Rosh Hashanah 5765 October 4th ,2005
I am Janis Topolosky. It would not be possible for me to explain who I am and how I got here today without including other individuals who have influenced me – my parents and Maury.
I lived in a small area referred to at that time as a “village” called Dublin, Ohio.
Years ago growing up in the 50’s I remember spending many waking hours wondering and daydreaming. I knew there was a big world out there and I contemplated it many nights as I sat on my twin bed leaning on the window sill looking up at the stars. It was a very peaceful place to be sitting on my pink bedspread, with pink walls surrounding me… all except one that was wallpapered by my Mother.
Our house was built by my parents, my paternal Grandfather and my Father’s six brothers.
These brothers were my Father’s best friends. Whenever they were together, they discussed both life events and stories always with a blend of seriousness and laughter.
Though my Father has only 2 brothers living now- he never goes a day without talking with them.
My thoughts of my Mother as I remember about age 6 are that she was a near perfect mother. She was quite nurturing, a good listener, and allowed my friends over anytime. Entry to my house like others was easy because no one ever locked their front door.
In her younger years, Mother was a creative dynamo. She cooked, cleaned, decorated, painted, and sewed everything from draperies to prom dresses and wedding gowns , grew a flower and vegetable garden and…. was kept busy disciplining three children.
I have a sister 4 ½ years older than I…. and only 14 months later came…. my brother.
David was my daily playmate and gets all the credit for teaching me to sprint well and throw a football like a true quarterback.
I was the typical middle child- the peacemaker – always looking to the left and right to avoid doing whatever it was that they were getting in trouble for.
My parents had a strong work ethic, respected their neighbors and were always volunteering when others needed help. I inherited their gene when it comes to helping others.
Mother and Dad believed in G-d and the Ten Commandments but never entered a church to worship. They had informed all us three children … “When you are an adult –it is up to you to choose the religion you want.”… I listened…There were no directions included…nor did I inquire further.
During high school, there was a feeling that something was missing and I was completely unsure what it was.
One evening I had a conversation with a family friend named Mark.
Mark was all of 17 years old but had a secret plan. He was going to graduate high school, venture to California with a Jewish friend and become Jewish himself!! This secret of his led us to many conversations about Jewish history and beliefs and instantly my own needs were visible to me. I knew I wanted Judaism- but there was no way it was going to happen….. via California!
In the Dublin community with no synagogues, no Jews and no one to talk with- I was going to have to wait.
After high school, I entered Nursing School in Columbus and soon met someone Jewish. Judith Cohen ….and we became friends. I celebrated High Holy Days with her family in 1968.
One quiet afternoon Judy asked what I thought about having a blind date. Before I could say no ….She quickly explained she knew this guy, he was nice and….he was her boyfriend’s roommate.
It was only one date -this guy was not looking for a serious relationship as he had recently broken up with someone. I said,” fine, does he have a name? …Maury! Ahhh how do you spell that? Her response was…. Wait till I tell you his last name!!
I soon met this guy …. With his blue eyes, blonde curly hair and wonderful sense of humor- we had a date and another and another.
I began attending services at a Conservative Shul. I walked there as it was only 2 blocks from my dorm.
Finally I decided to share my thoughts with Maury. He was surprised and not as exuberant as I had anticipated. He felt it was a large undertaking for an individual but I was not discouraged. Now on my agenda was to talk with my parents. Their reaction was shock….especially as my sister had recently married a Catholic and converted, while my brother was dating a girl who was Greek Orthodox.
Now because of my bad timing, Mom and Dad who resembled the calm Leave It To Beaver type parents- must have thought the red bricks of their custom made house were randomly falling down!!
I did not waver because I knew converting was the missing part I needed and it was. I was also aware Judaism was a daily lifestyle and commitment.
I was most fortunate to have a mentor and friend in Rabbi Nathan Zelizer. He was an elder Conservative Rabbi-
and I am certain he was not accustom to a young girl like me walking into his office demanding a meeting. He calmly dismissed me… twice. The third time I was finally invited to have a seat.
Four years after our first date Maury and I were married in August, 1972 by Rabbi Zelizer in the Shul I had walked to from my dorm- Congregation Tifereth Israel, Columbus, Ohio.
Other than my family going on a once a year trip to Lake Erie I had never traveled.
Maury said, “Marry me and we shall see many sights!” I thought he was referring to vacations… I was wrong…he was referring to his training programs and medical career!
Our honeymoon was a three week car trip while he interviewed for a surgical internship… in Atlanta, Miami, New Orleans, Houston, Dallas, St. Louis then back to our apartment on campus at Ohio State. The 4th year of medical school was his focus while I was a pediatric nurse in a small hospital. I loved being a nurse. We discussed that it would be fun to take a year off and work on the ship: U.S.S. HOPE- a medical mission ship sponsored by the U.S. government.
Our second year of married life we were thrilled to be in St. Louis – Maury @ Barnes Medical Center and me at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. We worked hard and could imagine staying in St. Louis forever.
Six months later Maury (who had signed up to be in the Navy after his training was completed) received a letter telling him otherwise and we were saying goodbye to St. Louis and moving to Norfolk, Virginia.
Maury was immediately sent to Naples- then on from there to board his ship- which did not resemble the ship HOPE in any way. I unpacked boxes and realized that for the first time in my life I was totally alone.
High Holidays would have been unbearable except I was invited to a family home after services. Discussion at lunch revealed this was the President of the shul.
I have never forgotten their kindness and repaid them by repeating the mitzvah of inviting others to my home.
In Norfolk, the biggest event after work each day was going to the mail and hoping for a letter. By the time Maury responded to a distress letter asking his opinion about my nursing job-
I had already started orientation for the new position in a different hospital. Lucky for me I was still in Pediatric. It helped my emotional wellbeing because ill children are clingy and love being cuddled and carried around- I needed that also.
Being alone was a turning point for me- I learned I was capable of making good decisions and handle responsibilities well during the 2 year assignment in Norfolk.
Maury’s turning point as a doc in the Navy was discovering while surgery was exciting ….internal medicine and pulmonary was more rewarding
Our next vacation was in Durham, North Carolina. Both of us happily enjoyed healthcare training and jobs at Duke and finally we had Sara!
By her 1st birthday she had totally changed me. I was accustomed to quiet children who were ill- not normal healthy ones!! I loved motherhood. Our Friday nights included services at a reconstructionist temple where Sara learned to sit still for an entire hour.
Our respect for the south was growing.
Soon it was off to Birmingham, Alabama , private practice, and a very large Jewish community with 3 synagogues on the same street, a J.C.C., a day school, and people with a southern accent saying “Shalom Y’all- welcome to Birmingham!”
By the end of our first year there –Jenny was born!!
Beth El Synagogue was like a home full of friendly people-Sara was encouraging to sit on the laps of adopted Bubies and Zadies during services because they thought it was not necessary for her to sit so still for that hour. Jenny was quietly watching from her infant carrier.
When Maury decided to join a multi-specialty group in the Midwest it was a major change for all of us. It was hard to leave such an instant Jewish community but ….moving to Champaign would bring us closer to the real Bubie, Zadie, Grandma, and Grandpa who all still lived in Ohio.
We arrived at Sinai Temple with a 7 and 3 year old who were wearing smocked dresses – spoke with a southern accent, and had no idea what snow was. It had been 12 years in the warm south…. and I was going to have to relearn how to drive in winter.
It did not take long for us to realize the friendliness of this city and especially this minyan.
I am happy to be in the Midwest and able to enjoy my parents company in their aging years through health… and times of not being so healthy. They treat me as an adult with sincere consideration.
I love their comments, conversation and all they share with Sara, Jenny, Maury and Ryan. They have been very respectful of our Jewish lifestyle. It is like yesterday I recall their beaming faces at both Bat Mitzvahs and Sara and Ryan’s wedding.
Being a nurse I have come to know so much about different people, life, and death and seen a few miracles along the way. It has made me treasure each day to the fullest. Life is the people around us and the choices we make. It is the people we meet along the journey that affect our creativity. I enjoy the act of the journey itself.
My friend Mark did move to California but disconnected from his family.
Judith Cohen dropped out of nursing school with only one year till graduation ,she married Maury’s roommate… unfortunately they divorced after 5 years.
Judy does not know that she changed the course of my life by her friendship and casually arranging one …blind date.
Everywhere we have been…. the Jewish community has welcomed us.
It has been 20 years since our move to Champaign and our first High Holidays was in the famous kindergarten room.
I tried to contemplate my future from the window in my pink bedroom but I could never have imagined our journey that brought us to Champaign, having girlfriends that seem like sisters…. or having such a wonderful son in law. Or…. imagine that I would enjoy a nursing career teaching in Geriatrics….. or become so attached to C.U.J.F. and become one of it’s Presidents.
Though Maury’s career was the reason for our numerous moves…. it is because of him we have met so many people and that I have grown and enjoy who I am.
Besides being the best date I have ever had, he is my soul mate, and an outstanding father.
Sara, Ryan and Jenny give me laughter, extra spirit and joy beyond words.
I look forward to this New Year and wish all of you good health and peace.