Peggy McManus, 60, has lived in Charlotte since she was 2 years old. She graduated from Garinger High School in 1971 and married her husband, John, in 1984. Early on in the seven years that they dated prior to marrying, the couple spent time visiting different churches in an effort to forge a new religious identity.McManus was raised as a Southern Baptist and John was raised as a Methodist, “but,” says McManus, “nothing felt right.” Their search ended in 1977 when John visited Temple Beth El. “I didn’t know a thing about Judaism,” McManus recalls. “But he said ‘This is it.’ ” As soon as she started going, Peggy said, “It just felt like home.” She and John both converted to Reform Judaism that fall. McManus values how “simple and straightforward” Judaism is and that there is none of the “hellfire and brimstone” she remembers from her youth. “Whenever I read the Torah,” McManus said, “it just spoke to me. I felt like I was where I was meant to be.”In October 2006, McManus began volunteering at the temple, answering the phones and working with Cantor Andrew Bernard. Her volunteer gig turned into a part-time job that became full-time when the temple’s receptionist left in 2008. McManus has been answering the phones ever since. “She is,” says Rabbi Judy Schindler, “at the center of making Temple Beth El the warm and welcoming congregation that it is.” McManus credits the temple, and her job, with “helping me form a true sense of community.” It has also been her salvation during a difficult time at home. In 2006, her husband developed dementia sm and has been in a nursing home ever since. “My job at the temple,” says McManus, “has been a lifesaver.”In addition to answering the temple’s phones, McManus is in charge of overseeing the temple’s bar and bat mitzvahs. “Throughout their months of preparation,” says Cantor Andrew Bernard, “she is the one who greets the students when they enter the building with a smile, a reassuring word and – most often – a good old-fashioned hug.” McManus says she enjoys getting to know all of the congregants but she especially enjoys “getting to know the kids and watching them grow over the years.” McManus also enjoys representing the temple in the community and serving as “an ambassador for the faith.” Whenever she visits her husband at his nursing home, she says “the aides and residents will ask me about being Jewish.” She credits Schindler with how well the temple is known in the community and for instilling “a desire to give back to the community and do mitzvahs (good deeds).” One mitzvah she performs every day is making everyone at Temple Beth El feel welcome and cherished. “The atmosphere of warmth and joy that is Temple Beth El,” says Bernard, “begins at Peggy’s desk.” “From our tots to our seniors,” says Schindler, “Peggy knows the members of our Beth El family well and loves them and they love her in return.” For her part, McManus feels like “everyone’s grandmother,” which is particularly gratifying since she has no children of her own. “I feel so welcomed and accepted at Beth El. It is home.”
Friday, Jun. 28, 2013
Charlotte: Conversion to Reform Judaism changes her life
Katya Lezin is a freelance writer. Do you have a story idea for Katya? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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