JOI: The Righteous 'Other' : Mr. Richard Barkauskas
Rabbinic legend has it that the world is sustained
on the merits of the just thirty-six righteous men and
women. According to the legend, the identity of these
righteous individuals is unknown not only to the world
at large but even to themselves. Perhaps, what the rabbis
had in mind is that we each should act as if we might
be one of the hidden righteous. Perhaps even more importantly,
we are meant to see in others the potential that they
are one of the 'hidden righteous.'
The legend is also a reminder to us all that the essence
of righteousness is often hidden, only to be revealed
in people and situations where we might never have expected
it. In our own time, some of the most extraordinary
expressions of righteousness are found in the devotion
shown by the non-Jewish partners in interfaith marriages
to enable their spouse and children to live deeper and
more meaningful lives than they might have without their
Beginning with this profile, JOI will periodically
feature one of the "righteous others" in our midst.
If you have a unique personality whom you think might
fit the model, please send us a brief description or
all us to discuss how we might bring their light to
With this inaugural column we take pleasure in introducing
Mr. Richard Barkauskas.
Rick is Catholic. He is the father of two grown Catholic
children. He is also the father of two Jewish children,
Brian and Abby, born of his second marriage. But his
'Jewish' credentials extend far beyond the obviously
Jewish family. He has played one of the leading roles
in building a new Conservative synagogue in Parsippany,
N.J. (Congregation Adat Shalom); just as when the Hebrew
school classrooms needed repainting in the old building,
he was there quietly, with paint and brush in hand.
From fund raising to roof and wall mending, Rick has
thrown himself body and soul into the strengthening
of his Jewish community in ways that would be remarkable
for any one, even if he or she were the product of a
traditional Jewish home, with good Hebrew school experiences.
However, these acts of devotion to the Jewish community
are almost incomprehensible on the part of a Catholic.
Obviously, Rick sees it differently. "With all due
respect to the Jewish community," he says with an impish
smile, "what's really important to me is the community
I create in my home. Once I made the decision with Sharon
that we would raise the children Jewish, the rest was
a no-brainer. So, for me the over-riding concern was
Sharon and the kids. But, when I see the way they have
grown through their involvement first in Pathways
(the local Jewish outreach program) and then in the
synagogue, my involvement and commitment is just an
affirmation of my caring for them."
Much to the frustration of his wife and children,
that affirmation in the past couple of years has often
taken Rick away from the family. They have learned to
tolerate a Catholic father and husband who has to rush
off to long evenings of synagogue board meetings (though
Rick is not himself a member) to plan the synagogue's
move, new building operations, equipment and furnishings,
or to map out the logistics of High Holiday services.
"I must confess -- and not because I am Catholic,"
Rick reflects with some bemusement, "that my Jewish
involvement has obviously taken me far beyond the family.
My committee work and my personal relationships with
the rabbi, the cantor and numerous congregants who have
become close friends has deepened my intellectual and
emotional engagement with the community and with Judaism
in ways I could not have imagined four of five years
ago. At this point there are probably several dozen
friends in the 'shul' who would be happy to have me
snipped and dipped so they could finally include me
in the affairs of the congregation as a full-fledged
Jew. My initial concerns about being alien in the life
of the community or in the Judaism o Sharon and the
kids has vanished.
"But," Rick continues in pensive voice--almost talking
to himself, "I don't think conversion is in the cards
for me. I know who I am as an adult. I cannot wipe out
my Catholic upbringing or nearly forty years of Catholic
life, nor can I wipe out my sense of identity with my
older children and their children. I have said to the
rabbi that at this point my only practical motivation
for conversion would be to someday become president
of the synagogue, and I know that that's not a good
"Having visited Israel. having watched my son and
daughter become Bar and Bat Mitzvah, I have learned
a tremendous amount about not only the Torah, about
Jewish ethics and spirituality, but also about the resiliency
of the Jewish people. But, frankly I have also learned
about some of the universal truths of our great religions,
about common ancestry and about the integrity of difference.
I have been enormously impressed by how my congregation
is able to embrace me as the 'supportive other,' 'the
loving other' in the Jewish lives of not only my family
but increasingly of the whole congregation. That respect
of our differences has only strengthened our bonds.