and be a Christian missionary in one of the far flung worldwide Baptist ministries.  

As I grew and matured intellectually, I gradually moved away from an unquestioning belief and devotion to the particular strain of Protestantism which was my family’s church.  Absorbing the realities of a larger world, by high school I had completely rejected its stubborn narrow-mindedness   --  and the black-and-white culture of fundamentalism.

My horizons expanded even farther when I went to college. I was a first generation college student -- graduating as a History major from Syracuse University. 

My German grandfather Rudolph Kraus died when I was 16, leaving me his 1950 Ford and a $5000 college trust fund which paid for my first year at S.U.  To pay for remaining college years, I worked at various odd jobs during the school and took a semester off to scrape up more money for tuition.    

It was at Syracuse that I had my first real exposure to Jews and Judaism.

·        I ate Chinese food for the first time in Syracuse.  

·        I waited tables at a Jewish sorority on campus in exchange for board.

·        Late night BS sessions in my freshman dorm touched on Judaism and Jewish Culture.

·        Basically, I connected with a lot Jewish kids from Long Island and absorbed a general familiarity with Jewish culture

Of course college for a country boy at a giant school was eye-opening. I had many character-shaping experiences during my college years – two of which seem particularly relevant to my Jewish Journey.

First, I became acutely aware of what Dr. Martin Luther King described as the Three Evils of American Society -- Racism, Militarism & Materialism. As many of my generation did, I actively leafleted, petitioned, and demonstrated against the War in Vietnam which I viewed as immoral and unjust. Secondly, and equally as profound, I experienced a transcendent and visceral spiritual understanding of the oneness of everything in the universe.

These two experiences would later merge with my relationship with a Jewish God and the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world.

Fast forward a few years to 1976, when I interviewed for an opening in a group house on Upland Road in Cambridge. One of the people conducting the interview was my bride to be -- FRAN. I was accepted as a new house-mate and before long Fran and I had become “an item.”
   I was introduced to and quickly gained a fond appreciation for Fran’s family most of whom wewe living in Washington Heights, Manhattan. A singular foreshadowing of my future commitment to Judaism was Fran’s Grandmother’s comment on my first visit to her apartment on Bennet Avenue. In a private moment with Fran, her Gramma Rose told her, “I really like your friend Don . . .  He’s just like Jewish!” –  THAT was a treasured endorsement of my qualifications to be dating her granddaughter.

Fran and I eventually moved from Cambridge to Arlington Heights and then bought a house in Lexington. When we had our older child Noah, we decided that we would bring up our children in a Jewish home. We joined Temple Isaiah in 1992 and quickly made many temple friends – especially through the temple’s Hebrew School, which at the time had a program called “Family Connection,” in which parents studied material on an adult level corresponding with the children’s curricula.
   Through this program, I built the foundation for my own Jewish education.
I subsequently found myself absorbed in Torah study – particularly, as a History major, exploring the several authors and redactor and how their individual circumstances shaped the meaning that the Torah still speaks to us today.

I was welcomed into the temple community as a full-fledged non-Jewish member and felt right at home.  Fran and I both enjoyed the community ruach of Friday evening worship services and Saturday morning Minyan services.
    I remember thinking at the time that Jews have been struggling for thousands of years to understand their spiritual connection with a divine power and presence -- and that, rather than start from scratch, it would make perfect sense for me to connect with this Jewish search for answers.

Meanwhile, Fran and I were living a Jewish home life with Shabbos dinners and celebration of the holidays. Our family belonged to a havorah and I continued to deepen my relationship with Torah. 

   I felt like I was living a Jewish life without the necessity of being officially Jewish. But when the date for Noah’s bar mitzvah appeared on the horizon, I began to feel like the time had come to formalize my commitment to Judaism and to the Jewish people. I began formal studies with Rabbi Daniel Gropper in 1998 and converted later that year.

In 2002 the temple president, Rob Meyers called and asked if I would consider accepting the position of CO-chair of the Social Action Committee. I was a fairly new member and felt somewhat unqualified for such an important role.
   But Rob said, “. . . not to worry, Don! You’ll be co-chair with Chuck Koplik. Chuck knows everybody and he’s been active and chaired various other committees. You’ll have no problem.” So I accepted -- and CO-chaired the Social Action Committee with Chuck for eight years.

In my new role as CO-chair, I was surprised and impressed to learn of all the wonderful social justice work that temple members were engaged in at the time.
    Also, I learned about the extraordinary history of social justice work that members of Temple Isaiah had pursued in years past -- such as assistance to Salvadorian refugees; and helping Jewish “Refusniks” to escape the Soviet Union.  I learned that my Rabbi, Cary Yales OBM while a rabbi here at Temple Isaiah had actually been arrested protesting the same war that I had demonstrated against in the early 1970’s.

   I was, and continue to be inspired by the dedication of my fellow temple members, who work to support Jewish Family Table; who tutor disadvantaged students; who do fundraising for disaster relief; sponsor blood drives; and engage in so many other Tikkun Olam activities.  
   I’m also proud to be a part of our Faith Based Community Organizing and Advocacy team, “Tzedek Isaiah” – working with members of our temple community along with our interfaith partners from other synagogues, churches and mosques – to address the root causes of the injustices we treat with our important service work.

Over the years, my work with the Social Action Committee has become the anchor of my Jewish life.
   It’s in the work of social action and pursuing justice that makes me feel most Jewish – actively living my commitment to Jewish values.

On this holy day of Yom Kippur, hearing the wake-up call of the shofar, I’m reminded of my commitment to live an authentic and intentional Jewish life. I began my life as a child believing in black and white, good and evil, saved and damned. And now, as an adult, I’ve found and embraced a people who search for meaning in torah, reflection, and prayer -- guided by a tradition that commands us to confront injustice and improve the world. So I continue on my Jewish Journey – not alone, not just with the Social Action Committee, but with our whole temple community and with the Jewish People.

Thank you – and Happy New Year

Fri, May 24 2024 16 Iyar 5784