Kavannah of Transformation

How did my husband, the son of an Episcopalian Minister and grandson of an Episcopalian Bishop—a man who could trace his lineage to the Mayflower—end up buried under a Star of David, despite not having formally converted to Judaism?

It is a story about love: the love of that man for a Jewish woman, and for their Jewish daughter; the loving welcome for, and from, their congregation and clergy as life happened; and the love for his parents, who would have been deeply hurt by his conversion.

So he became Jewish differently, in the only way he could, as Ruth did. His Naomi was his wife. He went where she did; her people became his people. Now he is buried where she will be; in a small, beautiful, secular place they chose where they could be together.

It is also a story of an outsider transforming into a joyful community member, who felt viscerally welcomed through the universal language of music and acceptance.

He accompanied me to morning minyan when I said Kaddish for my parents. He cherished our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah as one of the happiest days of his life. His heart nearly burst with joy and pride holding the Siddur for her as she held the Torah.

He practiced saying “Shabbat Shalom” and “Shanah Tovah.”  He loved the music and dancing in his wheelchair on Friday nights. When he could, he clapped along. He waited for Shabbat, and insisted that he wasn’t coming along to join us, we were joining HIM—it was HIS night, our people. After all, he would say he wasn’t born Jewish, but he has a Jewish heart.

Last spring, my husband, Peter Sturtevant, died. He had asked for Felicia to officiate his funeral. It was beautiful, modified, and just right for Peter. It wouldn’t have been possible had BJ not gone through its own, deep thinking about interfaith families.

I am grateful that as Peter grew toward Judaism, and that BJ was there to embrace him and value his Jewish heart.

Written By Toni Siegel

Toni Siegel and her family have been members of BJ for more than 20 years. Toni is active in the Hevra Kadisha and in interfaith initiatives. She is a retired school librarian and a former journali...