Tue, 10/20/2015 - 8:32am
Posted in: Tidewater Jewish Foundation
Tradition and custom were a big part of childhood for both Denise and Jason Hoffman. Both experienced structure and ritual—but the juxtaposition was huge. While close geographically, their experiences were worlds apart.
Growing up in Brooklyn, Jason’s family was fairly observant. Weekly Shabbat dinners took place in his kosher home and attended a Solomon Schechter day school. Jason says of his childhood, “Being Jewish was certainly part of who we were.”
Across the water in New Jersey, Denise Vastino was busy living her own life. “We did all of the Catholic things. There was much structure and many rules. However, as I got older I began to stray from that mold,” Denise says of her own upbringing. “Like Jason in the Jewish world, I lived in a very Italian neighborhood. My friends were primarily Italian Catholics. We stuck together.”
Fast forward to 1999, when Jason and Denise meet at a mutual friend’s party. Denise was not feeling well, and Jason offered her his coat. The rest is history. Differences in their faith were not an issue. As their relationship progressed, the issue of faith took on more relevancy. “In my family there was an expectation that you would marry someone Jewish. The fact that I was moving towards not [doing so] was met with disapproval.” Denise and Jason focused on their relationship and what had brought them together: their common values and morals.
When asked what brought the couple to the Tidewater area, Denise said that she was ready for a change of scenery from Brooklyn to the “burbs.” They have found the Tidewater community to be welcoming and now have two children: Summer (10), and Logan (7). “They know the difference between good and bad. They know the difference between right and wrong. They see us act as a unit regardless of the fact that we both come from different backgrounds. Everything we do, we do collectively,” Denise says of her kids. Jason adds, “I think what we’ve taught them is ‘how you get there’ becomes your business.” As for his own viewpoint, “Struggle promotes self-reflection and introspection. Denise forces me to ask why. I credit her with my being committed in the community. The question of why helps you to find your passion.”
A huge turning point for both Denise and Jason occurred in 2011 when they participated in the UJFT’s Tidewater Couples Project and the Tom Hofheimer* Young Leadership Mission to Israel. “The Federation staff made time on the trip for me, as the only Christian in the group, to visit holy sites from my perspective. It was very profound,” Denise recalls. “Just about the entire group joined me. The fact that time was built in for me was wonderful, and that there was that kind of acceptance on a Jewish mission. We are definitely cut from the same cloth, regardless of religion.”
One exercise in particular sticks with them: the allocation of annual campaign dollars. “Seeing on paper where the money is going, then visiting recipient sites and organizations, made the process more relevant,” Denise says.
Both Denise and Jason are committed to maintaining the health and vitality of our Jewish community. They feel it is their responsibility to make sure the community is strong for our children. They acknowledge that somebody came before them and made that same commitment.
They have secured their legacy through a life insurance policy. “The process was easy, it’s affordable, and it’s a great way for us to give back,” Jason says. “There are many options available to leave a legacy, and this option worked best for Denise and me.”
*Of blessed memory