Interviewee: Edward Chezick
Interviewer: Mary Chezick
Interview Date: November 25, 2017
Location: Troy, MI
Interview No.: 11.25.17-EC (audio digital file)
(Approximate total length: 57 minutes)
Themes:Jewish Identity, Conversion, Holocaust, Jewish Gentile Relations, Upbringing,
Summary: Intrigued by Judaism from an early age, Edward Chezick’s path to conversion at Shir Tikvah is one built by careful spiritual learning and philosophical investment. His time while stationed in Frankfurt in the Army included learning from an enlisted Rabbi, Israelis working for El Al, and Holocaust survivors. These experiences are detailed as well as his personal journey to becoming an “enduring member of the tribe”.
Example of proper citation/attribution:
Chezick, M. (Interviewer) & Chezick, E. (Interviewee). (2018). EdwardChezick: Jewish Journeys[Interview Index]. Retrieved from Jewish Journeys Oral History Collection of Congregation Shir Tikvah: https://shirtikvah.org/cstoralhistoryarchive
Note: Counter index corresponds to track times when loaded into iTunes.
01:11 Consideration of Jewish identity and being a member of the tribe. Questions of genetics, culture, and beliefs all valid. For Edward, a combination of cultural affiliation and beliefs. Not born Jewish, raised as Eastern European Catholic until 9th grade. Father told him that during the depression and amidst grandfather’s sickness, a Jewish businessman, Zolte, helped family - one Christmas eve showed up as a Jewish Santa Claus of sorts with a bag of clothes and shoes for whole family. Planted seeds of Judaism.
07:38 Joined Army in 1974 and eventually sent to Frankfurt, Germany. Was walking one day and accidentally, nearly upended a Major, realized the man he had run into was a Jewish chaplain. Told chaplain that he might be Jewish and was told to come by and talk further about it.
12:03 Taken under wing by Jewish chaplain in study of Judaism. Chaplain, Rabbi Helmun, very kind and taught much of Judaism. Met other Jews via the chaplain, started attending Shabbat services and social events. Experiences started to coalesce into an evolving Jewish identity. Learning of Judaism in the bar with Israelis - the importance of being alive overall.
18:20 Meeting and getting to know three survivors of the Holocaust. One a child of Auschwitz. A husband and wife couple who owned a hotel. A survivor of three separate concentration camps who would always try to share kosher meals with Edward despite any protest from Military Police guarding his base. What amazed Edward is what horrors the man had survived yet still persisted to share kosher food. Would ride the buses with this man on the anniversary of Kristallnacht and the man shared stories of what had happened that night.
25:05 Survivor’s stories of Kristallnacht is also part of being a Jew, not only the lights of Hanukkah but also the darkness; this is relative to our lifespan. When stationed in Frankfurt there were still damaged buildings there.
29:50 Jewish journey includes meeting wife in a convent. Had a lot of troubles going on in life. Ended up on a religious retreat and met wife at the altar where they would be married. At this time was identifying as Catholic as it seemed like it was the only way to get through what he was going through but still felt Jewish through this period. Missed the thought-provoking dialogue he had had with Rabbi Helmun, Catholic priests were not as receptive of questions.
33:28 Realized he was a proud Jew at a Knights Templar event, reviled by inartful description of laying T’fillin it cemented his feeling of belonging to the Jewish faith. Led to a search for a synagogue and Shir Tikvah.
36:37 Being at Shir Tikvah was like coming home. Explained his history to congregants and Rabbi and felt welcomed. Went before a Beth Din (council of Rabbis) to officialize conversion to Judaism. Enjoyed the dialogue with the three Rabbis and the Chazzan debating both modern day religious practice and contemporary politics.
40:11 Conversion: “It changed nothing and it changed everything simultaneously.” Proud to be a part of the great caravan of Jews carrying on through time.
41:42 Being a Jew has surrounded him with more like-minded people than ever before. Still hard to say what makes him a Jew but could never shake the feeling that he was always a Jew. Believes in the idea that ‘sometimes a Jewish soul is born in a non-Jewish body.’ Found the feeling of being at home at Congregation Shir Tikvah and found that feeling in his own home after the Beth Din.
45:39 Speaks on Torah, with Shir Tikvah’s Torah being from Czechoslovakia and his family being from the region (and rumored to be Jewish) appreciates the notion that they might have touched that scroll before it traveled across the Atlantic. Appreciates Torah for the intellectual, spiritual, and historical heft of the volume as well as the community across the ages it provides especially in the richness of its meaning. Appreciates Rabbi Hirsch, Eitz Chayim, and Rashid commentaries for considering Torah.
51:43 Cultural touchstones of Judaism - enjoys Simchat Torah in particular, dancing to celebrate life and to celebrate those that have passed on as well. Judaism has also helped him maintain happiness overall especially the learning from the Rabbis who have been a part of his life.