July 2020
They Appreciate the Jew that I Am

I always have prayed to G‑d from a Jewish perspective,” said Sharon Biffoni, who describes herself as a non-observant Jew. Nevertheless, Sharon found a real connection at Harford Chabad and with its big-hearted Rabbi Kushi Schusterman and his wife Fraida.

“I feel connected to Kushi and Fraida,” she said. “I enjoy watching how observant they are and feel a little sad at times that my family drifted away from traditions.”  

Sharon grew up in Philadelphia, the granddaughter on both sides of Russian immigrants who fled to Philadelphia in the early 1900s.

“My Bubbi came from a very observant family, my Pop assimilated in Russia. Bubbi followed suit after they married,” Sharon said. “She had to work full-time and raise three children and I guess found it difficult to continue all the traditions.”


Although Sharon was raised as a non-observant Jew, the family lived in a Jewish neighborhood and always had big family dinners for the High Holidays.


“My parents observed Yizkor for their parents. They went to synagogue for holidays and I always have prayed to G‑d from a Jewish perspective,” she added. “Went to innumerable bar/bat mitzvahs growing up. But didn’t have one.”


After graduating from high school in 1978, Sharon went to live in Israel for a year.


“I loved it there so much I didn’t want to come home,” she recalled,  “but I did, to go to college, and then met my husband.”


 Even though Sharon always thought she’d marry a Jew and stay in her beloved hometown of Philly, it turned out her life didn’t follow that plan. She met a young man, who was of Italian descent and not Jewish.  When she realized she was falling in love with him, she started to educate him on the Jewish traditions that were important to her.


“I had him watch ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ and told him it was important for me to raise my kids Jewish if we were to ever marry,” Sharon said. “He was comfortable with that.”


They have now been married for 35 years and have two grown children.


Philly held great attraction for both Sharon and her husband, but work brought him to Harford County in 1982 and Sharon followed three years later after they married.


“Moving to Harford County was a pure culture shock for us both,” she said. “No diversity and no Jews.”


Sharon joined another synagogue in Harford County when their first born turned 5 to connect with the community and to have a place for their children to learn about Israel and identify as being Jewish.  After their son’s Bar Mitzvah Sharon felt she needed a break and the family stopped being members there.



Enter Rabbi Kushi and Fraida and Harford Chabad, which they opened in their Bel Air home in 2010, later moving to the Chabad center in the downtown area. Rabbi Kushi crunched tons of data, researching who and where all the Jewish families were in Harford County and then contacted them.


Although Sharon, before meeting the Schustermans, thought of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement as “a cult,” she agreed to meet with Rabbi Kushi. She couldn’t imagine what the rabbi would want with her.


“I was in an interfaith marriage, I ate crabs, didn’t observe Orthodox ways, etc.,” she said. “He said he was just worried about my Jewish soul.”


Some of Sharon’s first contacts with Rabbi Kushi were to talk about Jewish meditation. She also attended a “Girls’ Night” organized by Fraida and enjoyed her “Torah and Tea” meetings.


“I really liked getting to know her through that,” she said. “I took one of Kushi’s classes at HCC and enjoyed it. I always read Kushi’s weekly sermons. And have been to a few community dinners. I love those, and Shabbat dinners at Fraida’s and Kushi’s house.”


“I love eating Fraida's home-cooked meals and the delicious wine is always flowing when I eat with them as well,” she added. “Kushi is very funny; always has a smile. Fraida is a wonderful human being. It gives me a good feeling knowing they are there, five minutes away.”


Sharon said she always feels feel welcome at all the Harford Chabad events she attends and considers Fraida and Kushi her good friends now. “Their kids are the cutest


“It’s great to have them as friends, as they aren’t tainted by a world that can be ugly at times. Rather, they see all it’s beauty and are always thankful to G‑d for everything and put their lives in is hands. On that point we are totally alike,” Sharon said. “G‑d is with me all the time and has my back, whether my husband is Jewish, I eat crabs or light Shabbat candles. Fraida and Kushi get that in me and appreciate the Jew that I am, as I appreciate them and their children.”