Narrative Summary Interview with Mara Cohen-Ioannides by Amber Cichon

Narrative Summary
Interview with Mara Cohen-Ioannides by Amber Cichon
Mara Cohen-Ioannides was born in the 1960s in New Jersey. She grew up in what she
describes as a “typical American Reform Jewish home.” Her parents joined a synagogue when
she and her brother began school because they felt that it was important for the children to
experience the Jewish lifestyle that they had grown up with. Both of Cohen-Ioannides parents
grew up in Brooklyn, what she fondly referred to as “the old country.” As children, they had a
very different lifestyle than what she experienced while growing up in New Jersey where, as a
Jew, she was a minority.
Cohen-Ioannides attended several colleges and while she enjoyed religious studies, she
wasn’t sure how to make a living from studying it; instead, she earned her Bachelor of Arts in
Computer Science. Being one of the few native English speakers in her computer science
program, Cohen-Ioannides was usually chosen to write the program books for class projects
while her classmates predominately did the programming. This led her to the realization that a
career could be made from this type of work, so she pursued her master degree in professional
writing. Between her bachelor’s and master’s programs, she married her now ex-husband. After
she received her degree, they both found jobs in Missouri.
Cohen-Ioannides said she was introduced to the idea of Jewish Studies when a friend
asked her to write an article about the Jewish community of the Ozarks. She contemplated the
idea, and then decided that she was just as qualified to write it as anyone else. Since she enjoyed
the experience so much, Cohen-Ioannides decided that she wanted to pursue religious studies. In
order to do it properly, she decided to work part-time toward pursuing her Doctorate of Science
in Jewish Studies online. She is still in the middle of her program, expecting to graduate in 2014.
Cohen-Ioannides has published many works regarding Jewish studies. Her first book—A
Missouri State University
Fall 2008
Religious Lives of Ozarks Women
Shout in the Sunshine, a young adult historical fiction novel—was published in 2007. The novel
was a finalist for the 2007 National Jewish Book Award for Children and Young Adult
Literature. Cohen-Ioannides is currently in the middle of writing her second novel. She also
published works on the Haggadot and Jewish tourism. Additionally, she co-directed and cowrote a documentary, Home, Community, Tradition: The Women of Temple Israel, which is
about her synagogue.
Cohen-Ioannides said that when she moved to Missouri, she was struck by the small
minority of Jews that were in the Ozarks. She credits this realization—the idea that every Jew is
so very important in their small community—for her involvement in the synagogue today. While
she says that she can’t give big donations to the synagogue, she believes she can at least give her
voice and some of her limited time back to the community. She is an active member of the
Sisterhood, which is a women’s group in the synagogue. She also participates in the choir,
substitutes in the Hebrew school, teaches Sunday school, and occasionally gives lectures on
whatever subject she is currently studying.
While Cohen-Ioannides feels that religion is very personal, she warns young people that
being religious requires some introspection; however, she does not feel that this should deter
anyone from staying involved. She thinks that a lot can be garnered from the religious
community. She personally enjoys the time every week during services to stop her busy life and
to meditate and refocus; it helps her to center herself and to restart again.
Finally, Cohen-Ioannides shared that her extended family’s acceptance and respect for
one another concerning the various paths in Judaism has had the most influence on her religious
journey. She says that her family’s religious preferences span the entire spectrum, but their
overall philosophy is that you choose what path is best because you have to live in this world.
Missouri State University
Fall 2008
Religious Lives of Ozarks Women