Jews in Wyoming and Other Differences

Whenever someone learns where I grew up, they say “I never met anyone from Wyoming!”  And, when they learn I’m Jewish, I hear “They have Jews in Wyoming?”  So, to begin this Sinai Story, I want to confirm that yes, I did grow up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and yes, they do have Jews in Wyoming.

Both sides of my family emigrated from Russia and the Ukraine to Wyoming in the early 20th century.  They helped found the Jewish community in Cheyenne in 1906, and both my parents were born there.  My paternal grandfather (and his father) helped build the Union Pacific railroad and went to school at night to learn English.  My parents owned a western store, and I grew up going to Hebrew school and riding my horse in 4-H Western pleasure competitions.  There were about 90 Jewish families in Cheyenne, and there was only one synagogue in the entire State.  As a result, we always had guests from other parts of the State whom we didn’t know join us in our home for the various yom tov celebrations when they would drive to Cheyenne to get to a synagogue.  To this day, my wife and I welcome into our home people who don’t have a place to go for the holidays.

Which leads me to another difference — I am married to a woman, Mary Ann Dutton.  When Mary Ann and I fell in love and entered into a committed relationship in the early 1990s, same-sex couples could not legally marry.  At the time, we were living in Old Town Alexandria and were members of Beth El Hebrew Congregation.  We went to meet with the rabbi to see if he would perform some sort ceremony for us, and he said “I’ve never been to a gay wedding;”  and we replied “Neither have we!”  However, together (with the help of a gay rabbi in San Francisco whom our rabbi knew), we developed our own wedding ceremony:  a brit ahavah, covenant of loving dedication, which we celebrated at Beth El with our extended families and friends on July 29, 1995.

After we moved to Bethesda, we joined Temple Sinai and were again welcomed, and also celebrated and supported.  Mary Ann participated in an Adult B’nai Mitzvah with Rabbi Portnoy, and all three of our children had their baby namings at the Temple.  Over the years, our lives have been enriched by Temple Sinai Nursery School, followed by the Religious School, the bar mitzvah of our older son, and the upcoming b’nai mitzvah of our twin daughter and son next Fall.  I also am now honored to serve on the Temple Sinai Board.

In sum, my life today is very different from my life growing up.  Although I have grown in my Judaism (thanks in part to Temple Sinai), the Jewish values I learned in Cheyenne, Wyoming are remarkably similar to those supported by our lives at Temple Sinai.  I wouldn’t trade my Wyoming heritage for the world.  By the same token, I couldn’t imagine my family and me being any other place than Temple Sinai.


-Jean Veta