Occasionally I replay a conversation I had with my mother when I was 9 or 10 years old, living in Deerfield, Ill., and attending Sunday school each week. My mom asked if I wanted to attend mid-week classes to learn Hebrew. I turned down the opportunity, as I knew no one who spoke Hebrew at that time. I regret that decision to this day, as it limits my knowledge and understanding of text.
When we moved to Atlanta in the early 1960s, my family joined The Temple. Rabbi Jacob Rothschild called me into his office one day and asked if I would partner with two other classmates to help lead a morning service each week. I accepted the invitation and came to the bimah to lead a weekly prayer. I heard the ark squeak as it opened and closed. I saw the sunlight pour through the stained-glass windows and I gazed up at the domed ceiling. I felt a spirituality that connected me to Judaism as I had never experienced previously, and that has been a bond to my Judaism ever since.
It was when I attended services with my friends at Ahavath Achim that I realized that different synagogues had different customs and Judaism there looked a little different than what I knew. The idea of diversity in Judaism was new to me. I wanted to attend and experience services in all of Atlanta’s synagogues.
At the Breman, I learn about history and faith and how they connect us to our ancestors and to our own identity. Our visitors learn about enslavement and liberation, about the Holocaust and freedom, about connection and contributions by Southern Jews. These are powerful stories and empowering lessons. We become more aware of our own Judaism and the Jewish world around us.
Susanne Katz is director of exhibitions for The William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum.