mary lee, mornings with kpix 5 weather. good morning, and welcome to mosaic. i'm rabbi eric weiss, i'm honored to be your host this morning. the san francisco bay area is characterized in part by being a place that encourages and nourishes self-discovery. and so we'd like to invite you into a wonderful conversation this morning with maryn hall and jim who, along the way of self-discovery, discovered that you are jewish. welcome, marny and jim. >> thank you for inviting us. >> let's just jump in. and tell us how did you discover that you are jewish? >> oh, well, when i was 30, i had grown up as a wasp and gone to episcopal church.
my parents were long dead. muc she was 19 years older, she took me aside and said did you have any idea that our family was jewish. and i was absolutely gobsmacked. i had had no idea. i thought there was a secret but i thought the family was mexican. because my mother was dark and she spoke spanish and she came from texas. so finding out that i was a jew was so startling. it was a revelation. >> and, jim? >> i was 54, and had been estranged from my mother and reconnected with her, and she said i have something very important to tell you. i don't want you to find out after i'dead id rdly yoare jewish, you are jewish, you are jewish. and finally i said, well, mom, if i'm jewish, that means you're jewish. oh, no, dear, i never had any
affinity or affiliation with judaism, and i am not going to start now. and like marny said, it was a revly, and in some ways i felt like i had been waiting my whole life to hear this news and the tectonic plates were realigning. >> wow. so for each of you, you have a little bit of a sense that you can say you've had a little bit of internal rumbling, a secret waiting, you know, for this revelation. and i'm wondering if you can talk a little bit more about what is that was at work in terms of jewishness? >> well, it made me reflect on my history, and when i did, i thought of certain episodes that were very startling and an om-laos in my background. i remember that there was a farm boy that when he didn't paid kwae family said yo jew i weback and repeated that.
i saw the consternation ripple through the family. and i had no idea what that meant. i also had a baby book where everything fell out, except there was one baptismal certificate that was stamped in that would never fall out. so i started connecting dots and thinking there were clues all along. there were dots, there were strange things. i came home from boarding school, and told an anti- semitic joke, and my brother who knew as my sister had, he got so upset, and he never got upset with me. so i thought back in my history was revealed in a whole different light. >> interesting. and, jim, for you? >> well, for me and the timing the museum of jewish heritage," for this antholy that i co-edited with my friend. it'd called "the identity and wanting to be who we are not."
and it was about identification. i went to hai holiday services. i went to the jewish festivals. my boyfriends were all jewish. so, what is this about? and so this piece had been written some years earlier and then was published and a month later my mother tells me this news, and i am thinking, oh, it's not just envy, i have -- i am. but it was like at a cellular level my body knew something that i didn't really know or understand. >> in the jewish community, a lot of people who are born and raised jewish and then in the jewish culture have this sense of it's in our cells, it's in our community, it's so we develop a certain kind of embodiedness about being
jewish. so when we hear people say things like i just knew it inside myself, i didn't quite know what it was, it's a kind of cultural queing that i'm sure you see. and so part of the national question ends up being do you know where the gap happened, do you know where there were sort of a place where jewish identity stopped being overt and kind of somehow got lost but still known under the surface? do you know in any of your cases your past family framework in that way? >> that's a really interesting question because for my family it goes way, way back that they were southern jews and assimilated before the civil war. and so they had a running start on assimilation in a way. so then when my mother was born and grew up, she was determined not to be jewish. so she changed the family story and was just determined that --
because a lot of anti-semitism in texas around 1905 when sheyo so i think what you're saying is interesting in a sense of i think there were a lot of queues. there were all kinds of queues as i look back on it that i didn't understand because i wasn't around jews that i knew of as a child. we were out in the country there were no jews around, no synagogue, nothing. but there were all kinds of ways of being in the world, values, even some food, all kinds of things that really were educational kind of value and ethical sort of standards that i think were basically jewish. >> wonderful. we're going to take a quick break and come back to this conversation with marny and jim in just one moment here on mosaic.
good morning, and welcome back to the "mosaic". we are in the middle of a wonderful conversation with marny hall and jim van bunk skirk about the ways in which they themselves discovered they are jewish. welcome back, marny and jim. >> hi. >> we were talking about a little bit about your background and how you came to understand that you are jewish. and i am wondering if you can share a little bit about once you've discovered that you were jewish the jewish community, how you
approached the jewish community, resources that you used. so how did you start out, jim? >> well, my first stop was the jewish community library's jewish genealogical society meeting. and i went with the very vague pieces of information that my mother had given me. and tried to figure out if any of it was true or if there was documentation of anything. and fairly quickly discovered that one of the researchers found my grandfather's world war i draft application which said theodore burns and then in parentheses bernstein. we had always believed that he was of scottish descent and that he had been born in brooklyn. he was born in russia and imbrated in. and then my grandmother who was
parisian, i knew well and her maiden name was semul, simon. i discovered quickly that her mother's maiden name was david and her mother's maiden name was levy. so it didn't get much more jewish than that. but both my grandparents were assimilated and my mother believed that they might not have even known about each other's hidden jewish identity. >> fascinating. and, marny, for yourself? >> well, yeah. the first step was to go home to my lover and tell her i was a jew. that was my -- my lover was jewish, my ansa i always kneu h mind. so that was my first stop as far as my immediate community. and then i went back and i found my relatives in texas and
i went and they had some, i started communicating with them and then they had a huge family reunion and brought in all the cousins i had never known and i went back and it was so funny because southern jews are half- southern and so they all had hospitality bags for everybody from out of town. it was such an interesting hybrid of culture. >> well, see, you don't know. that's so interesting. is when you go they pride themselves southerners on being hospitable. so they had all kinds of goodies and barbecue sauce and treats that were from texas inside. then inside the bag for all the relatives who were from out of town for this reunion. i mean, it iny d they vaterial. ed all and they're very oud of it. so the community for me, my community has to do with a lot to do with my ancestors, and re
i never knew about. but i'm very proud of them. they started their first synagogue in austin. and they are down to earth, ethical people. and they were hard-working and they were smart and they're utterly, i mean, they prospered in spite of anti-semitism in texas. >> yes. and it's interesting that you've come to judaism as an adult. so you came to judaism really with your full self, certainly with all of your life's experience. and i am just wondering if you can talk -- i know it's kind of a big question, but talk a little bit about how you brought yourself to that point in time to judaism, and then how then the jewish community of judaism kind of like influenced you from that point. >> go ahead. >> well, the first thing that's so important is that i had already gone through a self- revelation, which is i read a
book when i was in my twenties about gay identity. and i had been with women before, but i hadn't thought of myself as a lesbian. and i had a dream that night influenced by that book. and i woke up, it was women in bars in new york, and i had a dream about myself being, and i woke up a different person. i had already had this transformational experience about identity. so i already knew how mutable identity is. the same thing happened when i found out i was a jew. i overnight found myself like a hugely different person. everything was different about me, and i realized before i had been somewhat condescending toward jews who were my friends and lovers. i thought i had been superior. i didn't know that until i was jewish. >> interesting. you know, believe it or not, we have to take a break so we're going to come back in just a moment and continue this fascination, fascinating
conversation with marny and jim. . it's about time, and what the bay area wants to know starting with kpix 5 news. >> it begins with break news. >> when allen martin and veronica de la cruz bring you a full hour at 5:00 followed by ken bastida and elizabeth cook at 6:00. then expect award-winning original reporting with jeff glor and the cbs evening news at 6:30. expect more news when you're on the watch. week nights on kpix 5.
0 good morning and welcome back to "mosaic". i'm rabbi eric weiss. i am honored to be your host this morning. we are in the middle of a wonderful conversation about how they discovered their jewishness. jim, you were talking before the break, and marny was sharing how her own adulthood at a certain point when she discovered she was jewish influenced her sense of jewishness. and i'm wondering how yourself how that was for you. >> somewhat similarly. i came out when i was 20 as a gay man. and so my identity kind of arranged or rearranged itself. and this felt somewhat similar when my mother revealed this identity. it's like, oh, okay.
so i completely changed and was completely the same. and i took myself to synagogue thinking, oh, well, maybe now i'll find the services much more meaningful, maybe now i will know the songs and i won't feel ooh like such an interloper. and of course none of that changed because i hadn't grown up as a jew. so i sort of liken it to an analogy of being transgender, a transgender person doesn't have the childhood of the gender that they're now living. and so i feel like i am not a pretend jew, i mean, my mother's family was jewish and i have done all the activities, but my identity lacks that beginning nurturing parented jewishness. >> interesting. so, you know, self-discovery
often times, not always, but often times involves either revealing or breaking things that were before that moment secret. and that can have its own domino effect. and so both of you have talked about that little bit of an element in your family. and i am just wondering what effect this had more broadly on your families of origin and in what ways then really living as jews has really made it transparent and brought it to the fore? >> the first thing that was important for me is as a counselor i work with people's narratives all the time, and some narratives are just not helping certain people. what this did when i found myself to be such a chameleon and how it changed me, it empowered me in my work to take a more hegemonic view of
narratives and say i can help people change, look how i changed from these revelations. i can also help people change their narrative. it was very instructive and fluently with my work. now that everybody in my family is dead, i mean all the predecessors, i am the last jew. so it's up to me to pass on the heritage and i have been doing my part. >> interesting. and jim? >> it was interesting. my mother was doling out cousins and i would call them and i got a family genealogy that indicated that my grandfather's parents were not john and jenny burns of scotland but jacob and zelda bernstein. so i called my brother and i said is that everything that our great grandfather was jacob and you named your son jacob. and he was not interested at all. he said jacob was named for someone in my wife's family. and i said, yes, and it's a very common name.
but don't you think that's an interesting lineage? and he was not engaging. and i remember at family dinner my nephew who was a teenager at the time said, well, jim, i don't understand how is it that you're jewish, but dad's not jewish and grandma's not jewish. and i'm looking over at my brother thinking, uh, how do i answer that. and that's sort of how things have remained. >> we are going to take another quick break and come back here on "mosaic". please join us in just a moment.
good morning and welcome back to "mosaic". i'm rabbi eric weiss. we are in the middle of a wonderful conversation about discovering that they are jewish with marny hall and jim van buskirk. welcome back, jim and marny. there is so much to talk about. so i am wondering how the two of you met and if you could talk a little bit about is there a community of like folks out there in our jewish community? >> well, one of the ways that marny and i, we had met, but we
reconnected when i remembered a wonderful novel ns." and it was about a family which had hidden its jewish identity, and i opened it up, and it was dedicated to marny. and i sent her an email and i said guess what? i think i'm part of the tribe. and so we sat down over lunch and started comparing notes, and it was just this great connection, and it really gave me solace and a sense of community. and i remember her telling me about a bar mits yeah that she held for herself. and she said, no, it was a bar- mitz-va. so talk about that. >> anyway, richard was my brother. so he wrote a book about it's a
true book about a fiction. the i mean, it's a true novel about a fiction which is my family fiction. i mean it's a very interesting complement. >> interesting. >> and have you discovered folks like yourself who later in adulthood discovered that they are in fact jewish? >> many. it turns out it's a very, very common narrative. there have been lots of books about it, memoirs written, madeline albright. we've been on panels called new jews of many people who have discovered as adults that they had jewish heritage. >> so i am wondering as part of your, the arc of your narrative so far, how then do you begin to integrate and make choices about jewishness and jewish life to the life you already have. how do you understand jewish holidays, how do you understand jewish approaches to biblical narrative, to jewish ethical
values about being in the world, that sort of a thing. it's a big question, but can you talk a little bit about what that is for you? >> for me it's very much been an evolving process where i pulled on sort of one legging at a time of jewishness, and then put something over my head. and it's been years to the point where now i am so proud and happy to be a jew. and very open. but it's been very gradual and it's taken a lot of processing, investigation, and historical searching on my part. >> and i wonder also i'm sure this is true for both of you, but, jim, do you move through places where you start to relinquish christianity or relinquish things that you did that were not particularly jewish? is that part of the process? >> i don't think i had any christianity to relinquish. one of my rabbi friends asked me, well, what religion were you growing up.
and i said tongue and cheek, we were devoutty unitarian and he just rolled his eyes. but i had a wonderful opportunity because coincidentally, the universe had provided, i was working at the jewish community library. so i had resources to the staff to the collections, to people. so any question i had and my job was to read books for the book club in a box program. so all day every day i was sitting reading about the jewish experience in every form and variation and every geographical place. so it was a crash course in judaism. so everything that i hadn't been taught as a young person i was filling up the reservoir and dending via ularperspective becaus begin with, but i was growing
it, somewhat similar to what marny said. >> believe it or not, we have just one minute left in our conversation. so i am wondering for anybody who might be listening or know somebody in their world in your particular state of discovery, what is one thing you might suggest to somebody who finds themselves discovering that in fact they are jewish and they hadn't previously known? marny, what's one thing you would suggest? >> i would just say to celebrate that heritage. what a marvelous heritage. how lucky we are. >> wonderful. jim, what about you? >> i would echo that to say we are not alone. there are lots of us all over the world who for one reason or another, have had to hide their heritage and to embrace it and celebrate it and find likeminded people. >> jim, marny, thank you so much for sharing your story. thank you so much for joining us here on "mosaic" and we encourage you to self- discovery. have a wonderful day.
live from the cbs bay area studios, this is kpix 5 news. >> now on kpix 5 news this morning a deadly shooting in san francisco as investigators work overnight to piece together what happened. >> plus, a first look at the man police say stabbed a passenger on a bar train. they need your help to identify him. and street closures happening right now in oakland as runners get ready to pound the pavement for an annual festival. it is 6:00 a.m. on this sunday, march 24th. good morning, i'm. >> for anyone outrunning around the streets of oakland today or anyone who stepped outside, it noticeably day than yesterday morning was warm