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Jeff Fry: from Unitarianism to Judaism

Jeff Fry’s mother came from a very weak Reform background: Her temple didn’t teach Hebrew or offer bar or bat mitzvahs. His father was raised Congregationalist, a Protestant denomination, but neither parent had ties to his or her birth faith.

Yet when they married and moved to a Detroit suburb, the couple wanted to give their children some kind of religious upbringing. So like a good number of mixed couples, they settled on Unitarianism, an offshoot of Protestantism that rejects the Trinity and does not teach the divinity of Jesus.

“In many ways it was a great way to be raised,” says Fry, now 36 and a software test engineer in Oakland.

What was most important to Fry is that his parents made one choice and stuck to it.

“I’ve talked to people who say, ‘Mom believes this, Dad believes that, and you can choose which you like better.’ I’m very grateful I was raised by parents who reached a consensus,” he says.

It was also important, he says, that his parents participated actively in their new faith. They were living examples of spiritual seeking, something both Fry and his parents continue to engage in.

But whereas his parents are very involved in their Unitarian church in Oakland, Fry identifies as Jewish and is a member of a local Jewish Renewal congregation.

His journey back to Judaism began in college, when he went to an outdoor Passover seder run by a Jewish-gentile couple. He also was doing anti-racism work and, as part of that, started exploring his Jewish background.

Many children of intermarried parents are drawn to Judaism culturally, historically or because of family memories. For Fry it was a spiritual journey made through books and attending services.

“I tried little tastes and found there was a lot I liked, he says. It was a progression. I learned to pray, which has become a beautiful thing in my life.”

Today he and his wife host seders for 30 to 40 guests, build their own sukkah and throw festive Chanukah parties. Although his wife, raised Catholic, has decided not to convert to Judaism, they live as Jews, and she agreed to Fry’s condition that any children they have be raised Jewish.

Fry does not regret his Unitarian upbringing.

“My parents found common ground that worked for them, and I’m very grateful,” he says. “I was given the tools to question and explore. I’m still questioning and exploring, but now within an explicitly Jewish context.”

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