Santa Ana's Temple Beth Sholom named Monica Engel as the congregant of the year for her enthusiasm for teaching Judaism to interfaith families.
Raised in an Orthodox home, Engel's own family scrapbook has a different character, reflecting a blend of Judeo-Christian life-cycle events. "It's been a great experience telling my daughter-in-law who we are," said Engel of her son's Christian wife. "We respect each other's religion."
Yet, Engel, 69, of Lake Forest, says her own family situation is not what led her to undergo training in Cincinnati to become the outreach point person in Orange County for the Reform movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
"Intermarriage is a fact of Jewish life and it's time we opened our doors and made everyone welcome, not just Jews," said Engel, who said that at her own synagogue that interfaith couples felt marginalized because of their ignorance of Jewish practices.
Beth Sholom in January will host for the third year Engel's six-week class, "New Beginnings," which she subtitled "putting the 'ish' in Jew." In it, she explains daily customs such as Shabbat blessings. Rabbis throughout the county use the class, along with another taught at the temple, an introduction to Judaism taught by Rabbi Stephen J. Einstein, as a resource for individuals considering conversion.
Engel also has taught numerous holiday workshops and shares her experience as a Jewish grandparent at sisterhood conventions.
"I love being Jewish and I love our traditions and I love sharing it with them," Engel said.