Atlanta, Georgia

Staying True: Jackie Howard and Todd Slutzky

First Recorded

September 4, 2018


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Jackie Howard identifies as Jewish but has always had a complicated relationship with her faith, owing to her largely secular upbringing and her friendships with people of different religious backgrounds. In this conversation Howard joins her son Todd Slutzky to reflect on the evolution of her faith and what being Jewish means to her today.

This story was produced by David Dault at Sandburg Media, LLC.

This story is a part of the American Pilgrimage Project, a conversation series that invites Americans of diverse backgrounds to sit together and talk to each other one-to-one about the role their religious beliefs play at crucial moments in their lives. The interview was recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity‚Äôs stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

Jackie Howard and Todd Slutzky

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Jackie Howard: I didn't grow up, having any Judaism in my house. Mother and Dad would send us to Sunday school because you're supposed to do that, but we never had a Passover Seder, we never had Rosh Hashanah dinner, they never went to services ever. And even though Dad was so involved in the temple, as far as raising money for it, they begged him to be president. He said he'd be a hypocrite. He wouldn't do it because he didn't believe it in that.

Todd Slutzky: Okay. So I, this...

Jackie Howard: They didn't believe in, let's say organized religion.

Todd Slutzky: I grew up, this was ingrained in me through your father and then my dad, that a loving God would not have allowed the Holocaust, therefore there couldn't be a God. So, that was burned into my father and then burned into me. But you also grew up in a very unique time. There were no bar mitzvahs, no bat mitzvahs. It was very much a time of secularism of...

Jackie Howard: And there was no yarmulkes, there was no tallit, there was nothing.

Todd Slutzky: It was a time of trying to...

Jackie Howard: Assimilate.

Todd Slutzky: Assimilate as much as possible.

Jackie Howard: Very German Jewish.

Todd Slutzky: Yeah. So, what does being Jewish, how does it fit in your... What does it mean to you?

Jackie Howard: I check the box that says I'm Jewish. I used to say, forever ago, this is 45 years ago, 50 years ago, I want to die Jewish and straight. [crosstalk] where that came from. And what that meant for me was, I've dealt with so many weird people and friends in different aspects of my life and been exposed to so much, I just wanted to make sure that I stayed true to certain things that were, I think on a core level, important to me. I remember over the years, whenever I was with different groups of people, I would go to church with them. I didn't care what kind of church. I would do all sorts of things I was interested in. And then for one period of my life, I felt like every friend I had was either gay or lesbian.

Todd Slutzky: I remember.

Jackie Howard: And then it was like... And then I remember going to a fundraiser. Oh, my God, that's right. When Human Rights Campaign Fund was first coming to Atlanta, oh my gosh, I forgot that. And I went to a friend's house, therapist who was lesbian, and the head of that said that night, I think it wasn't just to me, that eventually we get them all. 

And I was just, I think I walked away after that. I think I was so terrified by, "Hmm, maybe she's right because of..." so I think I walked away from that world a lot after that night. I never thought about that, but I choose at this point, frankly, not to go to services. That means nothing to me. If I can sit in the back corner and just listen and not have to stand up and sit down and participate, I might enjoy living the noise and music and experience wash over me.

Todd Slutzky: Mom, I love you enough to tell you, you're old enough now. You're allowed to not stand.

Jackie Howard: I know, but then it's the energy of, "Oh, you're supposed to be looking at a prayer book." I refuse to even, oh, touch a prayer... Look at it. But I'm very Jewish in many ways, and I'm very protective. I'm very anti-radical, any kind.

Todd Slutzky: Sure.

Jackie Howard: It doesn't matter. I'm very opposed to the Orthodox and the way that... I remember, years and years ago, going to something at Beth Jacob Orthodox Synagogue. It was on something I'll come back to, it was something very communal. And a woman ended the prayer after dinner, or lunch, and then after that, a man got up and did it again, because it didn't count because a woman did it. And I remember saying, "That was it."

But I hate what's going on in Israel with the Orthodox taking over. I hate, but whether it's Orthodox, whether it's Christian Orthodox, whether it's Muslim, any Orthodox, I don't like.

Todd Slutzky: I've always said you raised me to be a strong feminist, and I believe that. You taught me to speak my mind and stand up for what I believe.

Mom, thank you for doing this today. It's very meaningful to me. I love you very much.

Jackie Howard: Thank you for asking this.

Todd Slutzky: Yeah.

Jackie Howard: And like to do it again.

Todd Slutzky: Me, too. Me, too.

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