Cheryl Opper has been involved with outreach interfaith programs at Temple Sinai of Sharon for over ten years. She teaches senior adult fitness classes and childbirth parent education programs.
How My Father's Death Helped Me Find My Way Back to the Temple
My dad was diagnosed with acute leukemia in February of last year and died on October 5, at the age of sixty-two. He had the chance to plan his own funeral service a few days before he died and asked his Jewish son-in-law Neal, my husband, to be the spokesperson for the family. My dad wanted his service to be a celebration of his love for God. Dad's faith never faltered throughout his long, hard journey with cancer. He was grateful for each moment of his life and praised God for his many blessings. He never asked, why me God? He only said, why not me.
Christians believe that my dad received his ultimate healing on October 5, 1999. Dad went home to be with God. His Christian service on October 8 was a two-hour celebration of his beautiful life and unshakable faith in God.
Neal did a beautiful job as the spokesperson for the family at the service. The 400-plus who attended were deeply touched and moved by his words. After his time of family sharing, Neal and I read the mourner's Kaddish--a prayer extolling God that is said by mourners-- together to honor my father's compassionate love for God and Judaism. I shared with the church congregation the meaning of the mourner's Kaddish. After reading the Kaddish together, we played "Hevenu Shalom Alechem" to celebrate my dad's love for life. My father had sung that Jewish song at our wedding many years ago as a wedding toast to Neal and me. He embraced our interfaith marriage and loved Neal like a son. He also embraced his granddaughter Lindsay and the fact that she is being raised as a Jew. He was proud of her Judaism.
Many people from the church came up to us after the funeral service and said how meaningful it was to have included Judaism as part of my dad's Christian service. It touched their hearts deeply. It also touched my heart to be able to honor my dad and almighty God in such a special way.
The temple has embraced my family this year and touched our hearts in many special ways. Temple Sinai has been my source of light during my darkest days. It wasn't always that way, however. A few years ago I felt disconnected from the temple. As a non-Jew I felt like an outsider, someone who didn't belong in the temple community. It was during a time when the by-laws were being rewritten concerning the role of the non-Jew that these feelings surfaced. Open meetings were held at the temple to discuss and vote on the new by-law changes. During these meetings I felt a real sense of tension between the Jew and non-Jew. I was turned off by the tension and felt as if I was an unimportant member of the temple family. I felt hurt and out of place. Nevertheless, I continued to go to services to support my Jewish husband and daughter, even though I had lost my enthusiasm and spark for being involved in the temple. I discontinued my volunteer projects and committee work. Eventually I stopped attending Friday night services, until one day my daughter asked, "Mommy why don't you go to temple with Daddy and me anymore?"
I joined a church this year to find a community where I felt like I belonged. I was looking for a true sense of connection, a sense of feeling important in the community. I found that sense of connection in my new church. I also found it again at Temple Sinai these past few months during my dad's battle with cancer. I have been moved by the rabbi's concern for my family, both here in Stoughton and in Indiana. His beautiful letters of encouragement and his gentle guidance have been a real blessing to all of us. After my dad's service I returned home from Indiana ten days later to find that more than half of my sympathy cards were from temple members. Many members made a donation in memory of my father. As I opened each card and read their words of encouragement, tears came to my eyes. It has been through this great loss in my life that I have come to realize that I do belong at Temple Sinai. I feel a sense of connection to the temple community again. I realize that I am an important part of the temple family. God has plans for my Jewish family and me.
I feel different now when I walk through the doors of Temple Sinai. My heart is lighter; my past hurt and pain are gone. Part of my healing process has been to come back home to my temple family.