by Julie Wolf
This interview first ran in the March 2014 issue of the JFN newsletter, when Dawn signed on as JFN's connector in the Metrowest-South area (Holliston, Bellingham, Franklin, and surrounding communities). In addition to her role as connector, now Dawn also serves as newsletter editor.
Dawn Doucette-Kaplan and her husband, Seth Doucette-Kaplan, live in Medway with their daughter, Haly (5), and son, Ryne (almost 2). Prior to joining JFN, Dawn worked in student life at various New England colleges. While she was at Sacred Heart in Connecticut as the director of volunteer programs and student outreach, the energetic Dawn earned no fewer than three master's degrees: in business, in teaching, and in religious studies. Her outreach work is deeply meaningful to her, as she loves to connect to people and meet them where they are. Her life is a perfect fit for her job at Jewish Family Network. Here, Dawn shares why she decided to convert to Judaism and her hopes for the future of the South Metrowest community — her new home.
What brought you to the Metrowest area, and how did you first connect with Jewish Family Network?
We moved to Westborough in 2011 when Seth became the head baseball coach at Dean College. I took a position as director of student outreach at Regis College. The following summer, we moved to Medway. Now that we were a family of four, we decided that the best thing for us was for me to be a stay-at-home mom. It was an adjustment for all of us, but I really enjoy it.
Shortly after moving to Medway I attended a JFN-co-sponsored program with two local temples and met the JFN Metrowest South connector. I wanted to find more programs that would allow my children and me to meet interfaith and Jewish families.
How does community building on college campuses and community building in the spread-out Metrowest Jewish community compare?
At Sacred Heart and at Regis I organized community outreach, service- and social justice-oriented programs, national and international service trips, and many mentoring and leadership opportunities for students, faculty, and staff. I have been the happiest when my job and my passions have been most aligned. My jobs at all of the colleges and universities that I've worked at involved helping people make connections, whether through conflict resolution or through social activities that helped students get to know each other better, or through service opportunities that showed them how they could make a difference in their own lives while helping others.
I definitely see a correlation between my previous career and the connector position. The more families attend programs, the more people they meet and can in turn connect to. I want to help Metrowest South families realize that they don't just live here, but that they are part of a community that can learn, grow, and have fun together, and support each other as we raise our kids.
How did your family's involvement in their community while you were growing up influence your choices as an adult?
I grew up in a small town where my mother served on the school board for more than 20 years. She was very active in our community. Even though my sister and I didn't grow up with much in the way of material belongings, we grew up in a loving and supportive house where helping others and treating people with respect and dignity was important.
My mother and father were role models for passion. Religion wasn't central for my parents, but they supported my passion for it. My husband and I chose to raise our children Jewish and started Haly in Sunday school this past fall, when she was only 4 years old, because we wanted her to have a community of friends that shared the same traditions and faith. Whether it's celebrating Shabbat or Havdalah every week by lighting candles or collecting tzedakah for a charity — a charity Haly chose herself because she saw me building homes for people in low-income housing — or celebrating the holidays, our son and daughter will know they are part of a community. I hope they grow up to have passion, and not only as empathetic and productive human beings, but as Jews.
You recently converted to Judaism from Catholicism. Tell us a little more about that.
I am actually Jewish now! My journey has been a long and complicated one, but I can sum it up this way. With the combination of biblical studies classes in my religious studies master's degree and the desire to teach my daughter to have faith, I began to doubt my own feelings on Catholic teachings and what was right for me. I thought that immersing myself more in the Catholic Church and its teachings at my job and through being an active parishioner that my doubts would go away. I denied my feelings for a while and rejected Judaism altogether.
After so many years with a Catholic identity, it was hard to admit to myself, let alone anyone else, that I was no longer Catholic, let alone Christian. Shortly after my son was born, I finally accepted it, and my husband and I began bringing more Jewish traditions into our home. We joined a local temple and I started taking Introduction to Judaism classes and educating myself about Judaism as a religion and culture, and its history. I knew that I felt connected to the theology behind Jewish monotheism, but I had no idea how drawn I would be to the beautiful traditions in Judaism.
What are your hopes for yourself and the community as you start this new position?
I want to get to know other families raising Jewish children, whether Jewish families or interfaith families. I have been a part of both now. I hope to be a resource for families, helping them connect with one another, because JFN offers so many opportunities for us to help each other with one of the most challenging jobs — being a parent. I need that support system as well. I have already met some wonderful mothers and fathers who share many of the same questions and experiences I have — and more importantly, some with different experiences and answers that I can learn from. I feel that meeting families that are trying to keep the traditions and values of Judaism alive through teaching them to their children is so important, and for me has been a big support.
Have a story you'd like to share? Contact Dawn, and she'll interview you! firstname.lastname@example.org.