Shedding New Light on Jewish Traditions

Cheryl Kripke Cohen Story

Cheryl Kripke Cohen’s Story


Back in the early 1980s through 1996, my husband Jay and I wanted nothing to do with synagogues! If someone had told us back then that we would eventually become active members of a synagogue, we would have laughed and told them “NEVER!” As a teenager, my father’s negative and hurtful response to my dating a non-Jewish boyfriend for several years left me with avoidant and painful feelings about religion. As for Jay, he came from a nonobservant family, and even though he had a Bar Mitzvah, he was nonobservant thereafter.


During the mid 1990s, Carol and Bill Wadlinger, our neighbors and previously active members of Or Hadash, would occasionally invite us to check out their synagogue. Our older son, Lenny, was in second grade, and we knew Hebrew school started in third grade. Jay and I began having long discussions about whether we were going to provide our children with some sort of formal Jewish education. We finally decided that we would, so that our two sons could, ultimately, make their own informed choices about Judaism. While we had never before heard of Reconstructionism, it sounded interesting. Our plan was to drive the kids to and from synagogue without ever going inside.


However, Or Hadash required the third grade students to attend three Shabbat evening services that year. Being a conscientious mother, I felt obligated to take Lenny. So there I was in synagogue with my son and I found myself…enjoying the service. It began with the music! Rabbi Vivian was playing her guitar and joyfully singing. I recognized upbeat tunes from my childhood years at Hebrew school and it made me feel happy. Rabbi Vivian also exuded a caring warmth and a sense of intimacy and informality that I never experienced growing up in a traditional Conservative synagogue. At the Oneg Shabbat, I was surprised to find the congregants to be very friendly, nice, and down-to-earth. Ultimately, I ended up attending Friday night services regularly and developed a strong and positive connection to my beloved Or Hadash community. As for Jay, it took many years of my encouragement (he would call it nagging) for him to join me at Or Hadash willingly.


When Rabbi Steven came, I loved that he played the guitar, drums, and had a strong voice. His Shabbat services drew me in like a magnet, as they were full of music and meditative spirituality. I also loved that there were many musical congregants who shared their talents. They all served as inspiration to me and some encouraged me to share my own musical gifts. Back then, I was very shy and embarrassed about playing the piano and singing in front of others, but people were very supportive and eventually I began to play the piano at services and joined the choir. I developed some musical confidence within the safety of our sanctuary and had a lot of fun.


In 2003, I decided to pursue a lifelong dream…to play the harp, and ultimately to become a certified Harp Therapist. I first played my harp in public at Or Hadash when I was new to the instrument and nervous. Around this time, Rabbi Steven started the Healing Service in response to Melanie and Rhoda Gansler’s need during Melanie’s illness. Initially, I played the piano, but soon switched to the harp at these Healing Services. It was, and is, a privilege to be a part of these services and help to bring some comfort to those in need. I eventually began playing my larger harp at some Shabbat and High Holiday services to help create a holy and sacred space and time. In doing so, I grew musically, but more importantly, I found a way to give back to my religious community that has been there to support and sustain my family and me when we have needed it.