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A Nice Jewish Girl: Kristen West McGuire Interviews Meredith Gould
Meredith Gould is a writer, social media expert, friend to many and best of all, a Christian with no illusions about the difficulty of expressing faith today. Kristen McGuire conducted this interview in 2006.
KM: Tell me about your early faith experiences.
MG: Both my parents were Brooklyn Jews at a time when ethnic-religious boundaries were fairly blurred. Italian and Irish Catholic neighborhoods were in close proximity to Jewish neighborhoods. My mother tells stories about going to Catholic church when public schools were closed for Jewish holidays. She once attended ‘confession,’ although the details are somewhat murky. My father considered himself a Jewish atheist even though his grandfather was a rabbi and one of his four brothers remained an Orthodox Jew.
My parents moved to an Irish Catholic neighborhood in New Jersey when I was a toddler. I vividly remember eating fish on Fridays and having an Easter outfit during the 1950's. In 1960, we moved again and became more observant about Jewish home-based ritual and synagogue attendance.
KM: Were you confirmed?
MG: Yes, but I didn’t have a bat mitzvah. I think my parents viewed it as a strange feature of Reform Judaism; either that or they didn’t want to schlep me to Hebrew school or hire a caterer? In any event, I was active in youth group and enthusiastic about Friday night services during my teens. Still, I didn’t feel called to confirmation. But when the rabbi pointed out how my grandparents were major supporters of the synagogue, I decided to do it for them. I still have my confirmation certificate from Temple Sinai.
KM: Did you encounter discrimination as a Jew?
MG: These days, my home town has a significant Orthodox Jewish population. It was quite different when I was growing up. There were mostly Reform and secular Jews and no shortage of overt and covert anti-Semitism. But because I was surrounded by other Jews, I didn’t really get what it meant to be Jewish until I went to an undergraduate school where there few Jews in attendance.
KM: What prompted you to explore other religions?
MG: During my early 20's, I became interested in Eastern religions, thanks, in part, to the Beatles and the psychedelic drug subculture. I had a misery-induced spiritual awakening in my late-30’s and spent a lot of time practicing yoga, primarily for its physical benefits. I was also intensely evangelized by a charismatic Christian. For two years, I prayed, “God, I just want to know who you are. Please reveal yourself to me.”
KM: And then?
MG: Well, I had a stunning visit from Jesus that completely freaked me out. It was my first experience of holy terror. Imagine a nice Jewish girl (the director of marketing at a yoga retreat center) getting a visit from Jesus! Finally, a series of painful events in my personal life put me on my knees. I prayed, “Ok, Jesus. I’m going to believe that you are who you say you are.” It was a real strap-on-for-the-ride moment.
KM: When were you baptized?
MG: I was baptized at age 42 and waited a decade before coming into full communion with the Roman Catholic church. I had survived a college sorority, one cult, and two marriages. Being very susceptible to group think, I didn’t want to wake up later and say, “Oops!”
KM: How did your family take the news?
MG: I didn’t tell either parent about my baptism for almost a decade. My father, of blessed memory, died before I was confirmed in the Church. I eventually told my mother and said, “Hey, Edith Stein’s mother dealt with it, so deal with it!” Fortunately, my smart, educated mother has a great sense of humor, so she laughed. She also attended my confirmation and that meant a lot to me. We have great conversations about faith. Once she asked me if I really believed in “all that stuff.” What stuff? The resurrection? Yes, I believe. She quickly snapped back with, “Oh Christ!” She’s a laugh riot and regularly exclaims, “Oy vey, Maria.” She’s also supports my intellectual and creative work in extraordinary ways.
KM: You are a writer, editor, speaker, publisher, de-cluttering expert, and home health aide. What’s your favorite?
MG: Hard to choose a favorite. After I had my “who are you?” prayers answered, I prayed, “what should I be doing?”. Writing about the faith and especially the Jewish roots of Catholic faith practice is my vocation and ministry. The public speaking is an offshoot.
The home health aide work, which I stumbled into about three years ago, is another gift from God. I work for an amazing Catholic woman whose deep, abiding faith is a constant inspiration. The nitty-gritty tasks of being a personal aide to a quadriplegic keeps me grounded and humbled. For the past half dozen or so years, I’ve helped people tidy up their home and work spaces, which is also a ministry of sorts. My favorite? I love all of it. I have a full and blessed life.
KM (2017): I want to share your interview again with friends - do you have anything to add to it?
MG: There was a stunning amount of anti-Semitism in my home town-- it took me years to acknowledge and deal with it. Also, although there have been significant changes in the past decade, the scripture from Micah endures as the significant guide to living my life.
Meredith's Favorite Scripture - Micah 6:8
He has showed you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice,
and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?