As a woman of the same age, background, and traditions as Marti Rosen-Atherton, I was inspired and honored to create this profile. Because we led parallel lives, I have incorporated flashes of my own experiences where relevant. Marti’s story is both a journey and an adventure. The journey revolves around discovering a career, finding a spiritual path, and creating a nurturing and loving family. The adventure, an integral part of that journey, has taken Marti to Europe and the Middle East. The following narrative explores how Jewish identity, history, rituals, and traditions have inspired this fascinating quest.
Before Marti found a career in psychological counseling, she “felt like a woman without a country” (Interview Dec. 2012). Yet in a cultural sense, she always felt connected to the Jewish people and the state of Israel. Such bonding is difficult to understand, since Jewish identification can be primarily geographical or cultural (lox, bagels, and klezmer music), rather than religious. “My Jewish identity is just always there—always a part of who I am,” Marti told me (Interview Dec. 2012) . Many families in the 1940s, with World War II and the Holocaust’s reverberating memories, committed themselves to Jewish rites and rituals. In the mid-50s, Marti’s father drove her three hours each way from Palm Springs to Los Angeles every week for Hebrew lessons. While she talked about the long drive, I recalled my own father driving me from New Martinsville
Marti’s Jewish background and identity often served as important teaching moments. She listens with intent, courage, and conviction and never shirks an opportunity to explain her Jewish heritage and practices. One student was stunned to hear that Marti would miss class because of a Jewish holiday. Being from a small town, never having met a Jew, and hearing only negative stereotypes, the student gradually learned about another world outside her sphere of experience. Marti said, “It opened up a beautiful dialogue, and we developed a great relationship. It was a growth experience for both of us” (Interview Dec. 2012).
Although tikkum olam usually refers to large-scale social issues, it becomes a personal and continual quest in Marti’s view of life. Being a teacher and counselor for Marti implies friendship and what Nel Noddings calls an “ethic of caring.” Marti speaks ardently
Odd as it may seem, these traits relate to a life-changing trip in 2005 that Marti embarked on called “The March of the Living.” I say “embark” because a commitment touring Jewish concentration camps is a somber and painful undertaking. This was a propitious time of particular significance, as it memorialized the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I myself, for some reason I have never quite fathomed, believe that I died and was reborn during or slightly after the Holocaust. Perhaps it is a cultural memory because I cannot explain why I wrote this stanza, honoring poet Carolyn Forche:
I would shed six years
of my life to join your cause
but my past is stuck in Auschwitz
with my own grandmother
whose fine linen kerchief
withered in the gas.
Neither my grandmother, nor any other relative, perished in a concentration camp. But I, like
We bear witness, in Marti’s words, “honoring the victims—those who survived and those who didn’t—the continuity of saying Kaddish” (Interview Aug. 2012). This prayer, an Aramaic prose poem, is so embedded in Jewish consciousness that even nonreligious Jews are haunted by “strong rhythms stirring sounds … and sheer hypnotic power over the listeners” Lamm). The words do not allude to mourning but praise of God, which reflects Marti’s deeply optimistic view of life.
Yit’ga’dal v’yit’kadash sh’may ra’bbo, b’olmo dee’vro chir’usay v’yamlich malchu’say, b’chayaychon uv’yomay’chon uv’chayay d’chol bais Yisroel, ba’agolo u’viz’man koriv; v’imru Omein.
(May the great Name of God be exalted and sanctified, throughout the world, which he has created according to his will. May his Kingship be established in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of the entire household of Israel, swiftly and in the near future;
Marti expressed the cultural identification in these words: “It felt like going home.” But, the Holy Land had another layer of meaning, as the sacred site for three of the world’s major religions. On the first day of Marti’s trip to Israel, she planted a tree, which is a long-held tradition, signifying both the forestation of the land and a personal tribute (Interview Aug. 2012).
Justice, tikkun olam, bashert—a tapestry of connections—led to another transformation. In the early 2000s, Beth El, Marti’s current Conservative synagogue, hired an Argentinean cantor and rabbi. “Music has always had a direct line to my soul” (Interview Aug. 2012). The rabbi’s sermons and the cantor’s contagious, spiritual energy stimulated an urgency to act. Marti’s conscience challenged her, demanding,
What are you doing NOW? How are you treating others NOW? What messages and lessons are you passing on