What does being Jewish mean to you? Is it keeping up the practices of an ancient religion? Are the values separate from the prayers or are they symbiotic? Do we wear a Star of David as a symbol of pride or does it make us a target?
Ask two Jews and you’ll get three opinions. And we can’t really say that one answer is more valid than another because each one speaks from her own point of view based on her own life. Each of this year’s Women of Valor were interviewed and then had their stories turned into monologues read by actors for the 27th Annual Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival.
For Rebbetzin Chaya Ertel, the wife of an Orthodox Rabbi, keeping kosher, the Sabbath and doing mitzvot aren’t what make her Jewish. They are what she does because she is Jewish. Janet Acheatel, who sits on the board of Hillel, San Diego, doesn’t consider herself religiously Jewish, but feels that her ethos is deeply rooted in Jewish values. And for Holocaust survivor Pearl Recht, being Jewish nearly got her killed.
Episode 4: Rebbetzin Chaya Ertel (played by Rebecca Futterman)
“Hashem put us here to work together. We have separate missions, but we’re all part of the same story.” -Rebbetzin Chaya Ertel
Two years ago, Rebbetzin Ertel was expecting forty for their Seder. But hours before, the number kept going up and they wound up with one hundred and twenty. And by some miracle, they all had plenty to eat. And this is what she does. She organizes members of her community to help one another, especially in this particular time of need.
A mother of five children, the Rebbetzin is helping her daughter prepare for her wedding while her youngest, a rambunctious six-year old boy also demands her time and attention. To get a little quiet time for the interview, the Rebbetzin retreated to the car. But then her little boy found her and pounced on the windshield. He was not taking “Sha shtill” for an answer and all she could do was laugh. Rebbetzin Ertel is remarkable in her ability to laugh at life, roll with the punches and have faith that it will all work out for the best.
Episode 5: Janet Acheatel (played by Elaine Rivkin)
Janet Acheatel came of age when women chose one of three career paths: secretary, nurse or schoolteacher. She first took Door #3. But as other doors opened up, she found herself working for a Wall Street brokerage, eventually making the cover of Impact Magazine.
As she watched dear friends become widows, she recognized a great need for women to become financially literate, making decisions for themselves. And from this need, Women’s Focus Management Practice was born. A big part of the process, she says, is getting them comfortable before she even looks at their portfolios.
“I make decisions for clients as if they were family.” -Janet Acheatel
While she says that she is not particularly religious, helping women who were taught to rely on men for their livelihoods to live and retire comfortably is how she repairs the world.
Episode 6: Pearl Recht (played by Rosina Reynolds)
Pearl Recht was seven years old when the Nazis first came to her town in Poland. It was Erev Rosh Hashana and they set the mikveh and the synagogue on fire. The anguished cries of those inside still haunt her to this day.
A Polish woman agreed to take in one child, giving her mother a soul-rending “Sophie’s choice” of which child to save. She reasoned that Pearl, the older child, would have a better understanding of the danger she was in and thus a better chance of survival. Hiding in plain sight, they pretended that she was their orphaned cousin and taught her to recite Christian prayers in Polish. One little slip could have cost Recht her life and the lives of the family that hid her.
It’s a terrifying thing to have such a threat hanging over you, especially when you’re just a child. She lost both parents and her sister in the Holocaust, but she was fortunate enough to have a surviving aunt and uncle who brought her to America after the war.
Pearl Recht tells her story in synagogues, churches and to anyone who will listen. And in spite of all that she went through just for being Jewish, Pearl Recht says that she wouldn’t be anything else.
These three women have different opinions of what being Jewish means to them. But all three are doing their part to keep the ball rolling L’dor v’dor (generation to generation) and repair the world.
You can listen to all of this year’s Women of Valor stories by clicking here.