A skating competition scheduled for Yom Kippur helped crystalize Mor Greenberg’s future.
The Australian, who grew up in a secular Jewish home in Sydney, spent most of her early years working toward the goal of representing her country in the Olympics. Her daily schedule — up at the crack of dawn to get ice time before school, a full day of studying, and then back to the rink for more skating, strength training, Pilates, ballet and even sports psychology before going to sleep and starting the entire process again — didn’t leave room for much else in her life.
Things slowly began to change when she was 11, and a friend slept over one night before an uncommon day off. The next morning, her friend said she had to go study for her bat mitzvah and asked Greenberg if she wanted to come.
Greenberg’s parents were already out for the day, so she joined her friend at a Chabad house and listened as the rebbetzin talked about the Jewish soul and how all people are on Earth for a purpose.
“I was blown away,” Greenberg recalled. “I was 11 and had never heard these types of deep concepts before.”
Greenberg’s parents, Israelis who immigrated with their family first to England and then Australia, had planned to take their daughter to Israel for a simple bat mitzvah and party. When she mentioned how she had spent her day and that she wanted to continue going to the Chabad house, they refused.
The subsequent friction in the house that arose whenever Greenberg would try a new Jewish ritual —keeping kosher on Shabbat, for instance — caused the preteen to begin a journey of subterfuge and personal discovery. While other girls her age were hiding their first cigarette or their conversations with boys on the phone, Greenberg hid her religious observance.
“I wouldn’t tell them (her parents) what I was doing,” she said. “I had printouts of the siddur I would hide in my closet. On Friday nights, when my parents would go with friends for Shabbat dinner, I would make excuses why I couldn’t go because I didn’t want to drive. So, I would sit at home alone in the dark on a Friday night because I didn’t want to turn on a light. It was very lonely and very difficult.”
She continued to learn about the religious aspects of Judaism on her own and made compromises that sometimes left her conflicted — she would drive to a skating competition on Shabbat, she said, but not listen to music — until, at the age of 16, she crossed a Rubicon.
“National championships were on Yom Kippur, and I knew then I had to make a decision,” she said.
Greenberg told her coach that she wouldn’t be skating that day, essentially ending her career.
In the meantime, the proverbial cat was out of the bag about Greenberg’s growing Jewish observance. Her parents, she said, were relieved because it allowed honest conversations. Eventually, they even asked if she would like to go back to the Chabad center.
Still, some decisions required Greenberg to show firm resolve.
While her parents wanted her to attend college, Greenberg wanted to attend religious study in Israel. Greenberg drew the winning hand when, on a Birthright trip, she called her parents and said she was staying to study in Israel. They weren’t happy, but their now-adult daughter was already in the Jewish state.
Greenberg is clear—her parents loved her and wanted the best for her. They believed a college degree after high school, however, was the best thing for her.
After some time in Israel, the native Australian moved back to Melbourne, Australia. Eventually, her relationship with her parents mended and her mother even made the journey to see her graduate and receive a special award, where she thanked her mother from the stage, talking about the strength and resolve she learned from the matriarch. It was the beginning of their relationship beginning to heal. Greenberg’s mother now relishes the role of bubbe for her married daughter’s five children.
Greenberg finished a communications degree, moved to the United States and settled in Pittsburgh in 2013.
After working at the Friendship Circle of Pittsburgh, eventually becoming the director of operations and managing a staff of about 20 people, Greenberg took time off in 2018.
During her downtime, she began writing the blog “Sugar-Free Coating.” The idea, she said, was to present an alternative to typical Instagram posts where people show only the best parts of their lives. Her goal was to show the messy side of life while pointing to the commonality shared by everyone — single women and moms, religious women and secular Jews, political conservatives and those on the left.
After a while as a stay-at-home mom, Greenberg decided to return to work outside the home. As fate would have it, Pittsburgh-based political consulting firm ColdSpark, which claimed Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley as one of its clients, was hiring.
Greenberg is now the company’s director of public affairs and works with a range of clients, many of who are vocal supporters of Israel and Judaism. Notably, she represents the Orthodox Union, which allows her to flex several muscles: her joy of communications, love of Israel and passion for Judaism.
She’s combined those interests in Pittsburgh with one of ColdSpark’s newest clients: Jim Hayes, a Republican hoping to oust Rep. Summer Lee (D-District 12) in next year’s congressional elections.
Hayes, she said, understands the importance of a strong Israel and is someone the Jewish community can rally behind.
The congressional hopeful, she said, can bridge the gap between the right and left.
“He’s from Pittsburgh, his dad was a steelworker, his son was a victim of gun violence,” Greenberg said. “He’s an economist. He would vote for the policies that would help to improve the economy.”
And, vital to Greenberg, he would support Israel, something she doesn’t see in Lee.
“I have nothing against Summer Lee,” Greenberg said. “I’ve heard she’s really embracive of the Jewish community. I disagree with voting against a resolution that underlines the strength between the American–Israeli relationship, because that’s important to regional stability and for the Jewish people. Politics isn’t personal, but it does come down to policy.”
It doesn’t matter where you stand on Israel, Greenberg said, but “it’s an inarguable fact” that the tiny democracy is disproportionally scrutinized. The United Nations General Assembly passed 15 resolutions in 2022 criticizing Israel, versus 13 against all other nations, including Korea, Iran and Russia, she noted.
“There are enough people criticizing Israel,” she said. “We should support it locally.”
In the end, it’s the Jewish people and Judaism that matter to Greenberg.
“I don’t want to put up a barrier between myself and other Jewish people if they don’t agree with me,” she said. “Let’s promote Jewish unity above all,” she said. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.