Dr. Glenn Sharfman is a professor of history at Oglethorpe.
“I’m gonna give you my version of the story, knowing that you’re not going to be talking to her. I think this is a very nice story.
We were both RAs our junior year at Miami. And I had a friend who I went to high school with in Chicago who said, ‘You know, I think you’d really like my RA. She’s so cool.’ Very soon after that, we were on a bus together to go to the Cincinnati Reds game before school started. The game where Pete Rose came back to Cincinnati—he was playing for the Phillies, it was a big deal.
And on the way home from that trip, I told her that I would marry her. I had known her for twenty-four hours. She was, perhaps, put off by my forwardness, but I guess I was undeterred. So, we had a couple of dates afterwards, as I remember it, one of which was to go see the Kinks in concert. And that was the worst date of my life. I assume it was the worst date in her life, too. She was clearly not interested in marriage at the time, and so that date didn’t go so well, and that ended our brief relationship.
That was all in the fall of our junior year, and not much happened, as you can imagine, for the foreseeable future. We were also in the same residence hall, as luck would have it, our senior year. She was not an RA, and I still was. I was friends with all of her roommates, and we became friends. Friend friends—not boyfriend/girlfriend. I no longer proposed.
In March, for whatever reason, we were both single at the time and also graduating in six weeks. I was going to Chapel Hill, and she did not have a job at that time. And I don’t know what possessed her to say, ‘I’ll come down to Chapel Hill,’ but she did. And we got married two years after that. And 36 years later, here we are. But I would say, that was obviously a stupid thing to say, to propose like that. And I would not recommend that to any sane person. But there was something about her that made me ask and in this case I had the right intuition. Like, I didn’t say that to other people I dated, before or after. But there was something about her.
I went to a very large high school that was probably over half Jewish. We had roughly 700 people in our graduating class, and probably 400 of them were Jewish. And the 300 who weren’t Jewish were Jewish anyways, as the saying goes, because you live in such a Jewish community. I really had a very conflicted relationship with Judaism. I hated Hebrew school. I hated everything about it. I hated services. I hated temple. Our rabbi was not nurturing. When choosing a college I deliberately shied away from schools with large Jewish populations. I went to a school where, for the first time in my life, I had to talk to people who had never met Jews or knew anything about Judaism. And I found that interesting, and I liked the challenge of explaining Judaism to rural Ohio kids.
But then, meeting Susie—Susie didn’t grow up Jewish, and that didn’t bother me in the least. Although, as it turned out, it bothered my father very much. We had a huge blowup over the prospects of a mixed marriage. In the end, Susie decided to convert, she says because she wanted to. I say, you know, because my father—she knew it would be easier for us, and that’s the kind of person Susie is. Although I don’t think she’s regretted it. During her conversion, she had to attend weekly classes, go to temple every week, and celebrate Jewish holidays. For the first time in my life I went to temple regularly, not because I had to but because I wanted to. I had to go to temple every week now. And then she’s like, ‘oh, we have to light the Shabbat candles’…and I’m like, ‘Shabbat candles? Really? We’re gonna do that?’
And so, in some ways, we sort of went through this together. As I could sort of help her learn Jewish traditions and history. And her concern is, you know, she passed all the tests, and went through the rituals, and converted. And if you asked her, she’d say she’s Jewish. But what she would also add, she missed 20 years of experiencing Jewish culture…Passover Seders with your cousins, and all that family stuff. And so on that part she doesn’t feel as culturally Jewish, although religiously I think she’s very comfortable with Judaism–and makes the best Matzo ball soup. In fact, I would say she is more Jewish than I am.
The minute I was bar mitzvahed, I never stepped foot in a synagogue again for years. It meant nothing to me. It only started meaning something when Susie began converting, and I think two things changed. One, it wasn’t this distant rabbi and this conservative temple which was not my cup of tea. We joined a reformed synagogue. And I feel much more at home in a reformed synagogue, in every way, shape or form. And I didn’t mind going. I sort of like the feeling of going to temple even if I do not believe in an omnipotent God who has played a role in human lives.
Susie and I had triplets in 1993. The kids were very premature and small. Becoming a parent of three all at once was overwhelming at first, but just look at how damn cute they look! When the kids were born we joined a synagogue in Ohio in a predominantly non-Jewish area. And when you have kids, you have to decide—are we gonna raise them nothing, what are we gonna do? And I think Susie, probably more than I, wanted to raise them Jewish. And we did. And so that meant they went to Hebrew school, which was a much better experience for them, because the teachers were much better and caring. And they were bar and bat mitzvahed. At 13, I never went back again. At 13, they wanted to continue their Jewish education, in part because these were their only Jewish friends. But they liked that, and they liked being part of that Jewish community. And what comes around goes around—I was their Hebrew school teacher during Hebrew high school.
I continue to be interested in Jewish history. I have taught courses on the Holocaust, Jewish History, and Israel. I have led study away trips to Israel and to the Holocaust Museum in D.C.”
Humans of Oglethorpe was created by a Pegasus Creative student intern in University Communications at Oglethorpe. Inspired by Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton, this series will share personal stories and perspectives from across campus. Everyone has a story and everyone is human. Would you like to be involved in this series? Email Jamie Aiken.