When Japanese-born Junko “Rivka” Horvath did carpool at Torah Day School, only occasionally did her daughters notice a friend’s quizzical look. The petite and self- confident Horvath said “I raised them to value and embrace this difference and made sure that they had the best Jewish education as well as an observant home life. From there we all blossomed.”
Horvath’s journey began as a Buddhist in Japan. Attending Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business, she met her future Jewish husband Stephen Horvath. Parents on both sides were somewhat befuddled, but Junko proceeded with a Conservative conversion with Rabbi Arnold Goodman.
She said, “My parents felt that religion was taboo and didn’t want to talk about it. Through our daughter’s friend, we met Rabbi Binyomin Friedman at Congregation Ariel where we are active members today.” Since she felt the passion for a higher level of conversion, Rabbi Friedman arranged for Horvath to go to Baltimore to meet with a rabbi, about 88 at the time, who specialized in Asian conversions.
“I expected it to take one or two years from that point, but it was completed in two weeks,” she said. “He saw my sincerity and depth of knowledge. The bottom line is I didn’t want any gray area or questions about my family for my daughters and their future in-laws.”
She recalled the awkward questions, including a Jewish women’s networking event at which someone approached her, saying, “This lunch is for only Jewish women.” Junko, who is poised and pleasant, doesn’t look at it as being judged, and proceeds to tell her own story. “They often leave saying ‘I think you know more about Judaism than I do.’”
In seeking a school for the girls, the Horvaths switched their daughters to Torah Day School when Yael was in the fourth grade.
Junko remembered that as a young girl, she herself would have done better at an all girl’s school. Instead, in Japan, she felt that co-mingling with boys made the girls more jealous and difficult. The popular and smart girls were the biggest targets.
Here she wanted Yael and Adina to be nurtured without this kind of tension or competition. At Temima high school for girls, they had no pressure to date early and thrived, Junko said. After high school, both girls went to a girls’ yeshiva in Israel for a gap year. Yael stayed for a year and Adina, two.
Junko recounts a sensational story in which a well-known shadchan (matchmaker) from Miami was seeking refuge from the hurricane and was invited by the Horvaths to bring the whole family for a week’s stay. The matchmaker’s rabbi-husband reached out to Rabbi Friedman to assure that the Horvath house was indeed strictly kosher. The matchmaker worked her magic and fast-forward: Adina is a teacher in Silver Springs, Md., where her husband is a law student at Georgetown University. They recently had a baby, making the Horvaths Bubbe and Zayde.
Yael went from Israel to Stern College for Women in N.Y. and met her husband at Yeshiva University. The couple are fourth-year students at Thomas Jefferson University medical school in Philadelphia.
More recently, Junko moved her aging parents, 91 and 86, from Japan to live in her Dunwoody home. “It’s really a full circle as they feel the warmth of the Jewish community here. They look out the window and say ‘Look, the cars are parking early at Rabbi Friedman’s house before the Sabbath.’ They look forward to Shabbos and family meals. It’s very touching.”
Junko is a financial advisor, Certified Financial Planner™ and Certified Financial Transitionist® at Fujiyama Wealth Management, specializing in advising women through transitions like losing a spouse, divorcing, life changes and retirement planning. “When my mother grew up, she had an allowance from my father and was financially dependent. I want to empower women today to understand, grow their own portfolios, and be in charge of their destiny and possibilities.”
Junko also believes in giving back to the community. She has raised thousands for the Torah Day School and more recently for Congregation Ariel with her annual concert, for which she sings Japanese songs and traditional Hebrew and Yiddish tunes.
She concludes, “After all, Ruth was a convert, and I believe that the mashiach (messiah) will come through her.”