Former Political Hand Embraces Kid’s Conversion

By Ross Schneiderman

Published June 06, 2003, issue of June 06, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The Jewish community has gained a new member — and a prominent new in-law.

Katherine Gergen, a recent convert to Judaism and the daughter of former presidential adviser David Gergen, married Mark Barnett last Sunday in a Jewish ceremony held at Music Mountain in Falls Village, Conn. Rabbi James Ponet, a Conservative clergyman and the Jewish chaplain at Yale, officiated at the ceremony.

Before undergoing an Orthodox conversion in February, the bride studied for 18 months with rabbis in New York, New Haven and Jerusalem.

The senior Gergens admit they were initially skeptical before eventually embracing their daughter’s conversion. “We had some apprehensions,” David Gergen, a former adviser to the Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton administrations, told the Forward in an interview. “We come from a Protestant tradition, and I was worried that [Katherine and Mark] would draw a curtain over their lives, which would hide them from us and our potential grandchildren.”

But when Katherine, 29, a fourth-year medical student at Yale University, told her father that she planned to convert regardless of whether she married Mark, she mollified her parents’ concerns. “That was very striking,” said her father, who is now an editor at U.S. News & World Report and a professor of public service at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “That was a powerful and positive incentive for me to embrace her decision.”

The groom’s father, Steve Barnett, an entrepreneur and a board member of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, also hailed the couple’s decision to marry. “[Katherine and Mark] are spiritually connected,” said Barnett. He stressed that Katherine chose to convert on her own. “This wasn’t a mandatory thing,” Barnett said.

The groom’s mother, Teri Barnett, a board member of the National Women’s Philanthropy of United Jewish Communities, echoed her husband’s sentiments. “[Katherine] did it in an amazing manner, and she’s an amazing person,” Teri Barnett said. “She has an immense amount of knowledge of the subject, and she is imbued with the spirit of Judaism.”

Both bride and groom earned undergraduate degrees from Yale, where they met and are currently attending graduate school. They studied together in Israel two years ago and maintain a strictly kosher home. Although they are not Orthodox in all of their daily practices, they are “very observant and deeply spiritual,” according to David Gergen.

The ceremony itself reflected this religious model. Although very traditional, it incorporated readings from other faiths and traditions. “This community they are a part of celebrates community and respects wisdom,” David Gergen said. “That inclusiveness was an even greater invitation for us to celebrate.”

“It has been a wonderful experience for everyone, which isn’t always the case,” said Steve Barnett.

Apparently the wedding may inspire others to follow Katherine’s lead. Amid the circles of dancing, singing people, one Protestant family friend turned to the former presidential adviser and said: “If this is what it means to convert, where do I sign up?”






Find us on Facebook!
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.