Today, I began my Lyft shift (not a Jewish family name) at 5am. Lyft sent me to pick up a Denise (her name has been changed to protect privacy) in North Seattle. She was going to the airport for a week long trip to Central America for work. She was clearly a morning person so we began our conversation talking about her upbringing in Eastern Washington near the town of George (population 501) where a traffic jam was three cars following a tractor. She was brought up with a Native American and East Asian identity, went on to UW and married soon after and had a son who is now 13. She is a single mom, but still is friends with her ex and her family who you will read more about below.
We were sharing observations about 13 year olds, when I told her that I had an unusual richness of experiences with 13 year olds because of my role as a mentor for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. I was about to explain to her what a Bar Mitzvah was when she told me that her son's step grandfather was a rabbi, not only a rabbi, but a Conservative Rabbi. I didn't know him personally, but I recognized his name.
It turns out her ex husband's mother converted to Judaism after her divorce and married a rabbi. Denise and her son called them Saba and Savta. I thought I was going to learn about Native American customs of Eastern Washington, but found myself dropping names of colleagues and discussing the congregations that Saba served.
And that's not all. Denise also told me that she was an experienced Kosher baker. At this point, I am absolutely meshugeneh with curiosity. It turns out that she worked with Leah's Kosher catering for years and became the baker of challahs and cakes.
So what started out as an encounter with someone I thought came from a very different culture, became a shared journey into the twists and turns of American Jewish identity.
Knowing now that Denise had a rabbi in the family, a Saba and a Savta, and could bake the most delicious challahs in Seattle, I suggested that she consider hosting a Shabbat with Panim Hadashot featuring her baked goods and a long conversation about blended identities. Even though she herself is not Jewish, she definitely lives in the neighborhood.
When I was a pulpit rabbi at Beth Shalom, I never ran into people like this, because I was surrounded with the thickness and familiarity of traditional Jewish synagogue life. The conversations I have in my Lyft, ofter in the early morning hours, reveals a fascinating world of blending identities and cultural mixing that is a cause of amazement and surprise.