Yom Kippur 2017 Speech — Margrit Wiesendanger

Dear friends, it is truly an honor to be invited to share my Jewish journey with you. My upbringing was entirely secular, and for a number of years, it seemed I had no need for a faith. It was enough to follow general principles of ethical behavior. And so long as the living was easy and challenges were relatively minor, all was well. It is only when I arrived in medical school, that I began to appreciate that life could get complicated.

My good fortune was to be accepted into the lab of Matty Scharff, one of the founding faculty at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He believed in building community, and one of the ways he accomplished this was at Passover: the first Seder was for his family, and then he would host a second Seder with his wife Carol, inviting all of the members of the lab, regardless of creed or nationality. What struck me were first, that we would all have a chance to participate in the readings, and second, that two versions had been provided: a traditional text, sections of which had been carefully covered with yellow Post-it notes. Carol had typed up a modernized, feminist version, and we were given the option to read the Post-it note or lift it up and read the text beneath. Well, that blew my mind. After that, I wanted to learn more, and eventually decided to study and become Jewish. Also, I married Dan, in that order.

And now fast forward a few years, because the story of our connection to JCP is also the story of our children. We were looking for a preschool program for Joey when we first heard about the Jewish Community Project. And this too was a transformative experience for our family. From the preschool to the after school to the B’nai Mitzvah program for Joey and Izzy; and for Dan and me, the adult learning series, the Middle School Weekend Getaway, the Friday Evening Services, and holiday traditions. I don’t want to steal Joey’s thunder, as he also has something to say later on this afternoon, together with his fellow B’nai Mitzvah classmates, about being and becoming Jewish.

What I would like to emphasize is that all of these experiences, and all the people I have met through JCP, have shaped me as a person. I would like to quote to you from The Inner Statue, the autobiography of Francois Jacob. A scientist, he is best known for describing how bacterial genomes are controlled. But as a soldier during the Second World War, he also has the distinction of choosing the difficult path, risking his life over and over, simply because it was the path of righteousness. He defines the “inner statue” concept thus: “Je porte ainsi en moi, sculptée depuis l’enfance, une sorte de statue intérieure qui donne une continuité à ma vie, qui est la part la plus intime, le noyau le plus dur de mon caractère. I carry within myself, sculpted since childhood, a sort of inner statue that provides continuity to my life, that is the most intimate part, the firmest core of my character: this statue, I have shaped it during my whole life. I have constantly edited it. I have smoothed and polished it. The chisel and the hammer, here, are encounters and combinations. All of the turmoils and constraints, traces left by others, by life and by dreams.”

I am very grateful for the support and encouragement, and inspiration, that has been provided to me, in good times as well as more difficult times. I hope that I will always make the right choice. I strive to pay it forward, recognizing that the gift of JCP and my Jewish journey is the gift of meaningfulness.

Delivered Yom Kippur morning 5778, September 30, 2017