- January 17, 2016
Bradenton’s Sarah Link is frank when she describes her venture away from Judaism.
"I was a punk 20-year-old," she said.
Now 35, Link is a single mom of two children (1-year-old Violet and 5-year-old Maxwell) and she has discovered her faith proved to be stronger than her desire to pull away from her religious roots.
“There was nothing that really took me away from temple other than me being a floundering 20-year-old who was trying to figure out what she was doing," Link said. "I felt I didn’t really have a reason to go back to temple."
Over time, through the birth of her two children and subsequent divorce, Link's faith began driving her to remember her past.
She grew up as one of the few Jewish kids living in Denton, Texas, and eventually moved to Florida in 2005 when she already had walked away from her religion. She said she was more concerned with having fun.
When Maxwell was born, she had an epiphany. She wanted to raise her child right, and her days absent from temple came to an end.
“It hit me pretty hard when Max was a baby,” Link said. “Raising kids is something we were never intended to do by ourselves, and it just seemed natural for me to go back to where everything started. I grew up in the temple and that’s where I felt comfortable.”
Finding the right religious home took some time for Link. She said several temples she visited didn't feel right to her. Then she found Temple Emanu-El in Sarasota.
“When Max was a baby, my mom came to visit, and she wanted to go to some services and I didn’t know where to take her,” Link said. “None of them really felt right. It’s a different dynamic here, and a different demographic, and there wasn’t a group my age until I got to Temple Emanu-El. There’s a decent-sized group of us that are the same age, and our kids are the same age, too. I felt that home feeling again.”
With two children and her full-time job at Progressive Employer Management Company in Sarasota, following her faith is a priority once again.
It took a bit of time for her to immerse herself into the community at Temple Emanu-El, but it was important to her.
“When I first started going, I was a new mom and I was timid," she said. "I was not as comfortable in my own skin as I am now, and it was intimidating."
She had to crack a group of moms who already were longtime friends. But it wasn't long until she felt she had known those women her entire life. It was what she was seeking.
“They were so open and so warm with me,” Link said. “We all grew up with the same type of parents, the same philosophy, the same songs and prayers, and the same values — we just grew up in completely different places. I thought, OK, these are the people that I want to help me with my family. I can help them, they can help me, this makes sense.”
Link's return to faith has helped her to be a better role model for her children, something she takes seriously.
Links mother, Lynne Pewterbaugh, who lives with her in East County, has witnessed her daughter's spiritual growth.
Pewterbaugh said she understands the importance of her daughter having a home base where she could belong. She isn't surprised her daughter returned to her religion because she has strong in her faith as a child growing up in a community where being Jewish was very different.
“The second I had kids, they were different,” Pewterbaugh said. “Being Jewish, they had dietary rules, they couldn’t go to school on certain days and they pretty much stood out. Sarah, though, got a voice through this. She spoke up for herself, even at a very young age. She had something special that no one else had.”
Pewterbaugh is proud her daughter has chosen to not only stick with Judaism, but engrain its values into her own children.
She not only has joined her current temple, she has become a member of the Leadership Committee organizing events. She shares her past experiences to help those who stray from their religion.
“I feel like I have an obligation to the people that are coming in, because I was just in that vulnerable space," she said.
Temple Emanu-El Rabbi Elaine Glickman appreciates Link's dedication.
“Sarah went from someone who came to temple, trying to find where she fits in, to someone who’s blossomed into teaching other young, new families and reaching out them,” Glickman said. “She is just hungry for this community, and the community has embraced her."