Interviewee: Pamela Spitzer
Interviewer: Stacy Ziegenfelder
Interview Date: February 18, 2018
Location: Troy, MI
Interview No.: 2.18.18-PS (audio digital file)
(Approximate total length: 56 minutes)
Themes: Jewish Identity, Observance, Doctrine, Jewish Gentile Relations
Summary: Hailing originally from Auburn, NY, Pam Spitzer’s Jewish journey has spanned across a wide breadth of Judaism’s spectrum. Pam grew up in a conservative synagogue, which started out orthodox, and then became reform. Brought up in a kosher home, Pam’s parents shifted from orthodox to conservative and she remained in this denomination for years on, enrolling her children in the first branch of United Hebrew Schools in Troy, MI. Pam reflects on the early meetings of the Troy Jewish Congregation, which grew into Congregation Shir Tikvah, and how choices such as whether to be reform or conservative and where to hold services were made in those formative years. Pam also speaks to her 36 years of experience teaching in CST’s religious school, her work with B’nai Mitzvah students, and her own Jewish practice in the home especially including ethical treatment of animals in her family’s Kashrut practice.
Example of proper citation/attribution:
Ziegenfelder, S. (Interviewer) & Spitzer, P. (Interviewee). (2018). Pamela Spitzer: 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.
00:00 Jewish in Auburn, NY; no longer synagogue in Auburn
01:51 Father and mother orthodox, Father’s immediate family left Germany before Holocaust, Mother’s family from Romania/Russian, came to Canada, then US. Family went from orthodox to conservative; every Passover at grandparents all was in Hebrew; used potato instead of greens. Came from small congregation. Had Bat Mitzvah: Girls were on Friday night; only boys had Saturday morning. “Did something because you did it”—was compliant. Her uncle came from Ohio to be cantor on High Holidays. Mother born in Canada, Kept kosher home, had to go to Syracuse (an hour away) for kosher meat.
08:00 Married in her congregation, husband Rich was also conservative. Couldn’t get married in May (Counting of Omer), when suggested Reform rabbi, mother said would not be legitimate marriage.
09:03 Shir Tikvah lead her to becoming reform. First at conservative congregation, but there wished there would be a synagogue in her community of Troy. A small branch of United Hebrew Schools opened in Troy with about 20 children, which became the impetus of Shir Tikvah.
11:00 On a beautiful Fall day, talked with about six women, including Phyllis Wenig in Sept, 1982. Used core of school, put ad in newspapers, and had first meeting at Phyllis’s home on Nov. 11, 1982—Had 18 families represented. Started Troy Jewish Congregation—named that so could get a bank account. Next month, had meeting with 70 families. Representatives from Pontiac synagogue suggested they join there (Beth Jacob); Knew did not want to be Orthodox, didn’t know if Reform or Conservative. Visited Tekiah, a small congregation in Detroit. Mainly were in the same geographical area of Troy, Rochester, Birmingham, and Sterling Heights. Becoming Reform: Found more resources of Reform; concern about whether Reform conversions would be honored if Conservative; inability to have a Kosher kitchen while meeting in churches; and the choice of how to be traditional. Been raised that Reform was a half step above a church.
16:30 Became the most traditional Reform congregation in the Detroit area. Now likes the choice in Reform. Bemis school was just a place to start, then formed committees. Pastor of Lutheran Church of Master let us meet in his church. Met at Barn Church first – had first service there. Could not have school in church, so continued at Bemis school until moved to Roper school. Then moved to Northminister Presbyterian Church and then to own building. Walked Torah to the new building
21:11 Took input from everyone, a lot of meetings, then Board of Trustees. Had a lot of involvement—100-125 families, 70% involvement at social events. People found other Jews in their neighborhoods and nice for the children.
23:00 36 years of Shir Tikvah; Met Rich at University of Buffalo, got degree in elementary education, taught school in Texas for 2 years. After children, did not teach full time. Started teaching religious school fourth grade. Been teaching fourth grade for 24 years for Shir Tikvah.
27:26 When school was run by Orthodox, everything had to be O/u; Likes niche of 4thgrade and then Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutoring started with one student (Eli Green) and after studying with Dorit Edud. Then took on more students. Used to keep kosher but about 5-6 years read about the poor conditions in Jewish slaughterhouses. Now keep “ethical kosher” (meat from Whole Foods). Have to think about choices.
32:26 Renewal brought in; Preparation for Bnai Mitzvah is better now: chant Torah & Haf Torah, read directly from Torah, lead the service. Likes making changes appropriate for the child. Able to form bond with child since meeting once a week.
39:45 For Bnai Mitzvah, want the children to let us know who you are, what is important to you.
Rabbi wrote her speech and then her family re-wrote without taking her suggestions---Now the children write their own speeches.
40:36 Knows the “tropes”, you can chant any Torah portions, but still have to read the Hebrew without vowels.
Proud that the kids have the honor of reading Torah on High Holidays. Children seem to stay through high school if parents are involved.
47:00 (phone ringing)
48:10 Parent express appreciation about speeches at Bnai Mitzvah ceremony.
50:00 Travel to Israel for two weeks with Rabbi Arnie’s group in 2001. In Israel, kids read a few verses of Torah, like a mini Bnai Mitzvah.
53:55 Role of women better now, more equal
57:32 End of interview