Betty Kornitzer

BettyKorntzerTN After graduation from high school, I attended New York University at Washington Square in the liberal arts program. As a freshman, I became very ill with complications from gallbladder surgery. I was in the hospital for two months.  There I developed the classic schoolgirl crush on the surgical intern Dr. George Kornitzer, who maintained excellent boundaries. Following my discharge I called him, we had lunch, and the rest is history. We were married 9 months later, two weeks before my twentieth birthday.  I studied at NYU, while George continued his surgical residency.


Within a year of our marriage, George was drafted into the Army (it was the Viet Nam era.) He was sent to Korea to serve near the DMZ, where dependents (wives) were not permitted.  I decided to take a leave from NYU and traveled to Seoul, a two hour’s ride from George’s base. In 1969, Korea was not the developed country that it is today, my life was about to be broadened in ways that I could not foresee. I remained in Korea for eleven months, teaching conversational English. As an “unauthorized dependent,” I was not recognized or supported by the military establishment, I was on my own.  There were over one thousand soldiers at George’s base, and at age twenty, I was the only wife in Korea.


Being a twenty year old Caucasian woman living alone in Seoul was a life changing experience.  Suddenly, I was the minority. My white privileged middle-class existence cracked apart like an egg, as my life flowed into the midst of a foreign culture. Absolutely everything was different: the food, the smells, the courtesies and discourtesies, the clothing, the role of women, everything!  The bus ride to visit George was a place of great learning for me. We rode past countless villages of dilapidated shacks. Peasants boarded the bus, some, carrying pigs and chickens.  They were often ill clad for the harsh Korean winter, yet held themselves with a certain dignity and strength. These were people who had known the devastation of war, and for whom it required raw effort just to survive. Yet, they were not broken, they were not event bent. They labored on, they persevered. Sometimes they laughed; now and then I would catch lovers exchanging longing glances. On the bus, I knew that I was in the presence of something sacred, the resilience of the human spirit.  I was humbled in their presence. I was so fortunate to NOT be an “authorized civilian dependent,” housed securely on a military base. At age twenty, I saw the face of God in the faces on that bus.  Somehow I did not see the Korean people as other; I discovered that when our shells crack, at a very core level we are all one people.


On May 28, 1969, my life was changed forever.  That day, an Army chaplain brought a tiny abandoned Korean baby to my husband for medical attention. This little babe had been left exposed to the elements in a rice paddy; he weighed just over three pounds. This was an emergency. After weeks of hospitalization, the baby thrived.  Against the advice of absolutely everyone, we adopted this child. He is our oldest son, Michael. Honestly, 34 years later I cannot type these words without tears.  I am so very grateful.  Somehow we knew that Michael was a gift, a sacred gift brought directly into our arms.  It was then that I learned to accept improbable gifts, and to engage sacred mystery.


In 1969, back in the United States, we were one of very few inter-racial families in our local community. Sensitivity to our son’s racial identity issues and social experience were an essential part of parenting. Over the years, Michael often had to educate me about mistaken assumptions I had about his experience.  He has been one of my greatest teachers.


When we returned to the United States, George was stationed for one year at Fort Campbell Kentucky.  During that year I attended Austin Peay State University of Tennessee, completing some liberal arts requirements.  Coming to Boston in 1970, I went to Boston University, where I majored in sociology. Our daughter, Magda, was born that year. George completed his residency in urology, and we settled in the suburbs. Between 1970 and 1972, I did volunteer peer counseling at the Newton-Weston-Wellesley Multi Service Center, a social service agency.  It was then that I developed an interest in social work.  I graduated from BU in 1972, and at my husband’s urging applied to law school, dismissing my desire to do social work.


I entered Boston College Law School in 1972. The program was rigorous and competitive.  In law school I developed an analytical mind that has served me very well, all the way to church board meetings. In the summer of 1973, our daughter, Miriam Rose was born. With three children at home, I planned my curriculum to be home every afternoon.  During my entire college and law school career, I was home with the children at least half of every day. In retrospect, I surely had an overly busy life. Those were the days of the “super-moms” and women’s liberation.  I have never regretted one minute that I spent with my children. They were beautiful and funny and smart and silly, wild and demanding…they were small “miracles” in my life. I am oh so grateful that I studied and worked part-time, and took the time to be with them. Motherhood transformed me. I surely experienced awe at the innocence of infancy and the development of personality.  In the presence of my children, I often felt touched by the divine. Motherhood is the only place that I have ever experienced raw selflessness.


After law school, from 1975-1977, I worked at The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD.) There, I worked a 20 hour week, in a job sharing arrangement.  I learned that job sharing works well when there is clear communication, documentation and trust and mutual respect.  This requires effort and intentionality.  As a staff attorney, I handled cases of race, sex and age discrimination in employment and housing. My responsibilities ranged from supervising a five person investigative unit, to litigating cases. Here I discovered that stressing hierarchy in staff supervision is generally counterproductive. The art of human relations, listening and mutual respect go much further than the flexing of supervisory muscles.  At the MCAD, as an anti-discrimination litigator, I became tough minded where civil rights are concerned. Once again, my privileged white middle class experience was coming face to face with bigotry and injustice.  I found it abhorrent.


In January of 1978, our son, Benjamin, was born. At that time I took one year off from employment, and devoted myself full-time to the family.  From 1979 through 1982, I worked part time in a seven person law office in Newton, MA.  There, I concentrated on civil rights law and domestic relations.  In 1982 I decided to take an extended break from work outside the home, Michael was 13, Magda 12, Miriam Rose 9 and Benjamin 4. I even became president of the elementary school PTA. I spent three years being a very busy mother. It was an amazingly demanding life, and I have developed a huge respect for parents who are full-time homemakers.


In 1985 I began reading about alternative dispute resolution, a non-adversarial approach to resolving conflict.  This appealed to me.  In the field of divorce, I believed adversarial law was doing great damage to innocent people, especially children.  I participated in mediation training through the Cambridge Mediation and Dispute Resolution Center and the Massachusetts Bar Association. From 1985 to 1991 I had a private mediation practice, returning to the law office that I had been affiliated with in Newton. From 1991-2001, I worked at the Centre for Mediation & Dispute Resolution in Wellesley, MA. In the mid 1990’s I was elected to the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Council on Family Mediation.  At that time I was also among the first dozen family mediators officially certified in Massachusetts.  Over a period of fifteen years, as a family mediator I participated in numerous workshops and seminars.  Specific areas of training include: family systems, child development, parenting in divorced/separated families, custody issues, domestic violence, substance abuse and grief.  Divorce mediation honed my skills as a listener and a facilitator of solutions.  I learned that for successful resolution, the mediator cannot be the source of the solutions. The mediator is the catalyst and the guide.  The solutions must arise from within the parties if they are to own the results. My skills in dispute resolution are a great asset to ministry. Churches are composed of people, individuals and committees…you are going to have conflict! I am not afraid of conflict, I have seen some warring parties find their way to making peace.  Conflict can be a source of growth and creativity if contained and addressed effectively. During my internship, I noticed that parishioners respected my work in resolving dispute, in part because they knew of my background.


My work in divorce mediation also gave me much in depth experience in working with people in crisis and in pain.  It opened my heart to human suffering, while at the same time teaching me the critical importance of clear professional boundaries.


In 1992, George and I divorced after twenty-three ears of marriage.  This was a very painful time for all of us. It took considerable inner work and therapy to move forward, to start a new life and to reform family relationships, this is an ongoing process.  Living through divorce certainly cracked my heart open to the lessons of humility and compassion. It is sad that our family is separated, yet I love my new life, and I am aware that the struggles that I have engaged have allowed the minister n me to be born.


After my divorce, in 1992, I decided to look for a spiritual home. I began attending the Arlington Street Church. Later in 1994, I joined the First Unitarian Society of Newton. In the Unitarian Universalist community, I found a place where my values were both affirmed and acted upon. Here was a religion that embraces rather than divides. This was an association of individuals who were empowered in their own search for truth and meaning, it was like no group I had ever experienced, I was enthralled. In these years my spiritual life grew and was affirmed in various ways.


In 1995 I was introduced to Reiki, a Japanese healing technique using the laying on of hands. In Reiki, the recipient is fully clothed and may be lying on a Reiki table or seated. Reiki is based on the premise that we can draw limitless amounts of energy from the universe to enhance the body’s innate ability to heal itself.  It works with “Life Force” or spiritual energy, much like acupuncture, Tai chi and yoga. I trained for two years in this healing art and was certified as a Reiki Master teacher in 1997.  Working with Reiki energy has engaged me very profoundly with divine mystery.  When I feel spiritual energy and actually see its aura, I cannot doubt the transcendent mystery that surrounds us.  Even more thrilling is when Reiki leads to a healing result. Reiki has been a sacred practice for me; I use it every day during meditation. In 1999 I participated in a Reiki program at the chemotherapy unit at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Worcester. I spent one day each week sharing Reiki with cancer patients.  The energy was a very positive adjunct to medical treatment, patients and medical staff reported beneficial results. 


The experience in Worcester inspired me to propose the establishment of a Reiki Ministry at Andover Newton Theological School. I Presented a written proposal to the Dean which was approved.  I then worked to develop and direct a Reiki Ministry that served the seminary community. This included developing a “safe church” policy whereby there were always two Reiki practitioner present for all treatments. Over the years, I co-led seven Reiki Training Retreats and trained forty-nine seminarians. My co-leader was Mary Jane Ott of Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and adjunct faculty at Andover Newton. The Reiki Ministry is still active at the school.


My call to ministry came when I could no longer imagine any other life, 1t was 1997. I was doing divorce mediation, praying for the clients, and longing to be able to speak with them about questions of faith and meaning making. At that time I was not sure what my ministry would look like. Because of my extensive work in Reiki, I imagined that I would work in chaplaincy. My Clinical Pastoral Education experience at the Brigham and Womens Hospital confirmed my aptitude and love for pastoral care. It was, however, during my two year internship at the First Parish in Bedford, that I found my true calling, the work that makes my heart sing, energizes me and gives me joy.


 Parish Ministry is my true love, and I have been richly blessed to serve the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of South County, RI.  This is a creative and loving congregation which truly embodies the spirit of Beloved Community.  Every day I wake up so grateful to be able to serve this amazing congregation. I am blessed.



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