Together with his wife Allyson, Glenn and their children have been an integral part of our congregation for over a decade. Allyson serves an array of roles in the community and congregation, including as Chair of the Temple’s Accessibility/Inclusion Task Force, while Glenn has found a home on the faculty at Hamline University. Its classic Old Main can be seen in the background of his photo.
Though a physical presence, Glenn can often be heard before he is seen around Mount Zion, his booming voice filling the sanctuary or Margolis Hall as part of our choir, or recently, playing the role of King Ahashveros (gesundheit!) in the Purim production of Megillah on the Roof. Or providing the bass and Jewish doo-wop to anchor the men’s chorus as they sang ‘Pharoah, Pharoah’ (to the tune of ‘Louie, Louie’) at the last congregational Seder.
My own connection with Glenn is more personal, and gastronomic. We are both picklers. Somehow I had learned that Glenn shares my fondness for pickled tongue on rye bread, and have brought him CARE packages when I make a batch. And he has reciprocated with jars of pickled tomatoes, made using the bounty of their own backyard garden.
The congregation that pickles together, as they say …
I was born and grew up in Berkeley, CA, and came of age there in the 70s, so I lived through the hippie period. My mom (nee Merritt) was born in the bay area – her parents had migrated there in the mid 1920s after homesteading in Wyoming. My grandfather was a machinist, and as my mom tells it, from among all her classmates, he was the only dad who was employed throughout the great Depression. All the other dads had some period of unemployment. After they moved to Berkeley he owned a company that made specialty springs, called Merritt Spring Company. His claim to fame was that they made one spring that went on Apollo 10 that circled the moon.
Any idea what it was used for? Maybe it propelled the ship all the way back?
No, I don’t know!
How about your father’s side of the family tree?
On my dad’s side, his father was originally from the Ukraine and ended up in Canada, where he was an itinerant Orthodox rabbi, traveling around, and he could schech (butcher) meat, and he was also a cantor. He was a great singer. His name was Aaron Hardin. His original name was Hardashnakov, but it was changed by border officials who couldn’t spell that. He spent time in Moose Lake, Alberta and Medicine Hat, Saskatchewan.
My dad’s mother (nee Papermaster) grew up in Grand Forks, and her father was the Chief Rabbi of North Dakota in his day. Somehow my dad’s mother and father were matched up and began corresponding before they ever met, while he was in Canada and she was in North Dakota. My suspicion is that her father knew all the rabbis in the Midwest and was looking for a rabbi to marry his daughter.
My parents met in Berkeley at some point, after he served in the Pacific Theatre during the World War, and while he was there to finish his degree in history. And I have two older brothers, Nate and Abram, who are both still living in the East Bay.
What was your Jewish life like growing up?
I didn’t have much of a Jewish upbringing at all. My folks divorced when I was 5, then I lived for five years with each. My mother wasn’t Jewish and my dad wasn’t religious, though having grown up Orthodox, if he walked into a shul he could pick it right up – it was like riding a bicycle for him.
Then, when I was about 15, my dad unexpectedly got an $800 refund from the IRS and he said “I’ll put this aside, and if you ever want to go to Israel, I’ll send you.” About 2 or 3 years later, I finished high school early and said “if the offer is still good, I want to go.” So I went, and I was there for about eight months altogether. At first I lived at Kibbutz HaOgan, which was part of the Kibbutz Artzi movement of secular Jews that had been socialists and communists in the old country. I was on the Ulpan program so I worked for four hours a day and studied Hebrew for four hours a day, and I was young enough that I could pick up a bit of the accent. Toward the end I lived in Jerusalem for a month and studied at the yeshiva Ohr Somayach, and became immersed in Yiddishkeit.
How did college unfold for you?
By the time I returned to attend college at Berkeley, I was much more interested in Judaism than I had been growing up, so I studied with an Orthodox rabbi and converted by my early 20s. And after four years I got my degree in chemistry, and then worked for four more years as a chemist in an environmental testing lab, but I got bored with that.
As a senior undergrad, I had taken a chemistry course called ‘trace microanalysis’, which was a forensics course. So I went back to Berkeley and got my Master’s degree in forensic science. I finished that in 1988 and sent my resume to every crime lab I could find an address for. I ended up getting six interviews, and one of them was the crime lab at the Minnesota BCA (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension), and they offered me a job. I ended up moving here with my then wife, and my son Aaron was born shortly after we moved here, but we were divorced a few years later.
When did Allyson come into the picture?
We met at a Torah reading class while we were both members of Beth Jacob in the 90s. We then had Jasper in 1997 and Netta was born in 2002.
So let’s go through your kids, tell us first about Aaron. He had a bit of a health concern over the past year or so?
Aaron is an accountant in Oregon, living near his mom. His health is doing good now, but it was a scare. They had detected a tumor on his inner ear, which all the doctors assumed would be benign. He came back here for surgery at Mayo, but afterwards the pathology report came back as malignant. So we were all shocked and thought he would need to undergo extensive treatment.
But about that time my former brother-in-law contacted me. We hadn’t been in touch in over 20 years, but his daughter had been aware of Aaron’s condition. He had originally been a leading cancer researcher, an expert on sarcomas, but he suddenly left that to get his PhD in philosophy, and now teaches philosophy of science in London. But he contacted me and asked me if I would like him to look into it. And I said yes! Eventually he found a doctor in Heidelberg Germany that had developed a DNA test for these tumors that is not approved here. We had that test performed and it seemed to indicate that it really was benign, so we are proceeding on that hope, but Aaron is having it monitored.
Reflecting on it, I wonder what do people do who don’t happen to have access to an elite sarcoma researcher, who can help assess those things? If not for that, we would have done extensive therapy. So it’s been a real roller coaster ride.
Jasper is enrolled as a Freshman here at Hamline, and is interested in poetry, psychology, art, and creative writing, and thinking about maybe going into art therapy. We cross paths occasionally, and get together for lunch sometimes. But I try to be respectful; if I were a student living on campus, the last thing I’d want is my dad hanging out with me.
And last but certainly not least, tell me about Netta.
Netta is starting high school next year. She is a remarkable person. Her ease with people is just amazing. One of the things we reflected on this past year, is that there were over 300 people at her Bat Mitzvah, and very often you will find that a lot of the people are there because of the parents, but in her case I’d say they were almost all there for her, and she was probably on a first name basis with most of them. So she has a gift, between that … and cooking.
We came to Mount Zion when Netta was young and we were looking for a synagogue that could offer the best opportunities for her Jewish education. And Mount Zion has done very well for her. She is challenged with agenesis of the corpus callosum, which affects communication between the two hemispheres of the brain. And there is a wide range of possible symptoms, from people who can live their entire lives and don’t even realize they have the condition, to other people who cannot get out of bed in the morning without help. So early on the neurologists told us to just “push her as hard as you can”, because we didn’t know where she would be on that continuum. Because of that, there is not a path that tells you what works, so it has really been a voyage of discovery.
For instance, in preparing for her Bat Mitzvah, we didn’t know what she would be able to do, but she wanted to do everything. And she did.
I was there, and remember those anxious moments before she chanted Torah – facing the ark, and facing Jasper, who was there to support her.
That actually came up a couple weeks earlier when we had a rehearsal and it was David Wark that suggested that we have Jasper go up and be with her, and that worked. And having her face the ark can be more traditional anyway.
And we had recorded her chanting the Torah blessings and the Torah reading, and the Haftorah blessings and Haftorah reading. We had also recorded her D’var Torah, but we wanted her to do that, and we knew she could do that. But with the Hebrew we wanted people to hear her voice, because she could do it at home. She actually had it memorized. She can read Hebrew, but she has a hard time reading the font as small as it is in the Torah, and there is too little space between the lines.
Then D. Marcos was involved (among other things a scribe, and son of previous “Human of Mount Zion” Victor – it seems we are starting to weave a lot of stories together here). He wrote her Torah portion enlarged on a kosher scroll, especially for her. It’s amazing what people did, just for her. We framed it and it’s hung up on the wall at home.
Lets wrap things up with your career up to today.
I was with the BCA for just short of 20 years, the first 10 years as a forensic scientist, analyzing blood samples for alcohol and drugs, and testifying in court, and for the last ten years I was the supervisor of that group.
But I got to a point at the BCA where I had learned all I can learn. I had never thought about academia, since I only had a Master’s degree, but at one point Hamline hosted an event for teachers of forensic science and I was invited to speak. Apparently I did a good job because the then chair of the program here invited me to apply for a faculty position. So I did, and I started here in the Fall of 2008, just before the market crash. If it had been a bit later I don’t think I would have been hired.
Now I teach an introduction to forensic science class, on everything that goes on in a crime lab. And I teach a seminar course, where we look at the effect of the law on science, and philosophical questions like what is the nature of identity? What does it mean to say that two things came from the same place, or the same source? It’s an easy question to ask, but not an easy question to answer.
I like asking folks in these articles if they’ve ever considered connections between their professional lives and their Judaism.
In terms of Jewish law, one of the things that attracts me most about forensic science is its impact on justice. This is justice without a qualifier. Justice in the mosaic sense, since physical evidence doesn’t lie. It can’t perjure itself. Though there are challenges and human frailties in terms of interpreting it, and deciding what it means.
Welcome to Torah 101. And pass the pickled tongue.