Wilhelmina Roepke’s path to Judaism has led her from the West to the Far East and back again. Now in her second year at the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, Wilhelmina began her journey in Dallas, Texas, where she and her younger sister, Katie, grew up as Catholics.
Drawn to what she calls the “theology and intellectual honesty” of Judaism, Wilhelmina converted to Judaism after graduating from St. Olaf College in Minnesota, where she majored in Asian Studies.
Just five days after converting, Wilhelmina was off to Shanghai to teach college-level English. While in China, she enjoyed the “sense of frontier Judaism” and worshipped at the local synagogue. “It was the best of both worlds; I was spending equal amounts of time at work and at the congregation,” she recalls.
Returning to the United States, Wilhelmina began working as an assistant preschool teacher at Congregation Etz Hayim in Arlington, Virginia. When she expressed an interest in combining her teaching experience with her love of Judaism, Rabbi Lia Bass at Congregation Etz Hayim recommended that she study Jewish Education at The Davidson School.
It would turn out to be quite the match. “My classes are intensely academic and very enjoyable. I have met more amazing and wonderful people in the halls of JTS than ever before,” Wilhelmina says. One class that particularly resonates for her is Weekday Liturgy with Dr. Debra Reed Blank, where Wilhelmina says she learns how and why prayers are structured.
A born explorer, Wilhelmina’s newest journey involves a mouse instead of a passport. In her new blog, The Sabbath Bee, she uses the metaphors of the Sabbath bride and queen to relate new ideas for observing and learning about the Sabbath. “Blogging is a lot of fun,” Wilhelmina says. “It’s an invitation [for readers to explore] their personal relationship with Shabbat.”
After graduation in December 2009, Wilhelmina hopes to become a program or event director for a synagogue, striving, as she puts it, “to find opportunities for those with different experiences to work together for a common purpose, from education to charity campaigns.” It will be another step on an already amazing voyage, guided by the highest of spiritual and intellectual aspirations.