Gloria & Bill Grifenhagen
Growing up in the Philippines, 80 miles from the capital of Manila, I knew very little about Judaism. I was one of 12 children in a religious Catholic family. I attended Catholic schools, and eventually graduated from Philippine Normal University. When I met Bill in late 1967, I was working as a teacher and he was serving in the Peace Corps, following his graduation from the University of North Carolina. Originally from Connecticut, Bill and his parents moved to Charlotte when he was 14 years old. When he joined the Peace Corps he had never been west of Alabama. I had never been east of Manila.
Our original plan was to marry in the Philippines. However that changed and, after much difficulty, I got a visa and arrived in Charlotte in April 1969. We initially lived with Bill’s parents. I slept in his bedroom,, while he slept in the living room. His parents were so welcoming and accepting of me. Having come from such a large family, I was not accustomed to the attention they gave me. We were married on May 18, 1969 - the same day I converted to Judaism. Three years later, I became a United States citizen.
Looking back, it was not easy being Jewish in Charlotte then. It was even more challenging as an Asian American and one of Charlotte’s first Filipinas. Bill’s family had always been active members of Temple Beth El, and we followed their example. Because I had converted, I wanted to live my life as an active member of the Jewish community. We lit candles every Friday night, attended services and observed the holidays as a family. Bill and I wanted to lead a Jewish life and create a Jewish home for our family.
We’ve always felt that our three children are doubly blessed to have been raised to understand, appreciate and celebrate their Jewish and Filipino roots. My family followed me to this country, and has joined us as we incorporated both cultures into our children’s B’nai Mitzvah and wedding celebrations. All three children are active in their own Jewish communities, and one of our daughters made Aliyah to Israel in 2005.
We have been fortunate to be included and accepted into Charlotte’s Jewish community. It is our hope that our legacy gift will help promote Judaism throughout the community and provide support to the next generation. This is especially important to us as parents and grandparents.
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